Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Messiah on Main Street

Main Street in East Orange is strikingly different from Main Street in Orange or West Orange. It is much more battered, and disjointed. It is not a welcoming place to walk, nor does it seem to be where the Messiah would be found. Or maybe I have that backwards! Maybe that's EXACTLY where the Messiah will be found and should be found. In any event, last Sunday I did find the Messiah on Main Street in East Orange, ably performed by the Essex Chorale, under the intrepid leadership of Dr. DaCosta Dawson. I did find it miraculous: I went in afraid and came out with my spirit soaring. I have circled the date in February for their annual Negro Spirituals Concert, which is the highlight of my year.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dispossessing the Cure

Occupy Wall Stret was thrown out of Zuccotti Park and many other occupy encampments were also dispossessed this week. While the stated intention is "restoring cleanliness and order," the deep objective is to break up dissent. The source of the protest, in my view, is the stunning disarray our country finds itself in, with a deep and seemingly endless recession, a huge intractable foreclosure crisis, a massive economic restructuring that will end end decent, longterm employment with good wages and benefits, and a equally endless engagement in wars in other people's countries These problems have shattered the "Amerian Dream" of a Way of Life. The loss of the Way causes root shock, the traumatic stress reaction to the loss of all or part of one's economic ecosystem. The cure for root shock is to make new roots. By encamping in cities all across the US, people began the process of making a new roots and a New Way of Life, both of which are urgently needed. This doesn't mean that we were all going to live in parks -- although if the economic situation gets bad enough, that might happen -- rather I mean that these sites became spaces of conversation, investigating the problems and considering solutions. The encampments started a public conversation about the concentration of wealth which has taken palce over the past 3 decades, but somehomw eluded broad conversation. In the aftermath of the nationwide dispossessions, the conversation will be harder to find and to have, the dissent will be impeded, and the inequality will be able to continue to grow.

Dispossession is a fundamental strategy of the accumulation of wealth, according to geographer David Harvey. In my studies, dispossession impoverishes and paralyzes the dispossessed, while the dispossessers are free to accumlate and function. Occuppy Wall Street is poignant example. Because of donations from around the world, OWS has developed a library of 5,000, which were reportedly thrown in dumpster. Medical supplies, bicycle generators, people's personal goods: all were confiscated and held by New York City. "People's backpacks were taken to a storage facility but they weren't allowed to get them back unless they had proof of purchase or a photograph," my daughter Molly Rose Kaufman told me. As any lost-and-found operates on the simple "can you describe what you lost and what's in it?" this higher level of proof is simply about taking the wealth of the movement, making it poorer.

What happens when the cure is interrupted? While the powers-that-be fear the unrest of the 99%, the interruption of the cure carries dire consequences. The 99% would likely find a healthy solution. The suppression of that conversation can lead to much more terrible paths. For one thing, America is a nation that routine unleashes hatred of people because of their race, creed, color or religion. This is a terrifying spectre of race riots, McCarthyism, anti-Semitism or all of the above.

We are a people in search of a Way of Life, suffering from the loss of our Dream. For however unreal our Dream might have been, it guided us in our daily lives. We urgently need to occupy everything and everywhere, talking and listening until we're blue in the face, and have discovered what happened, what it's like now and what we can do next.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

HANDS' 25 Years Celebrated

HANDS, a community development corporation in Orange, NJ, celebrated 25 years of work at a party at Luna Stage on Valley Road in West Orange, right around the corner from my house. The November 1st festivities included a bus tour of HANDS' projects, a walking tour of the Valley, an afternoon symposium, and an evening reception with a silent auction of art from local painters and sculptors. It was a bright, sunny day, and we had electricity. Luna Stage is currently showing "The Dangers of Electric Lighting" which is about Thomas Edison. We had a 24-hour power outage over the weekend, so we are closer to "The Dangers of NO Electric Lighting" but I'm excited to see the play. The HANDS symposium took place in the stage set of the Edison play, and it was very intimate and interesting. A highlight of the symposium, which had the theme "The Judo of Community Development," was a demonstration of judo and karate by Shihan Kenneth Lee and his students from Way of the Tiger Martial Arts, a little of Luna on Valley Road. Shihan Lee demonstrated fundamentals of martial arts, including its view of the creation of ethical character, one that is kind and humble, concerned for others. "That," said Patrick Morrissy to Shihan Lee after the demonstration, "is what community development is all about."

