Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Food Options North of the Hoosic River: Then and Now

In May 2019, I led two walking tours of former food locations in conjunction with the North Adams, MA, O+ (O positive) festival and Jane's Walk North Adams.  Since then, I've done additional research, all of which is included in an art exhibit.  The exhibit was prepared in conjunction with the River Street Art Project, Jane's Walk North Adams, and the 125th anniversary of the City of North Adams.

I am interested in both geography and history.  In geography there is the concept of the permeable barrier -- a physical barrier that can easily be crossed, but still serves to prevent crossing.  In North Adams, examples of permeable barriers are Route 2 (the Mohawk Trail), the railroad tracks, and the Hoosic River.  We tend to stay on our own side of these barriers unless there is a particular need to cross them.  Thinking about the Hoosic River as a permeable barrier led me to focus on food options north of the north branch of the Hoosic River.

The exhibit (further information is available HERE) provides a glimpse into the changing landscape of food provision, both in North Adams and in the nation as a whole.  Many years ago we walked to different stores for meat, baked goods, and vegetables, typically buying one or two days' food at a time.  Over the years this type of shopping excursion evolved to the supermarket of today, where all the shopping can be done within a single location, and food may be purchased for a week or more at a time.

A hand-drawn map, shown below, identifies 61 unique locations where food was once or is currently available.  Companion videos and printed materials are available on-line at the above link to the River Street Art Project.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The People's Putt-Putt -- Imagine The Possibilities

I am working on the designs for a free portable miniature golf course to be located in North Adams, MA.  In no particular order, here is a list of the ideas/themes for the holes that I've come up with thus far.  (All locations are North Adams unless otherwise specified.)  Your comments and additional suggestions are welcomed!!!

  • Windmills in and around the city, including the power generating type on the hillsides and the ones on the roof of Mass MOCA
  • Hoosac Tunnel
  • Street map of the city
  • Susan B. Anthony's birthplace in Adams
  • Fort Massachusetts
  • The Berkshire Street Railway that ran in the vicinity of Adams and North Adams
  • The hairpin turn on the Mohawk Trail
  • Drury High School
  • The marble dam and Natural Bridge State Park in Clarksburg
  • Union Depot
  • The Corner Market
  • The West End Market
  • Mt Greylock Veterans War Memorial Tower
  • The hospital
  • The Mohawk Theater
  • A blanket of snow
  • Urban renewal and its consequences, especially the L-shaped mall and K-Mart
  • The Appalachian Trail, Stony Ledge, the Thunderbolt Trail, the Hopper, Bascom Lodge, and other features on Mt Greylock
  • Arnold Print Works, Sprague Electric, Willow Dell, the Mass MOCA complex, and other former and current mill sites
  • Noel Field and the Steeplecats baseball team
  • Florida turnips, especially how the turnips pop up out of the ground due to frost heaves
  • Pedrin's Dairy Bar

The People's Putt-Putt -- An Introduction

About a year ago, I came up with the idea of designing a free, portable miniature golf course.  The course could be played indoors during the winter and moved out-of-doors during the summer.  It would be free for anyone to play it.  It would be based at the art studio and gallery located at 100 River Street, North Adams MA.

The designs for each of the holes are based on landmarks and/or history related to North Adams.  I used the notion of a February Fun-A-Day to kick-start the design process.  (The idea behind Fun-A-Day is to do some work on a creative project every day during the short month of February.)  I kept a notebook with me all month during February 2017, and worked pretty diligently on The People's Putt-Putt.  I'll include more details about the various holes in other posts, but below is an overview of what I have accomplished during the month.

  • I made a list of what I hoped to accomplish.
  • I reviewed a file of information and did research on the internet about miniature golf courses, art golf courses, and North Adams history to get ideas for the holes.
  • I came up with a list of possible materials to use in building the holes.
  • I made a list of possible North Adams locations to use as inspiration for the holes, and made sketches and/or notes providing additional information.
  • Using an indoor space of 500 square feet, I figured out how big I could make the holes and still fit nine of them inside that space.
Following the end of February, I've continued to work on the project.  I've made schematic drawings of five holes so far (as of early June 2017), and posted them on a Facebook page called "The People's Putt-Putt" -- check it out!  I plan to continue posting both here on the blog and on that Facebook page.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Court Square Old School Graffiti

The MTA is in the process of renovating the Court Square 7 train station in Long Island City.  During the renovation,  from now until sometime in April, the 7 trains are rolling through the station without stopping.

Not a lot has been changed so far at the station -- a few walls and signs have been removed.

