Monday, December 13, 2010

Music on Main

On the midst of the stretch of Main Street that runs from the border of Orange to the stately East Orange City Hall sits Christ Episcopal Church. Yesterday I had the chance to hear the Essex Chorale perform the first part of their annual Messiah. Main Street collapsed some years ago, a victim of the confluence of Route 280 and the Garden State Parkway. It has been slowly rebuilt, but little resistance to the automobile which has pushed the stores back to make for drive in/drive out parking, one of the great enemies of the pedestrian. Christ Episcopal Church, by its grand size and beautiful appointments, a church for well-heeled, still manages to glow, its bright white and gold altar a joyous sight. I love to watch the Chorale enter, the women in long black dresses and pearls, the men in their tuxedos, the soloists in a touch of color. I love to listen the orchestra tuning, searching for that perfection of sound. I love to watch Chorale Director Dr. DeCosta Dawson lift his baton and draw the performers to attention. I love to see friends and family who gather for the annual ritual. I love that I've gone to East Orange to see the Messiah for many years.

I had to leave early to speak on a panel being held in a building on Central Avenue in Newark. I was glad that the program organizer had waited outside for me: the area was empty and it seemed unlikely that something was happening there. I used to wait for the bus one block over. My mother would pick me up at the Newark Museum--always with a wholesome peanut bar to stave off hunger--and we'd take the bus home when her work and my afterschool program were finished. Central Avenue, too, has collapsed, yet once inside people's good cheer created good spirits as we considered issues of import.

When it came my turn to speak about women's health, I spoke about a study by Dr. Eva-Maria Simms who interviewed women in Pittsburgh's Hill District about what it was like to grow up there. She had a striking finding: in that context of the collapse of the Hill District, growing up had altered dramatically. In the 50s, before urban renewal, people lived in a dense community and neighbors and friends helped to raise the children. Children were never alone, always surrounded by others with whom they played and worked. In the 70s, after urban renewal, people grew up in much smaller social networks but had a sense of community with trusted neighbors. By the 1990s, people were retreating to their apartments, depending on friends and family, but no longer part of a functioning neighborhood that was looking out for their needs.

It is both a terrible diagnosis and a great treatment plan: starting with the wonderful rituals that have been preserved, we can rebuild the kind of dense and exciting places that will nurture us.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"...And then I wrote a song about it"

I recently moved to West Orange, NJ, and live just off Valley Road where a new theater has opened for Luna Stage, a highly respected theater group that moved to West Orange from Montclair. This means that I can stroll over the theater, an experience that I love. Last Friday night I saw a one-man musical, "...And then I wrote a song about it." The play opens on New Year's Eve, 1979, with the story of Randall, a man who is turning 30. Talk about had me at hello! I was 29 then, and, like Randall, longing to be recognized for my talent. Randall is studying singing, dancing and theater but he's a quadruple threat because he also writes songs. What got me in every line of the show was its honesty which was so evocative and touching and funny funny funny. I so identify with people looking for love while disco dancing and had never ever seen such a funny rendition of this delightful theme. At the same time, hanging over us and about to explode, was the AIDS epidemic. From nearly the first moment, recognizing that this is a gay man's story, I was waiting for the appearance of Death, and thinking about the many women and men I've lost since then. It set off quite an ache to watch someone breezing through life, not knowing what was around the corner. Watching Randall, I laughed, I cried, I remembered when. I was so grateful to singer/dancer/actor Nick Cearley whose fierce and delicious energy brought the story to life. This wonderful show is at Luna Stage through December 19th. If you ever discoed, thought about AIDS or fought with your father, you'll love this show.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thomas Alva Edison

Thomas Alva Edison, holder of almost 2,000 patents, lived on Park Avenue and worked on Main Street. I have always admired him, since as a child, I saw a biopic. He saved his mother's life by figuring how to light the surgical field so she could get the operation she needed. And he almost blew up a train with nitroglycerin he had made, unaware of its explosive potential.

Edison's workplace, the remarkable site of "industrial invention" located on Main Street in West Orange, NJ, is operated by the National Park Service and they have recently reopened the site for visitors. I visited two buildings, #5 and the Chemistry Laboratory. Building #5 held his library of 10,000 volumes and shops for making machines, taking photographs and recording music. The chemistry building was set up much like a high school or college chem lab would be, with two aisles of work tables surrounded by shelves of ingredients. We stopped by the table used by Edison himself and the Park Ranger explained that most of Edison's patents were related to chemistry. A slight whiff of chemicals hung in the air, all these years after Edison left the building for the last time. They advised not to touch the tables: "We don't know what's been on them!"