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween on Main Street

Halloween filled the streets tonight, even though there was, according to my dry cleaner, an order for everyone to stay inside: too many live wires and downed tree branches from Saturday's freak snowstorm. Whoever made that ultimatum -- it might have been Gov Christie -- didn't deter the crowds. The balmy evening was irresistible after the awful weekend. The Valley -- which was featured in Sunday's NY Times -- is clearly viewed as a "safe zone" for families whose neighborhoods are not so sanguine. I gave out a lot of candy really quickly. But the blue ribbon for "All Around Halloween" goes to Vinnie Mazzarisi, owner of Mazzi Dogz, the hotdog place around the corner. He was out in a Jason costume, waving to passersby. His fabulous decorations, beautiful lights, lively interior and hospitality make him our Halloween winner. Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Main Street, Daughters of Israel

My mother, Maggie Thompson, now lives at the Daughters of Israel Nursing Home in West Orange. You might not think that a nursing home would have a Main Street. But Daughters of Israel does. It has a only one operating store, a coffee shop, which is perhaps the only store a Main Street really needs. The rest of the stores are paintings of store windows, filled with merchandise or offers of service and including portraits of the store owners. It makes for a cheery walk from the entry to mom's room, and I always pause to study one or another of the windows. I am ambivalent about the painting as art, but the pet store has very cute kittens in the window and there is one very convincing portrait of a cigar-chomping salesman offering to make a deal. Main Street layers on Main Street. My mother noted on her blog, Maggie:INK, that she is occupying Wall Street from her bed there. As Zuccotti Park is on Broadway, one of the world's greatest Main Streets, and mom is "DoI Way," we have a resonance. But imagine my surprise when I find "Main Street," the book, on a table of freebies in the lobby. I figure it's a sign and I took it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

When do you need really good coffee?

Day 4, Mt Morris Consultation

Today was the fourth and last day of the consultation in Mt. Morris, NY. The morning started with a really good cappuccino at the Rainy Day Bakery and Cafe, at the intersection of State and Main. Fired with caffeine, Ron and Yvette Shiffman and I drove around, connecting the dots. We went up to Murray Hill where the Art Center is located, to Letchworth State Park, and back to Main Street over a bridge that is temporarily reduced to one lane from two. With all that good caffeine humming around in my head, I saw the duck, if I may make allusion to that game in which you connect the dots to see the outline of an animal.

One member of our group had noted that almost all the stores on Mt. Morris' Main Street were closed on Sunday afternoon. The Rainy Day Bakery and Cafe closes at 3, but opened up in response to her plea for an afternoon cup of coffee. "What if I were leaving Letchworth State Park and getting ready to drive 5 hours back to New York? I'd need a cup of coffee," she pointed out. And with a great cappuccino from Rainy Day, you wouldn't even need gas!

Which easily leads to the idea that the shopkeepers on Main Street should stay open longer hours to give coffee to the tourists and make the whole restoration a success. But I was reminded of a classic drawing by James Marston Fitch, in his book "American Building." It shows a man in a house, and indicates how the weight of the environment is lifted off his shoulders by the building. This is the promise of urbanism: that we can organize the space to carry the load, while we run around in the state park, oohing and ahhing at the beautiful gorge.

But what, we think next, is the environmental intervention that would make Mt. Morris zing? I was really impressed with Ron Shiffman's idea about a fountain topped by an eagle which used to be in the middle of the road. There is a similar one in the middle of Main Street in Geneseo and it works beautifully to tame and shape the space of Main Street. Such a move, I thought, would slow traffic enough that passersby would slow, be captivated, stop, enjoy, and this increase in local traffic would tip the scales in favor of the village's future.

In leaving today, I cast my vote: Put the Eagle Back on Main!

The End of the Mt. Morris Consultation

Sunday, October 23, 2011

After visting 50 Main Streets, I'm ready to commit

Day 3, Mt. Morris Consultation

I spent the day working on the Main Street consultation with Mt. Morris, Livingston County, NY. Professor Shiffman led a productive brainstorming session that led to the formation of 3 committees and the assignment of tasks. The 9 Pratt students on the trip settled down to work. The 3 professors, Ron and Yvette Shiffman and I, set off to see more Main Streets. Livingston County has a Main Street program, with 5 villages in it, including two we hadn't seen yet: Nunda, to the south of Mt. Morris and Lima, to the north. We went to Nunda first. It is very small, but the three generations of Kathy's Florist had led a wonderful effort to decorate for Halloween. The various poles around Main Street were surrounded by cornstalks and corn people were settled in benches all over town. It gave the place a charming and festive air. It reminded me of the "Villages Fleuris" in France -- the Flowered Cities -- which have flowers everywhere, in hanging pots, planters and beds, giving the place a festive, joyous look.

