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Staten Island

Saturday video break: Baby Come Back To Me

Time for some vocal harmonies, and a great place to start with that is The Manhattan Transfer. Here’s their oft-covered version of “Baby, Come Back To Me (The Morse Code Of Love)”:

If you’re around my age, you probably saw them perform that on a PBS special or something like that. Possibly you knew or were in a college a capella group that performed it as well. According to Wikipedia, TMH dedicated their version of this song to The Capris, who did it before them. Here they are:

Not bad. I like TMH’s rendition better, but it’s easy to see why they’d feel a debt to The Capris. And because I so seldom get to give a shoutout to my hometown in this context, here are some of my Staten Island homeboys doing this on what must have been a public access cable show from back in the day:

Could have done with a little better sound mixing, and more camera focus on the lead singer, but overall I’d say they did a mighty fine job.

Friday random ten: The city never sleeps, part 9

Time for a quick visit back to my old hometown for this week’s musical geography.

1. Snow In Austin – Ellis Paul
2. Staten Island Hornpipe – Flying Fish Sailors
3. St. Louis Blues March – Glenn Miller
4. Staten Island Baby – Black 47
5. Streets of Bakersfield – Beau Jennings
6. Streets of Laredo – Johnny Cash
7. Summer, Highland Falls – Billy Joel
8. Sweet Old Chicago – Roosevelt Sykes
9. TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia) – MFSB Featuring The Three Degrees
10. Tupelo Honey – Gordian Knot

Who knew there was even one song about Staten Island, let alone two? It’s not even technically a city – well, it was before 1898, but that’s another story – but still. Staten Island, represent! Do you have a favorite song about your hometown?

What’s in a neighborhood name?

Keep Houston Houston has had enough of “fake” neighborhood names.

“Lower Westheimer” – This does not actually exist, it’s just Montrose. Or “The Montrose” if you wish to rebel against popular linguistic conventions without going full retard.

If Google says there's a Neartown, there's a Neartown

If Google says there’s a Neartown, there’s a Neartown

“Neartown” – This also does not exist, it’s just Montrose. This appears to have been an 80′s or 90′s era attempt to rebrand Montrose as something other than Montrose, and only appears on official documents. Even the Realtors don’t use it, and Realtors tend to be on the forefront of linguistic murderation (see: “Craftsman”). It should be scrubbed completely from the record.

“Washington Heights” – Again, this does not actually exist. There are legitimate grounds for nitpicking over what to call the small finger of the original Heights plat that extends south of IH-10, but this is a miniscule area – and in any event, if it’s part of The Heights, then it is simply The Heights. If you live off Washington, you live off Washington. If you live in an area covered by another historical name, like “Rice Military” or “Cottage Grove,” that works too – although I’ve always tended to look askance at people who use sub-neighborhood names. It’s as if they’re too elitist for general neighborhood or street names. “Oh you live in Avondale? Tell me more.” However, Washington Heights is right out.

OST/South Union, too

OST/South Union, too

“EaDo” – Seriously? No. No, no, no, no, no. The proliferation of faux New York City style names needs to stop, and it might as well stop here. You can say “Eastside,” or you can say “Third Ward.” There’s no other cutesy names to mine from (like “Cottage Grove”) because historically speaking, no one lived there.

Now, some might argue that this isn’t actually Third Ward. These people are wrong. If you want to see what is and isn’t the Third Ward, walk into Ninfa’s on Navigation and scope the map they’ve got hanging up front by the waitstand. Now find the area to the immediate east of Downtown. See what ward it’s in? Yep. You in the Tre, homie. You too, Eastwood.

“OST / South Union” – This is another one of those names, like “Neartown,” that appears to have been an attempt at top-down rebranding when the Super Neighborhoods were drawn up. But everything west of Cullen and south of Griggs is pretty clearly “Yellowstone” (or “The Yellowstone”), and with all the development focused on Palm Center this will probably end up being the default name for the Griggs/MLK intersection, which was originally part of the South Park plats. There is no other unclaimed land to apply this moniker to, so let’s throw it out along with the rest of ‘em.