After leaving the chemistry building, I strolled over to see the Black Maria, the building he created for making movies. The whole building turns and the roof opens so that sunlight could shine in for the filmmaking.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Hearts for Haiti

 Last Friday evening I attended a performance of "Hearts for Haiti" at Luna Stage on Valley Road in West Orange. This theater project involved a cast of young people from the area, many of them from Haiti or of Haitian descent. They had worked with theater professionals over the past month, exploring in journals, drawings, and sculptures the story of what had happened in Haiti. From this work, they had created a play to share with their families, friends and neighborhs. The play opened by showing us scenes of everyday life in Haiti: a man buying a necklace at a jeweler's, two girls going to the beach, two men fishing. Their staggering bodies and sharp thwacks on a plastic bucket took us precipitously into the earthquake and all fell down. As those who still lived stood, they mourned their companion who did not. I started to cry at that point. The young people moved directly and quickly to an affirmation of talents, sharing with us their skills at singing, dancing and reciting poetry. This grew in joy and hope to a powerful conclusion in a song the youth had written themselves, "We rise." I found that I was still crying, but happy tears. I hope many people get to see this wonderful show.
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Monday, July 26, 2010

Two Ton Tony Galento and the Parking Lot

Tony Galento, the heavyweight boxer, was a son of Orange. He once knocked Joe Louis to the mat, a moment that was cheered in some parts of town, while Louis' eventual victory was celebrated in another. That's how American cities work. Galento was honored by having a plaza named after him. This plaza is largely a parking lot. In his honor, an "Envision Tony Galento Plaza" Day was held last week. Artists made drawings of Tony and a bear that he once took on. Everyone came by and boxed with Tony or the bear, or Tony and the bear. People told stories of the kind of guy he was. He once ate 50 hot dogs before a boxing match, someone said. Another told me about the bar he had in town, with a boxing club next door. The more stories I heard, I more I looked around at the expanse of parking lot, with its broken asphalt and forlorn shrubs: no people, no action, nothing happening. Then I looked at the all the people clowning around with the drawings of Tony and the bear (in the photo, Gabe is moving Tony's arm to knock out that bear!). Yesterday I was reading an article about a neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, that painted a sunflower in an intersection to create a piazza. Then I had a vision: we could paint a boxing ring in Tony Galento Plaza and make ourselves a piazza.

Can you see it?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Rock, Paper, Scissors

Rock, Paper, Scissors is not a sport I ever imagined myself playing, so imagine my surprise when I found I was in the third round of play for the New Jersey championship and a chance to represent my state at the World RPS Championship in Toronto! No. 10, an intense young woman with a faraway gaze, defeated me, but many people at Hat City Kitchen came up to complement me on my play. It was a heady feeling. What if I had gone all the way? Imagine the new respect I would have earned in my home town.

Next year, No. 10, I'll be back!

Monday, July 19, 2010

291 Years of Ministry Come to an End

The First Presbyterian Church of Orange, a congregation that was organized in 1719, held its final service yesterday. The congregation has been a force in Orange for 250 years. The names on the walls of the church are the same as those on the streets of the city. The tombstones dating back to the colonial era remind us the settlement of the area by Europeans who first arrived in the 1600's. The Presbytery of Newark has put the building on the market. Yesterday's ceremonies closed with an organ concert performed by Anthony Mark Lamort on the church's magnificent organ, with its hundreds of pipes. He closed with an improvisation on the song "Jerusalem." William Blake's plaintive question, "Was Jerusalem builded here, among these dark satantic mills?" might will have been about the church, a glowing sanctuary a edge of an industrial district that produced 4.2 million hats in its heyday.

