Opinion: That moment when you’re poked by a squirrel on a park bench

A similar offender in Stuy Town in 2016 (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Squirrels have been a hot topic in this community and in this newspaper over the years. Each side has been unexpectedly passionate in defending its position, to say the least: one of the most recent controversies involved a resident who received a threatening postcard because of a lukewarm annoyance at the rodents’ ceaseless begging. But the debate has finally become personal because on a weekend earlier this summer, I had an encounter that tipped my bias in favor of a ban on squirrel-feeding.

I was sitting on a bench in Madison Square Park on a Saturday afternoon, minding my own business, when I felt something tap against my shoulder. I turned and realized I was almost face to face with a squirrel, not the expected human hand, perched on the back of the bench, who for some reason thought I had a treat for him.

I’ve never had particularly strong feelings about this topic before and could see both sides of the argument. Squirrels can be a bit ratty-looking but also cute in their own way and I can understand the appeal of communing with nature in a city where nature is scarce. And if someone wants squirrels surrounding them or even climbing all over their body, that’s their business.

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Police Watch: Teens arrested for slashing on Lexington Avenue

TEENS ARRESTED FOR SLASHING ON LEX
Police arrested a 13-year-old girl and 16-year-old boy for an alleged robbery and assault that took place at East 24th Street and Lexington Avenue on June 30 around 1 a.m. The victim told police that he and a friend got into an argument with the two suspects after leaving a bar near the intersection.
The argument escalated into a physical fight but the victim said that he and a friend tried to leave by getting into a taxi. Police said that the girl then jumped in front of the taxi to get the driver to stop, then leaned in through an open window and slashed one of the men with a razor, causing an injury. No further information was available about the victim’s condition.
The boy was arrested at the 13th Precinct on July 5 and the girl was arrested last Thursday, July 12, the latter charged with assault. Both teens were also arrested for robbery although nothing was taken from the victims during the incident.

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City breaks ground on new entrance at Madison Square Park monument

A groundbreaking ceremony for the new park entrance was held last Thursday at the Eternal Light monument. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Madison Square Park Conservancy officially broke ground at the Eternal Light Memorial Flagstaff on the renovation project to create an entrance by the monument last Thursday. The project, the budget for which is $2 million, is expected to be completed in time for the centenary of Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I, on November 11.

The renovations are part of Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver’s “Parks Without Borders” initiative intended to open up park edges and create inviting entrances into city parks. The plan is also part of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero program and the Department of Transportation’s ongoing effort to enhance safety around parks and public plazas. The adjustments at the monument are meant to enhance pedestrian circulation and safety at the intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue by directly aligning the new entrance with the 24th Street crosswalk. The project will also give the memorial increased prominence in the park in honor of the veteran community.

The renovations will include demolishing the pavers and fencing around the memorial’s base and constructing a new plaza, as well as installing new gardens, fencing and benches around the plaza. The pavers and electrical infrastructure around the southern end of the park will be replaced and upgraded as part of the renovations.

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Police on lookout for phony basketball team now on robbery spree

The five robbery suspects seen at Blue Smoke restaurant in Flatiron

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Police are looking for five young black men in connection with a number of robberies committed under the guise of raising money for a community basketball team. Most recently, they robbed a man at Danny Meyer’s Blue Smoke barbecue restaurant in Flatiron on Sunday evening.

Deputy Inspector Steven Hellman, commanding officer of the 13th Precinct, told community members at a community council meeting on Tuesday that police have identified at least one of the suspects as a 15-year-old boy who has previously been arrested for violent assaults and robberies throughout Manhattan.

In other recent incidents, the boy and four others whose ages are unknown have gone up to victims while holding a clipboard to solicit donations for a basketball team that doesn’t exist.

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Syrian artist will combine plants with sculpture at park installation

A rendering depicts one of the sculptural works by Diana Al-Hadid that will appear at Madison Square Park in May. (Rendering courtesy of Justin Gallagher)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

This spring, visitors to Madison Square Park can expect to find a series of six new sculptures from Syrian-born American artist Diana Al-Hadid, which will be the first installation at the park that combines sculpture with plant materials.

The Madison Square Park Conservancy announced that the outdoor exhibition, “Delirious Matter,” will appear on the park’s Oval Lawn in May. This is the first major public art project for the artist, whose works of female figures will appear to melt into their surroundings.

“I am thrilled to have my first large-scale public project on the lawns and in the reflecting pool of Madison Square Park,” Al-Hadid said. “This is the first time my work will be made and seen at this scale. It’s my largest project by far and my largest audience.”

Two walls on the Oval Lawn will be combined with rows of hedges to form a room and three reclining female figures will sit on heavy bases displayed on the surrounding lawns, separately titled within the installation as “Synonym.” There will also be a site-specific sculptural bust of a female figure on top a fragmented mountain in the park’s reflecting pool and is titled “Gradiva.”

