Greening Initiatives: “Turning Unused Acres Green”

By Anna Liang and Hayoung Ryu



596 Acres is an organization led by Paula Z. Segal that raises awareness of the acres of underused land in Brooklyn. Through 596 Acres – also available as a website at – Segal tags tracts of land that can be considered for community, research, and or recreational purposes. During one of her bike trips around the borough, Segal would hang signs on vacant lots, which said, “This lot is public land. It’s very likely that they would let you and your neighbors do something nice here – maybe a farm or an outdoor movie theater.” Such advertisements have caught the attention of several interested individuals, for instance Mr. Tom Hallaran, a bioinformatician at Washington University Genome Sequencing Center. He organized Feedback Farm, a modest garden that demonstrates the concept of “movable urban garden[s]” as a more mobile and economical alternative to rooftop gardening.  Most importantly, Hallaran received the temporary lot through Segal’s program – after all, the city or private owner holds the right to reclaim the space within a short notice. At the end of the day, Segal and her team have generated opportunities through their efforts, which would have otherwise went unnoticed.

Despite the rising interest in converting the emptied land into green spaces and the like, there is conflicting interests between land developers and activists like Segal and Hallaran. Letitia James, a Brooklyn councilwoman, calls attention to the city’s worry that community-organized green spaces will evolve to take on irreplaceable roles in neighbors, and thus limit the amount of land available for housing construction. As a result, it is very difficult  to receive permits to run community gardens on public land. So what is your take on green spaces versus housing?
It is, also, interesting to note that Hallaran is not someone who is relying solely on his garden experiment for his salary. As for Segal, she is currently a law clerk at the Law Office of Rankin & Taylor according to the 596 Acres website. Is there a way to integrate community projects into our daily lives without compromising our ability to bring home a decent salary? Their primary occupations obviously don’t seem to be related to their interests in these projects to make vacant public spaces into more useful and dedicated spaces. How do their roles in these projects impact our viewpoints about serving our community, even as hardworking, honors students?

Conventional System Tends to Overlook Merits of Bushwick Community High School

By: Tahmina Alam and Rahima Nayeem

A Brooklyn School Saved Lives, and Some Now Try to Return the Favor

Bushwick Community High School has opened its doors to unprivileged students and offered them a last chance. It has become a haven for struggling 17-18 year old students. The teachers and staff there strive to turn these wayward students into graduates and full-fledged adults. Iran Rosario, a former student and now teacher at Bushwick Community High School fondly recalls his experience there as an 18-year-old, “Where would I be without this school family? I would be in jail. I would be dead.”

Recently, this high school has come under scrutiny by the Education Department and is now facing the threat of closing due to its low graduation rates. The Education Department has its system firmly ingrained in the “scientism of metrics.” It simply evaluates schools based on test scores and graduation rates, and often turns a blind eye to everything else the school teaches.

The article brings up the issue of whether a school should be evaluated solely on its performance on tests. Though the Education Dept sees that its overall performance is poor and the graduation rate is low, it fails to consider the fact that the high school takes in 18 year olds with “five credits to his name, the odds are strikingly good that he will not graduate within six years of his freshman year.” The Department’s focus on data often hampers the ability of teachers to ‘nurture’ young and troubled students.

They tend to overlook the fact that the school serves to do more than just teach academics, it teaches the students values, life lessons–things they need to become adults. “Bushwick Community High School is “effective,” teachers demonstrate genuine “expertise” and the “pedagogy is aligned to schoolwide goals.”

Is it okay for a school to continue even if its test scores and graduating rate is low? Is teaching for the sake of testing more effective than teaching for a wider scope?


The Relevance of the “Sixth and a Half Avenue” Manhattan Walkway

By Oleksandr Dudnyk and Joseph Langer    


As we have talked about many times in class, the way to decrease traffic congestion is not to build more roads, as this just invites more cars, but rather to put more of an emphasis on other modes of transportation. This is the idea behind a new pedestrian walkway, dubbed “sixth and a half avenue”, that runs between 6th and 7th avenues between 51st and 57th streets in midtown. In the past, the walkway was a secret that only a few locals knew about, but new legislation that calls for the inclusion of stop signs, speed bumps and pedestrian crosswalks can change that. The new legislation would let the secret out, so to say, and would make the route a safer one.

