Tag Archives: queens

WePlaza! Help bring free wifi, arts programming, and architect-designed shade structures to some of NYC’s beloved outdoor community spaces

Anyone who’s been in New York over the past few years will know that there’ve been huge changes afoot in many of our public spaces. From Times Square to Union Square to Bliss Plaza in Sunnyside Queens, lovely open community spaces both big and small are being freed of traffic and built out and expanded and greened and brightened up, and New Yorkers love them. We stop by in droves with bag lunches, or for a chat, or a rest, or a bit of shade or sun, or to meet someone new. NYC plazas seem to be here to stay.

What many New Yorkers may not see, though, is how many thousands of busy hands are at work to make these spaces the vibrant community hubs they are – or how much time, money, and love go into maintaining and constantly improving them. Seems easy enough, right? Block off traffic and throw in a few planters? Well, no. Turning a plaza into a real community space is actually super hard, expensive work.

So today, we want to highlight an exciting Neighborhood Plaza Partnership (NPP) campaign. NPP is a program under the fabulous Horticultural Society of New York, or “the Hort,” for those in the know. The campaign, called WePlaza!, brings together improvement initiatives coming down the pipeline at three plazas in Queens and Brooklyn. Always on the lookout for new ways to fund plaza improvements, these three projects have come together to do a crowd-resourcing test run of sorts.

“Part of our mission,” explains Dorothy Le, director of capacity building at NPP, “is to work with plaza groups to see what kind of tools we can use, and crowd sourcing is potentially one of them.” If this test run in crowd resourcing is successful, the futures of NYC plazas will look that much more secure.

“Seeing the possibilities that exist in these spaces is a really positive thing, and really opens up creative avenues for community members, whether they’re arts groups or educational groups, or whether they’re simply waiting for the train,” Le says.

So check out the awesome WePlaza! video teaser on their campaign page, and meet the leaders of the three initiatives, below. See if any of them calls to you!

 

  1. Third Thursdays performances at Bliss Plaza, Sunnyside, Queens

When arts group Recreate Queens put out a public call, recently, for local performers to take the “stage” this summer at Bliss Plaza, they were immediately flooded with over 40 applications. Things were off to a good start, to put it mildly.

The call went out to fill what will be the very first arts programming series at brand new Bliss Plaza, which opened last summer. In the next few weeks, five performers will be selected, and will be scheduled to perform on the third Thursdays of each month from June to October. There’ll be no official stage or sound system, but otherwise, the sky’s the limit. “We want people to step off the train and wonder ‘hey, what’s going on here?’ and have a seat, whether it’s for five minutes or for the full hour,” says Rachel Thieme, director of Sunnyside Shines Business Improvement District. “We want to draw people in who wouldn’t go to a more formal performance space in the neighborhood or further out.”

What’s perhaps most exciting about season one of this new programming series is that no one has the faintest idea of what it’ll look like, culturally speaking. “Sunnyside is such a diverse neighborhood, like so many neighborhoods in Queens, but really especially here,” says Thieme. “We have large populations of people from Ireland, from Central and South American countries. People from Eastern Europe. So I’m really curious in terms of cultural performance what we’ll see. Maybe it’s going to be one week of flamenco and one week of Irish step dancing. I hope that it will reflect the diversity of the neighborhood. The Plaza has been a really popular public space, and I think this is an opportunity to really make it more of a town square center.”

To learn more, and to donate, click here.

 

  1. Free Wifi at Corona Plaza

Coming soon to Corona Plaza, Queens: free wifi! By this summer, you should be able to stroll through the space and log right in. Best of all, users will be directed, upon signing in for the free Wifi, to a main Corona Plaza community page. The site, will highlight community and educational events at the plaza, and promotions by local businesses. An information fair for immigrants might be advertised, for example, or an event along health and wellness themes. Or a notice about an open-air Zumba class next Friday night might pop up.