But, now that the signs are gone, you can see some old-school graffiti.  Apparently the corrugated wind breaks of the station had been covered in graffiti, which was in turn covered over with the signs and then painted.  So, there are about 8 to 10 spots, each perhaps 4 feet high by 5 feet wide, where the graffiti is now showing through.

UPDATE as of February 11:  Previously, I did not have any photos of the graffiti, but I managed to get two rather blurry ones while my train passed through the station.  I would also be interested in seeing any that others may have taken.  See my photos below.  (The green dot is a reflection from the window of the train.)

The graffiti must pre-date the last renovation of the station, but I haven't been able to find anything that tells me when that was.

So, I'm afraid that I don't have a lot of information, but the graffiti is pretty cool.  Check it out and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

East Elmhurst and the NY Times

I've already made a couple of posts on East Elmhurst, an interesting neighborhood just north of where I live in Jackson Heights.  Apparently I'm not the only one who likes this neighborhood.

A recent article in the NY Times (published January 7, 2011) talks about how the residents of the East Elmhurst census tract have stayed in their homes the longest of any of the NYC census tracts.  The median move-in date for East Elmhurst residents is 1974.  (The average for all of NYC is 1995.)

The article, written by Joseph Berger, goes on to interview several East Elmhurst residents.  Several of the points that he makes in the article echo my own observations.

Anyone interested in this area should definitely check out the article.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

90th Street in East Elmhurst

Josip Brletic recently commented on my East Elmhurst 11369 post asking about the stone columns that are on either side of 90th Street, just north of 30th Avenue toward Astoria Boulevard. He asked if there is any historical significance to these columns. I had not noticed these columns before, but took a ride over there on my bike to check them out. I don’t yet know the entire story, but this block has really piqued my interest. Josip, thanks for your question!!


The top picture, of the east column, was taken by my wife on our recent visit.  The bottom picture is from  Google street view, and shows the west column.

In the Google photo, the column has a planter on top, but (as you can see from the top photo) when I visited (July 2010) there were no planters and the columns are pretty plain. The columns have also seem to have been painted over, probably to cover graffiti. There are no such markers at the north (Astoria Boulevard) end of the block, but that end has been redeveloped, so if markers were originally there they could have easily been removed by now.

These columns (and the block) had been noted before (scroll down towards the bottom, past his discussion of the Fair Theatre) by Kevin Walsh of Forgotten New York, always a great source of information about any area in the city.


The second interesting thing about this block is that all of the houses on the block are clearly of the same design, and all were definitely built at the same time as part of the same development. A few of the houses have been remodeled, but it’s easy to see their common origins. Here are some photos of a few of the houses.

Below is a screen shot from the NYC OASIS website and you can easily see that the lot size of these stand-alone single-family houses differs from those in the surrounding blocks, which are all row houses. OASIS also tells us that all of the houses on this block were built in 1934.

Astoria Boulevard was improved and widened to handle truck traffic from the Triborough Bridge.  Robert Moses took over construction of the Triborough in 1934. Further research would be needed to identify any definitive connection (if there is any) between this block on 90th Street and the nearby work on Astoria Boulevard.


Another interesting thing about this block is that it was recognized by the Queens Historical Society’s Queensmark program. This program was designed to honor and recognize structures and sites that have an outstanding cultural, historical, or architectural significance. The program started in 1996, and has continued on and off since then, honoring sites around the borough. In 1999, the un-remodeled houses on this block were honored and plaques noting the honor were mounted on the front of the homes. I was unable to find any information about the specifics of the award using internet searches, but an email to the Queens Historical Society yielded the following information:

"We were told by one of the residents that these structures were built as summer homes in the 1920s. While we cannot verify this information, members of the Queensmark Committee thought they were attractive. They were Queensmarked as part of our Corona and East Elmhurst celebration that was held at the Queens Hall of Science about ten years ago. The residents were very supportive. The homes were Queensmarked because of their appearance (i.e., architectural significance) rather than their history which unfortunately we know little about.
"We use a similar process as the Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC) in choosing Queensmark (a program that is run by the Queens Historical Society) by choosing sites of historical, cultural, or architectural significance. While a Queensmark acknowledges the merit of a structure, it unfortunately does not protect it from demolition. The Queensmark program was created to help raise awareness of important structures and to hopefully catch the attention of the LPC and eventually have it considered for NYC Landmark status.
A 1999 article in the New York Times about the Queensmark winners of that year gave the following brief mention to the block and its homes:

"25-25 THROUGH 25-61 AND 25-28 THROUGH 25-60 90TH STREET -- This row of Tudor style homes with tile roofs was built in the 1920s to cater to a middle class looking for a uniform, almost suburban ambiance.
Note the Queensmark references to the 1920s, versus the data from the city that indicates 1934. Again, further research might be needed to get a more accurate date for the construction of the homes.  Below is a photo of one of the Queensmark plaques, which are mounted on the facades of many of the homes on this block.


