People’s City Report Card
Most New Yorkers recognize—and even the tourists know—that the heart of New York City is found not only at the Met or Lincoln Center, but in the hustle and bustle, the cacophonous mix of ethnic groups, social classes, and the arts. Increasingly, we are aware of the pressures that are forcing new immigrants, artists, and working people out of the city and making it more difficult for them to express their traditions, culture, and art. With passionate interest in what’s distinctive and local about New York, we have issued, for the seventh year, the People’s City Report Card 2016. Our first Report Card for the de Blasio administration shows that he is, in large part, seeking to fulfill his campaign promise to support New York’s grassroots cultures. Become a member and help us keep the grassroots growing!
PEOPLE’S CITY REPORT CARD 2017
Last year we highlighted artist Matthew Chavez, aka “Levee,” who encouraged MTA commuters to post sticky note messages on the 14th Street/6th Avenue transfer tunnel. The project was initiated on November 9, 2016 as a way for New Yorkers to express emotions of all kinds following the presidential election. The sticky note project grew out of his earlier seven-month initiative, “Subway Therapy”—a table and two chairs installed in the same tunnel, where people stopped to discuss their hopes and fears. In 2017, Levee continued to offer table and chair sessions twice a month in the 14th Street transfer tunnel. As the anniversary of the election approached, he increased to weekly open office hours, and brought back the stickies. On November 9, 2017, he posted the prompt: How is Your Life Different Than a Year Ago? “You can follow the project on Instagram at @subwaytherapy.
Muslim Ban Protest @ JFK
On Saturday, January 28th, thousands gathered at Terminal Four of JFK International Airport to protest Trump’s Executive Order 13769, issued the previous day. Known informally as “the Muslim ban,” the order blocked entry of nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries into the United States for ninety days, and suspended the resettlement of refugees for four months. Travelers and immigrants, including green card holders, were detained at U.S. Customs, while others attempting to fly into the country were blocked from boarding US-bound airplanes. The protest at JFK began as a vigil at 6pm and swelled to a massive rally by the end of the night. Protesters and allies commuting through the JFK campus held signs, honked car horns, and shouted “no hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here.” Many of the protestors were lawyers, and were partly responsible for the over fifty legal challenges brought in the first four days of the ban. The protest will be remembered as a defining, spontaneous urgent response by the people of NYC.
CreateNYC is the city’s first-ever comprehensive cultural plan. Published by the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) in 2017, the plan outlines strategies toward uplifting arts and culture across the city, and creating a more inclusive, equitable, and resilient cultural ecosystem for all New Yorkers. Based on input gathered over the course of six months from hundreds of thousands of artists, organizations, and residents from across the five boroughs, the plan identifies eight major and inter-related issue areas, including equity and inclusion; social and economic impact; affordability; neighborhood character; arts, culture, and science education; arts and culture in public space; citywide coordination; and health of the cultural sector. City Lore is proud to have significantly contributed to CreateNYC. The report honors City Lore’s Place Matters program in the chapter on protecting and leveraging neighborhood character, referencing community asset mapping initiatives, such as the Census of Places that Matter.
A coalition of artists and activists has also generated The People’s Cultural Plan, a policy document that seeks to address and redress the blindspots in the city’s official report. The People’s Cultural Plan advocates for “truly equitable inclusion (not tokenization) of artists and cultural workers of color, equitable and adequate wages, employee benefits, job protection, and upward mobility for all artists and cultural workers.” The thoughtful, thorough, and concrete 17-page document focuses on and puts forth policy suggestions related to equitable housing, land, and development policies; labor equity; and public funding equity. It proposes a target of $840M for DCLA’s annual budget, with three tiers of budgetary priorities until that number is reached wherein increases go first to the communities, artists, and organizations with the greatest need.
Though slightly smaller than in past years, 2017’s J’Ouvert, the traditional Trinidadian “break of day” pre-Carnival celebration, took place this Labor Day weekend with all of the usual, fantastically exuberant art and play on the streets of Brooklyn. Despite a new sunrise start time, heavily increased security presence, and a no-alcohol policy—all the result of past years’ negative press that marred J’Ouvert’s reputation by incorrectly correlating criminal activity with the event —the beloved ritual was replete with revelers “wining” and singing along with fourteen masquerade bands, eight steelbands, and six rhythm bands. Brooklyn College Musicologist and Folklorist, Dr. Ray Allen, tells us that J’Ouvert has a long history of hostile response from authorities and mainstream media, both in the Caribbean and New York City. Many are concerned that the new rules dishonor and censor the tradition – asking J’Ouvert to start at daylight rather than at 4;00 am, one reveler said, “is like asking Christians to celebrate Midnight Mass at dawn.” Still, Brooklyn J’Ouvert is going strong. As Allen notes, “especially in these current troubling times when standing up to xenophobia, racism, and class inequity has taken on new levels of immediacy for all, J’Ouvert, with its spirit of resistance, has survived for over a hundred-fifty years, and there is no reason to suspect it won’t continue to do so.”
In the spring, Barbès—the beloved Park Slope bar and performance space—announced that it was in trouble. For the last fifteen years, Barbès has presented strong original music on a nightly basis – regardless of genre, trend, “or even common sense.” Although it has functioned as a neighborhood hub and watering hole, and seven-night-a-week musical project incubator, Barbès could no longer deny that doing business in a re-branded Brooklyn has become a tremendous challenge. Increased rents and cost of goods and services led to a dwindling profit margin, and although the landlord was sympathetic, the bar owed $70,000, and the city placed a lien on the building. Citing a hard deadline of July 1st, Barbés turned to the community for help, saying, “Barbès has no assets – our only assets are the musicians who have chosen Barbès as a creative home, and the Barbès audience that comes and supports them.” Thankfully, the audience and community rallied like hell. A benefit event and Indiegogo campaign raised almost $65,000,The owners have promised that they have every intention of surviving for however long they can – or at the very least until the end of their current lease, five years from now. A happy, albeit temporary, end to what is by now and all-too-common story.