While we were reading this article, the intersection at Hillel Place and Campus Road came to mind. Last year, a traffic light was put in to replace the stop sign that was at the intersection. At first, it seems that a traffic light would make it more difficult for cars to cross the intersection. But, because the amount of pedestrian traffic is so great, it actually takes longer to wait for all of the students to cross the street than it does for the light to turn green. Perhaps traffic lights are a suitable alternative to a stop sign proposed for the Manhattan walkway.  Another alternative would be to place yield signs in middle of the blocks instead of stop signs. The benefit would be that cars would not have to stop if there are no pedestrians present. Whichever alternative the city decides to utilize, opponents will still argue that the walkway project will make the traffic problem worse.

Opponents to the plan say that stop signs in the middle of these blocks would put a chokehold on traffic, which is already a big problem in midtown Manhattan. The city argues that the affect of the stop sign would be negligible, as even during peak hours, less than 10 cars journey over those blocks. Additionally, since the pedestrians and the stop signs pose an inconvenience to cars, it makes sense that cars would try to avoid these streets, resulting in even less cars crossing those blocks than usual.

 In the work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, author Jane Jacobs writes, “Streets and their sidewalks, the main public places of a city, are its most vital organs. Think of a city and what comes to mind? Its streets. If a city’s streets look interesting, the city looks interesting; if they look dull, the city looks dull”(30). Jacobs underlines that sidewalks are an integral part of the city’s character. This confirms the need for the proposed crosswalk, which will enrich the city’s infrastructure, encourage growth of nearby businesses due to increased pedestrian traffic and possibly promote tourism.

According to Timothy Beatley in the article, “Planning for Sustainability in European Cities: A Review of Practices in Leading Cities,” of the Sustainable Urban Development Reader, leading European cities such as Denmark are pedestrianizing many areas such as parking spaces and shifting focus from accommodating cars to accommodating pedestrians(335). Beatley delineates that, “The experience of these European cities in pedestrianizing much of their urban centers has been a positive one, both economically and in terms of quality of life”(335).  Beatley highlights that creating more walking space for pedestrians will bring many benefits that will improve the experience of people who will use the proposed passageway. The Manhattan crosswalk would serve to bring people together and encourage social interaction, helping to eliminate the feelings of loneliness and isolation associated with a large industrialized city such as New York.

In conclusion, it is clear that 6th and a half Ave. is going to stir up a lot of controversy. However, this is a controversy that transcends just one avenue, it is a disagreement that has gone on between urban planners for many years.  This project represents what leading European cities have been doing for a while and what great urban planning thinkers such as Jane Jacobs have been advocating.  Through this project we can see that we are making a move to a new urbanism model of urban planning, where more of an emphasis is placed on pedestrians than cars. But, is the best way to accomplish this by stopping cars dead in their tracks (by using stop signs) or, are there other, better, alternatives?



                                          Works Cited:


Beatley,Timothy.  “Planning for Sustainability in European Cities: A Review   of Practices in Leading Cities.” The Sustainable Urban Development Reader. 2nd ed. Stephen Wheeler,   Tomothy Beatley. New York: Routledge.2009. Print.

Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Vintage Books, 1992. Print.



Gentrification: The Good, the Better, and the Inevitable

Gentrification has become a new buzzword. The term denotes shifts in demographics, higher socioeconomic status, and a rise in real estate values.
Grand Concourse in South Bronx, a neighborhood once shunned due to fear of crime and a bad reputation, is seeing a surge of white, middle-class professionals moving in. For the first time in four decades, the white population has increased instead of decreasing, according to 2010 Census data. Some have attributed this shift to increased tolerance of diversity.
Nobody questions the good gentrification brings-Newcomers to Concourse enjoy an increasingly safer neighborhood (crime rates plummeted), proximity to Yankee Stadium, nicer parks, yoga studios and access to organic produce. Those who have children, in addition, appreciate the diversity their children are growing up with. But an inevitable tradeoff is: As South Bronx continues gentrifying, and real estate values increase, can lower-income groups, who were there originally, afford to continue living there?
What do you think? Is there a way to take the pros without the cons? Or should we set limits to gentrification, and if so, where?