Finally, another interesting tidbit about this block is that the northern end (at Astoria Boulevard) was the location of the last one room schoolhouse in Queens, and is the current location of One Room Schoolhouse Park, and is also mentioned in Forgotten New York. Interestingly, and perhaps not coincidentally, the schoolhouse was torn down in 1934, the same year that the houses were built and that Moses took over the Triborough -- a busy time in the neighborhood!

The schoolhouse opened in 1879 and served the Frogtown community, which was located by the swamp on the other side of Astoria Boulevard. The swamp was no doubt the remains of the Jackson Mill Pond. The map below shows an overlay of the “old” grid from 1909 and a current street layout. You can see the boundaries of Jackson Mill Pond and how it relates to the current street grid. The New York Public Library has a nifty site that has overlaid old and new maps, where you can play with relative transparency of each. The link to this particular map is here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Thoughts on Jane Jacobs and Some NYC Neighborhoods of Today

Here is another assignment from my Geography of NYC class.  As laid out in Jane Jacobs' iconic book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities",  the essence of a successful city is its ability “to sustain city safety, public contact and cross-use” (p. 144).  [Note: page numbers are from the Vintage Books paperback edition, 1992.]

Jacobs uses the term diversity to refer to a “most intricate and close-grained diversity of uses that give each other constant mutual support, both economically and socially” (p. 14).  For Jacobs, diversity is synonymous with vitality or street life and she believes that the mixing of different types of people is a key ingredient for a city.  In Jacobs’ day (1961), the West Village met all four of her conditions for successful diversity.  Jacobs believed these conditions to be both necessary and sufficient to achieve diversity in a city.

Nearly 50 years later, how well do Jacobs’ conditions hold up?  Examining four neighborhoods (West Village, East Harlem, Forest Hills, and Williamsburg) and three of Jacobs’ conditions for diversity as a case study, it seems to me that only one of those neighborhoods (Williamsburg) fully qualifies as being diverse according to Jacobs’ definition.  Each of the other neighborhoods fails to meet at least one condition.  The three conditions that I chose to examine are:

Condition 1   Multiple Primary Functions -- The district, and indeed as many of its internal parts as possible, must serve more than one primary function; preferably more than two.  These must insure the presence of people who go outdoors on different schedules and are in the place for different purposes, but who are able to use many facilities in common.  Jacobs believes that people come to an area for three reasons:  they live there, they work there, or they visit to get a change from their own neighborhoods.  Jacobs says that a mix of all three is the ideal situation, but at least two of them are needed.

Condition 2   Short Blocks -- Most blocks must be short; that is, streets and opportunities to turn corners must be frequent.  Jacobs believes that it is important that people can easily follow different routes through the area, rather than all being funneled onto the same streets.

Condition 3   Aged Buildings -- The district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition, including a good proportion of old ones.  Jacobs likes a variety of building ages and conditions because it allows an economic variety of people and businesses to establish themselves in the neighborhood.

The fourth condition, which I don't discuss herein, is Concentration -- The district must have a suffiently dense concentration of people, for whatever purpose they may be there.  This includes people there because of residence.
Below, I discuss each neighborhood in turn, and how it meets or fails to meet each of Jacobs’ conditions.
West Village

The West Village has a vibrant street life, but by-and-large is comprised of well-to-do residents and visitors to the area.  The economic mix that Jacobs likes is no longer present.
Today’s West Village has two of the three primary uses, enough to meet Jacobs’ primary use condition.  It is primarily a residential area with small shops lining the commercial streets.  The area no longer has any significant working population other than the shop employees.  It does, however, have a very large number of visitors.  Gay people are drawn by the fame of Stonewall and Christopher Street, while the High Line and the Meat Packing district draw crowds from all over the city and beyond.  The Cage, restaurants, shopping, nightclubs, and several theaters also draw visitors at all times of day and night, keeping the area continually bustling.
The West Village meet Jacobs’ short blocks condition, with blocks smaller than those in the typical Manhattan grid and many off-grid streets that help lead pedestrians on differing routes.  The High Line provides a notable exception to the rest of the West Village.  A former border vacuum, the High Line is now a tourist destination, drawing visitors through the West Village.  Once the visitors arrive at the High Line, however, they are physically removed from the street.
The West Village’s historic district designation is at least partly responsible for its place as a tourist attraction, simply because the older architecture gives the West Village a different feel from other areas of the city.  The West Village offers a combination of history and visual appeal that is unique in New York, thus drawing abundant visitors at all times of the day.
The designation also prevents the West Village from meeting the aged buildings condition.  The buildings in the West Village are now less diverse than was the case in Jacobs’ time, the only new buildings being on the periphery where the historic district restrictions don’t apply.  Also, this designation has resulted in the area becoming a well-to-do enclave, which keeps essentially all of the buildings in good repair (again, with only a few exceptions in the periphery around the High Line).  The end result is that the West Village now lacks economic and social diversity, and thus does not meet Jacobs’ definition of diversity.
East Harlem