I grew up on Staten Island, the last and least of New York City’s five boroughs. To the rest of the world, we simply say we’re from the Island when asked of our origins, but to fellow Islanders we say what neighborhood we’re from. The local newspaper, the Staten Island Advance, is obsessively meticulous about identifying the neighborhood for each person, business, or event it reports on. A part of my eighth grade social studies curriculum was the history and geography of New York City in general, and of Staten Island in particular. Our teacher, Mr. Kapacinski, showed us a map of the Island with each neighborhood detailed. I don’t recall if we were ever tested on that, which is just as well because there’s dozens of those neighborhoods and you can drive yourself crazy trying to remember where Castleton Corners ends or where Dongan Hills begins, but there was a time when I was reasonably proficient with it.

The thing about that map, though, is that it was completely subjective. No one had ever done an official survey and determined exact boundary lines. As Mr. Kapacinski told us, each neighborhood was what the people that lived there called it. Any Islander worth her salt can tell you what her own neighborhood is, but only the most hardcore can say with confidence what and who else is or is not in that neighborhood. Some older neighborhoods like Tottenville or Stapleton, one-time home of the Stapes, are fairly well-defined, but thanks to the housing boom that followed the construction of the Verrazano Bridge in 1964, there’s a whole lot of people living in places that were once empty. Those places needed to be called something, and as there’s no Department Of Neighborhood Names to rely on, what they decided to call themselves is what the rest of us now call them. If that area used to be known as something else back before it was developed, well, that’s the way it goes.

This is all a very long-winded way of saying that I disagree with Keep Houston Houston on this. Frankly, given how dynamic and ever-reinventing Houston is, I don’t see the point in saying that there is none but The Heights or The Montrose or The Third Ward, and any newfangled names are an abomination before me. Sure, some of these names are shameless attempts to glom onto the cachet of an area that has never extended to that particular location before – there’s a reason why every development on the outskirts of The Heights calls itself Something Heights – but it does at least serve the purpose of pinpointing where it is. The Third Ward is a pretty expansive place, encompassing a lot of what now really are separate and distinct neighborhoods. I don’t think anyone objects to the moniker “the Museum District”, even though it’s technically in the Third Ward. Why should EaDo be excluded from polite conversation? It maybe too cute a name for one’s tastes, but it’s nowhere close to the Museum District in location or character. Let it be its own place, I say. And if next month someone plans an EaDo Heights development – that big former KBR property is going to be called something else someday – I can live with that, too.

Note, by the way, the embedded pictures above. They’re clipped from Google Maps, the result of searching for “Neartown, Houston” and “OST/South Union, Houston”. With all due respect to KHH, if Google says something exists, I say that’s a pretty strong prima facie case for it. I’ll stipulate that the others remain figments, at least for now, but thirty years on I’ll stick with Mr. Kapacinski’s rule: A neighborhood is what the people there call it. You may not like the names they’ve picked, but as with old school grammarians and the word ain’t, it’s a fight you’re going to lose.

Since I started writing this post, KHH posted a followup that was largely in response to this riposte from John Nova Lomax at Houstonia. KHH takes the beginning premise in some other directions, and since I don’t want to rewrite all this from scratch I’ll just leave that be. Really, I just wanted to say that one can’t dictate neighborhood names, and that especially in a city that changes as much as Houston does you should expect the names to change as well. Finally, if your objection is that a lot of these new names are just marketing efforts by realtors and/or developers, isn’t that how most of the old neighborhoods got their names, too? If the likes of “EaDo” and “Washington Heights” really are ephemeral, then in the fullness of time we’ll all forget they ever existed. If not, who cares how they came to be named?

Old neighborhoods, new faces

Really interesting story about the changing faces of a couple of Houston’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

There are now almost as many Latino residents as African-Americans in Independence Heights. At the same time, there are fewer African-American children there and in other historic black neighborhoods, even when the number of African-American adults has grown.

“There’s a lot of chitter-chatter about what that means,” said Roynell Young, a former All-Pro cornerback who runs a charter school in Sunnyside. “What I do know is, you take what you have and grow it. It’s the quality of what you produce that is important.”

