Friday, September 30, 2011

A Critical Look at PlaNYC, Four Years Later



When Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled PlaNYC in 2007, it was seen as a visionary proposal that would likely define his legacy. With the city’s population expected to rise from 8 million to 9 million by 2030, the catch-all initiative sought to make the city greener and more livable by increasing the number of mass-transit options, energy-efficient buildings, and parks, among other aspects. Many goals were designed to come to fruition long after Bloomberg left office in 2013, and in many ways, PlaNYC’s scope evoked Robert Moses, sans the emphasis on cars.

So how is PlaNYC faring four years after its launch? Opinions vary. Numerous aspects of the scheme, particularly its sustainability initiatives, are already visible across the city, in the form of new high-speed buses, stricter energy standards, and eco-friendly vehicles—and they score great reviews. But there also are critics who say changes have been slow to roll out and don’t improve the fortunes of all New Yorkers equally, according to Architectural Record.

Tom Angotti, a professor of planning at Hunter College, takes issue with the general methodology of PlaNYC. It favors improving the lives of 1 million people who have yet to move to New York, he says, rather than the millions who are already here, many of whom are poor and need attention. Angotti notes that the plan was written by McKinsey and Company, a consulting firm that advises banks, pharmaceutical, and telecom companies, among others. “It’s an accountants’ approach to the city,” Angotti says, “not a planners’ approach.”

Signs of Progress

This past April, Mayor Michael Bloomberg released his first-ever update to the plan, expanding it to 132 initiatives from 127. That report, detailed in a 202-page document, also took stock of the progress so far. The city noted, for instance, that greenhouse gas emissions have fallen 13 percent below 2005 levels in part because of cleaner power generation, though the goal is to have them drop 30 percent below those levels by 2030.

Of the original initiatives, 97 percent have launched, says David Bragdon, director of New York’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, which coordinates the implementation of PlaNYC. “The plan is moving as it should, from conceptual to implemental,” he adds. Bragdon, who oversaw a regional planning agency in Portland, Oregon, before taking his current job in 2010, says New York is already cutting edge in its green efforts. “There is more happening here in terms of tangible accomplishments than almost anywhere else” in the United States, he says.

There are fans outside the mayor’s office, too. “The short answer is, most things are on track,” says Andy Darrell, the New York-based director of the global Environmental Defense Fund, which advocates market-based solutions to environmental problems. Among the plan’s greatest achievements, he says, is a recent effort to phase out No. 4 and No. 6 heating oils, which are pollutants. Plus, about 500,000 of 1 million promised trees have been planted.

Darrell also likes the introduction of rapid transit buses along First and Second Avenues in Manhattan, and Fordham Avenue in the Bronx, with others planned. The buses hopefully encourage people to drive less. Overall, the plan “performing very well on the greenhouse-gas front,” Darrell says.

Critical Perspectives

Involving 27 city agencies, PlaNYC enjoyed the support of 150 environmental, labor and business groups when it was introduced. Since it touches so many different parties – and since public funds for the multi-billion-dollar plan could potentially flow to numerous people – it can be difficult finding impartial analysts.

Darrell, for one, serves on the mayor’s Sustainability Advisory board, though he claims he is an independent and that his organization has never received funding from the city or mayor. To prove his objectivity, he notes PlaNYC’s failures: An effort to impose congestion pricing on Midtown Manhattan—to charge drivers more to travel through some neighborhoods at certain times a day, which would have funded later aspects of PlaNYC—was ultimately killed by state lawmakers. (For his part, Bragdon argues that the plan could be revived under Governor Cuomo, who he believes will support it.)

Other setbacks include a scuttled requirement that all taxis be hybrid models. Courts ruled last winter that the proposed law was unconstitutional because cities don’t have the power to regulate emissions; that power lies with the federal government.

Some detractors point out that PlaNYC hasn’t moved fast enough. For example, PlaNYC calls for “building or preserving” 165,000 affordable homes by 2017; so far, it’s created only 64,000, or less than half, according to the April report.

Recession’s Impact

To be fair, the recession, which hit soon after PlaNYC’s debut, has gummed up the works. The city sought to spruce up 290 school playgrounds and turn them into de facto weekend parks, so all New Yorkers could be a 10-minute walk away from green space. But in 2009, the sputtering economy killed plans for 24 of those playgrounds, the report shows.

“The challenges are not the plan itself, but more so the financial landscape to get the projects done,” says Bernell Grier, chief executive of the Neighborhood Housing Services of New York City, a nonprofit affordable housing group. Others are harsher. Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Parks Advocates, a watchdog group, says that of the 200 acres of parkland that has been added toward the 4,700 acres promised, much is inferior.

