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 City Lore                                                                June 3, 2010  


All New Place Matters Endangered Languages Town Meeting
Coney Island Comeback High Steel & Cornmeal Street Music Rules

Dear Citylorists,

Please enjoy our Tours and Tales May - June, 2010 e-letter!

Place Matters New Website

Place Matters Place does matter. Thatís why we’re so pleased to announce the launch of a redesigned and expanded website for our Place Matters project, founded in 1998 to advocate for places that embody the history and cultures of New Yorkers. The new site provides enhanced access to the Census of Places that Matter, which lists almost 700 places in the five boroughs that connect us to the past, host community and cultural traditions, and keep New York City distinctive. The redesigned site also introduces Place Matters’ new Toolkit to help citizens nationwide promote and protect the places that matter in their own communities.

A survey, guidebook, and encyclopedia all in one, the Census of Places that Matter is a unique cultural resource—an ongoing, ground-up inventory that gives every New Yorker the opportunity to identify public places in our city that store history and memories, anchor cultural traditions, and bring economic and social vitality to neighborhoods and cities. Places on the Census reflect the diversity of our city, including but expanding well beyond official city and national landmarks. New Yorkers have nominated parks and bridges, social clubs and labor halls, grottos and cemeteries, historic homes and long-forgotten battlefields, and quixotic sites like the corner where street musician "Moondog: The Viking of Sixth Avenue" plied his trade for years.

Visit the site to learn more about a particular place, contribute your own memories, nominate a new place to the Census, or just browse for an interesting place to visit — and let us know if the new site has any annoying bugs or quirks!

Tigrinyan language
"Welcome to our language. Taste the sauce."
       -Reesom Haile

Endangered Languages Town Meeting A trio of poet, professor, and field linguist have combined forces in the heart of New York City to document, support, and protect one of our most precious stores of cultural, scientific, and creative human knowledge: living languages. Some of you may have seen the essay in Times which observes that "The chances of overhearing a conversation in Vlashki, a variant of Istro-Romanian, are greater in Queens than in the remote mountain villages in Croatia that immigrants now living in New York left years ago." NYC may be home to as many as 800 endangered languages, far more than the number listed on the census. The Endangered Language Alliance (ELA, pronounced ay-la) is a new organization whose goal is "is to further the documentation, description, maintenance, and revitalization of threatened and endangered languages, and to educate the public about the causes and consequences of language extinction." In a small office on West 18th Street known as the Urban Fieldstation, endangered languages are being spoken, recorded, and translated before they lose their speakers. The Town Hall Meeting is a chance to meet the directors (Juliette Blevins, Bob Holman & Dan Kaufman) and find out how you can assist in this ambitious documentation project. It will take place Saturday, June 5th, 2010, 2:00-3:30 PM at the Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery (Between Houston and Bleecker). City Lore dedicated the 2006 People’s Poetry Gathering to honoring poetry from the world’s endangered languages, and we are delighted to support this new initiative to document the languages right here in New York. In the words of Eritrean poet Reesom Haile, "Welcome to our language. Taste the sauce."

Original Luna Park entrance
Courtesy of Brooklyn Public Library Brooklyn Collection

Coney Island Comeback On Coney Island there is always an opportunity to pull a rabbit from a hat and with the opening of the new Luna Park, the City has done just that. The million dollar sign that beckons visitors to the new park suggests the days when Coney was the world’s playground. You can watch the Park being built in time lapse photography here. Right next to this new array of state- of-the-art rides, the Coney Island History Project, nestled below the Cyclone, exhibits images of the historic Luna Park that burned in the 1940s.

I took some out-of-town friends to Coney this past weekend, the new park’s opening day. The chile cheese fries beckoned, the Cyclone clattered, and the spiffed up Riegelman boardwalk where the cooking oil meets the salt air made for the perfect stroll. The Coney Island USA Side Show was packed, living up to its potential to rise above its carny roots to the level of American popular theater. "The sideshow needs a main attraction," said a smiling Dick Zigun, self-proclaimed mayor of Coney Island, "and with the new park, we have one."

Yet, with all the glorious commotion, dark clouds hover over Coney, with Thor equities still threatening to demolish some of Coney’s most historic buildings this summer: the Grashorn Building (built in the late 1880s); the Henderson Music Hall building (built circa 1899), where Harpo Marx first performed with his brothers Groucho and Gummo; the Shore Hotel (built in 1903), which was until recently Coney Island’s last operating hotel, and the 1920s classical revival Bank of Coney Island. Visit Save Coney Island website to see how you can help. And don’t forget the Mermaid Parade on Coney on Saturday, June 19th at 2:00 pm, with Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson as the King and Queen. If you need inspiration check out Elaine Norman’s memorable hand colored photos of the parade accompanied by Coney Island Bard Amos Wengler’s immortal song, "Here it comes, the Mermaid Parade" on City of Memory.

Photo by Martha Cooper

High Steel & Cornmeal — at the Unisphere With the help of the talented Molly Damsky, an intern from Pratt’s archiving program, City Lore is not only digitizing and archiving our collections of oral histories and images, but also making them more accessible. One of our early initiatives was High Steel and Corn Meal, a public program about the Mohawk steel workers from the Akwesasne and Ganawaga reservations, who helped build the World Trade Towers and the Queens Unisphere. Now on City of Memory, you can hear high steel worker Floyd King tell the story of how the two Mohawk reservations became featured sites on to the Queens Unisphere alongside Paris, London, and New York.

Theo Eastwind
Theo Eastwind

Street Music Rules How long does it take to get the New York City transit police to meet with street performer advocates? We’ve written letters and made phone calls for years. But under the new Transit Chief Raymond Diaz it only took one phone call. Not only was he willing to meet with us to discuss what we believe to be the increasing number of confrontations between New York City subway performers and the police, but he was willing to have us address all of the Transit Police Commanders. Susie Tanenbaum, author of our Know Your Rights Guide and the book, Underground Harmonies, street performer and advocate Theo Eastwind and I had a lively and productive discussion with the commanders, which we hope will ease tensions. We pointed out that street performers are part of what make the subways feel safe — after all it was a street vendor who alerted police to the recentTimes Square bomb.

Before we left, Officer O’Brian told us, remarkably, that he had a retired policeman on the phone at that very moment who was interested in becoming a subway musician to make some extra cash in his retirement by joining the Music Under New York (MUNY) program. "You don’t even need to wait for the auditions which just took place," Theo said. "As long as you are not impeding traffic or breaking the law, you have the right to perform on the subway mezzanines and platforms."

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Enjoy the City!


City of Memory is sponsored by City Lore and Local Projects.  It was funded by The Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

City Lore is part of a cultural coalition called CATCH, to promote the City’s cultural heritage. Check out the web sites of our wonderful partners, the Center for Traditional Music and Dance, the Latino Children’s Theater, SEA, and the World Music Institute.

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