Decades after segregation faded in public schools and workplaces, residential neighborhoods have been slower to change. Even as people moved away from historically black neighborhoods, churches and other institutions kept them at the center of civic engagement.

But neighborhoods, like the people who inhabit them, don’t stand still.

“We are born, we grow up, we get old,” said Sheri L. Smith, who teaches urban planning at Texas Southern University. “Communities do the same thing.”

Longtime residents may resist change. “But if you move out, someone else moves in, and they’re not responsible for your memories,” she said.

I met a couple of people over the weekend who had just moved here from Brooklyn. When I told them I was from Staten Island, one of them asked me which neighborhood. I actually had to think about it for a second before I answered, because it had been so long since anyone had asked me that question. My neighborhood on Staten Island – West Brighton, for the record – and most of the neighborhoods around it were like Sunnyside and Independence Heights when I was a kid in that they stayed the same for a long time. People lived their whole lives there, and knew who everybody was. Both my father’s parents lived in the same ZIP code till the day they died. I’m not certain, but I’d bet the same was true of my mother’s father, and outside of a couple of years at the end when she was in an assisted living facility in Seattle near her son, the same was probably true of her mother. It was true for my parents until 1999, when they moved west.

It’s not true any more, at least in my family as all us kids settled elsewhere. Through various reconnections I’ve made on Facebook, I know there’s still some of my old friends there, but many have left. I suspect some of it is generational – people nowadays are more accustomed to the idea of moving away – and some of it is just how society in general is these days – modern careers are much less conducive to staying in one place forever. I haven’t been back to Staten Island in over a decade, so I can’t say for myself how much it has changed since I stopped visiting regularly. I definitely plan to take the girls to visit there in the next few years, and we’ll see how I perceive it from the perspective of fatherhood and connecting to my roots. I suspect it will be a very different experience.

On a side note, I will say that the place in Texas that is most strongly reminiscent of Staten Island to me is Galveston. Island communities, where the boundaries are clearly demarcated and there’s a big difference between being born there and not being born there, are just different. Paul Burka wrote a story about his ancestral home town awhile back for Texas Monthly, and I remember thinking as I read it that someone could write a very similar story about mine. Maybe some day I will.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to get all nostalgic on you, but that’s what this story triggered in me. It’s worth your time to read even if it’s not likely to have the same effect on you. Greg has more.

The landfills of Waller County

There are three things I find remarkable about this story about a proposed landfill in Waller County, near Hempstead.

A Georgia-based company wants to build a landfill and industrial park just outside the city on Texas 6 and Kelley, on what is now 723 acres of private property known as the Deywood Ranch.

Officials with Green Group Holdings said they plan to invest about $40 million in what they are calling the Pintail Landfill and Pintail Industrial Park, bringing much-needed jobs to the community that has fallen on hard economic times since the closure of Hempstead’s biggest employer, Lawrence Marshall Chevrolet, in 2009.

Hempstead Mayor Michael Wolfe said the extra revenue and jobs would be inconsequential when compared to the negative effects a landfill would bring.

“This does not substantiate driving the economy in my personal opinion,” Wolfe said. “I don’t see this as (having) an immediate impact.”

[…]

Opponents also fear their property values will drop and the peaceful country life they are accustomed to will be disrupted by the sounds of as many as 200 trash trucks thundering through their community.

Oscar Allen, senior vice president of GreenFirst, LLC, a subsidiary of Green Group, said that the negative reaction is typical. He also said that most property value fears are exaggerated.

“Property values are not affected as much as people believe,” Allen said.

“In our experience and the industry’s experience, landfills do not decrease property values,” the company’s website states. “In fact, property owners near other landfill projects have sold their property for sizable profits.”

As someone who grew up a few miles from the Fresh Kills landfill, all I can say is that I’m surprised Allen’s trousers didn’t spontaneously combust when he said that. Things may be different now, but forty years after Fresh Kills was first built there was very little development of any kind in its vicinity. The West Shore Expressway was a mostly empty stretch of road, even as the rest of Staten Island was being built out. I’m sure just the smell of the landfill, which the prevalent winds would carry a long way, was enough to keep people away. Allen’s statement is ludicrous on its face.