Street Vendors and New York’s Grassroots Economy
Sean Basinski, Director of the Street Vendor Project, reports that it has been a very hard year for our city’s street vendors. Between our Muslim vendors facing increased hatred in the streets, and our Latino vendors who are often undocumented, many vendors are justifiably afraid. What is worse is that, unlike in L.A. (https://www.saveur.com/la-street-vendors-gain-legal-rights), the NYC government has yet to do anything to protect vendors in response. Much of the criminalization of vendors is based on the lack of permits. There is a serious proposal (Intro 1303) on the table at City Council to increase the number of permits, but the Mayor is still not on board, so it has not come to a vote. de Blasio deserves an F on that. In addition, the crackdown on immigration and the Muslim Ban threatens all New Yorkers where we live. It endangers many street vendors, doormen, restaurant workers and working people who continue to give New York City character and affordability and threatens their chance to be a part of this great city. Above all, New York is a city of immigrants. Let’s keep it that way.
This year the Bronx lost an important icon of the Puerto Rican community who helped to change the cultural landscape of the entire borough. Calixto “Caly” Rivera (d. July 30th, 2017) founded JCR Percussion close to 50 years ago. While he made a variety of percussive instruments for Latin music: bongo, timbales, bomba barriles, panderetas for plena, and congas, he was renowned for his handcrafted cowbells. Though he was courted by larger instrument companies to join their ranks and divulge his secrets, Rivera maintained his place in the Bronx, which became a meeting place for the best percussionists the world over—from Bronx-born Fania All-Star conguero Eddie Montalvo and Latin jazz bandleader Bobby Sanabria, to conguero Giovanni Hidalgo from Puerto Rico, to drummers from all over the world. Caly’s humble workshop, just up the hill from Yankee Stadium, was a reason the Bronx has been known as “el Condado de la Salsa” (The Salsa Borough).
PEOPLE’S CITY REPORT CARD 2016
On Thursday, November 10th, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued statements in response to a Trump campaign promise to withhold federal funds from “sanctuary cities,” cities that limit their cooperation with U.S. immigration authorities seeking to hold illegal immigrants in detention. On November 10th, de Blasio stated, “We are not going to sacrifice a half million people who live among us, who are part of our community.” While it is too soon to know whether the incoming administration will follow through on Trump’s campaign pledge to deport millions of illegal immigrants, we hope that New York City will choose to embody the spirit of sanctuary for all of its residents.
Union Square Post It Notes
Throughout our recent history, New Yorkers use words on walls in public spaces to express a variety of views and emotions—grief, protest, anger. There were the 9/11 memorials such as the “Missing” posters and the tiles on a wall in the Union Square subway where family members write personal messages to lost ones. Today’s current displays include the “Mis Casa No Es Si Casa: Illumination Against Gentrification,” a resistance art project that protests neighborhood gentrification in Bushwick by creating slogans out of strings of Christmas lights; and the construction wall turned Guerilla Gallery on 116th St. between 2nd and 3rd Avenues run by the Harlem Art Collective, where East Harlem residents use words and images to voice concerns over immigrant rights and the tragedy of the 43 disappeared students from the Rural Teachers College in Mexico. Now to give voice to the despair, anger, sadness, and for some, the excitement, of the recent outcome of the presidential election, Union Station subway station has been turned into a forum. Several tiled walls have been covered with post-it notes with messages and quotes ranging from hope, support, and unity to mobilization and outrage. This project was begun by artist Matthew Chavez, who goes by the moniker Levee, as a way to vent emotion, which grew out of his earlier project, “Subway Therapy”—a way to de-stress through conversation in NYC’s subways. The post-it notes began to go up the day after the election when he posted “Express Yourself.” At Union Station 10,000 messages have been amassed. The post-it notes—quick memos in office settings–provide an ephemeral, cathartic release in a new context, and we are pleased that the New York Historical Society will be collecting and archiving the notes.
Jim Power’s Mosaic Trail and the Alamo Reinstalled at Astor Place
In 2016, with the Village Alliance an City Lore taking a lead role, friends and allies rallied hard to help artist Jim Power restore his magnificent light pole mosaics, New York City’s longest-lasting guerilla art. Jim teamed up with Julie Powell to refurbish the poles which were installed, now as totems, in the reopened Astor Place in November. Happily, seven of Jim’s poles will be permanent, vibrant features of the Astor Place landscape. On November 1st, Bernard (Tony) Rosenthal’s beloved sculpture, Alamo, aka “The Cube,” was also reinstated at Astor Place after a two-year absence.
Bronx Music Heritage Center’s New Home
The Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDco) is ready to begin building the Bronx Commons, an arts-based, mixed-use development project. The development, located in the Melrose Commons neighborhood of the South Bronx, on the west side of Elton Avenue, between East 162nd and East 163rd Streets, will house the permanent home of the Bronx Music Heritage Center, including a theater, gallery, and classroom space. Their goal is to set aside some units for elderly musicians. The ceremonial groundbreaking is scheduled for early 2017.
Plan for the Bronx Common, future home of the BMHC.
Designation of NYC’s Historic LGBT Sites
In March, the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project nominated Julius’ Bar to the National Register of Historic Places. Julius’, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in April, is often referred to as the oldest gay bar in New York City, and is perhaps best known as the site of the April 21, 1966 “sip-in,” a significant event staged to counter the illegality of serving a drink to a gay person in New York. In addition, this June, President Barak Obama declared the Stonewall Inn the country’s first LGBT National Monument.
