Soapbox: Stuyvesant Cove Park going strong thanks to support from neighbors

Children planting flowers at the park

By Liza Mindemann, park manager at Stuyvesant Cove Park

Saturday, November 18 was the last community volunteer Day of 2017 at Stuyvesant Cove Park, and there couldn’t have been any better way to celebrate. A first in many years, the event was a partnership between Stuyvesant Town and Solar One — the rekindling of the collaboration between neighbors that will grow into next season. New York Cares, a strong partner of the park for quite some time, also joined for a healthy turnout of almost fifty people of all ages.

As part of Stuyvesant Town’s Good Neighbors Program, residents and employees joined the event to volunteer, and the group included several kids.

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Soapbox: When no one’s eyes are on the road

This column is an indirect response to another Soapbox column, “The bicycle purge of 2018,” T&V, Oct. 26, in defense of e-bikes.

By Billy Sternberg

Quality of life misdemeanors vex me. I saw a young guy’s dog almost get hit by a car because he was multitasking, running on the sidewalk with his dog by his side. Where is this guy from, I wondered? His dog doesn’t know to look both ways at a red light when his master stops abruptly. But, I wondered, would the driver have stopped had he hit the dog? The driver’s priority is a fare. The problem was the master’s mindlessness.

Before he got to the intersection, however, had the dog’s leash blocked or tripped a senior or mother with a stroller, he may have said, I’m sorry.” A basketball coach told me that if I was sorry about something I wouldn’t have done it.

But that guy probably endangers his dog every weekend. Manhattan has become a mobile play land between bikes, skaters, scooters, runners and dogs on long leashes while their masters are texting, watching videos and playing games while yelling at their kids to slow down and watch for others doing the same.

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The Soapbox: The bicycle purge of 2018

ebikeBy Andrew Paul Grell

Mayor De Blasio announced on October 20th that commencing on January 1, 2018, there would be a crack-down on bicycles with electric booster motors, or “e-bikes,” including targeted enforcement, confiscations, and fines. The policy as described is:

  1. Counter to post-Giuliani New York City transportation policy;
  2. Counter to the mayor’s stated climate change emissions reduction policy of April 2016;
  3. A roadblock on the way to reducing deaths and costly hospitalizations from ozone and fine particulates;
  4. Likely to be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act; and
  5. A hindrance to mechanical, thermodynamic, and economic efficiency.

No pedestrians enjoy being cut off by cyclists, electric or not. No cyclists enjoy having to detour around pedestrians in bicycle priority reservation lanes. No one – driver, cyclist, or pedestrian – quite knows what a mixing zone or a bike box are or how they’re supposed to work. And surprisingly, not many drivers know what “Turning Vehicles Yield to Bicycles” signs mean, even though the sign has pictures on it. Everyone, on or off a bike, wants their take-out food to arrive while it’s still hot. Everyone on this list can be satisfied, and in so doing, can initiate tremendous savings in lives, health, money and time.

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Soapbox: NY Democrats, fighting for landlords since 2000

By Barry Shapiro

Among rising residential and commercial rents, the demise of small businesses and dramatic increases in homelessness due to rising rents, does anyone recognize the behavior of NYC Democratic politicians as truly representing the values of the Democratic Party we have known for close to 70 years?

Dysfunction characterizes the party. Thanks to dysfunction in Albany, due to the defections of the Independent Democratic Conference and Senator Simcha Felder, Democrats remain the Senate minority and can offer little challenge to the Urstadt Law, a GOP-sponsored law that took most control of rent stabilization away from the City Council in 1971 and posited it with the state.

Overly landlord-friendly actions characterize the Democrats since 2000. Bloomberg was a Democrat who ran as a Republican and in many ways acted like a Republican. We saw some of the highest RGB increases under him even during the financial meltdown; his attitude toward real estate in Manhattan was close to laissez faire. The Trump Soho fiasco occurred under him, a saga that still hasn’t ended. And in 2002, under “Democratic” Speaker Pete Vallone, the vacancy allowance increase rule was passed by the City Council, which allows landlords to raise rent stabilized rents by 18 and 20 percent each time a unit is vacated. Given the strategy of renting to students we’ve seen applied in ST/PCV, this poorly-framed law gave landlords an invaluable tool for moving stabilized rents higher. After it passed the council, this law then passed over to Albany control.