More than 100 residents crowded into the Waller County Courthouse to voice their objections at a recent Hempstead City Council meeting. Mayor Wolfe said he recommended that the council oppose the landfill.

County Judge Glenn Beckendorff said he hopes residents read about the project before they take a stand.

“Nobody wants a landfill, but they’re a necessity of life,” Beckendorff said. “We will do our best to keep the quality of life in Waller County.”

Beckendorff said he’s known about Green Group’s landfill proposal since May, but a nondisclosure agreement prohibited the county from releasing the information to the public immediately.

I’m a little surprised that Waller County would be so apparently unconcerned about how the city of Hempstead might feel about this new neighbor. Harris County and Houston don’t always see eye to eye, but I’d expect that an equivalent public outcry plus official disapproval from our Council in a similar situation would mean something to the County. I’m also surprised that the county could be subject to an NDA like that. How would the potential development of a landfill not be considered public information once it became known to public officials? If the idea was to not upset Green Group’s ability to get permits before the poo started hitting the fan, I’d say that’s a feature, not a bug. Something seems rotten about this, and it’s not just the future air quality near Hempstead.

Finally, on a tangential note, I have to ask: Do we really need this much extra landfill capacity? Presumably, the developers envision trash from Houston and Harris County as being their main supply source. Given the long term recycling deal that Houston is seeking to make, one hopes that our long-range forecast for landfill space needs is at least leveling off, if not actually turning downward. I am told that the city’s Solid Waste department currently collects about 2,000 tons/month of single stream from 105,000 homes. Project that out to 375,000 homes and you get a little over 7,000 tons per month. Now consider that as of the year 2000 there were 717,945 households and 782,009 housing units – I’m not sure which is the proper figure to use for an apples-to-apples comparison here – and you could potentially double that number or more if we get on a long term path towards bringing single stream recycling to the whole city, and that’s even before we talk about businesses, restaurants, and so on. (For comparison, according to Solid Waste the city collects about 48,000 tons of trash each month.) Point being, there’s a whole lot Houston can, should, and hopefully will do to throw whatever projection Green Group is making out the window. Maybe before they build a big dump near people’s houses we ought to be absolutely sure it’s something that’s really needed, and not something that hopes to induce demand by its presence. See this letter to the editor from Texas Campaign for the Environment for more.

UPDATE: Via Swamplot, meet Stop Highway 6 Landfill. Not a lot of love in the Swamplot comments for these folks. I understand where that attitude is coming from, but I think it misses the bigger picture, which is that we should be working towards not needing more landfill space. The potential for Houston, and hopefully Harris County, to cut down the amount of solid waste it generates is enormous. Isn’t that the better way to go?

Saturday video break: Dancing on the ferry

In four years plus two summers of commuting on the Staten Island Ferry, I never saw anyone do this:

Girl Walk // All Day from jacob krupnick on Vimeo.

There were the occasional buskers, but mostly of the guitar-playing variety. My first reaction upon watching this was “Huh, they finally replaced those neon-orange seats”, immediately followed by “How can you shoot a video like this on the Ferry and not get the Statue of Liberty into a background shot?” Be that as it may, I enjoyed it. It brought back memories of riding the Ferry on warm spring days, which was always the best part of the commute.

Quantifying my elitism

Apparently, Charles Murray’s latest bit of faux-populism has spawned a meme. Let’s see just how much of an out-of-touch elitist I am, shall we?

1. Can you talk about “Mad Men?”

Yes, but only because I absorb vast quantities of pop culture by osmosis. I can also talk about “Jersey Shore”, “Dancing With The Stars”, and “American Idol”, even though like “Mad Men” I’ve never seen a single episode.

2. Can you talk about the “The Sopranos?”

Yes.

3. Do you know who replaced Bob Barker on “The Price Is Right?”

Drew Carey. And Johnny Olson once kissed my great-grandmother. Top that!

4. Have you watched an Oprah show from beginning to end?

I regularly see bits and pieces of it – Tiffany often has it on in the afternoon – and have probably seen one all the way through, but couldn’t swear to it in court.