Last year, Mayor de Blasio signed legislation requiring New York City to generate CreateNYC, the first-ever comprehensive cultural plan for the city. In 2016, the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs launched a variety of opportunities for the public to participate in the planning process and offer feedback for overall issues to be addressed in the Cultural Plan. See http://createnyc.org/show-up/ We hope that CreateNYC reflects a nuanced, inclusive roadmap for the future of New York’s cultural sector when the Plan is delivered to the Mayor’s Office in July 2017. City Lore is seeking to assure that groups we call Community Anchors – religious institutions, small businesses and social clubs – that serve as hubs for community-based arts but operate largely outside of the philanthropic world are included in the plan.
A New Garden
In 1989, two weeks after the Central Park attack, Donald Trump spent a reported $85,000 on advertisements in the city’s newspapers, a headline of which read, “Bring Back The Death Penalty. Bring Back Our Police!” In the message, Trump wrote, “I … hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes. They must serve as examples. . . On Monday, November 7th, 2016, the day before the presidential election, we spoke with the father of one of the Central Park Five, who served 5 years in prison before they were exonerated, about his motivation to open a community garden in his native East Harlem. He did not talk about the case, or the boys’ lost childhoods, or the miscarriage of justice. He spoke only about how he, his family, and community had to carve out safe space, a sanctuary, in their own city after being targeted and harassed.
Gardens vs. Low Cost Housing
Time and again, New York City has proposed low cost or mixed use housing on the sites of beloved community gardens. This year, the Elizabeth Street Garden between Spring and Prince streets is battling the de Blasio administration, asking them to select an alternate site for mixed use housing and not to destroy or drastically diminish the beautiful garden which is one of the few open spaces of parkland in Lower Manhattan. More than 5,000 letters have been written in support.
Sean Basinski, Director of the Street Vendor Project, says it’s too soon to tell how street vendors fared in 2016. On October 13th the Street Vendor Modernization Act was introduced by City Council members. The Act would double the number of food cart and truck vendor permits over the next seven years. The city capped at the number of permits at 3,000 in the early 1980s, but so many more have sought them, and many are on 20-year waiting lists. On October 27th, the City Council Consumer Affairs Committee held an eight-hour hearing on the issue, wherein the mayor effectively said that he did not know if the city would be increasing the number of street vending permits. According to Basinski, the city council is ready to make this change for increased equity. However, businessmen like Donald Trump do not support the small vendors, no less the idea of more of them. Basinski says that the change could and should still happen this calendar year, while the iron is still hot.
Trump Tower Barricades
The barricades, trucks, security guards, and bomb-sniffing dogs clogging 5th Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets, the high-traffic area the area around Trump Tower, are costing the city nearly $475,000 per day. Members of the press are quarantined in corrals across the street, and two lanes of 5th Avenue traffic have been closed. On Monday, December 5th, Mayor de Blasio asked the federal government to cover the total $3.5 million burden that the city has incurred for protecting Trump’s midtown apartment since election night. Taxpayers and city council members alike have signed circulated a petition to charge the US government the estimated $1 million-per-day fee of guarding the president-elect and his family in Trump Tower during the upcoming four-year term. Trump’s decision to maintain his family’s primary residence in New York threatens to undermine city’s security, circulation, and economy.
Federation of Black Cowboys
Federation of Black Cowboys, September 2015
Last summer, the Federation of Black Cowboys, a group of African Americans who have found a way to ride horses and keep Black cowboy traditions alive in New York City, put in a bid to renew their license for Cedar Lane Stables, the 20-acre city-owned parcel that they and their mounts have maintained and called home since 1998. Historically, the federation was the only organization to respond to the RFP for the site, and have always won the bid by default. This time they were one of three bidders. In February they were informed that they hadn’t made the cut. The experience of the Federation of Black Cowboys, as well as other sites City Lore has advocated for, makes it clear that most allocations go to large organizations and high bidders. In addition, the sites are often subject to blind bidding, in which current users have to bid to keep their space without knowing the bids of their competitors. Assignments for the use of city-owned property should be preceded by a survey to assess the value of the organization and the space to the community.
Terraza 7 is a bar and music venue located at 40-19 Gleane Street, near the Elmhurst/Jackson Heights border. Opened on June 20, 2002, Terraza 7 hosts live music five nights a week, and features bands playing a range of sounds, from Afro-Peruvian, Afro-Colombian, and modern Latin jazz to bolero, salsa, timba, and jarocho. Part of Terraza 7’s mission is to make people in the community feel more involved, and to incorporate the traditions of their homeland — “cultural memories,” as founder and owner Freddy Castiblanco calls them — into their new city. Yet when Terraza 7’s lease is up at the end of 2016, the rent will increase sixfold from $4,500 to $27,000 per month, and Castiblanco will be forced to find a new home for the musicians and neighbors who have become his family. Castiblanco is currently searching for alternative venues, but finding the right space at a fair price is proving difficult.
PEOPLE’S CITY REPORT CARD 2015
Jim Powers Mosaic Poles
When the City made plans to undertake a complete renovation of the public spaces at Astor Place including new lighting fixtures, all of us assumed that the Vietnam Vet and Guerilla artist Jim Powers’ mosaic-covered light poles were doomed. Enter William Kelly and the Village Alliance. Working with the Department of Transportation, City Lore, Clayton Patterson, Bob Holmanand Jim himselfplans were made and are now underway to take down the poles, store and repair them, and put them up again as art objects rather than light poles. It’s a tribute the Lower East Side and its vibrant tradition of guerrilla art.
In his first term, Mayor de Blasio has promised to build 40,000 units of housing and preserve 120,000. Within that, he has set the goal of creating 1,500 units designed for artists. This, of course, is a drop in the bucket, given that New York is home to what Adam Forman, Research Director of the Center of an Urban Future, estimates to be 300,000 “creatives” living in the city. De Blasio’s goal is on track, partly due to a building boom in New York which enables him to pressure developers to create these units. P.S. 109, created by Arts Space in East Harlem, is a model, creating 89 units in which artists can both live and work. In January WHEDco is breaking ground on a new low cost housing complex that will include units for elderly musicians and will house the Bronx Music Heritage Center, which City Lore’s Elena Martínez is helping to create. Of course, many “artists” as opposed to “creatives” (which includes high tech designers in start ups and advertisers) are struggling to live in the city and considering other places. But de Blasio’s plans are a step in the right direction.