Dreier-Offerman/Calvert Vaux Park in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, for example, was supposed to feature six soccer fields; it only has two, and they’re synthetic turf, not grass, “which won’t clean the air and gets too hot in the summer to play on,” says Croft. Plus, he adds, “the city doesn’t want to spend money maintaining things.”

Read More:

A Critical Look at PlaNYC, Four Years After Its Launch

Mayor Bloomberg introduced his sweeping initiative to green the city and improve living conditions for all New Yorkers. Is the plan working?

Architectural Record - September 29, 2011 In 2007 - By C. J. Hughes

Thursday, September 29, 2011

West Nile Virus Fears In Queens Parks

(L-R) John Killcommons, Robert Holden, and Lorraine Sciulli, stand next to a puddle which they said is a mosquito hot spot at Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village.
(L-R) John Killcommons, Robert Holden, and Lorraine Sciulli, stand next to a puddle in a roller hockey rink which they said is a mosquito hot spot at Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village. Puddling should not be occurring at the rink to begin with. Five people and 88 mosquito pools in Queens have tested positive for the virus, by far the most in the city. (Photo: Anthony DelMundo for NY Daily News)


Queens, which was ground zero for the West Nile virus when it was discovered in the U.S. for the first time 12 years ago, is once again a hotspot for the mosquito-borne disease, according to the New York Daily News.

Five people and 88 mosquito pools in the borough have tested positive for the virus, by far the most in the city.

The city has sprayed more than a half-dozen times in Queens this year to reduce the mosquito population, but some say it's not enough.

"Why haven't they sprayed in Middle Village?" asked Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association. "People are getting eaten alive out here."

Anxiety in the area grew after word spread that a resident may have been ill with encephalitis.

It was unclear whether that individual actually tested positive for West Nile.

City Health Department officials declined to identify neighborhoods where the victims live, citing patient confidentiality.

It's also possible that victims contracted the virus in other areas, officials said.

In August, an 83-year-old man from Queens died after contracting the virus.

Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, said it's not clear why Queens has more cases this year.

"The factors that are most important are population density and the amount of marshland and standing water where these mosquitoes can breed," he said.

Lipkin is an expert who consulted on the new Steven Soderbergh movie "Contagion," a thriller centered on the threat posed by a deadly disease.

"This year we had a lot of precipitation, and this is probably an important factor," Lipkin added.

Though the virus has become part of life here over the past decade, Lipkin said he understands why people are still alarmed.

"Encephalitis is a scary illness, and it kills," he said.

The Health Department said it carefully monitors virus activity and then decides whether to spray pesticides.

"We use data for positive mosquito pools and/or human cases for estimating the risk of disease transmission," the agency said in a statement.

But even if someone contracts the virus, it doesn't guarantee spraying in that area.

"People should be alerted," Holden said, adding that maps and charts of spraying on the agency's website are not detailed enough.

"We are not getting any information and we want to know why."

Read More

New York Daily News - September 29th 2011 - By Lisa L. Colangelo

Man Prevents Rape In A Cross Island Expressway Wooded Area

Police officers search the bushes along Cross Island Expressway, a Parks Department property near 148th St., the scene of the attempted rape. (Photo: Anthony DelMundo for NY Daily News)


Racing to rescue a helpless woman from the clutches of a would-be rapist, Bryan Teichman had just seconds Wednesday to decide whether he should start yelling - or revert to his Marine training and attack the man, according to the New York Daily News.

"My gut said to scream first, to avoid the conflict," said the 31-year-old Queens resident. "So I screamed, you know, some profanities, but basically: 'Get off her!'"

That was enough, police said, to send the suspect running - and for Teichman to be hailed as the city's newest hero.

Police released sketch of the suspect.

Police released sketch of the suspect.

"If I would have caught him, I would've felt like that," the self-deprecating dad from Fresh Meadows said. Police are now looking for the burly man, who Teichman said was dressed like a construction worker. In an interview with The Daily News, Teichman gave a stirring account of how he suddenly found himself coming to the aid of a stranger who had been accosted in broad daylight.
"It blows my mind that someone has the audacity to do that at 9 o'clock in the morning," he said. Teichman's brush with fate came as he was dropping off his daughter at the babysitter's house in Whitestone, which sits across the street from a small wooded area that abuts the Whitestone Expressway at the Cross Island Parkway service road and 148th St.

Most days, Teichman said, he leaves his daughter with Dawn Ottaviano at noon. On Wednesday, he dropped her off early so he could study for a physics exam at Nassau Community College, where he is an engineering major.

"I was in the house, and I heard some muffled screams," he said. Outside the window, they saw a surreal scene unfold.

"At first, it looked like they were running," Ottaviano told The News. "When I looked closer, it looked like he was hoisting her, grabbing her, pushing her."

"When I saw him throw her over the guardrail, that's when I knew it wasn't play," added Teichman. "I looked back at Dawn and I said 'Something's not right. I'm going over there.'"