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Historic tree removed from park after being deemed hazardous

“Old Stumpy” at Madison Square Park, which has actually been around longer than the park has, was considered by arborists to be a falling hazard. (Photo courtesy of the Madison Square Park Conservancy)

By Sabina Mollot

A nearly 300-year-old tree at Madison Square Park that had been popular with visitors has finally faced the chopping block.

It had technically already been dead for years but was kept carefully preserved until recently being deemed a falling hazard.

“We loved that tree but because of pedestrian safety we had to bring it down,” Eric Cova, a spokesperson for the Madison Square Park Conservancy, told Town & Village. “The arborists told us the tree was hollow and had become a danger.”

The English elm had been known as “Old Stumpy” since it was really just the remnants of a tree, a trunk with a few limb stubs remaining.

The relic’s heart-wrenching removal occurred on Valentine’s Day after the conservancy got the nod from the Parks Department.

Cova said some planters will be put in the tree’s place in about 4-6 weeks. In the meantime, the now smoothed-over, empty spot is surrounded by a barrier.

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Kips Bay will get protected bike lanes by end of 2018

A protected bike lane (or bike lane with a physical barrier like parked cars) in Flatiron (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Department of Transportation announced in January that two pairs of crosstown protected bike lanes will be added to Midtown neighborhoods, including through Kips Bay on 26th and 29th Streets.

The two pairs of protected bike lanes will run on each proposed street in opposite directions to complement each other, with the 26th Street lane heading eastbound and the 29th Street lane going west. The second pair of protected lanes will be directly south of Central Park on two streets in the 50s but the exact locations have not yet been determined. The DOT anticipates that the budget will be less than $500,000 for each new lane. The agency expects to complete implementation of all the crosstown routes between spring and fall in 2019.

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Winter has arrived, but gardens will still be blooming at local parks

Some plants can withstand bone-chilling temperatures, like hellebore flowers that have been planted at Madison Square Park. (Pictured) Hellebores that bloomed last winter (Photo by Stephanie Lucas)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Despite the deep freeze that has taken over the city for the last week, local parks are still expecting flowers to be blooming during the winter months. The resident plant experts for both Stuyvesant Cove Park and Madison Square Park told Town & Village that the prolonged cold shouldn’t have a lasting impact on the vegetation in the parks and both spaces have plants that not only can withstand the chilly weather but can also bloom in the frigid temperatures.

Stephanie Lucas, director of horticulture and park operations for Madison Square Park, said that there are a number of winter-blooming plants in the park but one of the most plentiful is witch hazel, which, while more commonly-known to consumers as an astringent available at Walgreens, is also a native plant to the northeast.

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Kips Bay dog run opens unofficially

Pooches play at an unfinished dog run at Bellevue South Park. (Photo by Aaron Humphrey)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Pooch owners in Kips Bay celebrated the opening of a temporary dog run in Bellevue South Park earlier this month after having pushed for the run for years. Neighborhood group KBK9 announced on its Facebook page on December 16 that the temporary run had been opened since the double gate was fully installed that week. The spot for the temporary run is an already fenced-in area adjacent to the basketball courts near the East 26th Street end of the park. Community advocates have been pushing for a fully ADA-compliant dog run in the space and while the temporary version is not accessible, the completed run will be once renovations are finished.

Dog owners using the park on Wednesday morning said they were grateful for the run’s opening, since they don’t want to have to take their dogs too far from home now that winter’s begun. Karen Keavey lives two blocks from Bellevue South and said that the next closest dog run is Madison Square Park, which is at least a 20-minute walk, whereas Bellevue South is a four-minute walk for her and her puggle, Louis.

“This has changed my life,” Keavey said. “It’s good for the park that this has opened up. It brings a different element in.”

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Heroes honored at Veterans Day Parade

 

Photos by Sabina Mollot

By Sabina Mollot

Though the temperature hovered in the 20s, patriotic New Yorkers and those who traveled to the city on Saturday made up a steady stream of spectators during the Veterans Day Parade.

As always, the event began at Madison Square Park, where the mayor and military officials gave remarks as did this year’s grand marshal, Buzz Aldrin.

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Man arrested for assault rifle near Madison Square Park

AR-15 assault rifle

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

A man who was arrested inside the Snowfox Café across from Madison Square Park for impersonating a police officer was also charged with weapons possession when police found a loaded AR-15 in his blue Mini Cooper that was parked nearby.

Police also said that 36-year-old Kai Ting Yin was inside the restaurant at 24 East 23rd Street last Wednesday at 11:54 a.m. wearing a bulletproof vest and allegedly carrying a loaded handgun.