We are pleased to report that the de Blasio administration is working to further New York City’s Plaza Program. New York City now has 70 plazas across the five boroughs. Bloomberg’s plan was that all the plazas would run on a public/private partnership basis with the city providing the space but the local businesses providing the maintenance and programming. This, of course, works far better for the Manhattan sites with upscale businesses than in the outer boroughs. Partly through the work of the Plaza Program, led by Laura Hansen, the City Council has allotted 5.4 million dollars over three years to help program and maintain the plazas in low and moderate income neighborhoods.
Places that Matter: B & H
On the afternoon of March 26th, a gas explosion on the southwest side of the block toppled three buildings, claimed two lives, and destroyed four eateries including B&H Dairy, the beloved East Village deli. Numerous neighborhood businesses recovered soon after, but the beloved lunch counter was shuttered for five consecutive months, with its gas turned off, its counter empty, and its extended family of staff and clientele struggling to understand why B&H was the exception. Thanks to persistent advocacy campaigns from the neighbor Andy Reynolds, Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, Save NYC, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, EV Grieve, and NY1, the city finally gave B&H the green light to reopen on August 14th, and they haven’t stopped serving and celebrating since.
Places that Matter: Stonewall
In June, the Stonewall Inn was unanimously deemed an individual New York City landmark for its association with LGBTQ history in the city and the nation. 1960s New York City had one of the largest gay populations in the country. However, few establishments catered to gay and lesbian clientele. Police regularly raided gay bars and clubs to enforce “morality” laws that prohibited people from cross-dressing, same-sex couples from dancing, and businesses from selling alcohol to the gay community. These raids were the physical manifestations of tolerated, city-sanctioned harassment. On June 28, 1969, police raided Stonewall Inn. The skirmish escalated into three days of rioting, demonstrations, and street battles. Known as the Stonewall Uprising, the Stonewall Riots, or simply Stonewall, the events created a media sensation, garnering international attention. They inspired LGBTQ communities around the world to rise up in protest of discrimination, spawning the modern gay rights movement and the international fight for equality.
For too long, philanthropy for arts and culture has paid scant attention to many of the grassroots sites which serve as generative incubators and as sites for vibrant cultural activity in local communities. City Lore is pleased to have received a Ford Foundation grant of $105,000 grant for a Place Matters initiative to provide financial support to these exemplary cultural organizations, many of which are not 501(c)3s. In the Bronx these include Casita Rincon Criollo, a long-standing Puerto Rican social club built on a vacant lot; and El Maestro Boxing Gym and Cultural Center; in Manhattan: Marjorie Eliot’s Parlor Entertainment in Sugar Hill, which has hosted free concerts in Marjorie’s livingroom for over 20 years; in Queens: the Hindu Temple Society of North America in Flushing and La Terazza 7 Latin music club; in Brooklyn: Sesame Flyers Trinidadian Social Club and Mas Camp and the Haitian Radio Station El Soleil; in Staten Island: the largely Liberian Christ Assembly Lutheran Church/African Immigrant Ministry and the Sri Lankan Vihara Buddhist Temple. To be able to offer this kind of support to these groups is a dream come true for City Lore, and we believe that the report and documentation we are creating for the project will serve as model that will generate increased support for grassroots sites in NYC and beyond.
Arts in Education
City Lore is committed to arts education for every NYC public school students, and our own education program brings folk artists and artist residencies into more than 20 schools. We are delighted that the Mayor and his Education Commissioner, Carmen Farina, have put added several million dollars into arts in education. These new dollars are a welcome infusion of funding and support for arts education in city schools, but we would like to see a return to the Project Arts Program put in place during the Giuliani administration which distributed funds for the arts to all city schools based on the number of students in the school.
Sadly, we are missing several luminaries of New York City’s green space movement. In late July, Jose “Chema” Soto, founding father of the South Bronx’s Casita Rincon Criollo, passed away at age 70. Casitas are small houses surrounded by gardens lots to create the look and feel of the Puerto Rican countryside. Rincón Criollo, also known as La Casita de Chema, is one of the city’s oldest and largest. Environmental activist and gardener Adam Purple also passed away in September at the age of 84. Adam, whose real name was David Wilkie, is often considered one of the original pioneers of the Lower East Side community garden movement. Adam built and fought a losing battle to save the spectacular 15,000 square foot Garden of Eden between Forsyth and Eldridge Streets, which was visible to NASA from outer space.
This year City Lore celebrated the 30th anniversary of subway musician Roger Manning’s historic legal challenge which helped establish first amendment rights for musicians to play on the subway in 1985. These performerswho “instill a homesickness for freedom in the lives of ordinary men”continue to be harassed as they exercise their constitutional right to perform on subway platforms and mezzanines. For example, at the close of 2014, Andrew Kalleen, 30, was ejected from the G subway platform at the Lorimer StreetMetropolitan Avenue stop after calmly explaining to the officer that he was doing nothing illegal. A video of the incident captured by straphangers waiting for a train shows a police officer approaching Kalleen and telling him he needed a permit to play therewhich the musician disputes. Eventually, Kalleen is led off in handcuffs. The video went viral on the .
The Trump Effect
Overall, the de Blasio administration is shifting resources to low income and middle class New Yorkers, smaller organizations, and groups in all five boroughs. Yet the forces of unbridled capitalism are much stronger than the city government. With the new building boom, every block of Manhattan, and much of the city, is a construction site. Immigrant artists, and those working in non-profits are paying skyrocketing rents to live in a place where they can still get to work each day. Small businesses are pushed out on a daily basis. As the working class is pushed away from Manhattan, the subways remain in disrepair, particularly on weekends. The wealthy are separated from working people geographically and the opportunities for ethnic groups and communities to interact is diminished. Although New York City is becoming a high tech center where “creatives” live comfortably, artists and working class New Yorkers are increasingly struggling and looking for other places to call home.
