Author Archive

M.S. 571’s Phase Out Explained

December 20th, 2010 by Jonathan Vit

Prospect Heights’ troubled M.S. 571 would close its doors permanently by 2013, announced the Department of Education on Dec. 6th and 7th. The middle school was included in the department’s plan to shutter 26 of the city’s lowest performing schools.

“I don’t see why this school was targeted,” said M.S. 571 P.T.A. President Maria Salichs. Listen to Salichs discuss where the school goes from here:

Maria Salichs on M.S. 571’s closing by jonathanvit

The Underhill Avenue school earned a “D” on its most recent annual progress report. An investigation this fall into M.S. 571 by department officials found consistent problems at the school, including low attendance rates, poor test performance and concerns over student safety. Here’s a closer look:

New York Bike Polo

December 6th, 2010 by Jonathan Vit

The game is simple.

Six players race down an asphalt court, homemade polo mallets in hand. The goal is to slam an orange ball past a goalie and between two road cones. The most important rule? You can’t let your feet touch the ground.

New York’s bike messengers and fixed gear enthusiasts have been playing bike polo since 2003. It’s latest home, twice a week, is “The Pit” and Chrystie and Broome streets. Interested in playing? Grab a solid, but well-worn bike and show up at a game. Newcomers are welcome.

Armed and… Tasty? The Push to Arm New York’s Bodega Workers

November 28th, 2010 by Jonathan Vit

If some bodega workers have their way, they’ll be packing a lot more than relish and pickles.

Hispanics Across America provided handgun permit applications to thousands of New York bodega workers in late October. The group, which, in the past, has fought to get illegal guns off the street, is now pushing to arm many of the state’s 24 hour bodega workers, people, activist Fernando Mateo calls “sitting ducks.”

It’s an argument that has gained traction across America; arm normal citizens and watch crime rates drop. New York state has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. The state, like many others, allows a limited number of people to carry a loaded weapon; and then only under very specific circumstances.

But would guns make bodega workers safer? Gun rights advocates argue that states with lax right to carry laws have lower crime rates. But academic studies have often shown otherwise. The National Consortium on Violence Research found the only impact lax gun laws had on crime rates was an increase in assaults. Philip Cook, an economist at Stanford University, wrote in his book “Gun Violence: The Real Costs,” that any impacts of right to carry laws were statistically insignificant.

Still, in a city where bodega workers are robbed, or even killed, with startling frequency, scared citizens are looking for something that will provide even a kernel of safety. Hispanics Across America argues that bodega workers should, at least, be given the option to arm themselves.

The question is, are bodega workers comfortable packing heat while stuffing sandwiches? According to CBS 2, not likely.

New York Punk On The Rise

November 22nd, 2010 by Jonathan Vit

There’s something in the contagious in Maspeth Creek.

Bushwick is at the center of a rising tide of punk and hardcore bands. On any given night, you can catch live acts by locals like Nomos, Pollution or Crazy Spirit in one of nearly a dozen warehouse and storefront venues dotting North Brooklyn’s industrial landscape. In a scene built by fans, the sheer volume of punk-friendly venues in one neighborhood (or a quick ride on the L train away) is a telling sign that New York punk is, once again, on the rise.

View Punk Venues in a larger map

Street Vendors of Times Square

November 14th, 2010 by Jonathan Vit

With more than 26 million visitors a year, Times Square is prime real estate for street vendors. The Center for Urban Justice estimates there are more than 10,000 street vendors citywide, hawking everything from kebabs to used books. Here’s a photo tour of a handful of Times Square’s street vendors.

View Street Vendor Project in a larger map

Community Up In Arms Over Franklin Avenue Pawnshop

October 17th, 2010 by Jonathan Vit

Photo by Jonathan Vit

Struggling with a significant increase in burglaries, Crow Hill residents protested a new pawnshop Saturday that they feel will only bring more crime to their growing section of Brooklyn. It’s a dispute that places the pawnshop at the center of a heated debate over the future of what is arguably the front line of gentrification in the rapidly developing Crown Heights neighborhood.

Opponents argue that the pawnshop, opening at the corner of Park Place and Franklin Avenue, is a step backwards for the budding Franklin Avenue commercial strip. Once a neglected avenue of dollar stores and shuttered storefronts, Franklin Avenue has witnessed a resurgence in recent years as restaurants and bars capitalized on the changing community.