The Church is an anchor of Orange's Main Street, and keeping the building a strong site is a now a key goal for city leaders.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Brunch on a rooftop

This is a sleepy Saturday in Jersey City. My daughter Molly and I met up for brunch on Grove Street, but a fixture on an electric pole exploded. It seemed a good idea to mosey over to another place. A rooftop garden beckoned, so we headed to Skinner's Loft. Their rooftop was beautiful and practical -- their basil was gorgeous. We relaxed in the sun, looking out over Newark Avenue, the closest Main Street to Ellis Island. Jersey City has always been a city of migrants and immigrants. Today, the migrants are people from the suburbs of the state as well as from Puerto Rico, and immigrants have arrived from the four corners of the globe. The long and fascinating avenue pulses with change and evolution. Brunch on Newark Avenue gave the sleepy Saturday a connection to the melting pot of America.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The foundation for recovery

On the Main Streets I visit, a growing number of "for rent" signs signal the difficulties faced by enterprises of all kinds. A growing, and perhaps ill-informed, consensus that this is time for fiscal austerity means that even harder times are coming. The government jobs that the bedrock of our cities will be cut to the bone in months to come. Both federal and state governments are pulling the resources out. The cities are left with little choice but to retrench. The hesitant and partial recovery of recent years will be threatened.

This creates difficulties for the present, but also for the future. The creative ideas of local entrepreneurs are an important engine of growth. And cities have an important role to play in this process by creating the connections that foster new thinking. Thus, undermining the cities of today undermines the foundation of the future. This can be discouraging, and people can turn against one another, fomenting violence and dissent. In Orange, citizens are making an active effort to connect through two upcoming events. The first is a festival at the train station, known as Tony Galento Plaza after Orange's favorite son, and the second is a rock, paper, scissors tournament at Hat City Kitchen, a new restaurant in the Valley.

Michel Cantal-Dupart, in his book, Merci La Ville, observed that the people who want to make strong cities would do well to be attention to the festival. In that regard, let us hope that the developers, politicians, entrepreneurs and others interested in the future of Orange pay a lot of attention to these two delightful occasions.

Graduating on Main Street

On June 19th, the University of Orange celebrated in its second annual graduation. Requirements for graduation are: voting, having fun with neighbors, going to a city meeting, taking two uofo courses, and volunteering. I was proud to have completed this list of tasks of good citizenship. We held the graduation at the First Presbyterian Church of Orange. It was a bittersweet moment, as the congregation, established in 1711, has recently dissolved, leaving the fate of its beautiful home up in the air. We all thrilled to the bells playing the recessional as we stood for this picture. Our hopes are for a future for this lovely place that befits the dreams of its colonial-era founders.

Getting change

I got through the heat wave that wilted NJ the past few weeks by drinking iced coffee. One day I went to the Dunkin' Donuts on Main Street in Orange and I saw a sign that said no $50s, no $100s. A few days later I was on the main drag in Upper Montclair, which by contrast to Orange is dripping with wealth. I went into Dunkin' Donuts to get some iced coffee. The lady after me was digging in her change purse. "I have to give you change," she said to the young clerk who stood waiting patiently. "All I have is a $100."

"We can change $100," the clerk said.

I asked my daughter, Molly Rose Kaufman, a take a picture of the sign in Orange, as a memento of difference. The clerk there said, "Why are you taking my picture?" Molly said, "I'm taking a picture of the sign." She explained my experience in Upper Montclair.

The young girl shrugged, "Of course they can change $100 in Upper Montclair!"

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Pittsburgh Marathon on Walnut Street

The Pittsburgh Marathon makes a circle of the city, visiting many of its sections. I got to watch it pass Walnut Street, which is at mile 15. A celebration had been organized for that site, with a band, and a race organizer distributing bells to help cheer the runners on. When I got there, it was about 2-1/2 hours into the marathon; the peole passing were on pace to finish in 5 hours or so. Many were tired, and one obviously injured but refusing to stop. Still there were lots of scenes of jubilation: a mother ecstatic to watch her daughter run, kids thrilled to see mom pass. My friend Phil Hallen and I rang bells and cheered and enjoyed the scene. He has lived in the area for a long time. Walnut Street is now a very upscale shopping destination, with William Sonoma and Ann Taylor. There are a few small stores left, including one of the best toy stores in the world. The stores were closed for race day, but I did learn that they will be staying open late for a Spring Shopping Day. On the other hand, with the chain stores closed and the street given over to runners, we were able to see Main Street in its other role: a center of community life and fun.
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Friday, April 30, 2010

Why does redlining endure?