PEOPLE’S CITY REPORT CARD 2014
Legacy of the Bloomberg Years
From a populist perspective the Bloomberg years and the Bloomberg legacy have left the city monetarily rich yet culturally impoverished. Their People’s City Report Card is dreadful. Yes, city is graced with bike paths which are a wonderful amenity, but are far less of a help to outer borough residents who work in the city. Working class New Yorkers are increasingly pushed further out, and in one of the world’s richest metropolises, the subway is an embarrassment. It can’t even afford to install the light boxes which tell when the trains are coming on even half of the lines. Manhattan shops complain that they have trouble finding workers because the rents push them so far away that their commutes are too long. As the Lower East Side activist Clayton Patterson put it, “Change is inevitable, and, no, we don’t want the drugs and crime back. But there has to be a happy medium between middle- and low-income people being allowed to live, work and own small businesses, and the takeover by people with full pockets.”
Eric Garner who was slain by Staten Island cops earlier this year was a street vendor, arrested because he was selling loose cigarettes for $.50 without charging tax. As Steve Basinsky, Director of the Street Vendors Project notes, this is no cause for arrest, let alone killing a married father of six children. DeBlasio may be good on stop and frisk but his commissioner, Bratton, is continuing the “broken windows” policing which argues that harassing street vendors and street performers is going to stop robberies and murders. Whereas a year and a half ago the Street Vendors Project (part of the Center for Urban Justice) succeeded in lowering the maximum fine on street vendors from $1,000 to $500, the ticketing of street vendors continues unabated. Keep in mind that street vendors are still your best chance for finding a reasonably-priced meal in New York City.
This year NYC & Co., New York’s official tourism agency, appointed Taylor Swift — with her song “Welcome to New York” — as New York City’s global cultural ambassador. Taylor Swift? As activist Clayton Patterson puts it, “as we export the jobs do we need to import the talent?” Even if she lives in Brooklyn, she is hardly a New York City Icon. Madonna or Lady Gaga and dozens of others would have been far better choices.
Sadly, many beloved NYC places closed their doors in 2014, including 110 year old De Roberti’s Pasticceria and quirky Kim’s Video and Music on 1st Avenue, Bereket on Houston Street, and myriad north Brooklyn music venues, including Glasslands, 254 Kent and Death by Audio. The Kentile Floors sign was removed from the Brooklyn skyline, and the stunning Rizzoli Bookstore and the stalwart Subway Inn both relocated despite equally protracted and well-supported struggles to remain in situ.
The Magic Table
December 2014 marked the end of the Magic Table’s long-standing tenure at the Hotel Edison’s Café Edison. For the past 72 years, the Magic Table has served as a gathering place for coin snatchers, shadowgraphers, levitation aficionados, and generations of shell-game wizards. Located in the Hotel Edison’s Café Edison, “it’s a depot, a stopping-off point for magicians from all over the world,” said longtime host of the Magic Table, the late Mike Bornstein, who was known on the vaudeville circuit as Kolma the Magical Mandarin. “We don’t really have to be anywhere, so we come, we sit down, break bread with fellow magicians, discuss magic, talk about where you’ve come from or where you’re going, and maybe see a new trick or two.” In the fall, local magicians and their supporters began conjuring all of their powers to ensure that Cafe Edison, and the beloved Magic Table, were allowed to remain in the Edison Hotel. In early 2014, the cafe’s current manager, Conrad Strohl, received notice that the cafe would not be given a new lease for 2015. Sadly, Strohl and the Magicians lost their campaign, and the Café Edison closed its doors on Sunday, December 21. Strohl continues to search for nearby locations, but has not yet been able to find anything affordable. However, he promises that when he finds a new venue, the Magic Table will always be reserved. In the meantime, the Magic Table will be temporarily meeting at the Evergreen Restaurant with the hopes of resuming regular meetings at the Strohl family’s new eatery at some point in the future.
This year the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) proposed to “de-calendar” 94 individual properties and 2 historic districts across the five borough en masse. The vote, if executed as planned, would have precluded public testimony and presentation to the Commissioners of the merits of each property, and it would have constituted an unprecedented move on the part of LPC. Thankfully, in response to a public outcry, the vote was cancelled.
2014 has been an exceptionally difficult year for street and subway artists. Upon taking office, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton announced an increased police presence in the subway. Due to an on-going failure by the NYPD and MTA to clarify that Music Under New York banners are not a legal requirement, this led to several widely publicized arrests of freelance performers, whose performances were permissible under MTA rules. Meanwhile, after long-standing difficulties obtaining sound and performance permits for the parks and plazas they prefer, “Lite Feet” dancers and breakdancers continued to perform on subway trains as a second choice. In 2014, they were the target of a new effort to bring class A misdemeanor charges for reckless endangerment over their performances. Finally, parks performers and artists report continuing discontent with the city’s choice to restrict their work to a limited number of designated vending spots. The good news is that these issues inspired street performer Matthew Christian, a classically-trained violinist and contra-dance fiddler, to found BuskNY. Their effort to get the City Council onboard to support street performers, and their tireless advocacy promises to improve conditions for street performers on subways, parks and streets.
In 2010, the Center for an Urban Future published the report, Time to be Creative. The report argued that New York’s creative edge arguably is more at risk today than ever before. It is undeniable that many artists have given up on New York, reluctantly, for cheaper locales such as Philadelphia, New Orleans and Berlin. The report suggested that the economic downturn in the city posed possibilities – but the downturn is now over. Research Director David Giles notes that the City’s median income is declining while the median rents are increasing, pushing out artists and new immigrants, and increasingly threatening the creativity and tradition that is the city’s life blood. The bright side is the city is aware of the problem, and has taken small steps to alleviate it. The city commissioned Arts Space (out of Minneapolis) to convert a school in East Harlem, PS 109 into 89 living spaces for arts – thousands applied. The city is supporting renovations for the Clemente Soto Velez Educational and Cultural Center which offers subsidized studio space for visual artists, and has fast tracked a new housing development in the Bronx, developed by WHEDco which will have 15% of its units designated for elderly musicians. The city’s new SPARC initiative offers studio space to artists in city owned libraries and senior centers in exchange for teaching classes.