Ottaviano told him, "Be careful, be careful," he said.

Heeding her warning, Teichman said he jogged across the street. "I didn't run over there," he said.

When he got to guardrail, Teichman said the man was "straddling her." He had one hand over her mouth and was "ripping at her jean jacket" with the other.

Teichman said the man must have been powerful because the woman's screams were completely muffled.

"He was strong enough to hold her mouth shut," he said. "It was silent. I had to pause there and think, 'Do I run after him first or do I scream first at him?'"

Teichman decided to fill the void with lots of noise.

"If Dawn didn't say, 'Be careful, be careful,' my instinct would have been to attack, because I have a wife, and a daughter, a two year old daughter," he said.

Startled, the attacker looked up and Teichman said he got a clear look at his face.

"Then he started running down the hill," he said. "I ran over to her."

By that point, the attacker had already reached the highway and was running northbound along the shoulder, he said.

Within minutes, police, alerted by the babysitter, began arriving and hunting for the suspect.

Teichman said he tried to comfort the weeping woman, who spoke very little English.

"She was saying, 'Thank you,'" he recalled. "That seemed like all she could say.'"

"She was frazzled," Ottaviano added. "Her whole back was full of dirt."

Another witness, Lisa Chianese, said the woman was there waiting for her carpool ride into the city.

"God bless him," she said of Teichman. "He saved her."

Teichman described the attacker as a clean-cut white man, 45 to 55 years-old, weighing about 220 pounds, with salt-and-pepper hair and a goatee.

The suspect, who is believed to be in his 50s, was last seen running northbound on the Cross Island Parkway, police said.

Police urge anyone with information on the attack to call their Crime Stoppers hotline at (800) 577-TIPS.

Read More:

Former Marine foils rape in wooded area on side of Queens road
New York Daily News - September 28th 2011 - By Jennifer H. Cunningham and Corky Siemaszko

Playground Set On Fire in Alley Pond Park

A community in Queens wants to find the person who set fire to a playground at Alley Pond Park overnight.
At fire was set to Alley Springfield Playground in Alley Pond Park early Wednesday morning. Several pieces of equipment were melted. (Photo: NBC New York)


Several city agencies are investigating the torching of a children's playground at the Alley Pond Park in Queens, according to NBC News.

The arson happened sometime between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, according to authorities.

Fire was set to the playground at the park, located at Springfield Boulevard and 76th Avenue in Oakland Gardens, damaging the ground surface and several pieces of playground equipment.

Both police and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation are investigating.

Local City Council member Mark Weprin said thousands of local children use the playground.

"Anyone who witnessed the action or has relevant information should come forward," said Weprin. "The children of our community have lost access to a beautiful and safe place to play."

Anyone with information is asked to contact the NYPD Crime Stoppers hotline at 800-577-TIPS.

(Photo: DouglastonPatch)

Read/View More:

Police Investigate Queens Playground Torching

NBC New York - September 29, 2011

YourNabe - September 28, 2011 - By Rich Bockmann

Monday, September 26, 2011

NY State Plastic Bag Fee Proposed For Underfunded State Parks

NY State Senator Jose M. Serrano has proposed legislation which would set a charge on single-use grocery store bags, which the purchaser could avoid by choosing to use a reusable bag. The program, "Pennies for Parks" would generate much needed funding for State Parks.

"The program could generate up to $70 million a year for our persistently underfunded state parks, while simultaneously reducing the number of bags that end up in landfills, and often times on our trees and in our waterways," - Senator Jose M. Serrano.

State -Wide

Two years ago we experienced a statewide budget impasse that threatened the Memorial Day opening of many of our state parks. Although we've thus far avoided widespread closures, service reductions have become the norm for these struggling facilities, according to an Op-Ed published in The Times Union.

With a backlog of more than $1 billion in capital rehabilitation and repair projects, parks have struggled over the past few years to provide the public with even the most essential services -- like functioning restrooms. Most recently, Hurricane Irene left a devastating footprint on our already stretched parks system. Trees were uprooted, lakes and rivers flooded, and cabins destroyed.

We must develop a sensible solution to provide a new revenue stream for our state parks. That's why Assemblyman Steven Englebright, D-Suffolk County, a member of the Assembly Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development Committee, and I recently introduced legislation to create the "Pennies for Parks" program. It would set a charge on single-use grocery store bags, which the purchaser could avoid by choosing to use a reusable bag.

The program could generate up to $70 million a year for our persistently underfunded state parks, while simultaneously reducing the number of bags that end up in landfills, and often times on our trees and in our waterways.

New York boasts one of the most remarkable state park systems in the nation -- from Niagara Falls to the beaches on Long Island and Roberto Clemente Park in the Bronx. New Yorkers came out in droves in 2010 to display their enthusiasm for state parks, setting record-breaking attendance numbers.