Ricardi Calixte, Deputy Director of the Queens Economic Development Corporation, is eager to see how this main page might bring together a community in which not everyone has wifi at home, and not everyone is aware of all the neighborhood has to offer. The community, he notes, is a largely immigrant one, and largely working class.

The plaza, Calixte says, is slated for some fantastic renovations next year, so he and his colleagues want to bring a community together around the space before that work begins. “We’re looking forward to making the most of this year,” he says, “to make sure that people know what’s happening in the plaza, and then when the final project is ready to go, people will be excited to get back to it. We think that the wifi and upping our social media campaign will help boost the image of the plaza.”

To donate, visit the project’s campaign page here.

 

  1. Gorgeous new shade structure for teeny-tiny Fulton Plaza, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn

Maria Nikolovski, an architecture student at Pratt, walks through Fulton Plaza all the time, on her way to school, or to Fulton Street’s hip cafes and restaurants. She and her peers have always wanted to create a piece of work for their Fort Greene/Clinton Hill community, but until now, they’ve never had the chance. The funding wasn’t there, and local projects weren’t a part of their coursework. Most Pratt architecture student projects over the years have actually been abroad. So when student design group PrattSIDE came into some grant funding, they knew just how to use it.

Coming to Fulton Plaza: a graceful shade canopy, made exclusively of steel and rope. Why steel and rope? They’re cheap, easy to use, and malleable (which will come in handy when the structure is moved, after its first 11 months, to an undecided new location). The inspiration came from the local community, via PrattSIDE’s partner, the Fulton Area Business Alliance (FAB); residents had reported that what they most wanted in the plaza was shade, shade, shade. The sun can be harsh in the Fort Greene/Clinton Hill area; mini parks abound, but in the in-between areas, you’re liable to get scorched.

Maria and her peers are thrilled to offer a taste of the Pratt aesthetic to the larger Fort Greene community. “In Fort Greene there’s a big art and design community,” she explains. “With Pratt Institute being one of the best design schools in the country, there’s so much of that kind of art energy in the area, and sometimes it isn’t represented well in the community. This building’s full of so much talent, and we’re really excited to release that into the community, and see what they have to say.”

To read more and donate, click here.

New York Governor Cuomo Awards Grant to Support QueensWay

We all know of the bustling tourist attraction the beautiful Manhattan’s High Line has become. What if a similar elevated park could be made of the old 3.5 mile long rail line connecting the Queens neighborhoods from Rego Park, Forest Hills, Richmond Hill, and Ozone Park to Forest Park?

 

That is precisely the question asked of a new feasibility study, for which Governor Cuomo has just awarded $467,000 to the Trust for Public Land (TPL), working with Friends of the QueensWay, a local organization of Queens residents dedicated to transforming the blighted old LIRR line. Transformed into a newly renovated public corridor, the line could include a bike and pedestrian path, cultural space and an open greenway.

“It’s so important to support local projects that are meaningful to New York City. I decided to make a donation to the QueensWay because it’s a project I believe in. Not only is it an innovative riff on the High Line, redesigned to fit this space in Queens, but it’s also a great way to bring open space, a place to play and relax into a people-filled part of Queens. I couldn’t be more excited about it, and I think other New Yorkers should donate to it, too!” -Robert Hammond, Founder, Friends of the High Line

After 50 Years Dormant, Old Queens Rail Line May See New Use

In order to help TPL complete a thorough feasibility and visioning study, continue ongoing advocacy efforts and create some initial programming with local community groups, the Friends of the QueensWay is trying to raise an additional $50,000 from private sources. You can help them by making a contribution to their project on ioby to raise the last $50,000.

With the funding from Governor Cuomo and from ioby, the feasibility and visioning effort is expected to launched this spring, and will incorporate a series of community input sessions in the diverse neighborhoods adjacent to the QueensWay.

Friends of the High Line co-founder Robert Hammond already donated to the project, saying, “It’s so important to support local projects that are meaningful to New York City. I decided to make a donation to the QueensWay because it’s a project I believe in. Not only is it an innovative riff on the High Line, redesigned to fit this space in Queens, but it’s also a great way to bring open space, a place to play and relax into a people-filled part of Queens. I couldn’t be more excited about it, and I think other New Yorkers should donate to it, too!”