Arts in the Schools
The DeBlasio appointments of Carmen Farina to head the NYC Department of Education and Tom Finkelperl the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs are laudable. We are delighted that the Mayor’s office set aside 27 million for arts education initiatives through the Department of Education. These funds are being used to hire art and music teachers, re-establish borough arts coordinators, and offer the arts more expansively to special needs students in all five boroughs.
Knishes and Egg Creams
All is not lost – you can still get a knish at Yonah Schimmel’s, a pastrami Sandwich at Katz’s, a slice of cheesecake at Junior’s, a hot dog at Nathan’s in Coney Island, an Egg cream at Ray’s Candy Store and old fashion treats at Economy Candy and the new Handsome Dan’s Snocone and Candy Stand on 1st Ave. Thank God for small favors.
PEOPLE’S CITY REPORT CARD 2013
The Bloomberg administration has helped create and foster public plazas, closing off streets for pedestrian traffic, giving New Yorkers a place to sit and enjoy the city free of charge and beautifying public space. Most visible are the plazas in Times Square, Herald Square, Madison Square and the Meatpacking District, but the city is building the same public amenities across the five boroughs. The city’s goal is that every NYC resident should live no more than 10 minutes from public space, and new plazas are now functioning in Diversity Plaza, Jackson Heights; New Lots, Brooklyn; Washington Heights; and at The Hub in the Bronx. Particularly commendable is the new program, Neighborhood Plaza Partnership, led by Laura Hansen and based at THE HORT. The plazas’ operating funds do not come from the city, so they depend on public/private partnerships. They run on sweat equity, volunteer efforts and contributions from local businesses. The Manhattan plazas like Times Square have far more opportunities for raising funds, and the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership is seeking to find creative ways to support these open spaces in low income neighborhoods.
During the Bloomberg years, New York City has become a biking town, with bike paths running through many parts of Manhattan. The new, fairly ubiquitous Citibikes contribute to a liveable, healthy and attractive city. They are commendable because they enable those who live in the outer boroughs, who don’t have the time to bike in, to take public transportation and still take advantage of the bikes.
Overall, Aziz Dehkah, the first Executive Director of the NYC Community Gardens Coalition, is optimistic. The number of gardens and gardeners in New York is increasing. More than 400 gardeners attended the Mayoral Forum on April 28th at Cooper Union, where Pete Seeger sang and the candidates spoke. Ironically, the upturn in the city’s economy poses challenges. As developers started building again, gardens in Coney Island and NYU are threatened. Aziz and the coalition are hoping that Mayor DeBlasio will eventually make the gardens permanent.
Places That Matter.
The whitewashing of 5Pointz, the great outdoor graffiti museum in Long IslandCity whose glorious colors elevated riders on the 7 train for many years, is a travesty for NYC’s folk culture. It was done under the cover of darkness, similar to the way the House Under the Roller Coaster in Coney Island was destroyed by the Giuliani administration a decade ago.
Equally troubling is the Howard Hughes Corporation’s plans for redevelopment of the South Street Seaport area. It calls for the destruction of the NewMarketBuilding of the old Fulton Fish Market. Additionally, they plan to move the historic TinBuilding to make room for a 50-story hotel and condo tower. Needless to say, the loss of the historic NewMarketBuilding and addition of a glass skyscraper will ruin the integrity of the historic district, and visitors will not be able to experience a link to the city’s maritime past. An opportunity to revitalize the NewMarketBuilding will be lost.
In 2013, Place Matters participated in the successful campaign to landmark the Lower East Side’s BialystokerCenter and Home for the Aged. Although the structure no longer serves its original purpose, the building represents nearly a century of Jewish American history on the Lower East Side. Furthermore, as the Friends of the Bialystoker Home have noted, the home is one of only two extant structures on the north side of East Broadway that remain from the neighborhood’s earlier days. The Jewish American past has already suffered significant diminution in the Lower East Side. Protecting and preserving the Bialystoker Home prevents further erosion of this important historical narrative.
Last year the New York Public Library published a $300 million renovation plan for the Stephen A. Schwartzman building, guarded by the two lions Patience and Fortitude. The renovation included the demolition of Rose Main Reading Room’s historic seven-level book stacks. Massive public outcry has compelled the NYPL to revise its plans to include preservation of portions of the stacks, but designs will not be released until next year.
Recovery From Hurricane Sandy.
Last year, City Lore gathered a list of cultural organizations and sites impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Among them was the Coney Island History Project, completely devastated by the storm. FEMA told them that to qualify for assistance, the organization would have to apply and be denied a bank loan. This seemed like a daunting amount of futile paper work and red tape, so CIHP declined to apply. Happily their exhibition center is up and running again thanks generous donations from long-time supporters and its co-founder, Carol Albert. We visited CIHP in first week of this October, serendipitously on the same day as the reopening of the reconstructed Steeplechase Pier.
Everyone on a budget in New York knows that, in many parts of the city, street vendors are the only place to get a reasonably priced meal. The Street Vendor Project reports that, in September, the City Council passed legislation reducing the fines for street vendors who set up in the wrong spots from $1,000 to $500. Overall, however, the enforcement imposed on street vendors during the Bloomberg years has been extremely severe. In addition, street vendors are also concerned with the privatization of public space in Business Improvement Districts and plazas. They worry that the local businesses, now more organized, will work to oust vendors from neighborhood centers to avoid competition.