This morning I went with Molly Kaufman and Sarah Kirshen to a very interesting panel discussion on the legacy of redlining. Held at Columbia University's School of Journalism, the panel featured a diverse group of experts from history, journalism, research and community advocacy. Redlining, started in the 1930s during a major banking crisis, was supposed to protect investment by improving the assessment of risk. Instead of strengthening the whole city, redlining created new layers of division with cities. It did this by endorsing a preferential system that gave neighborhoods with new buildings and white people the best ratings and those with black people and old buildings the worst ratings. It provided real fuel for the fire of fear that black people would ruin the neighborhood. As the presence of one black person did affect the rating, the fear of losing one's assets had some basis in reality. Though there have been efforts to get rid of redlining, it was clear from this morning's presentations that it is alive and well and continuing to ruin our economy. Its imprint defines the subprime lending crisis, as well as all the mainstream lending taking place in this period of recovery. While this morning's talks were informative, I was left wondering what we do about a practice that was wrong-headed in 1937 yet continues to drive the American economy in 2010.

In the evening I went to Pratt Institute for a book signing by Ned Kaufman for his book about historic preservation, Race, Place and Story. In his remarks, he said that about 90% of what should be preserved gets lost, and about 10% gets saved. It struck me as really ironic that the one thing we should get rid of -- redlining -- is very much with us, while what we should be saving -- our historic buildings and built environment -- is rapidly being lost. If we could just reverse those two, we'd be in great shape. Perhaps the way to begin is to consider that there is a relationship between the two, as indeed from the spatial perspective, there is.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jane's Roll in Orange Saturday, May 1

Saturday, May 1, Patrick Morrissy will lead a Jane's Roll through Orange, NJ. This event is held in honor of Jane Jacobs, who loved cities. Here's the description of the event:

Jane's Orange Roll
We’re rolling to historic buildings, new murals, eateries, a greenhouse construction site, lunch at two-ton tony’s plaza and then the May Day fest. We are also celebrating the release of the new essay collection “What We See” featuring a piece by Orange’s own Mindy Fullilove.

Time: 10:00 am – 2:00 pm

Date: Saturday, May 1, 2010

Start: Rita’s Deli, 502 Central Ave., Orange, NJ
End: May Day Festival, Central Playground

Host: Patrick Morrisy

Host Organization: University of Orange

No Need to Sign Up . . . Just Show Up At Posted Meeting Location

Modality Focus: bicycles

This event is welcoming and accessible to bicycles, seniors and children.

Yonah Shimmel and the Evolution of Main Street

On today's Main Street tour I had the pleasure of the company of Molly Rose Kaufman and Rachel Bland, urbanists in Orange, NJ. We started on Valley Road which runs through The Valley, a former industrial area on the border of West Orange/Orange. The area is being infused with new life as an arts district, and Valley Road is reviving its part as the local Main Street. We admired a new mural, had wonderful pizza at Rock-It Pizza, and checked out several new eateries that are coming soon. The comeback of Valley Road is fun and impressive. From there, we went to a completely different stretch of Main Street, East Houston Street in New York, where we had a second course of our lunch, knishes at Yonah Shimmel's Knishery. I've been going to Yonah Shimmel's for decades. Absolutely the best knishes in the world. What could be a better food than something that combines mashed potatoes and a wafer thin dough? But the context of Yonah Shimmel's has changed dramatically. The Lower East Side is several decades further down the road of arts district evolution that Valley Road is on, and the change is bittersweet, I find. I really liked going to the movies at Sunshine Theater, and would have stopped at Whole Foods. But I missed the exceptional neighborhood it used to be, flooded with people inventing how to be American.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Daniel Goldstein, Shabnam Merchant and The Fight Against Corrupt Development

Daniel Goldstein and Shabnam Merchant, leaders of the fight against the corrupt development proposed by Forest City Ratner at the Atlantic Yards, negotiated a settlement to leave their apartment quickly. This has been reported in the press as "selling their home." They did not sell their apartment: it was seized by eminent domain. They were able to negotiate the terms of their leaving. They have been leaders in an historic fight, which has helped many of us to understand how developers pull off these deals to steal people's homes and change our cities without our consent. The Development Don't Destroy Brooklyn website has helped to expose every detail of how the process unfolded. This is a great contribution to all of us. As a supporter of DDDB, I am copying Daniel's statement on the settlement. It's thoughtful and gives good direction. The most important thought: "See you at the next meeting."