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Soapbox: Support the homeless with Safe Haven

By Keith Powers

Two weeks ago, the city revealed its plan to open a “Safe Haven” transitional housing facility on East 17th Street. The plan is causing some consternation among those that live in the neighborhood, but the community should remain open-minded while the city presents its plan.

Many communities raise concerns about the siting of homelessness facilities. In Maspeth, Queens, the community fought against the siting of a shelter and defeated the proposal. None of these efforts solve the important and necessary issue of ending homelessness in the city. Here’s what does: a small facility for the chronic homeless operated by a high-quality provider that has social services included within the facility to permanently transition people out of homelessness.

There is often an immediate reaction of asking, “how can I stop this?” rather than “what are the facts and how can I help?”

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The Soapbox: Keep Playground 7 for hockey

By Joe McGrath

In light of all the discussion and now, published renderings of a fitness type playground on the drawing board for Stuy Town Playground #7, I felt it was time to make my contribution to the Soapbox “forum” regarding my thoughts, and more importantly memories of this iconic “hockey playground.”

While the makeup and demographics of the complex has changed over the years, and perhaps roller hockey is now not played every day in this playground, it would be a real shame if it went the way of other great memories and facilities in PCV/ST.

You see, growing up in Stuy Town, you were almost always identified or associated with what playground you hung out at or came from. Playground 7 was different, though. When it came to hockey, all roads led to Playground 7. Whether it would be rushing home from school every weekday from late September to mid-April to “lace ‘em up,” or participating in the Recreation Department sanctioned leagues, this was our life blood and formed lasting lifetime friendships!

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The Soapbox: Stuy Town’s VIP guest (Very Important Predator)

A hawk roosts on a Stuy Town air conditioner in February. (Photo by Jenny Dembrow)

Town & Village is proud to present “The Soapbox,” a column featuring a different voice from the neighborhood in each one. All are welcome to submit columns on the topic of the author’s choice, preferably not longer than 650 words, to editor@townvillage.net.

By John Cappelletti

You won’t see this celebrity very often in New York. In fact, you might never see him. He’s like the eponymous character in “The Invisible Man.”

But he does make an appearance every once in a while, like last summer for instance when he flew in from L.A., D.C. or some other location so competitive they use initials. Here there’s no competition. Attention, attention must be paid to this celebrity when he chooses to grace our lives with a welcome visit. Everyone at the park at Stuyvesant Oval where I hang out stops whatever they’re doing and moves to get a glimpse of him.

Semi-naked young people on the grass totally absorbed in painting their firm, shapely bodies with sunshine suddenly leave their comfortable blankets and move under our marvelous shade trees for a better view. Even though many of these beautiful trees have been chopped down by the landlord’s landscape designer, those that escaped the axe provide refreshing shade and filter the city air for residents like myself and I’m grateful to them.

Old folks relaxing on the wood and iron benches that line the cinder paths cutting through the Oval stop complaining to each other and focus their limited eyesight on our elusive visitor here. Stuyvesant Town has been designated as the unofficial home of the black squirrel because there are so many of these furry friends of the residents who have had their population driven sky high from being fed all kinds of nuts, including expensive black walnuts.

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The Soapbox: Many questions remain on East Midtown Rezoning

Town & Village is proud to present “The Soapbox,” a column featuring a different voice from the neighborhood in each one. All are welcome to submit columns on the topic of the author’s choice, preferably not longer than 650 words, to editor@townvillage.net.