After Nunda we headed north to Lima, but decided to see Avon first (Lima is pronounced like the bean and Avon with the hard Rochester o). Avon has a large central circle, and in the center is a monument to the sons of the town who lost their lives in the Civil War. The names are listed for us to remember. I have recently been communicating with Veterans Affairs about my mother's "death benefit," a pension she receives because her first husband, Clifford J. Hunter, was lost in World War II. He died heroically, but I don't know if his name and deeds are carved anywhere for future generations to ponder and admire. The circle also had a water fountain installed in 1904 by the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Ron, who has been watching the documentary on Prohibition, commented that there were more bars in New York AFTER the law was passed.

From Avon we went to Lima, whose sign says, "A village at the crossroads of Western New York," the crossroads in question being two paths used by Iroquois Nation. We went to the American Hotel, which has a roster of 300 soups, from which co-owner Rose A. Reynolds chooses 6-7 to make every day. She and her brother/co-owner Patrick regaled us with stories about the hotel, the village, soup, etc. I had the awesome Aruba pea soup, and I bought Rose's cookbook, "Never Enough Thyme."

These visits bring my total to 50 cities. I am now ready to make a commitment to a deeper analysis. I am going to study all the cities of Essex County, NJ, looking at how they are interconnected, what each offers to its local community and the surrounding area, and the ways in which improvements in any of them might help the whole county to prosper. That will take care of 43 of the remaining 50. The other seven cities will continue to be those cities that cross my path as I travel around the US and other countries. be continued

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Two more Main Streets

Day 2, Mt. Morris Consultation

Today our group took a bus tour of Geneseo, Mount Morris and Dansville, NY, adding two new main streets to my list. This was a fascinating day. We got to see the bear fountain on Main Street in Geneseo, a WPA Art Show at the Livingston County Art Center, the Mt. Morris Dam, and the Star Theater in Dansville. The charm of the places and the complexity of the issues made it a very stimulating day. Tonight we're off to "Poe by Flashlight" at Theater 101 (which could be quite scary), followed by dinner at Questa Lasagna, both on Main Street in Mount Morris.

To be continued...

Friday, October 21, 2011

Main Street, Mount Morris, NY

Day 1, Mt. Morris Consultation

Mount Morris, NY, hit the news when Greg O'Connell began to invest there. O'Connell was a major developer of Red Hook, and had learned that it was a good idea to assemble as large a piece of land as possible, he told a group of planners from Pratt today. So he quietly worked to buy as many buildings on Main Street as he could. He hoped that he could help rejuvenate the area the way he helped in Red Hook: doing things that benefited everybody in the community. He showed pictures of the before and after which demonstrated the thorough and thoughtful work of bringing historic buildings back to life and the even more complex work of finding the entrepreneurs whose ideas and savvy could fill the buildings with useful restaurants, stores and services.

O'Connell has worked with Professor Ron Shiffman of Pratt Institute over the years. Shiffman put together a planning studio that will offer advice for the future of Main Street. Knowing my interest in Main Streets, Shiffman invited me along.

As if to prove the point that O'Connell really wanted to listen -- and wanted us to listen as well -- he invited local leaders to meet with us in Theater 101 on Main Street. More than 40 local leaders showed up for an afternoon of conversation about the future of Main Street. I was touched by the number of people who said, "I'd written Mount Morris off. I didn't believe it could come back." They sounded like they were still surprised that it had. As the afternoon conversation went on, I began to glimpse how each of those people had contributed to the revitalization of the area. O'Connell broke a logjam, and allowed good ideas to flow.

The area seems to be a site of good ideas: the local paper noted that the Rochester area was leading upstate New York in economic recovery, having added more than 10,000 jobs to the economy across all sectors, including manufacturing. Creative ideas, willingness to innovate, a tradition of solidarity, and openness of government all seem to be part of the mix, from what I heard today.

"They're willing to do little things, to recognize that 50 businesses each employing 2 people is the same as one business that employs 100," Shiffman commented.

What more is needed? One complaint that came up in the afternoon's conversation was about traffic. I tried to cross Main Street myself and was terrified. "But the traffic is an asset," one participant said. French unbanist Michel Cantal-Dupart has commented that towns that live by the highway have to play a careful balancing game: they want to slow traffic so people will get interested in their town and stop, but they can't slow it too much or drivers will get mad at them.