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn
April 22, 2010

From DDDB's co-founder, Daniel Goldstein:

As has been widely reported (see the invaluable NoLandGrab for full coverage), I reached a financial settlement with the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), tool of Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner, to move out of my home—which the ESDC took ownership of on March 1st—by May 7th.

I did not know, when Wednesday started, that a settlement was in store. It was nothing that I expected to happen. I only knew that I had to defend myself against eviction by New York State.

My day started at 9:30 in State Supreme Court where my attorney (not DDDB's) argued against ESDC's effort to get Judge Abraham Gerges to evict my family from our home on May 17th. I did not expect that this argument would then lead to a settlement, so I did not have a press release prepared when an agreement was reached around 3pm. I did not even think of the press implications because I was thinking about my personal situation and my family, not the press. I should have known better because clearly Forest City Ratner saw it as a big press event and sent out a press release immediately. This has led to some misreporting. I send this statement to clarify what has actually occurred. There is a lot to say, so I hope you'll forgive the length, and my apologies for not getting this email out sooner.

Contrary to press reports I have not given up my First Amendment rights or my involvement with Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn. (Ratner, though he tried to hide it, did require this of nearly all those who sold their homes to him years ago, and they agreed to it.) Ratner and ESDC tried very hard to force me to agree to give up those rights and the work I do with the organization I helped found. It wasn't enough, I guess, for Ratner to decimate my neighborhood, take my home, and kick me out, they also felt they had to cut out my tongue. For nearly 3 hours of talks mediated by Judge Gerges I refused to accept any kind of gag order. I would not have taken any amount of money to do that, and I did not.

I did agree to give up my title as "DDDB spokesman", but that's just a title. And I did agree to remove my name from one outstanding lawsuit which remains in court despite that. Otherwise I can do and say whatever else I want, and my agreement explicitly states that I have maintained my First Amendment rights. So they have not succeeded in silencing me and I am free to criticize and speak about the project, the developer and the ESDC as much as I want. I intend to do that whenever the need arises.

For seven years my wife Shabnam Merchant (who I met as a fellow activist against Atlantic Yards) and I have worked and fought day after day—giving up an income for many of those years—in an effort to help bring community-based, democratic development to Central Brooklyn. This meant, obviously, opposing Ratner's corrupt, developer-driven, undemocratic project.

As a co-founder of DDDB I will continue that work to the best of my ability and as time allows. I've not been silenced, and I am not leaving DDDB as it transitions into a new phase of fighting Atlantic Yards, exposing its corruption and false promises, and advocating for changing the State's abusive eminent domain laws and the way development is done in New York. And should Atlantic Yards falter, and the land return to its contested state, DDDB will be prepared to jump in.

Impact on the Fight Against Atlantic Yards

On March 1st, after years of litigation, ESDC took title ownership of my home. From that day on, I no longer owned my apartment but instead became a tenant of the State.

At that time, with that action on Ratner's behalf, there was nothing I could any longer personally do with my home that would stop or impact the project. Staying in my home until the sheriff came to evict my wife, child and I would have accomplished nothing at all for the fight but would have severely harmed us.

After March 1st, it was inevitable that we would be forced out; it was just a matter of when.

On April 9th ESDC filed papers requesting that the court evict me on May 17th. Wednesday morning my attorney argued that the court should not grant that eviction. After the argument, Judge Gerges made it crystal clear that he wanted resolution between me and ESDC/Ratner—that day—as to when I'd leave my home.

So instead of being evicted in about 27 days and then being forced to go to court to hope to get close to fair market value for my home (as opposed to the extremely lowball "just compensation" offered to me by New York State, which was nowhere near fair market value), I agreed to leave in about 17 days. That agreement to leave ten days sooner avoids further litigation over "just compensation," which would have cost me more time and money while accomplishing nothing for the fight against the project.

I did not sell my home today. I had no home to sell as the state took my home on March 1st. Contrary to what Ratner and ESDC might want people to believe, eminent domain was used on me and many others. My home was seized by the government to give to a private developer.

What I did do was agree to leave my home rather quickly in return for a payment. What I did do was what I needed to do as a responsible husband and father to make sure that my family could make an orderly transition to a new home in Brooklyn. I was left with no good choice by the ESDC or Judge Gerges.

