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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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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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