No Place Like Home?

By Vanessa Rene and Vita Xie

Alone in Public Housing, With a Spare Bedroom

According to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), there are about 55,000 public housing units that are “underoccupied,” about 15,000 units that are overcrowded, and about 160,000 families still on the waiting list to get into public housing.

The problem stems from the fact that there are too many single people living in 2- or more bedroom apartments. According to the article, the Housing Authority’s leases do state that the tenants need to live in apartments that will appropriately accommodate their family size, but that has not been widely enforced. NYCHA has sent letters to residents of underoccupied apartments, asking them to move into smaller apartments. However, the letters are largely ignored. In the past year, only 5,000 households signed up to move and only 600 households actually made the move, unable to efficiently meet the demand of residents of overcrowded aprtments and larger families on the waiting list.

This reluctance to move stems from a variety of factors. Older residents like Ms. Jones, who lives in a 2-bedroom apartment by herself for decades have no intention of leaving and cannot imagine living anywhere else. While the NYCHA allows residents registered to move to choose the development for their new homes, including their own, there is no guarantee that residents can stay in their original building. Residents have established themselves in their neighborhoods and buildings: their doctors are there, their family and friends are there, they feel safe, etc. In addition, NYCHA gives $350 to help with moving expenses, but as the article states, ‘this offer…has not proved compelling.”  The idea of packing and moving several decades of possessions accumulated in their homes  is a troubling hassle for more elderly folks like Ms. Jones.  However, there are so many 6+ member families living in tiny one bedroom apartments in living conditions the article likens to “refugee camps.”

Another facet is that NYCHA does not have enough smaller apartments. NYCHA spokeswoman, Shelia Stainback,  acknowledges this problem and states that the NYCHA are trying to solve this imbalance though initiatives for new developments and reconfiguration of older apartments. However, these plans need time.

NYCHA has continuously sent letters to tenants living in underoccupied apartments requesting that they live in more suitable spaces, but many of these letters have not been responded to. There is no follow-up to make sure the tenants follow through, only more letters that remain unanswered. No one can force the tenants to move out of their apartments.

Remedies to this problem aren’t clear and easy. There are feelings of both the older residents of underoccupied apartments and larger families in overcrowded ones to consider. While building more apartments is part of the plan, there are issues like finding locations for new developments, zoning, and providing them quickly. Perhaps, the follow-up effort of the NYCHA for asking underoccupied residents to move needs to move beyond non-enforced letters to an actual knock on the door.


Today’s Children; Tomorrow’s Leaders?

By Brian Ghezelaiagh and Eden Goykadosh

Cutbacks in Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed budget abound, and it’s the city’s youth who will ultimately pay the price. It is projected that the proposed city-wide budget cuts to daycares and afterschool programs will leave an estimated 47,000 children out of the progressively narrowing window of access to intellectually stimulating and socially enriching care while their parents are at work. And with education and “closing the achievement gap” purportedly being one of the central themes of Bloomberg’s administration, one has to wonder why the educational cracks, through which the city’s kids will inevitably fall, are becoming ever larger.

This is certainly not the first round of budget cuts weathered by city-subsidized childcare institutions. Since 2009 there has been a decline of 2000 children from low-income working families who attend afterschool care, from 51,712 to 42,215. Add to that the 40% decline of the Department of Youth and Community Development’s Out-of-School Time Program and we’re left with a problem with immediate and longstanding ramifications.