I have always promised that once the legal options to save my home and the homes and businesses of my neighbors were extinguished, I would have to turn my attention to what was best for my family, after years of neglecting our interests. That is what I did on Wednesday.


Speaking as the "former" spokesman of DDDB I have this to say.

The fight we have waged as a community has been heroic and crucially important to literally millions around the City and the country. We have all exposed the project and the process as fatally corrupt. We have convinced nearly all good people of good will that the project is a sham and a poster child for the wrong way to develop cities. We shined a bright light on the way eminent domain is abused in New York State to the point where there is now a legislative effort led by Senator Perkins to reform the state's laws.

We have fought every lie, exaggeration, fudge, false promise, abuse, and misinformation campaign tooth and nail. The project that Ratner wanted to build will never be built. And we know that his promises, many already broken, will continue to be broken—especially his promise to build 2,250 units of affordable housing in ten years. It is shameful, and it is shameful that so many politicians remained silent, and still do to this day.

And we, as a community, as DDDB and so many other community groups, will continue to expose the project's problems and abuses.

Through the relationships and alliances amongst community groups and individuals I am certain that it will be impossible for developers and their government cronies to ram this kind of project down another community's throat ever again in New York City.

They didn't ram it down ours.

While we didn't stop the groundbreaking, our voice of protest was heard loud and clear for years before that day, and on that day. On Ratner's day of celebration, the overwhelming media coverage (besides Beyonce and Jay-Z of course) was of the protest of that travesty.

A legacy of this fight will be that we have proven that all that we have found wrong with it has been shown to be legal in the view of the courts and most legislators. The abusive laws, which favor the most powerful and entrenched interests, must be changed.

Finally, please remember that DDDB, this community and the fight against Atlantic Yards was never about a single person or a single apartment—or even about a single borough. It has been, and still is, about one of the biggest failures of government and democracy in this City's history, and its impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the great borough of Brooklyn. Our fight has—and this is one of the victories—given hope, inspiration and encouragement to innumerable people that a community united can fight principled fights worth fighting, regardless of the outcome. These are fights that have to be fought if we are to find a way to become a working democracy, which treats individuals and communities fairly, rather than disenfranchising and disempowering them.

See you at the next meeting (once I find a new Brooklyn home). And please be in touch with DDDB.

With my great respect for all the civic minded people who have engaged in the resistance to Atlantic Yards, to any degree at all, throughout the years. You are heroes and YOU have the power.

Daniel Goldstein
Co-founder of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

PS. It will be interesting to see what Congressman Pascrell accomplishes with his effort to get a Treasury Department investigation into Mikhail Prokorov's business deallings in Zimbabwe.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Just Design for the Main Street of Syracuse

During my visit to Syracuse on the 14th and 15th of April, I had a chance to visit the downtown area, around S. Salina Street. There are lots of people working in the area and passing through, but not enough to fill the space or support a lively commercial presence. I was wondering about this as I walked around. I noticed three problems that I have seen addressed in other places, and to good effect.

The first problem was emptiness -- there are a lot of parking lots around downtown Syracuse, and a very large public plaza which is good for summer festivals but contributes to the void at this time of year. Filling in some of the spaces would help to make the place more viable. In an earlier post I talked about Tom Low's sprawl repair: that would be a good tactic in Syracuse. Additionally, urban renewal and highway construction have created voids between downtown and the neighborhoods and the reconnection of downtown with the surrounding areas would be a great blessing. Some of this reconnection has started by telling Professor Kendall Phillips leads a public memory project, and at the Public Memory site you can hear the wonderful stories of the old 15th Ward..

Second, the area was redlined in the 1930s, and the uneven development continues, and contributes to a sense of class and race divisions that make the area unstable. Making it more open would do much to improve the stability of the area. Syracuse University has started a "connective corridor" to connect the university to the city. I am not convinced that "corridor" is the right metaphor to count redlining in spirit or form: time will tell.

Third, the area lacked trees and green. Syracuse has a short growing season, so evergreens would be very helpful for the streetscape. I saw a wonderful art project on the quad at the University of Syracuse in which a tree was dressed in a crocheted gown, and made it very colorful. This is a creative solution to the problem of a late spring.