Yet in 2011, attendance seems to have dropped. This is likely because of another grueling year of service reductions and the additional issues stemming from Hurricane Irene, which brought the summer to an early end for many parkgoers.

In a perfect world, Federal Emergency Management Agency funding would be used to cover all of the damage from the storm. Unfortunately, money is already spread so thin that it's unlikely that much FEMA funding, if any, will be used for the much-needed repairs.

Instead, the new problems will be added to the growing list of necessary parks capital projects -- a list that is likely to continue growing until some parks are eventually forced to close for safety reasons.

Polling conducted by Alliance for New York State Parks shows that a whopping 73 percent of New Yorkers support a charge on plastic bags, provided the generated funds are dedicated to keeping state parks open and well-maintained.

It's not enough to simply love our state parks; we must also take meaningful steps to keep them funded and well-maintained. Allowing them to continue to fall into disrepair will have a significant adverse effect on the financial and natural health of our state.

Pennies for Parks will not only be an effective way to combat the plastic bag epidemic affecting many of our communities, but will also allow future generations to enjoy all of the recreational possibilities offered by our state park system.

A $70M plan to save New York's parks
Times Union - September 25, 2011 - By Jose M. Serrano

PullCart Bethesda Terrace Liquor License Avoids CB 8

Alcohol - Coming Soon - July 17, 2011. Pullcart, the controversial Central Park food cart recently installed in the historic Bethesda Terrace, avoided Community Board 8 when applying for its liquor license. The Parks Department is now responsible for generating 91% of all concession revenue from city agencies. "The Parks Department does whatever it wants," said an irate CB 8 member. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on Image to enlarge.

The concession, run by the people behind Fatty Crab, recently began selling alcohol, the highest priced items on the menu.


Pullcart, the Central Park food cart run by the folks behind Fatty Crab, is gearing up next week’s big Oktoberfest celebration in the park by readying the beer, wine and prosecco for patrons looking to take in the view at Bethesda Terrace.

But many members of Community Board 8 are trying to yank the liquor license from the pulled pork sandwich purveyor — saying its owners did an “end run” around them by getting its liquor license from the State Liquor Authority in August without making a formal application to the board, according to DNAinfo.

“Many of us would not have wanted to approve it,” CB 8’s parks committee co-chair Peggy Price said to her colleagues on Wednesday night, as opponents vented about Pullcart at the full board meeting.

The board acknowledges that Pullcart’s license was obtained legally — the owners notified the community board 30 days before submitting their application to the SLA — but many in the community board were incensed that they never got to vote on the application or give their input to the SLA.

So, they issued a resolution on Wednesday night to revoke and suspend immediately the cart’s license until “proper review” of it can take place.

CB 8 Parks Committee co-chair Barbara Rudder said that when she visited Pullcart before it began serving alcohol about a month ago, she was very concerned. “There was no contained space,” she said. “Do you really think everyone is going to have a drink and just sit there?”

No one on the board said they had visited the cart since it began selling alcohol.

Their resolution is only advisory, and all players — the board, Pullcart and the SLA — acknowledged that applicants don’t actually need to go in front of the board after submitting its 30-day notice.

Joseph Levey, a lawyer for Pullcart, said he contacted all six community boards that touch Central Park, and Community Board 8 was the only one that asked him to come to a meeting.

He said he went to the board three times and that each time many board members railed against the Parks Department for issuing the permit for the vendor in the first place — saying it would be an “eyesore” at Bethesda Terrace, which they fought so hard to preserve.

Members of the community board had previously voiced their distate for new upscale vendors in the park.

Each time Levey came, he said the board demanded more information, such as renderings (which he supplied) and then a floor plan, he said.

Although Levey, who represents several bars, usually tells his clients it’s in their best interest to come before community boards — even though they’re not legally required to — in this case, it seemed to him that board members had a “personal interest” to oppose their license since they were so opposed to the cart being there in the first place.

“It became pretty clear to me that this board had an intention to delay and delay until the season [for the seasonal permit] was over,” Levey said. “I thought it was pointless to come back because they were going to say no.”

The SLA said it would only take action to revoke a license if there was evidence of wrongdoing.

“We have to have proof there have been violations — serious violations,” said SLA spokesman Bill Crowley. “We don’t make those decision lightly.”

Crowley said that the SLA does “rely on a lot of good information from community boards” when deciding on whether to grant licenses, but noted that after an applicant gives the community board its 30-day notification, it doesn’t actually have to appear before the board.

“If the place is causing trouble, we’d certainly look into it,” Crowley added.

Pullcart is planning to hold its Oktoberfest on Oct. 1, which will cost $29 for all you can eat and drink from 1 to 6 p.m.


Read More:

Community Board Fights Central Park Pullcart's Liquor License
DNAinfo - September 23, 2011 - By Amy Zimmer