As the article mentioned, the cutbacks in the mayor’s budget poses a threat to “firehouses being shut down, arts programs slashed and senior centers closed.” The reality is that there is only a limited amount of funding and if it is not sufficient to finance all activities, something is going to have to be crossed off the list. Evidently, certain institutions/programs take precedence over others, like services that provide safety or basic needs to society.  What do you think can be done to protect programs that dominate a lower tier on the list of public services, i.e. daycares and afterschool programs?

When Worlds Collide: East 69th Street Residents vs. the MTA

by Jenna Peet and Hifza Mahmood

Upper East Side Residents Protest Proposed Subway Entrances

Can a balanced be struck between the MTA's desire to install an elevator and new exits to the East 68th Street Station and residents' investment in the block's aesthetic quality?

The Tube, the Métro, U- and S-Bahns, and the Tunnelbana. Elevated trains, trams, streetcars, trolleys, buses, you name it – they exist for people to get from one place to another. Public transportation is truly at the heart of urban planning; without its regular pulsing of service to all limbs of the city, people would be stranded, asphyxiated, by their immediate environments. We New Yorkers have our MTA subway, which, despite the common bashing it gets for every minor delay or fare hike, is a pretty remarkable system. With an extensive number of subway lines, connections to other rail systems, and rapid travel time, the NYC subway maps out the city into identifiable neighborhoods and landmarks to make the urban environment incredibly accessible.

But the MTA is not immune to NIMBY – or “Not In My Back-Yard” – opposition. As this article describes, residents on East 69th Street by Lexington Avenue are staunchly against the relocation – and potential expansion – of the entrance to the 68th Street/Hunter College stop to their block. The construction on the station is necessary to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act by providing elevator access to the station; the MTA’s choice for the exit at 69th Street is justified by the fact that the existing subway platforms extend towards this street, and that any other location for the exit would require an additional (and unnecessary) amount of construction. The permanence of the exit is likely, as it will probably reduce the crowdedness of the station that comes from Hunter College students. Owners and residents of the homes on this block stand united against this development, which could reduce the value of their property, bring unwanted pollution, and overall tarnish the architectural aesthetics of their block.

This conflict demonstrates an important and inevitable clashing between urban planners and city-dwellers: how do efficiency and aesthetics combine in civil works projects, and what effects do the construction and implementation of the project have on urban populations? If we look at the policy analysis model of planning, it should be obvious that the MTA would value the quantitative benefits of the locations of its stations over the qualitative ideals of the neighborhoods these exits are placed in. However, it may be possible to bridge the gap between the agendas of both parties. The MTA could take advantage of these architectural ideals and design their exits and stations in ways that reflect and please local residents, instead of conforming to a uniform plan. This urban planning approach could significantly reduce NIMBY issues in public works projects by investing in local artists, creating diversity in architecture, and adding a pleasurable aspect to everyday experiences.

Photo Source: Hunter College Graduate Admissions site

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Development Now, Destruction Later?

By Michael Squitieri and Saar Shemesh


Picture Tusayan, Arizona; a small hamlet just five miles from the south rim of the Grand Canyon, a few gas stations, some diners and the highway. Population: just nearly 600. In the coming months, a group of Italian investors, the Stilo Group, is looking to build on thousands of acres in this town, turning the beautiful desert landscape and precious land into hotels, stores and other services, including a dude ranch. But what is the human cost of this huge development deal? Where will the line be drawn between tasteful, sustainable development and obscenity.


Tusayan, Arizona: The Next Las Vegas?


This article quickly reminded us of the discussion Professor Aja initiated with his anecdote on sustainability in the rain forests of Costa Rica. We discussed how big business, in the pursuits of maximum short-term profits, would disregard the potential consequences of their developments in respect to sustainability, going on the path to, ironically, destroy the very land that produces revenue. This same lack of judgment is currently happening in Tusayan, Arizona, where the Stilo Group, wishes to add “resorts, homes, high-end stores…hotels and other attractions.”