Design that springs from justice has the potential to reknit this wonderful city and unleash its creative potential.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Upcoming visit to Syracuse

My Main Street Project will take me to Syracuse for meetings April 14th and 15th. I have been to Syracuse several times at the invitation of various members of the faculty at Syracuse University. Professor Sandy Lane (author of "Why are our babies dying?") hosted my visit after the publication of my book Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America and What We Can Do About It. That was a great pleasure as I got to tour the neighborhoods and meet many good people working on behalf of their city. Then and on later visits I learned that Syracuse's downtown is challenged by the sundering of the connections to the nearby neighborhoods. This is a problem which can be found in many American cities, including Charlotte, NC, and Roanoke, VA. I am looking forward to meeting with various groups, and learning more about the ways in which Syracuse University is connecting with the city for mutual benefit. Syracuse is a great and noble American city and it is a delight to visit.

Pedestrian meters stop walking

I was walking on South Orange Avenue, in South Orange, NJ, yesterday, and at the major intersection there is a pedestrian meter, one of those buttons that people are supposed to press if they want to cross the street. These are annoying buttons. One has only to observe pedestrian behavior around such buttons to see that they present an obstacle to walkers. There are two such buttons near where I live in Jersey City, by Van Vorst Park, a lively, well-used park that attracts people from all around. The buttons work poorly, if at all, and for the most part, people just cross without pushing the button. In South Orange, the installation of such buttons on their Main Street raises some particular concerns. The buildings on the eastern part of South Orange Avenue, which has stores on one side of the street and a church on the other, are about half vacant. I don't know the reason for this, but the flow of walkers has to be considered. Putting another obstacle in the path of walkers is not a good idea for any shopping street. If there are problems with traffic in a downtown area, the cars should be slowed, and the pedestrians celebrated. We are in a crisis of inactivity and obesity in our nation in part because of a car-oriented mentality. Pedestrian meters are a sure sign of over-valuing cars.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ben and Jerry's Free Cone Day on Main Street

Palisades Avenue in Englewood, NJ, is one of the principal streets in my study of Main Streets. I am there a couple of times a week, and I was really glad I was scheduled to be there today when a student of mine pointed out that it was free cone day. Few events make people happier than free cone day. My granddaughter Lily went with her Spanish class after learning to say "Podemos ir a Ben and Jerry's por el dia de helado gratis?" She said that Ben and Jerry's in Hoboken, where she goes to school, had lots of happy people, including some high school seniors who were making repeat visits. In Englewood there was a great crowd. Palisades Avenue bears the patterns of old segregation, with people of color to the west, and white people to the east. Ben and Jerry's, perhaps this is not surprising, is on the eastern side. But today everybody was there, giggling in anticipation of the free treat. Why should free ice cream cause so much joy? Maybe because it's one of the true signs that spring has come, and maybe this, too, is not surprising. But that it is so pleasant it bends racial strictures must be a credit to those happy Vermont cows.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Saratoga's racing and bathing

Saratoga Springs, home of mineral springs and a famous racetrack, lends itself to two activities that couldn't be more opposite if they tried. Soaking in a mineral bath at the Saratoga Spa State Park, as I did yesterday, is the epitome of calm and relaxation. Add the "Almost Heaven" scented bath oil and you're there. What a contrast to the hustle and bustle of the racing scene, pounding thoroughbreds on the track and scheming wiseguys all around. I love the idea that for nearly 200 years people have been taking the train to Saratoga to take part in this peculiar intersection of fast and not. If racing is Saratoga's heart, its "Gut," according to the local signs, was a Jewish community that lived on the street parallel to Broadway, the city's Main Street. That neighborhood's independent spirit added another layer of complexity to the local system, creating a door for alternate cultures that is filled these days by peace activitists, coffee shops and folks singers, and a vital farmers market. Saratoga, with its Diamond Jim Brady Plaza and Olmsted Park, is a quirky mixture of cultural threads, defying easy categorization and oversimplification. I hope New York State straightens out its racing crisis so that the season and the city can continue to be this enjoyable yin/yang place.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ernest Thompson, Orange Organizer

My father, Ernest Thompson, was an organizer in Orange, NJ. He began his work there in 1957, when he started a campaign to desegregate the schools. This led to a successful effort to secure political representation for the black community. He and his colleagues used the power they had won to fight for quality education for all children. He said, at the outset of the school fight, "If we do not fight for all children, we will not fight at all." His commitment to inclusion helped to shape a better city. Thompson's life and work were celebrated at this year's Black History Month observation at Orange Middle School. Here is a film that was made for the occasion. The story of his organizing is told in the book, "Homeboy Came to Orange: A Story of People's Power."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Repairing Suburban Sprawl