By Barry Shapiro

For those not aware, East Midtown Rezoning is a city initiative to rezone roughly from 39th Street to 57th Street from Fifth Avenue to Third Avenue.
The proposed changes in the area will allow real estate developers to build higher and increase overall free space for development by about 6.5 percent. There will also be development of some public spaces and improvements to subway stations.

This along with the LIRR terminal at Grand Central planned to open in 2022 will significantly add to the area’s population density.

Major rezoning has to go through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which requires pertinent community boards to have their say. Negative votes by community board reps on the project’s Borough Council would have a somewhat damaging effect.

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The Soapbox: Tips for writing letters to the editor

Town & Village is proud to present “The Soapbox,” a column featuring a different voice from the neighborhood in each one. All are welcome to submit columns on the topic of the author’s choice, preferably not longer than 650 words, to editor@townvillage.net.

By Seth Steiner

This humble discourse concerns some aspects of a popular form of civic engagement, letters to the editor (LTEs):

• writing them
• submitting them and having them published (although writing without submission may offer cathartic benefit in itself)
• enjoying the whole process.

Your letter may have an effect on some, or many, readers. Directly or indirectly it may impact the decision-making of your political representatives… and therefore the quality of your life. The icing on the cake is that the process itself can be satisfying for you.

Some of the following, I hope, will be useful in your letter endeavors. If you feel it’s worthwhile, please don’t hesitate to pass it on to others, making any additions or corrections that may be helpful.

Who the heck am I, personally, to expound on this topic? My first letter was published in a July, 1966 issue of the Long Island Star Journal. It was signed by me and three friends who, we felt, had been unfairly and arbitrarily banned from playing stickball in our neighborhood playground. As a direct result of our efforts, the NYC Parks Dept. changed its age-discriminatory policy. And that made a lasting impression on me, leading to several decades of pestering on paper… as well as in person.

My next letter advocated against U.S. policy in the Vietnam War and was published in my college newspaper, the State News (MSU). And then the war was over… a mere eight years later!

About 30 years later, as an adult living in Manhattan, a dozen or so of my letters appeared in our neighborhood paper, Town & Village. These LTEs took on various issues stemming from the unethical, and sometimes illegal, policies and activities of our landlord, Met Life. Those actions had adversely impacted the living conditions and personal finances of over 30 thousand fellow residents living in buildings owned by Snoopy’s corporation.

Sprinkled in there was a letter or two motivated solely by impishness and April 1st tomfoolery.

And now, after moving to Los Alamos, my letter focus has been mainly on the oil industry and its threats to our health, to the environment and to our economic well-being. LTEs have been part of a wide-ranging effort by many folks to bring attention to, and slow, the planned rapid expansion of dangerous oil drilling, and associated hazardous activities, too near our homes and our sources of drinking water. It’s led to some real successes (e.g., denials of permits for both PCEC drilling and for the Phillips 66 rail spur/oil train project). There’s much more to be done.

And why might you want to write a letter yourself, and maybe soon? Some reasons for writing your first, or your next, letter-to-the-editor:

1) offering an idea to inform or sway public opinion on a current and consequential matter
2) getting something in the civic realm “off your chest”
3) expressing something you believe others will also find amusing
4) achieving the satisfaction that any creative endeavor may offer… and once your first draft is down, the real fun begins as you sculpt and hone… trimming and enhancing it one word, phrase or thought at a time
5) seeing your name in print
6) having others (friends, neighbors, relatives) see your name in print
7) being part of the free and wide-ranging discourse that’s essential to a well-functioning democracy
8) releasing steam after reading someone else’s LTE that annoyed you, and
9) it doesn’t require marching in the rain with a placard but can be done in the comfort of your home, while in bed, or on the beach with a laptop.

What to write about? What’s going on locally or globally that concerns you? Even if you’re not an “expert,” your opinion counts and your voice is important. The number of possible topics for your letter is boundless… anything you care about.

Surprise?! Most of your submitted letters will actually be published.