East Harlem doesn’t meet Jacobs’ diversity definition for several reasons.  Although it has pockets of vibrant street life, other areas are near deserted.  Economically, it is a lower-class area, so is lacking economic diversity.
East Harlem does meet Jacobs’ primary use condition, with a mix of residential areas and public facilities (hospitals and museums) that both offer employment and draw visitors.  A few of the stores on 125th Street and the Harlem Metro North station also help draw traffic to the area.  The new Costco on 116th Street, although perhaps a primary function, will probably attract more cars than foot traffic to the area; it is, however, a potential source of jobs for the residents.
East Harlem has a good mix of aged buildings.  There are buildings of all ages and conditions.  There is some new development along 125th Street and 3rd Avenue, along with older tenements, newer apartment houses, a mix of commercial store sites, and even casitas.  New development will be able to continue in the future because the city is holding on to vacant parcels scattered throughout East Harlem as it awaits the right development opportunity.
East Harlem fails, however, to meet Jacobs’ short blocks condition.  Much of East Harlem is on the standard Manhattan grid.  Additionally, it is the home to a number of super blocks, due in large part to its public housing, subsidized housing, and public institutions such as hospitals.  Additionally, the elevated Metro North tracks running through East Harlem provide a physical barrier between the lower class areas and the middle class areas.  Finally, although they are long-gone, the 2nd and 3rd Avenue elevated trains provided another physical barrier, the effects of which have yet to be eradicated.  I believe that the combination of these results in the spotty nature of the area’s diversity.
Forest Hills

Forest Hills is really two completely separate areas.  Forest Hills Gardens is essentially a suburb, and is devoid of social or economic diversity and of any street life.  Although Forest Hills has the street life, it is a very well-to-do area without social or economic diversity.
As might be expected, Forest Hills Gardens does not meet any of Jacobs’ conditions.  There is only one primary function, residences.  The blocks are long (although they are not gridded).  Additionally, the Long Island Railroad tracks provide a border vacuum that isolates the area.  Finally, there is no building variety in Forest Hills Gardens, as it was constructed at a single point in time under strict building codes.
Forest Hills, on the other hand, has multiple primary functions.  Just down Queens Boulevard from Forest Hills are courthouses and associated offices, offering employment and a reason for visitors to be in the area.  Additionally, there is at least one Cord Meyer office building nearby.  Although there is no manufacturing or industry to speak of, the array of restaurants and shops does provide an additional draw for visitors, as does Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church.
In Forest Hills the blocks are smaller than the Manhattan grid, which helps support the ample foot traffic and street life.
Where Forest Hills is lacking is in the aged buildings condition.  Cord Meyer, which continues to develop in the area, has been building a new tower each decade.  Although these new towers help meet Jacobs’ goal for buildings of different ages, the fact that they are all towers does not meet her goal of having a variety of building types and heights.

Williamsburg alone has the combination of street life and the social and economic diversity desired by Jacobs.  Not surprisingly, Williamsburg is the only one of the neighborhoods that meets all of Jacobs’ conditions.
Williamsburg contains all three primary functions:  there are many residents, there are small manufacturing and industrial-type jobs in the area, and there are reasons for visitors to come at all hours (Boricua College, nightclubs such as the Knitting Factory, and a variety of temples and churches).
The blocks in Williamsburg, while not as small as those in the West Village, are smaller than the standard Manhattan grid.  Williamsburg is also broken up at different points by bends in some of the major streets and by the meeting points of two different grid patterns.  There is a major border vacuum created by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Williamsburg Bridge approaches and bus plaza, which serves to keep the Hasidic part of Williamsburg physically separated from the Hispanic and hipster area.  Although there is little mixing, both areas have a vibrant street life and economic diversity.
Williamsburg also has a good mix of different building ages.  Additionally, the buildings are in varying states of repair.  New buildings have been added recently, and might threaten to overwhelm the neighborhood if the momentum hadn’t been slowed by the recent economic downturn.  Williamsburg is the only one of the four neighborhoods with economic diversity in its residents, and this is clearly facilitated by the building diversity.