Street performers are increasingly challenged in New York City. City Lore has received more calls this year from performers who have been issued summonses than ever before. Performers often report that the police are unfamiliar with free speech laws and MTA regulations and are often unwilling to read the rules when presented with them. Part of the problem is the privatization of public space. Although the new plazas, Business Improvement Districts and park conservancies serve important functions, they often make street performance difficult. By setting themselves up as private rather than public property, they often hire their own security forces and no longer abide by the rules of free speech because performers are now on “private property.”
In 2010, the Center for an Urban Future published the report, Time to be Creative. The report argued that New York’s creative edge arguably is more at risk today than ever before. It is undeniable that many artists have given up on New York, reluctantly, for cheaper locales such as Philadelphia and Berlin. The report suggested that the economic downturn in the city posed possibilities—but the downturn is now over. Research Director David Giles notes that the City’s median income is declining while the median rents are increasing, pushing out artists and new immigrants, and increasingly threatening the creativity and tradition that is the city’s life blood.
Arts in the Schools.
For many low- and middle-income New Yorkers, access to the arts begins in public schools. Since 2007, when the Mayor Bloomberg eliminated Project Arts, the dedicated funding line for arts instruction, art in the schools has been cut. This, along with increased emphasis on math and language arts instruction to the exclusion of other subjects and more budget cuts, has decimated arts education in New York City’s public schools. Arts Connection Director, Steve Tennen, is hopeful that Mayor DeBlasio’s commitment to reducing reliance on testing and emphasizing public schools rather than charter schools, and a commitment to Pre-K and after school programs will help bring the arts back to the schools.
Loss of Knishes.
As you may have heard, a small fire broke out at the end of September at the Long Island factory, Gabila’s, that produces most of the city’s fried knishes, and created THE GREAT NEW YORK CITY KNISH SHORTAGE! The New York Times dubbed it a FAMINE. Delis like Katz’s which purchase Gabila’s knishes are suffering, while others, like Yonah Schimmel’s which bake their own knishes, are benefiting. If your tummy can’t stand the pain, you can find a recipe for a Gabila’s style knish online—and cook your own!
PEOPLE’S CITY REPORT CARD 2011
Free Expression – Occupy NY. New Yorkers should be proud that the now worldwide Occupy movement began here in New York. The City remains the financial capital of the world and change needs to start right here. The grassroots creativity of young people collectively reinvented protests for a new age, with New York at its epicenter. Never offering simple demands that could be easily dismissed, they have riveted media attention for months. May they continue to be just as ingenious as they map a future for the movement.
Street Vendors. A conversation with Mathew Shapiro, attorney for the Street Vendors project, revealed that a few years ago the city increased fines for vendors operating in the wrong places from $250 to $1,000, a crippling penalty. The good news is that a new bill has been introduced at the City Council with 32 cosponsors reducing the fines to a maximum of $250 for certain violations. A public hearing is taking place in the next few months. The Street Vendors project set up an online donation system where people from around the world could order food from the vendors around Zuccotti Park to feed the protestors, partly to help the vendors recoup the business they lost at the park.
Community Gardens. “Urban agriculture is on everyone’s lips,” Karen Washington, President of the New York Community Gardens Coalition, told us. Last year the Spitzer Agreement between the City and the gardens expired. The coalition has worked tirelessly and successfully to get the City to issue a set of what she calls “rules and regulations” to preserve and protect the gardens. “But,” Karen notes, these rules are only as good as the current administration. The Coalition is now in conversation with City Council, the Parks Department, and the Mayor for ways to making community gardens permanent within the law.”
Grassroots Arts in New York. This year, close to 250 NYC cultural centers including a wide variety of small and midsize, diverse arts groups (including City Lore) received funding from The Bloomberg Family Foundation, the private family foundation established by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2006, awarding approximately $32 million in grants to preserve NYC’s role as a world center for the arts.
Drumming Circles and Ethnic Celebrations in the Parks. Last year, as a result of a brawl in the park unrelated to the drumming, the wonderful weekly Haitian drumming circle on Sundays in Prospect Park was shut down by the police. We are pleased that the Haitian circle, Gran Bwa, and the drumming circle in Drummer’s Grove in the Southeast area of the park are going strong.
Arts in the Schools. For many low- and middle-income New Yorkers, access to the arts begins in the schools. Since 2007, when the Mayor Bloomberg eliminated Project Arts, the dedicated funding line for arts instruction, and replaced it with the ArtsCount Initiative, there has been a 36% decrease in funding for partnerships with cultural institutions as well as a decrease in funds for school arts specialists, according to a report by The Center for Arts Education. This, along with increased emphasis on math and language arts instruction to the exclusion of other subjects and more budget cuts, has decimated arts education in New York City’s public schools.
Street Performers. City Lore, together with the Street Performers Advocacy Project’s Co-Founder, author and activist Susie Tanenbaum, continue to monitor the situation in the parks and streets. They also have established a strong line of communication with Chief Ray Diaz at the NYPD Transit Bureau. Nonetheless, the situation for New York’s street performers is deteriorating. A large part of the problem is the movement to privatize public space. By declaring business improvement districts and other means, parks and public spaces are able to hire their own security forces and no longer seem bound to abide by the rules of free speech because performers are now on “private property.” As performer Theo Eastwind reports, “I have noticed new tactics by the police that I have never seen before, most alarming they use the words ‘private property’ a lot! There are less and less of us. Many street performers have been leaving town in fact. Back to Bulgaria, back to New Orleans, back to Boston.” Even more distressing is a recent law put into effect to our knowledge without any public hearings stating that performers cannot collect donations within 50 feet of a landmark or monument. They face a $250 fine for the first offense, but the fine can rise to $1,000 in subsequent summonses.