Join Robert and dozens more by donating here. Learn more about Friends of the QueensWay on their website, their Facebook page and their twitter feed.

Meet Vision. Meet Stacey Ornstein.

My name is Stacey Ornstein, and I think I hold a lot of titles. I’m president of the Astoria CSA, or community supported agriculture. We connect our farm to the local community and we do a lot of educational programming, free to the community. In my professional life, I teach cooking to elementary school kids at an after-school program and through a couple of non-profits in the city.

I’m originally from the Chicago area and I came to New York City, oh, a lot of years ago. I came to New York City to go to school and now I live in Astoria, Queens. So I’ve been here for about fourteen years now.

Astoria is my favorite neighborhood. I do a culinary food tour as a little fun side project in Astoria. The tour that I do is a wider Mediterranean; we do Bosnian, Italian, Greek, and Egyptian, which I think is really cool because they’re some of the lesser-known ethnicities in Astoria. You have to love Queens for its ethnic diversity and food culture.

I have my masters in education, and I worked on art education predominantly in my studies. When I graduated, I was working in a couple of art education non-profits.

I worked with high school students, and I watched the foods that they were bringing in as snacks, and what they were calling their lunches, and it scared me.

Growing up, I loved junk food. But when I started spending my own money on food and realizing that I wasn’t getting full off of that, I started making healthier food choices on my own. When I saw that kids were not doing the same, it scared me. That was my ‘Aha!’ moment.

I love kids because they’re really not afraid to tell you what’s on their minds. They are really honest with you, and if they don’t like something or they think something is boring, they’re going to tell you or they literally go to sleep on the table in front of you.

They’re much more likely to try good food when they know where it comes from, when they’ve had a hand in making it. Something green isn’t as scary when you pull it apart and understand its components.

Beet gnocchi is really cool because it’s a hot pink fuchsia color. Kids love it because I talk to them about beets. If you can’t get your kid to eat beets, you tell them that they will pee pink and potentially miss school if they eat enough beets. Every kid will be chowing down on the beets.

My favorite is anything that has a gross-out factor tagging along with it. I like working with yeast a lot, and doing breads, because they love the science of the yeast. They say they can hear it burping and see all of the gasses coming out. You sort of wish you had that child’s vision, watching bread rise, and being able to hear it burp.

I was leading a green market tour for some fourth graders a couple years back. There was one student who told me he had never had an apple before, a fresh apple. That was a scary moment. It made me realize that things still need to be done.

I’m obsessed with food, and there are so many foods that are all about New York. I support my farm in a winter share and a summer share, so I’m eating local about 90% of the time.

Eating locally, there’s so many different ethnicities that you can play around with, and cook and eat.

Mustard is an awesome, cross-cultural thing. In my community garden, we’ve got people from so many different countries who have different food memories associated with it. We have a Bangladeshi family who talks about having a mustard farm back in their home country. My grandmother was Latvian and she talks about making mustard, which is just vodka and mustard seeds, and maybe some horseradish for spice. However, once you add vodka and mustard seeds together, I don’t know if you need any extra spice. But it definitely clears your sinuses.

Something that drives me everyday is hearing children’s attitudes change. In the beginning of the year, they see something green on the table and they pretend to convulse because they don’t want to eat the green thing. This week, we’re making a green soup with peas and asparagus and they think it’s awesome and they’re coming back for seconds and thirds. That definitely motivates me to keep going, when they’re no longer putting up a fight to eat something green.

The connections that you can make working locally and when you get involved with a community are really amazing. You start to hear people’s stories and you really start to understand people. It makes the city seem smaller and more comfortable.