“It is not consistent with what we are trying to do with Franklin Avenue,” said Councilwoman Letitia James, of District 35. “We are trying to attract businesses to Franklin Avenue based on what the needs are of the community and right now the needs of Crow Hill are not for a pawnshop.”

The pawnshop is also located on a block where zoning prohibits pawnshops from opening, said Nina Meldandri, project manager for the Crow Hill Community Association. The association is now working to get Department of Buildings inspectors to the site in an effort to force Community Pawnbrokers to close its doors.

But owner Eugene Josovits says, protest or not, the pawnshop will open.

“I am not breaking the law,” said Josovits. “I have nothing to be afraid of, I followed every single rule in the book.”

Protest chant by jonathanvit

Nina Meldandri by jonathanvit

Mike Bedford by jonathanvit

Stacey Sheffey by jonathanvit

Raccoons? Bed Bugs? They’re Nothing Compared to These Pests

October 4th, 2010 by Jonathan Vit

The media is having a love affair with pests. In recent weeks, sightings of opossums, raccoons and stink bugs have all been big news as local media outlets scramble to turn over every rock imaginable in their quest for the next pest. With a new king crowned every week, it’s only a matter of time before the city’s lovable black squirrel becomes public enemy number one.

But in the end, New Yorkers have it easy. Raccoons in your garbage? Roaches in the kitchen? Opossums in your parks? All mere nuisances. People elsewhere live with pests so terrible that you’ll think twice before complaining about some razor-toothed tree rat hanging around Coney Island. Think bed bugs are the worst thing since Moses introduced the locust to Egypt? Just take a look at these appalling annoyances.

  1. Scorpions. Residents in Phoenix, Ariz. have to coexist with what might be the most terrifying insect to call the United States home, the scorpion. Arizona is home to between 40 and 60 species of scorpions, including the Arizona bark scorpion, the only species living in the U.S. with venom that’s dangerous to humans. Its sting is powerful enough to nearly kill a child and Arizona bark scorpions are so abundant they might as well be on the state flag. Experts say the area’s home foreclosures are to blame for an explosion in the urban scorpion population. As if the recession didn’t already hurt bad enough…
  2. Bot flies. Native to the equatorial regions of the Americas, the human bot fly reproduces in the worst possible way. A female bot fly grabs hold of flying mosquitoes and lays her eggs on the insect’s belly. When the mosquito lands on a human to feed, the larvae burrow into the skin. That’s right, this maggot actually lives in people. The maggot then feeds off the host for a period of eight weeks, causing the host to develop an open, boil-like sore. And if the thought of a maggot living under your skin wasn’t disgusting enough, this video of a bot fly larvae extraction will earn this pest a permanent spot in your nightmares.
  3. Japanese giant hornet. Found in the mountainous regions of Japan, the Japanese giant hornet is no laughing matter. At two inches long, the hornet as big as a humming bird and it packs a sting powerful enough to kill a human being if left untreated. These hornets feed on smaller bees and can decimate an entire hive in a few hours. Their sting has been described as a “red-hot spike piercing the flesh.” The venom can dissolve human flesh and is responsible for an average 40 deaths a year, making the Japanese giant hornet more deadly than many, more venomous, snakes.
  4. Candiru. A pencil-thin parasitic fish common to the waters of the Amazon River, the candiru lodges itself in the gills of larger fish, using spikes to stay in place, and feeds off the host’s blood. That doesn’t seem so bad, right? Well, the river can be a little murky at times, and sometimes the tiny fish mistakes a man’s urethra for the gills of a fish. It’s a story that’s so unbelievable that it’s easy to dismiss candiru attacks as the stuff of urban legends, but recent investigations have proven the myth true. As if we needed another reason to stay out of the water…

Skyline Envy

September 27th, 2010 by Jonathan Vit

From a proposed sale by a major stakeholder to the discovery of a squatter on the 40th floor, the Empire State Building has been grabbing headlines of late, but it’s another building, a proposed 1,200 foot tower down the street, that may have the biggest impact on what is arguably New York’s most iconic building.

City Council approved the construction 15 Penn Plaza in late August, paving the way for new skyscraper that, detractors say, will only mar the city’s skyline by drawing attention away from the Empire State Building. The 1,216-foot building, planned for a site two avenues west of the Empire State Building, would rise to nearly the same height as the Empire State Building and would make the iconic building nearly invisible from New Jersey.

But one has to ask, what’s in a skyline anyway?

Urban planners spend their lives designing aesthetically pleasing city skylines and New York City’s is one of the most recognizable in the world. (In fact, the Big Apple’s crowded skyline has been ranked fourth in the world, behind Hong Kong, Chicago and Shanghai).