When police approached him, he allegedly told them he was a special agent but only had a New York State driver’s license. Yin allegedly told police that his car was parked near the restaurant and when it was searched, police found an alleged AR-15 .556 assault rifle that was loaded with two coupled magazine, which were each capable of holding 30 rounds. Police also reportedly recovered two additional .556 caliber magazines, also capable of holding 30 rounds. A total of 180 .556 caliber cartridges were recovered from the suspect’s car. Police also recovered 20 .45 caliber cartridges, which were inside two magazines that were each capable of holding 20 rounds. Yin was in possession of a gravity knife as well, police said.

The vest Yin was wearing reportedly had patches reading, “Because F—k You, That’s Why,” “Guns and Coffee” and “Sniper.”

The judge ordered that Yin be held without bail and he was charged with three counts of weapons possession and unlawful possession of a large capacity ammunition feeding device.

Yin’s lawyer declined to comment on the case.

Redesigned dog run in the works for Madison Sq. Park

A park goer looks at a diagram outlining the planned dog run. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Madison Square Park Conservancy has announced a plan to renovate the dog run in the park, known as Jemmy’s Run, this past weekend.

The new run will be in the same place as the existing run but will be reconfigured to add more space for small dogs and to include new amenities, such as increased lighting, small hills and a water feature.

“We haven’t been able to serve small dogs in the existing space,” the conservancy’s executive director Keats Meyer said on Saturday at Barkfest, an event at the park for dogs and their owners. “It ends up being sort of like a cage, like a ‘small dog time out.’”

Meyer said that the renovations plans have been reviewed by neighborhood dog owners in previous workshops and surveys and adjusted based on community suggestions and needs. Meyer noted that one aspect of the plan that many respondents of the survey agreed on was changing the surface because users of the run don’t like the gravel that is currently there.

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Street in Flatiron redesigned for safety

The newly-paved Broadway looking north (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

A block on Broadway between West 24th and 25th Streets adjacent to Madison Square Park has been redesigned, with the aim of making the area safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

The Department of Transportation piloted a similar “Shared Streets” model in Lower Manhattan for a single Saturday last August and decided to implement the model in the Flatiron District permanently. The city made this one permanent because pedestrians outnumber vehicles on this particular block of Broadway by an 18:1 margin during peak evening hours.

The DOT has been working with the Flatiron BID and the Madison Square Park Conservancy on clarifying the often-chaotic intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue and made the adjustments by instituting a new five-mile-per-hour speed limit, changing the color of the asphalt and adding crosswalks and protected bike lanes.

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Police Watch: Man arrested for bank robberies, Deli worker busted for untaxed cigarettes

MAN CHARGED WITH ROBBING BANKS AT GUNPOINT IN UNION SQUARE, LES
Police arrested a man suspected in three bank robberies in Union Square and Lower Manhattan last Wednesday. Police stopped 21-year-old Richard Callison in front of 125 Third Avenue at 12:58 p.m. that afternoon while he was stopped in front of a Duane Reade near East 14th Street because he matched the description of a suspect from previous bank robberies.
Police said that video surveillance captured Callison committing the robberies. Callison also allegedly admitted to committing the robberies and police said that he identified himself in the stills from the video.
According to the district attorney’s office, two of the robberies took place on the Lower East Side and one occurred on Broadway near Union Square, all happening on two days last week.
The most recent robbery occurred in the Citibank at 749 Broadway near Eighth Street on July 19 at 11:40 a.m. Police said Callison gave the teller a note that said, “Put the money in the bag. No tracers and no one has to get hurt.” The DA’s office said that Callison pointed what appeared to be a gun through a plastic bag at the teller.
A teller working at the Chase Bank at 109 Delancey Street said that Callison came in at 10:40 a.m. on July 19 and handed over a note that said, “Give me the money. No dye packs. Big bills or your life will end!!!” Callison allegedly pointed a gun at the teller in this incident as well.
A bank teller working in the Bank of America at 92 Delancey Street told police that Callison gave him a note on July 18 around 4:30 p.m. that read, “Give me all the big bills (no traces). Make the wrong move and you will get shot. Rapido rapido.”

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Artists will interact with installation at Madison Sq. Park

A sculpture by Josiah McElheny will become a performance space. (Photo courtesy of Madison Square Park Conservancy)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

With the arrival of Madison Square Park’s new summer installation next Tuesday comes a handful of artists who have created performance pieces to interact with the work in week-long residencies. Prismatic Park, a sculpture by artist Josiah McElheny made of glass tile and wood creating individual performance spaces for the artists, offers a translucent sound wall for experimental music, a reflective floor for dance and a vaulted pavilion for poetry.

Artist MC Hyland, who will be doing the first poetry residency for the project from July 4 to 9, won’t be using the space for typical poetry readings but decided to expand on a project she’s already been working on that is more interactive than straight performance. Hyland has a degree in book arts in addition to an MFA in poetry, and when she went back to school for English literature recently, she started reading more poetry by William Wordsworth, who wrote some of his work about walking and talking with friends.

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