I have this cantaloupe that was originally in some heirloom seeds that I bought. That cantaloupe crossed with another cantaloupe. It’s turned into the most amazing cantaloupe ever. Every year, I collect seeds from one of the cantaloupes. I take those seeds and packet them, and give some of these cantaloupe seeds to people in the garden. It’s really exciting to have something that you’ve created, pass it along to another gardener or another member of the community, and that they are then going to take the plant and sustain themselves with it. It’s an amazing cycle, saving the seeds and passing the seeds on.

Allergic to Salad is my newer blog that chronicles my life working with elementary school kids, teaching them cooking. It came about because earlier in the year we were making something that involved spinach and green things, and I set out a platter of things that we were working on in class. So there was a lot of green stuff that we were working with, and I had a student who convulsed on the floor and said that she was allergic. I said, “You haven’t even eaten anything and you haven’t even touched anything.” And she stood up and said, “I’m allergic to salad, so I can’t eat anything today.” So I said to her, “I’m really disappointed, because next week we’re making a chocolate salad. Looks like you’ll have to sit that one out also.” She said, “Oh, no, I’m not allergic to salad anymore. Just this kind of salad.” So that’s where the name comes from, Allergic to Salad. It’s a combination of ‘Kids Say the Darndest Things’ and my life working with elementary school students.

There was another instance where we were working with butternut squash and I talked about how butternut squash is like the brother to the pumpkin. As we started cutting up the squash, one of my students started crying because he said that we were killing the brother. But later he said that eating the brother was pretty good. I have some twisted kids, I guess, and that makes it more fun to cook.

I hope one of my biggest contributions was helping to save my community garden, which was on the brink of being turned into—well, I don’t know what it was on the brink of being turned into. That was a scary moment. So, in my own community, that’s something that I’ve held onto and have made a connection with.

There are so many amazing community gardeners and local activists around the city that are really inspiring. I think that all of those little projects are really inspiring when you hear about them and when they come to light. Every day, I’m re-inspired by people around the city when I hear some of the projects that people are working on. It’s not necessarily anything in the food world. Anything that really connects people to their community and to each other is amazing. That’s inspiring to me.

Meet Vision. Meet Tom Finkelpearl.

Tom Finkelpearl, a self described ‘Public and Cooperative Art Guy,’ is the Executive Director of the Queens Museum of Art. Here he discusses the power that artists have to draw a crowd and the Queen’s Museum’s work towards expanding and deepening social networking in the surrounding community.


About a hundred years ago, Marcel Duchamp took a urinal and he put it on a pedestal in a museum and called it art. The idea was, if you take something out of the flow of life and put it in a museum, which is out of the flow of life, it becomes art.

 

An artist who we are working with, Tania Brugara, said it is time to symbolically restore Marcel Duchamp’s urinal to the bathroom. To make it useful again. We actually did that. We have Marcel Duchamp’s urinal in our bathroom. It’s a urinal again. It has been repatriated. So she is having a meeting that we are sponsoring about useful art. There are environmental aspects of it.
Mel Chin has done a series of environmental works. He is a legendary guy. His most famous is one called Revival Fields, where he worked with a scientist from the US Department of Agriculture with certain kinds of plants which are hyper accumulators of cadmium and lead and planted them in some toxic waste sites in order to suck the toxics out of the soil and then burn the plants and mine them for cadmium and lead to pay for the process. So it’s a sustainable model of bioremediation.

 

He’s working on a huge project right now in New Orleans which is called the Fundred Project, that project is based around the idea of getting kids particularly, but also other people, to draw each person one $100 dollar bill. The idea of it is to raise enough money to deal with lead poisoning in New Orleans. This is a sort of post Katrina project. Already over 320 thousand people have participated in the project making individual works of art. And he’s going to go to Washington and try to redeem the money for bioremediation of the toxic wastes and lead poisoning in New Orleans. We were a Fundred site. We collected a lot of fundreds. He came by with an armored car.

 

Rick Lowe is this absolute visionary down in Houston Texas who has reclaimed a whole neighborhood. He now has a campus in a low-income African American community. He is an African American guy, grew up very poor on a farm in Mississippi. He has reclaimed a whole neighborhood as an art project.