To be continued...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Main Street, Wall Street: Occupy for Root Shock

In the years that I've been strolling Main Streets, I've watched the recession hit and it's been a hard hit. In the common parlance, Main Street is the antonym of Wall Street, both as places and as sets of people. With the recession and the concentration of wealth, Main Street has gotten poorer and Wall Street has gotten obscenely richer. This has shaken Main Street's way of life. Foreclosures have taken people's homes, unemployment has left them with no money to spend for food, shelter or clothes, and the hostility of the right has left them -- us -- with no hope of a safety net in times of troubles. Eric Fullilove, an economist and planner, described this as "root shock," using the term I coined to describe the painful disorientation and confusion people experience after the destruction of their neighborhoods. I studied root shock in cities that had undertaken urban renewal in the 1950s and 1960s. People whose neighborhoods had been bulldozed still suffered from the pain of that loss. They told me about losing not only their homes, but also their social networks, political organizations, friendships, even close ties to family were disrupted. As I describe in my book, Root Shock, the costs of root shock were astronomical, and they had not been remediated. Eric's assertion that the current economic dislocations are causing root shock offered me a new way to look at the impromptu demonstrations going on now and spreading all over the world. In New York they have the title "Occupy Wall Street." Demonstrators in other cities have attached their city name to "Occupy." While it might seem that the "occupy" is simply indicating that the demonstrators plan to go and stay for a while, I think that the "occupy" can be interpreted as a definitive cure for the root shock we are all suffering. The cause of root shock is the loss of all or part of one's emotional ecosystem. The cure: to get settled in a new place. What better place for uprooted Main Street to seek new roots than Wall Street?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Main Street, the movie

Last night I watched Horton Foote's Main Street. The movie has a strong cast, headed by Colin Firth and Orlando Bloom. It examines a moment in the life of Durham, North Carolina, hanging on by a thread and offered the lifeline of toxic waste storage. Mr. Foote, who wrote the screenplay for Trip to Bountiful and adapted To Kill a Mockingbird, was noted for his explorations of the lives of ordinary people facing ordinary life events. In the case of Main Street, people are facing the collapse of the city, after the decline of the tobacco industry. In this case he takes us into the confusion of the old, the grief of the middle-aged as their children move away, the frustration of young people who have to leave for a future. He also examines the ever hopeful search for a future for the city, so desperate that its leaders are even willing to consider bringing toxic waste to town. Main Street is a tidy a summary of what I've seen in my trips.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Rutland's "Art in the Park"

Today I went to see the 50th annual "Art in the Park" in Rutland, Vermont. The Chaffee Art Center is the organizer of the event which takes place in Main Street Park in August and October. It is a juried event, with over 100 exhibitors of arts and crafts, as well as local foods. The park is a block-square grassy space, just big enough to house the exhibits, but not so big that the visitors got lost in the space. We had a good time browsing and chatting with artists, then went to see Merchats' Row, the old Main Street of Rutland. One side of Main Street was tranformed into a mall, the other side looks like 19th century Vermont. Neither is holding its own against the movement of traffic and commerce to the wide and busy Routes 7 and 4, which dominate the flow in the area. They are classically ugly American shopping highways, no charm, no distinction. Driving around the Rutland area, including Killington and Okemo ski areas, gave me the distinct impression that tourism in Vermont has taken a hit from the long recession. As we were driving back from the movies in Rutland, my granddaughter pointed out Evenint Song, a farm where she and other campers had helped with weeding and making a swimming hole. These are young farmers, getting started, with signs in front of their farm saying "Join our CSA." I'd bought from them at the Ludlow Farmer's Market two days before. Good stuff, beautiful varieties and great taste. If necessity is the mother of invention, we may be for many new approaches in years to come.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Busman's holiday

I'm on my "busman's holiday," actually spending a week staying on Main Street in Ludlow VT and getting around to visit new Main Streets in the area. So far, I've been to visit North Bennington, South Londonderry and Woodstock. Vermont, though known as a rural and agriculture state, has a strong networks of cities, towns and villages. As far as I can tell, these places all have an old mill by a fast-running stream or river. Milling for lumber, paper and cloth were found throughout the state. The state deindustrialized early and only a few mills are still in existence. North Bennington is exemplary in still having a variety of industries that employ local people: much needed throughout the nation. In this state, the loss of industry is a stark fact, present in every Vermont urban center. Not that it's all work: Vermont has neatly placed state parks within minutes of the city centers. Today we went hiking in Okemo State Park to see Buttermilk Falls. My grandson Javi, 7, was pretty sure that Big Foot was lurking behind the trees, but we didn't see him.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Summer ramblin'

This summer has been a time to stroll on my local Main Streets, Main Street in Orange, Valley Road in the Valley, and South Orange Avenue, in South Orange. Mazzi Dogz has the best ice coffee, Main Street Orange the richest, most diverse collection of things and people, and SOAve the nicest plaza. I had a delightful time one morning eating a bran muffin from Cait and Abby Bakery and watching a pigeon position himself so as not to be bothered by the anti-pigeon wires on the plaza's gazebo.