Tom Hanchett, who is one of my favorite historians, sent this link about repairing sprawl in Charlotte. It is a lovely example of how a hostile corner can be pacified and made safe for walking. Tom Low, who's group did the work, leads a lively discussion group on urban issues and is constantly pushing the envelope for better city living.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Levine Museum on Main Street

The Levine Musuem of the New South is a wonderful museum. Tom Hanchett, who is a regular correspondent of this blog, is the historian there. His great book, Sorting Out the New South City, is essential reading for understanding the race and class structure of American urban space. His close analysis of Charlotte's history informs the museum, giving it wisdom and kindness. A lovely review in this week's New York Times captures the essence of that accomplishment. The Museum's Main Street location, like that of the Civil Rights Museum in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, is much to be celebrated. These showplaces help to create the central energy that is the real gift Main Streets can offer us. Next time you're in Charlotte, be sure to visit the Levine Museum and stroll down the Main Street. You'll enjoy it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Going to the show

Tom Hanchett, historian at the Levine Museum of the New South, sent along a link to Asheville's page at the site, Going to the Show. It is fascinating to learn about theaters, their locations and their role in daily life in the early 20th century. The site also gives us plenty of ideas for ways to connect information so that we can learn about our cities.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Memphis' Main Street

I had the great pleasure of visiting Main Street, Memphis, TN today, hosted by Altha Stewart and Emma Martin. Reverend Noel Hutchinson oriented me to Memphis, saying that there's so much history here you could easily spend three days seeing sights without repeating any. He took me to see the small music studio where Al Green recorded his hit records. I really connected with his insight as Altha, Emma and I were driving on and around Main Street. The historic waterfront, the touristy Beale Street, the tragic Lorraine Motel, and so many other places that are iconic parts of American life are right there by Main Street. Memphis has turned this to advantage, dressing Main Street up for the tourists. I can understand the impulse to do this, as the place touches the kind of deep feelings that attract people. But there was also a tendency to remarkable paintings on buildings -- not slogany murals, but real, deeply felt works of art -- and these sprouted all around Main Street as they seem to do throughout the city. They are a sign that Main Street is still serving local people, though perhaps not as well as it serves visitors from around the world. In that same vein of ambiguity, Main Street Memphis is not as thin as some I have seen, but it has its share of nearby empty lots, reminders of a lost industrial past. How does Main Street help in the reinvention of Main Street? If it has no room for the locals, the city has lost a key place of conversation. In that situation, how does the city have the conversation that's needed to save the city? It reminds me of the nursery rhyme "For want of a nail, the shoe was lost..." Memphis' ambiguity strikes me as holding enough connection to itself that it is a chance of holding that necessary conversation. At the same time, it has the stirring creativity of great port city. I say Memphis is a city to watch.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Terri Baltimore's address to SAJE People's Planning School

Terri Baltimore is a community organizer in Pittsburgh, PA, working in the Hill District. This African American neighborhood is a famous place, home to many artists, including August Wilson whose plays detail life in there. In 2007, Terri Baltimore addressed the SAJE People's Planning School and shared the story of her work in the Hill District. I was a part of that work, beginning in 1997, when I was invited to address residents who were being displaced by HOPE VI. I came to Pittsburgh knowing that displacement was a painful and costly process. I learned while there that displacement was not simply a problem of the past, but was a repeated problem, affecting the same spaces and the same people, over and over. This summer I plan to go back to Pittsburgh to understand another part of this story: economic displacement by deindustrialization.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Vinegar Hill, Charlottesville, VA

Tom Hanchett, historian at the Museum of the New South, sent an email about a student project depicting what urban renewal did to the African American community of Vinegar Hill. He notes, "Here's an absolutely PHENOMENAL visualization of the African American neighborhood that was wiped out by Urban Renewal in Charlottesville, VA. Delve especially into the dryly named 'Appraisal' page -- the more you click, the more impressive it gets." Hanchett is himself a student of urban change, having authored, Sorting Out the New South City, which tells the story of Charlotte, NC. Over the course of its development, Charlotte was transformed from a small city in which people lived near others who were different in race and in class, to a much larger city strictly divided by race+class.