 

It includes everything. He is building housing. He has revitalized several blocks of old row houses. They have community gardening. They are collaborating with Rice Architecture School on designing and building housing. He is a visionary of useful art.

We’ve been working off-site in Corona, at a particular part of Corona which is a low income mostly Latin American community in Queens, on a series of projects with artists (and some without artists). The major components have been public space and health and immigration. Part of the idea is that it’s all linked in together. You can’t separate the health outcomes from the community network outcomes from the environmental outcomes. So we’ve been doing big community festivals, often times based around big art projects.

 

Artists can draw a crowd. And when the crowd is there you test people for diabetes and high blood pressure, etc. When John Leonardo did a project as a Lucho Libre thousands of people were there and you say, “Okay, they’re here. Let’s see who has insurance.” Thousands of people signed up for low-cost insurance, which is like the public option if there were one — Metro Health Plus. Thousands of people got screened for various problems and they got immigration information.

 

This whole idea of cooperative art — that’s what I’m interested in, the idea that in the history of art the idea that the artist was this lonely person sitting in his studio is a very new idea. It’s only in the last thousand years that people have been isolated in their studios, before that, art was part of the collective.

We did a “social network map” of Corona and we had it mapped by this Center for Creative Community Development at Williams (C3D). The idea of social network mapping is to say that it is demonstrable that there are better social outcomes in communities with denser social networks, especially multi-layer social networks. So that if you are on the PTA and you’re also a member of the church and you’re also the member of a business association, and your neighbors are on those things too, and you have multilayered relationships and, for example, you show up at the Community Board meeting, and your friend who you talked to at the PTA doesn’t show up, you might call them and they might be lying on the floor waiting for someone to call and they answer and say “take me to the hospital!” The idea is to get more mutual surveillance.

 

So what we’ve done is one test of the social network map to understand both how dense the maps are and to understand how central the Queens Museum is to those maps, because the more central we are, the more important our role is.

 

We’re hoping is that we can demonstrate that the second time we do it, the map is denser, and The Queens Museum is more central. That’s the hope. If we’re actually helping our community, we’ve helped our community have denser social networks, we’ve brought people from the edges of the community more into the flow of interaction.
A good neighbor is someone who is active in the community. There are other communities I’m a part of besides my residential community, the art community, the school community. There are all these ways that actually having a kid ties you to a community — PTA, sports, etc.

 

I think privacy is overrated. It’s not associated with happiness. It is this protective sheen that Americans try to put around themselves which is unhealthy socially, physically, personally.

 

Every one of the happiness books says that being a member of a community, being active in your community is associated with happiness. All of these things that are counter intuitive to Americans are based on this idea of the individual, which is unhealthy.

 

There are very few animals that are as cooperative as human beings. We are aggressive and territorial, but we are also insanely cooperative. There are only four animals that have social units over a hundred thousand, and we’re one of them. So it’s ants, and bees, and I don’t know, bats, and us! And that’s amazing! So we have these social units, cities, and 8 million people are living together, and for the most part we cooperate. Then there is this question: why are we so fixated on the fact that we don’t cooperate?

 

I’m really rooting for our species to make it through all these problems we have, and the only way I can do it is by being cooperative. Not by being more competitive.

 

I had one experience with an artist, Merl Euchilles, not long ago and she did this project about this Jewish principle “tikkun olam” and it has to do with repairing the shattered world. She did a performance of it at the Center for Jewish History and the idea was for people to make some sort of pledge on the basis of that principle, it could be anything from being nicer to people, there is a whole wide range of what it could mean, she had this sort of performance and ritual. It was kind of hokey and I didn’t think it was one of her best pieces, but it actually changed my life.

 

There was this mirror, a two-sided mirror. You looked in the mirror and saw yourself, so it had to do with self-examination. So I made this pledge to repair stuff. These shoes have been resoled three times and I started to not just throw things out automatically. I did a renovation of my loft based on things I found on the street. I stopped using a dryer, cause you don’t have to, just hang things up and they will dry (Americans waste an amazing amount of energy on dryers). I just became much more conscious. I stopped buying stuff. It’s been a year and a half now and I’ve continued all this stuff. It was an amazing performance and it sort of crystallized what I was already thinking in a way, and it gave me motivation to make this commitment.