Tolerance – Zuccotti Park. For three months, Mayor Bloomberg showed remarkable tolerance of the protests, touting New York’s historical commitment to peaceful protests and free expression. Zuccotti Park is a privately owned public space, and the building’s corporate owners and the City showed considerable restraint for the tent city that occupied it. Nonetheless, of great concern are the continuous use of force on protesters by the NYPD and the “media blackout” where the city reportedly detained journalists and closed off airspace over Zuccotti Park to prevent news helicopters from documenting and reporting as the park was being cleared. When asked what was happening at Zuccotti since the eviction, a protestor quipped, “The police force is occupying the park. They have not, however, come up with any coherent demands.”
Open Markets. According to foodways consultant Makalé Faber Cullen, there’s lots of good news: Hot Bread Kitchen, the “social venture” non-profit organization that has been helping NYC’s immigrant and minority low-income women become financially independent bakers and entrepreneurs, has launched an incubator in Harlem. The 2,300 square foot shared-use commercial kitchen supports start-up food entrepreneurs in launching scalable food businesses. In addition, the revival of the Essex Street Market has drawn in new food entrepreneurs who have added to the market’s long standing role as a robust wholesale distribution center for dozens of neighborhood retailers. And, New Amsterdam Market just received a $250k award from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to further develop the market in the new East River Market District. Offsetting these gains is the paltry treatment bordering on harassment at the Forsythe Market, Chinatown’s largest vegetable market, perhaps because it is in a disadvantaged area.
Places that Matter. 2011 was a tense year for Places that Matter. In August, Coney Island Bialys and Bagels announced that they would be closing after ninety-one years of delectable service. But two Muslim gentlemen, Zafaryab Ali and Peerada Shah, both former cab drivers and also former CIBB employees, bought the business in November, vowing to keep it alive and kosher for the next ninety-one years. In September, the City Council voted to overturn Federal-style 135 Bowery’s designation as an NYC landmark, and 35 Cooper Square, the oldest building on the square, was demolished in May. But the Bowery was named to the State Register of Historic Places in late October. Perhaps the City’s most storied thoroughfare, the Bowery has had an enormous impact on New York City’s history and culture. Likewise, St. Marks Bookshop experienced a harrowing summer and fall while negotiating its rent with landlord Cooper Union. But thanks to a 44,128-signature online petition, Cooper Union reduced the rent by $2,500 per month for the next year, and the bookstore celebrated its 34th anniversary on December 1. In other good news, two iconic boardwalk establishments, Gregory and Paul’s hot dog stand and Ruby’s bar and restaurant in Coney Island, much in jeopardy through much of the year, just signed new 8 year leases!
PEOPLE’S CITY REPORT CARD 2010
Religious Tolerance and Respect. We applaud Mayor Bloomberg for taking a courageous stand on the Islamic Center at Ground ZeroThis year, the New York City Council also passed a resolution adding Eid Ul-Adha, marking the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, and Eid Ul-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, as official school holidays, along with the Christian and Jewish celebrations.
Open Markets. According to foodways consultant Makale Faber, GrowNYC, a city agency, has done commendable work opening new markets and expanding existing ones. She mentioned that many more of the city’s markets are doing well according to the “protein factor,” which suggests that markets are stable when meat, fish, and cheese are sold in them.
Arts in the Schools. For many low- and middle-income New Yorkers, access to the arts begins in the schools. Reorganization of the Department of Education eliminated Project Arts, and has decimated arts education in the schools.
Drumming Circles and Ethnic Celebrations in the Parks. As a result of a brawl in the park unrelated to the drumming, the wonderful weekly Haitian drumming circle on Sundays in Prospect Park has been shut down indefinitely by the police.
Community Gardens. On October 13, the Dept. of Parks issued new rules for many of the city’s community gardens. The rules happily suggest that existing Parks’ community gardens will remain so, but also states that their status can be summarily overturned if they are found to be in “default” by the Commissioner. New York City Community Gardens coalition is working to assure that a transparent process is in place to make that determination.
Street Performers. My fellow advocate Susie Tanenbaum and I were pleased that the new Chief of Transit Ray Diaz allowed us to address the transit police commanders, and Captain Carrasco to meet with the NYPD. The officials lent us their ears, and seem sympathetic to street performers’ rights. However, we are still receiving regular calls from performers who have been thrown out of Union Square and Times Square, partly as a result of private security forces now being hired by the Business Improvement Districts in those areas.
Street Vendors. A conversation with Sean Basinski, director of the Street Vendor Project run by the Urban Justice Center, revealed that a few years ago the city increased fines for vendors operating in the wrong places from $250 to $1,000. A new report released by the NYC Budget Office suggests that there is no evidence that vendors don’t pay their taxes, and the city wastes a log of money chasing and ticketing vendors – including $5.9 million a year from the infamous “Peddler Squad.” On the other hand, the city is now offering permits allowing fresh produce to be sold in a number of additional neighborhoods.
Street Parades. Robert De Vito, who outfits most of the city’s parade floats at Bond Parade Floats in Clifton, New Jersey, said that parades are still thriving in New York, though with fewer floats, as a result of the economy. But as Andy Newman wrote in the Times, “Everyone may love a parade, but . . . the department notified parade organizers throughout the city . . . that starting April 1, their processions must cover 25 percent less distance and may no longer exceed five hours in duration.”
Places that Matter. Coney is such an important release valve for New York City that it deserves special mention. This year, the New York’s State Historic Preservation Office has declared Coney Island’s amusement district eligible for listing in the State and National Registers of Historic Places. In addition, Zamperla’s new Luna Park, on land the City bought back from Thor Equities, was a wonderful addition to Coney this summer. Yet, Zamperla has not renewed the leases for a number of the historic boardwalk establishments including the legendary and beloved Ruby’s Bar. The bar has been a part of Coney Island for more than 70 years and has been owned by the family of Ruby Jacobs since the 1970s. Thor also appears to have begun demolition work on Coney Island’s’s historic Henderson Music Hall on Surf Avenue, one of the few remnants of historic Coney.
Ethnic Social Clubs. No news is good news.