But a skyline is a malleable thing,  and New York’s has been in constant flux since the early 1900s. When the Empire State Building opened its doors in 1931, the city had 13 buildings taller than 656 feet. By August of 2008, Manhattan had 50 buildings. Need further proof? Just look at this photo illustrating the city’s ever-evolving skyline.

David R. Greenbaum, of the Vornado Realty Trust, the developers behind the 68-story 15 Penn Plaza, echoed this sentiment in the New York Times.

“The fact is that New York’s skyline has never stopped changing, and one hopes it never will,” said David R. Greenbaum, president of the New York office division of Vornado Realty Trust.

There’s no doubt that a city’s skyline is an important part of its shared identity. Just ask the residents of Phoenix, Ariz., who are struggling with that very issue right now. And this isn’t the first time new construction has incited the ire of critics. The construction of the 52-story 712 Fifth Ave. has blocked views of the Empire State Building since it was constructed in 1990.

The simple fact is the New York skyline is going to change, whether New Yorkers like it or not. And one has to ask, with the amount of anger rearing its head in recent months, are New Yorkers just looking for a fight?

The Pigeon Wars of Brooklyn

September 20th, 2010 by Jonathan Vit

With a piercing whistle Michael Alicea sends his flock airborne, filling the air above his Bushwick roof with hundreds of flapping pigeons. The birds fly in unison, cutting a wide arc through the sky as they circle above Alicea’s two large pigeon coops. It’s a hot Sunday morning and in the distance other pigeon keepers have let their birds take flight. Way out, over the Williamsburg skyline, a flock of pigeons are circling another roof. With the sunlight glimmering off their feathers, the pigeons look like silver darts as they swoop and twist through the air.

Alicea hopes some of those pigeons will drift away from their coops and fly over his roof. He has his birds ready. They’ll surround the lost pigeon, closing ranks and confusing the bird until it thinks it’s one of the flock. Alicea will then call his pigeons down to the roof and grab the rival bird, locking it in his coop. The bird’s ankle band — every pigeon keeper has their own color — will be hung alongside dozens of others strung up like tiny plastic trophies on a pigeon coop wall.

Welcome to the world of tiplets, homers and pigeon mumblers. Welcome to the Brooklyn pigeon wars.

The Pigeon Wars of Brooklyn from Jonathan Vit on Vimeo.

And a new pest enters the fray…

September 13th, 2010 by Jonathan Vit

By Jonathan Vit

As if rats, roaches and bed bugs weren’t enough to deal with, New Yorkers have a new pest to obsess over, and this one’s the largest yet.

From the Bronx to Brooklyn, raccoons are becoming a particularly visible nuisance, with reports of the pesky procyons (look it up) crashing a block party in Ridgewood, Queens, breaking into a home in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and hanging out poolside in Glendale, Queens.

The New York Times reports on the growing problem, pointing out that raccoon-related 311 calls are up, from 2,155 to 2,410, in the past year. It’s enough to get some residents fired up, with Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, of Queens, warning that raccoons could become “bed bugs 2.”

Of course, New York isn’t the first city to deal with a raccoon infestation. The furry scavengers are grabbing headlines in Philadelphia too with local media reporting infestations in North Philly, West Kensington and West Philadelphia. Apparently, the four-legged bandits find the city’s trash-strewn alleyways and vacant lots particularly appealing and are eager to call Philadelphia’s more blighted neighborhoods home.

Philadelphia’s response? Tell the residents of West Kensington to buy their own traps and pay to have the animal removed. The Pennsylvania SPCA only traps rabid or injured raccoons free of charge. There’s simply no plan for dealing with healthy raccoons and the animals fall between the city’s bureaucratic gaps.

But without swift action, the increasingly brazen raccoons are in danger of becoming neighborhood institutions, just like the stray cats, wild dogs and feral chickens already calling the city’s streets home.

In New York City, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley thinks she has an answer to the city’s spreading raccoon infestation. The councilwoman’s proposed bill would place the responsibility of trapping — and humanely releasing — raccoons in the hands of the Health Department. Until then, New York, like Philadelphia, only traps sick or injured raccoons.

Need a solution now? Major Fife, of West Philadelphia, has the answer. Apparently, bobcat urine — that’s right, bobcat urine — works wonders. You can buy your own can of wild cat pee here. Or you could just learn to live with the little bandits. Hell, it may even lower your rent (it worked for bed bugs).