 

There is a lot of underlying spiritualism in artists’ work that doesn’t get acknowledged because it’s kind of embarrassing. The only artists who will say it are Buddhist, because they’re not afraid to say it.

Awesome Project: Food Extravaganza Demonstrations

The Astoria CSA, formed in 2006, wants CSA shareholders to grab unfamiliar produce by the horns, and taste it. Veteran CSA members are likely familiar with the swap bin filled with the unwanted rutabagas and radishes. Instead of abandoning eggplant in the swap bin for safer, greener pastures, what if people were able to concoct fast, easy, and delicious recipes with vegetables they once feared or detested?

This is the premise behind Food Extravaganza. The two words combined demand that every one of your senses be put to use, and invite you to wish up a few more. Food Extravaganza Demonstrations provide a way to familiarize CSA shareholders, and community members alike, with different types of vegetables and cuisines that most people may not necessarily feel comfortable handling. These demonstrations started in 2008, and usually happen once a month at the distribution point of the Astoria CSA at ARROW Community Center, located on 35th Street between 35th and 36th Avenue in southern Astoria.

Stacey Ornstein—co-founder of Astoria CSA, food educator extraordinaire, and ioby project leader veteran—explained in an interview last week that the idea for Food Extravaganza Demonstrations stemmed from a desire to increase awareness of obesity, food diversity, and the subsidized shares the CSA offers to low-income families. Astoria CSA provides food demonstrations to encourage people to learn to cook something new, and to share recipes with those that might not have access to locally grown organic fruits and vegetables.

Dalena Tonkin, Events Coordinator for Astoria CSA and Health Coach professional, shares her own favorite Food Extravaganza food with ioby exclaiming emphatically, “Through the CSA I have learned to appreciate something called a watermelon radish. They are the most brilliant hot pink shade of fuchsia on the inside, and they aren’t super spicy like radishes. They’re hot pink! You can’t go wrong with that!” It’s hard not to share Tonkin’s enthusiasm, and she hopes that others will learn to appreciate organic, local food the same way she does. “Nothing beats organic and local…I think a bag of carrots goes a little bit further than a bag of Doritos,” Tonkin insists. We at ioby could not agree more.

With an ever increasing obesity rate in this country, and the disconnect between people and food, Food Extravaganzas provide a way to come together and learn about new recipes, different cultures, and cuisine varieties. It serves as a means to show others your favorite dish, and the hope that your new favorite, must-have food is waiting just around the corner. Ornstein and Tonkin are hopeful for the CSA’s project on ioby that aims to raise $255 before mid-June, when they plan to start the demonstrations. With Food Extravaganza Demonstrations, “people discover new foods and new ways to prepare their foods. I think that’s one of the great things that people enjoy about Food Extravaganzas. It’s having that knowledge of how things should taste and look. It’s not scary! It’s easy! And fast! And good!” Ornstein passionately tells ioby.

Looking forward to the upcoming summer share, Tonkin hopes to have a vermiculture composting workshop with ioby’s very own Helen Ho. The CSA is also planning a series of farm trips throughout the season, and hopefully some canning sessions sprinkled in between. Tonkin hints that there is an Astoria CSA Cookbook in the works, so keep your ear to the ground, fellow veggie lovers!

Food Extravaganza Demonstrations are an integral part of the Astoria CSA, and there is much and more to be learned by attending these amazing cooking demos. This project can be found on the ioby website, and while registration is closed for the spring, be sure to look for new member sign up in the fall. I would not hesitate to join, as spots seem to go as quickly as they open. Who knows? When Food Extravaganza Demonstrations is fully funded on ioby, and up and running, you may even find yourself leading a cooking demonstration yourself.

Again, you can find the project here.