It's also been a great time to make trips and see new Main Streets. I've been to Hudson, NY, which just got mentioned in the NY Times as Williamsburg in the Hudson Valley. I went to see David Dew Bruner, at David Dew Bruner Designs. David is a member of the faculty at the New York Botanical Gardens Landscape Design program, and I've taken several classes with him. He's a dazzling teacher, slowly unlocking the mystery of design from the blank page to the buildable garden. His store is filled with treasures. I found a big pile to tools that looked like old compasses to me. "Do you know what that is?" he asked. "A compass?" I responded. "No, it's a caliper, for measuring off equal distances." He showed me how it worked, and how it could be hung on the wall, and how it looked like a person. It was old and worn, felt good in my hand, and seemed like it would be at home on my desk, so it came with me. David had information about everything, and for everybody. It was a feast of possibility to be in his store. He told me about Hudson and its evolution from river port town, to industrial town, to disinvested town, to gentrified town. It's hovering now, looking for direction. David posed for a photo in front of his window, which was featuring sculptor Lee Musselman's piece, "Playing in a Rose Garden."

I also went to Saratoga Springs, which I've visited before. Main Street has been swallowed by the mall, which makes it a peculiar hybrid. It's one of those Main Streets that has nearly severed its physical connection to the surrounding city. But the Saratoga Spa State Park is extraordinary and very true to its origins, as the public's spa. I had a 40-minute mineral bath that was Nirvana, and a massage that made everything better. The best thing about it was the reasonable rates. Irresistible: thank you, New York.

I returned to Johnstown, New York, an Adirondack city famous as the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the leaders of the movement for women's emancipation. It is an historic old city, a former home to Knox Gelatin, but now severed from its industrial past. It's not had much gentrifiction and is looking for an honest future. I was sad that a nice bookstore I'd seen opening its doors last summer was closing them on this visit.

Along with a group of urbanists, I went to Brownsville, in New York City, to visit the Brownsville Partnership, a program promoting health through exercise and better nutrition. We learned about their programs and toured the neighborhood. it is an exciting and walkable place. We also got to see the famous Pitkin Avenue, which is one of the great streets of New York. Almost as much fun as Main Street in Orange: I felt right at home. We were thrilled by a stunning fountain, in beautiful perspective, in the middle of the housing projects, for which the neighborhood is famous. Our group was unable to resist the chance to catch a bit of cool on a very hot day. Rarely have I seen a more perfectly placed fountain in the US.

Then, yesterday, I went to Asbury Park as part of the University of Orange Summer Session on the Elements of Urban Restoration. We had a tour organized by Interfaith Neighbors. I got to appreciate how Asbury Park is permeated with music. The scene from which Bruce Springstein emerged is alive and well and making it happen in Asbury! Their boardwalk is the most open, most diverse there is. The Jersey Shore is horribly segregated by Asbury is for everybody. Somehow the city is managing to find new life, despite having been mauled and kidnapped by 1960s urban renewal.

Asbury's slow revival points to the future for all the places I've been. It's hard but it's possible. These might be the terms of success: 1) Yankee ingenuity (this is generic, the ingenious person doesn't have to be a Yankee), 2) cooperation, 3) interconnection, and 4) tapping the wellstone of local history and culture.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Reshaping housing policy

Shelterforce, in celebration of its 36th anniversary, published a set of essays called "6 Ideas to Reshape Housing Policy." In my essay, I proposed that the problem of housing lies not in the individual units, but in their assembly into larger wholes. One of the key issues we face is making those wholes dynamic, diverse, and integral. In proposing this thought, I echo Jane Jacobs, whose book, Death and Life of Great American Cities, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. She wrote, "In our American cities, we need all kinds of diversity, intricately mingled in mutual support. We need this so city life can work decently and constructively, and sot he people of cities can sustain (and further develop) their society and civilization." The great enemy of diversity in the American city is Jim Crow. The great hope for our future lies in reknitting the fragments back into an integral and functional whole. I'll be addressing this process of urban restoration in my new book, Elements of Urban Restoration.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Main Street Ribbon Walk