Do not hesitate to express your thoughts. Don’t think that the way you express them will not “measure up,” will not be “100 percent accurate,” will not do “absolute justice” to the idea you have in mind, or that the topic is not the “most overriding issue in the world (galaxy)” today. Once you put pen to paper or finger(s) to keyboard, you’ve broken the ice and the writing will come easier than you might have expected.

Keep it longer rather than shorter to take up more space on the page and attract more eyeballs. But know that it may be subject to some editing by the newspaper; and the result will often be a piece with more punch. Keep it shorter rather than longer if you can accomplish your goal with brevity and focus.

If your publication piece is longer than the prescribed length for a letter, it may be offered as “commentary” (or “Soapbox”).

As you read LTEs written by others, consider what makes hem compelling for you. Whether or not you agree with the author’s stance on the issue, something may be learned. What was it about the presentation that got your attention, piqued your interest, swayed your thinking, broadened or changed your perception, or your actual conclusion?

OK, maybe it’s time to pick up that pen? We all look forward to reading your letter to the editor!

Soapbox: Speak up to end the use of chokeholds

By Michelle Deal Winfield

“I can’t breathe,” was uttered by Eric Garner in 2014, as he took his last breath after Officer Daniel Pantaleo applied a chokehold to his neck, a procedure banned by the New York Police Department, NYPD. The procedure is banned but some police officers have continued to use it. Alissa Scheller, in The Huffington Post in 2014, wrote, “Chokehold complaints are predominantly in black neighborhoods.”

In 1993, the NYPD ban prohibited police officers from applying any pressure to the neck during arrest. So what is all the fuss about if the tactic is banned? Despite the ban, officers continue to use the practice and there is no New York City law to address it. The chokehold is not illegal.

The Progressive Caucus, 28 members of the New York City Council, proposed Intro. 540-A, which defines the chokehold as an illegal act punishable by imprisonment and a $2,000 fine.

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Soapbox: What’s a voter to do?

Town & Village is proud to present “The Soapbox,” a column featuring a different voice from the neighborhood in each one. All are welcome to submit columns on the topic of the author’s choice, preferably not longer than 650 words, to editor@townvillage.net.

By John Cappelletti

Last May in a letter to the editor I wondered why the Democrat establishment was backing the political dynasty by giving Hillary a 541-superdelegate head-start over Senator Sanders and putting the Democrat National Committee at her disposal and at his expense. The senator had a double digit lead over Trump whereas Hillary could only manage a tie with him.

Now a week before the election two of the most unlikeable, untrustworthy and unbelievable candidates of any U.S. presidential campaign ever, Hillary and Trump are still running neck and neck and many questions remain unanswered. Trump will not release his taxes and Hillary will not release her speeches to Wall Street. Is Trump the sexual predator Hillary’s husband was when she defended him against his accusers like Melania is defending Trump now? Will Weiner-gate hurt Hillary as voters wonder why emails pertinent to her FBI criminal investigation would end up on her top aide Huma Abedin’s husband’s computer? How did they get there? Furthermore, did her husband Anthony Weiner who’s been known to do stupid things for all to see online, read and/or divulge the contents of these emails? Who’s responsible for this poor judgment, Hillary, Huma or…? And what’s Trump hiding in his tax return or in his foundation? And what about the Clinton Foundation? Lots of cash from all kinds of sources goes into these two foundations. Are they laundries?

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Soapbox: Men’s group talks things over in PCV

The group’s members, pictured at a recent get-together

The group’s members, pictured at a recent get-together

By Jack Goldfarb      

The conversation flows freely for the seven retired professional men who meet in a Peter Cooper Village apartment twice a month to talk about whatever is on their minds – a gabfest known in New York slang as a shmooze.

The gathering is not a group therapy session, nor an “organ recital” for airing health problems, but these knowledgeable guys are seldom at a loss for words during their two-hour get-togethers.

Rotating their venue in their 20th Street building, these men have come from a wide diversity of careers:  Milton, a presiding Appellate Court judge, Henry, a chemical engineer, Ira, an endocrinologist, Steve, a director of community relations, Lou, a Wall Street trader, Clyde, an educator, and Jack, a travel writer.