The article also reminded us about the evils of corporations in government politics. As the article states, a town does not generally incorporate (establish itself as a governing county/city) without having a town population of at least 1,500, “but the Stilo Group, sitting on hundreds of acres of untapped land, saw incorporation as a way to negotiate with fewer decision makers,” and for such a large development deal, it is easiest to make decisions within a smaller group (although less democratic and highly exclusive).  The town does have some hope though; in a few short weeks, “votes will be tallied in a recall election for three of the five seats on the Town Council,” but sadly “[all of the seats] have been occupied by supporters of the developers.” The Stilo group is a perfect example of how corporations have only their best interest in mind, disregarding others rights and liberties at the chance for a nice profit.


The article states, “with just two water wells, no public works department and the thinnest of bureaucracies, the town is barely able to hand its present population, let alone a flood of newcomers” that will come with the new development. Even when not considering sustainability, the new development may also diminish the natural wonder of the Grand Canyon that many tourists wish to explore, further questioning the environmental outlook held by the Stilo Group.

Toilet to Tap Sustainabilty

By Farnia Naeem and Hui Hui (Helen) Yee

Although this article did not discuss New York, it is not difficult to imagine a situation in which clean water will be scarce in many other parts of the world. It seems that reclaiming water is a good way to preserve the natural clean water supplies, but the “yuck factor” remains a big hurdle standing in its way. The question then becomes: should cities that do not import water or face droughts begin reclaiming water to prevent low groundwater problems in the first place?

Certainly, from a strictly environmental perspective, reclaiming water sooner rather than later would be the more sustainable option, as it would decrease the depletion of natural groundwater supplies. Additionally, since there is no need to mix reclaimed water with drinking water, cities that are growing quickly but are not currently in danger of facing water shortages can begin using reclaimed water for industrial purposes. This proactive planning will provide ample time to gather the resources necessary to build an efficient water reclaiming facility. Thus, when New York City is faced with low water supply it will already have the materials in place to implement a plan to begin adding reclaimed water to the drinking water supply.

Needless to say, this will require money, political initiative, and public support. Programs that educate people about the reclaiming water process should also be introduced so that people learn about the water quality of reclaimed water and will be more willing to drink it. After all, the mixing reclaimed water  with drinking water would be pointless if individuals turned to bottled water as an alternative to tap water. Perhaps if New York City leaders begin campaigning now, residents will have overcome the “yuck factor” by the time it is necessary for New York to add reclaimed water to the drinking water.

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The Unexpected Homeless

What shocked us about this article was one simple question: Why is Tonya Lewis’s family homeless? Homeless people are “supposed” to be, as the article so elegantly writes, “AIDS patients or men who slept on church steps,” not single mothers with jobs. If a woman can hold down a job, send her children to school, try her best to create normative family living and still be homeless, something is wrong with the society in which she lives.
One of the goals that Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2030 was to “create homes for almost a million more New Yorkers while making housing and neighborhoods more affordable and sustainable.” The plan continued to explain the importance of diversity in each neighborhood and the role the transit systems play. As enticing as this may sound, to what extent could NYC meet those goals?
A prominent problem in our society is that New Yorkers run on an independent daily routine. Through the bustling commute and financial crisis, homeless families become unnoticeable after they leave their shelters. Even with the number of trains and buses New York has, the numbers of connections are endless and needless to say, very time-consuming. For families like Ms. Lewis, the transit system was perhaps the only place where they aren’t a burden to the city. But because they so easily blend in, nobody notices them, nobody even cares.
Another problem with our society are the priorities of politicians and representatives of New York. Ambitiously, Bloomberg aimed “to reduce homelessness by two-thirds by five years.” He suggested putting even more restrictions on who could enter the system and no longer giving priority to homeless families for public housing. In addition to a number of budget cuts, the city is forced to cut back on some benefits and for people like Ms. Lewis, losing aid from the government meant losing one’s home.
Who put these people in a homeless shelter and who is keeping them there? Did they do it to themselves, having simply lost all hope of getting back on their feet? Or was it city officials? State budget cuts? Wall Street and the financial crisis that has squeezed so many people? The agendas of “The Coalition for the Homeless”? Mayor Bloomberg and his ambitious plans to make his city look good? The follow-up and more important question is: who is here to help these families?

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