5. Can you hold forth animatedly about yoga?

I took some yoga classes for awhile, but it never really suited me. Among other things, I’m the least flexible person you’ll ever meet. So, while I can speak non-stupidly about yoga, I don’t think I rise to the “hold forth animatedly” standard.

5. How about pilates?

Yep. It’s my main form of exercise other than walking.

6. How about skiing?

Once every four years, during the Winter Olympics, maybe a little.

6. Mountain biking?

Dude, I live in Houston. I don’t even know what a “mountain” is.

7. Do you know who Jimmie Johnson is?

Apparently, this refers to some NASCAR guy and not the helmet-haired former football coach. I saw them mention him on a recent “Fox NFL Sunday”. Does that count?

8. Does the acronym MMA mean nothing to you?

Yes. See the answer to Question 1 and my pop-culture-osmosis ability.

9. Can you talk about books endlessly?

Sure, but outside of mysteries and children’s books I’ll be faking it.

10. Have you ever read a “Left Behind” novel?

No, but I’ve read all of The Slacktivist’s excellent writing about them.

11. How about a Harlequin romance?

Probably not a branded Harlequin, but I’ve read a few similar trashy romance novels of some other stripe.

12. Do you take interesting vacations?

We visit my parents in Portland every year. Does that count?

13. Do you know a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada?

No, but I could probably find the Sierra Nevada on a map if I had to.

14. What about an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor?

Never heard of the place.

15. Would you be caught dead in an RV?

Sure, why not?

16. Would you be caught dead on a cruise ship?

Sure. I’ve been on two, a Windjammer and a Carnival, and would love to do an Alaskan cruise some day.

17. Have you ever heard of of Branson, Mo?

Heard of it? Sure. Have any desire to visit it? No.

18. Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club?

No.

19. How about the Rotary Club?

No, but Tiffany has – she got a Rotary scholarship that helped her get through grad school. Boy, talk about your conflict of elitism there!

And though you didn’t ask, I’ll tell you that I once attended a Knights of Columbus dinner at which my godfather and great-uncle Mike was being honored, and once attended a K of C fish fry in El Paso with my best college buddy. Where does that fall on the plebe/elite spectrum?

20. Have you lived for at least a year in a small town?

Nope, I’m a big city boy all the way.

21. Have you lived for a year in an urban neighborhood in which most of your neighbors did not have college degrees?

Never thought about it, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Where I lived on Staten Island was pretty blue collar back in the day.

22. Have you spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line?

I was a grad student for almost three years. You do the math.

23. Do you have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian?

Yes, several. Is it elitist of me to say I know devout members of other faiths, too?

24. Have you ever visited a factory floor?

No, but I’ve been to three refineries and a chemical plant.

25. Have you worked on one?

No, but I worked for several years on a help desk that supported those refineries and chemical plants.

So now you know. How much of an elitist are you? And how much of one do you suppose Charles Murray is?

The best thing I’ve heard about my hometown in a long time

A Staten Island restaurant employs genuine Italian grandmothers to do the cooking.

The 35-seat Enoteca Maria takes home cooking to a whole new level by bringing in genuine Italian grandmothers to cook for customers.

Each night, one of eight nonnas ties on an apron, checks out the ingredients in the refrigerator and rustles up a down-to-earth meal.

The women are from different regions of the pasta-loving nation who have no problem cooking restaurant-style after years of feeding big families.

Tired of their husbands nitpicking over their specialties, they jumped at the chance to slave over a hot stove for grateful diners at the St. George eatery.

“When I come here, I can do whatever I want. I can bake whatever I want,” said Teresa Scalici, 62, who has three kids and four grandchildren.

“My family have this everyday so they don’t appreciate it anymore. I prefer it here, because the people love me,” she added. “On Saturday nights the customers clap.”

Damn, that’s the best reason I’ve heard to visit SI in a long time. And if it’s in Saint George, it’s walkable from the ferry, so the rest of you New Yorkers can get there easily enough, too. Reading that story reminded me of my own Staten Island Italian grandmother, who I’ll bet could have shown them a thing or two. Rest in peace, Red. We love you still.