Last Thursday, June 23rd, West Orange notables, and ordinary citizens like me, walked around Valley Road for three ribbon cuttings! The first was at Mazzi Dogz, the hot dog place around the corner from my house. The second was at Planet Wings, up at shopping plaza on South Valley Road. They had a person dressed as a chicken and truly outstanding face painting. The third was Suzy BBQ, just south of the plaza on Valley Road. The Mayor's Office has brought a pair of giant scissors for the ceremonies--I mean giant! It was a lot of fun. I look forward to many more.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn

Councilmember Leticia James, Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and others convened a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the creation of new unity plan for the Atlantic Yards site. I got to Brooklyn Commons, at 388 Atlantic Avenue, early and got a seat up front, which turned out to be a good idea as the place was overflowing with people. As one audience member put it, "We have been kicked to the curb on two issues -- stopping the abuse of eminent domain and putting an arena at Atlantic and Flatbush -- but we can still win on the issues that are in front of us." Those issues have to do with the site that adjoins the Barclays Arena, much of which has been cleared of homes and historic buildings and awaits the next thing. Ratner's original plans have been shelved, which opens up room for the community to propose something better. This is vitally important to future of Brooklyn, and even the future of the Greater New York region. One of the principles of urban restoration that I've identified in my Main Street travels is the open creation of a vision that represents the aspirations of the people. This is a great moment to go all over Brooklyn -- indeed, I'd say go all over New York City -- and find out what people need and want. Then let's consider how those needs and wants relate to the massive Atlantic Yards site. This critically important process will help us build the kind of consensus that can win the next round of the fight.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Main Street Fete

Friday night. Main Street, Brooklyn. DUMBO seems too cool to have a Main Street, but there it is. I'm going to 37, Powerhouse Arena, a bookstore/event space, for a party celebrating the New York premier of "Battle for Brooklyn," at the Brooklyn Film Festival. I had seen cuts of the film, but the final version, with diagrams and music and storyline, starts off very hard and never lets up. It tells the story of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and its 7 year fight to stop Bruce Ratner's ill-conceived Atlantic yards project. "It's like David and Goliath," says attorney Norman Siegel, "but you know, sometimes David wins." At the end of the film, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is chortling, "No one will remember how long it took." But we are watching the film, and we remember. I finger the leaflet in my pocket inviting me to a meeting June 15th to see the Unity Plan for the area. I plan to go. I want to see what Marshall Brown, Ron Shiffman and the other collaborating urban planners are proposing. The film's wonderful hero, Dan Goldstein, and brilliant heroine, Shabnam Merchant, are tenacious, ethical and beautiful. I learned a lot and look forward to seeing it over and over. In the meantime, at 37 Main Street, the activists and the film crowd rub shoulders in one of the moments of festivity in which we catch our breath and refuel for the next round in the fight.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hot diggity dog!

Mazzi Dogz, which used to be on Main Street in Orange, NJ, has moved to Valley Road, right around the corner from my house. The new spot opened on Monday and we were there at 7 AM for donuts. Tuesday I went back for lunch with Pat Morrissy. We debated this and that while eating great hot dogs. Pat had espresso from the fabulous oldtime machine, recently refurbished, while I stuck with Diet Coke which seemed better suited to hot spring day. Suddenly Valley Road is hot bed of good eats. Think about it: Rock It Pizza, Miriam's, Gamburgers, Hat City Kitchen, and now Mazzi Dogs. And just around the corner on Central Avenue we have Bella Italia, Uncle Philly's Cheesteaks, Rita's Deli and White Castle. Hot diggity!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Battle of the Benches

On April 9, 2011, a major battle was fought in Orange, NJ: the Battle of the Benches. The lawn of the historic Orange Public Library was the site of the action. Eleven competitors arrived with benches they'd made, designed to compete in a list of categories. Invention was the order of the day. The contest was tough.
I got my bench ready by going to the benchmaking workshops led by University of Orange carpentry professor, Frank Racioppi. He helped me make my simple bench. "Helped" is being generous about my part. I sanded and painted, he did the rest. Then I recruited a star teammate: Vlad Jean, master artist. When the competition heard about my successful recruitment, they knew. And they were right! We took first place in the "Orange Pride" category. Vlad brought to life the energy and hope of an historic train that put Orange on the map as early as 1832. We won lunch for four at John's Market, best Italian lunch in town. Join us!