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The Soapbox: A plant is not just a plant

Regular park angel volunteers: Orlinda Calmeid, Tom Eccardt, Maria Pia Belloni and Barbara Bienenfeld (Photo by Liza Mindemann)

Regular park angel volunteers: Orlinda Calmeid, Tom Eccardt, Maria Pia Belloni and Barbara Bienenfeld (Photo by Liza Mindemann)

By Liza Mindemann, Stuyvesant Cove Park manager

As many of you already know, Stuyvesant Cove Park is a native species plant park. When we have school groups one of the first questions I ask is, “can anyone tell me what a native plant is?” It’s a harder question to answer than one might think, but the simple answer is that native plants are those species that naturally occur in a region and have evolved and adapted over many thousands of years to the specific conditions of that geographic area.

Many of us don’t think of gardens as having any purpose outside of providing beauty, or perhaps growing food to eat. But today, our gardens are actually one of the last chances we have to preserve the diverse species of plants, insects and wildlife that once prolifically populated our region. Due to urban development, NYC has already lost 30 percent of its native plant varieties. This brings me to the second question I usually ask school groups, “Does anyone know why native plants are important?” Native plants are important for many reasons, including the role they play in sustaining our ecosystems by reducing erosion and flooding, cleaning our water and air and by providing food and habitat for all the insects that our farms depend upon. Interestingly, native plants are not just food to any and all insects that pass by; often, they are food to only one particular insect.

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The Soapbox: Making sense of the presidential campaign

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Some translations on candidates’ big talk

By Bradford J. Gonzalez-Sussman

Why I am not feeling the Bern or the fallacy of the shoot-from-the-hip-candidate.

Many otherwise sensible people now enamored with Trump and Sanders have the idea their candidates “say what they think!” about fat cats on Wall Street and in Washington, Mexicans or Muslims or whoever the enemy de jour is.

I have two problems with this mythical “rebel” candidate concept. Are they speaking their truth without concern for consequences; and, do I want to share a tent with extremists who seem to be attracted to the shoot-from-the-hip image these candidates are cultivating?

Firstly; do populist politicians pander? Is the Don’s claim to be an anti-abortion bible scholar believable? When Bernie Sanders argues against gun manufacturer liability, is this a principled stand or an appeal to special interests in his state? These candidates analyze their audience, but because their core supporters are not mainstream their rhetoric may sound fresh. When Trump’s advisers say, “Let Trump be Trump,” that advice itself is the result of polling.

So, with advisers and polling aplenty, “outsiders” carefully craft their messages to have a Rorschach-like appeal to the disenfranchised and extremists in our country. This approach, like the Tea Party, has somewhat successfully herded cats in appealing to disparate groups of disaffected voters.

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The Soapbox: Hoylman calls for action on climate change

Town & Village is proud to present “The Soapbox,” a column featuring a different voice from the neighborhood each week (space providing). All are welcome to submit columns on the topic of the author’s choice, preferably not longer than 800 words, to editor@townvillage.net.

State Senator Brad Hoyman at a meeting of the Sierra Club

State Senator Brad Hoyman at a meeting of the Sierra Club

Hoylman calls for action on climate change

By Joy Garland

On September 9, the NYC Sierra Club that meets monthly at the Seafarers and International House on East 15th Street, hosted “The Waters are Rising: How will NYC and NYS Respond?” Members in the packed room listened to Cynthia Rosenzweig, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies; Dan Zarilli, Director, Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency for the City of NY; and NY State Senator Brad Hoylman, Ranking Member of the Environmental Conservation Committee.

Hoylman told the audience that one of his primary goals was to call the legislature’s attention to the threat of human-made climate change, but felt his message met a seemingly anti-science undercurrent from some of his colleagues.

Hoylman submitted an Earth Day resolution calling for action to fight climate change, but the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee told Hoylman that it was omitted because a recent cold winter in Syracuse appeared to debunk climate change.

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