Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Montefiori Park CCNY proposed Plaza

Montefiori Park CCNY proposed Plaza

By J. Reyes-Montblanc

My Notes on the Meeting of the Montefiori Park Neighborhood Association Quarterly Meeting 19 August 2008 8:00 PM at Dorothy Day Housing.
(Revised 21Aug08)

Last night at 8:00 PM over 30 locals and 30 Precinct Commander Dep. Insp. Scott Shanley and staff with Manhattan North Chief Raymond Diaz were hosted by Mrs. Alida Palma the President & Founder of the Montefiori Park Neighborhood Association that for the last 14 years has cared for the park and the whole of Hamilton Square Broadway Malls from West 135th Street to West 138th Street. I attended representing the HDFC Council and also addressed some question about CB9M.

In attendance were also representatives from City College Architectural Center and Tom Lunke from HCEDC who is guiding and coordinating the current and future players in a Project to convert the Park into a Plaza based on grant from the NYC Dept. of Transportation for creating open spaces in communities that lack enough open areas. Community District 9 Manhattan that covers from West 110th St. to West 155th Street from the Hudson River to a rough line from Edgecombe/Bradhurst/St. Nicholas/Morningside/Manhattan Avenues includes the most parkland than any other Community District in Manhattan except for CD12M that extends north from West 155th Street.

The project concept presented has been presented at CB9M Executive Committee last month and although interest in improvement to the Park are certainly welcome the conceptual closing of Hamilton Place and elimination of nearly 40 parking spaces has been strongly objected at Both CB9 and at last night's meeting although similarly the expression for the need to improve the Park particularly the lights and night security were strongly expressed

Tom Lunke explained that this is only a concept and that community planning as promoted by CB9M will be followed giving the community plenty of opportunity to comment and participate in the design however as there was a deadline of August 18th CCNY in partnership with Heritage Health & Housing, a well known and highly respected community based not-for-profit will certainly go a long way to reduce the community's mistrust of CCNY as an institution that has not been very community friendly and only in the last year of so has made so efforts to open dialogue with CB9M and the community.

In general those present were enthusiastic about something being done although the concept presented was found to be flawed and unacceptable in its present configuration but with the understanding that CB9M and the local community will have a say in the project's design, the project may yet fly if DofT selects the proposal. However NYC Parks that owns and manages Montefiori Park has not been contacted by the principals of the project something they promise to take care sooner rather than later, particularly contact will be made with Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro.

The 30th Precinct provided the crimes statistics for the District that show an over all drop of 11%. Concerns were expressed by residents of various quality of life persistent problems, uncollected dog poop by the dog-owners seems to be increasing; deliverymen on bicycles running on the sidewalk endangering pedestrians; un-leased dogs particularly pit bulls continue to be a problem; noise after 11:00PM continues to be problem as it is the congregation of youths in front of buildings until the wee hours, making noise, eating and dropping the scraps and plates for the buildings to clean up or get fined by Sanitation.

Local residents of West 135th and Riverside Dr complained about the cars transiting on Riverside at high speed and turning at West 135th at high speed the 30th Precinct agreed to observe the location.

Mention was made of the parked cars vandalism on Riverside Dr Dept Inspector Shanley advises that there has been a reduction on this sort of vandalism that seems to peak out every so often, no arrest have been possible yet but the 30th is keeping an eye on the area.

Strong concerns by residents of West 136th Street near Amsterdam about the noise emanating from Jacob Schiff Park night games that sometimes extend past midnight and the use of loudspeakers at maximum volume assaults residents in their home. Commander Shanley will speak to Parks about the permits issued for night games as most permits run out by 9 PM.

Another similar strong concern was expressed by residents along Broadway on Hamilton Square (West 136th Street to West 138th Street) is the taking over of the Montefiori Park by preachers with extreme loudspeaker arrays the sound physically invading the apartments up to two blocks away, depriving the residents of the quiet enjoyment of their residences as the NYC Laws guarantee. Apparently Sundays afternoon seems to be particularly objectionable however the same thing happens sporadically during week days.

The residents asked to 30th Precinct to pay particular attention to these quality of life offenses.

Several people were referred to CB9M Uniform Services & Transportation Committee that meets the first Thursday of every month except July and August, at 6:30 PM at the CB9M offices at 18 Old Broadway.

Great concerns were expressed about working women walking home being followed by unknown men without any reason - warnings were given to be very much aware of the surrounding areas before opening the doors to a building and if threatened to take evasive action looking for neighbors, friends for immediate assistance and to call 911.

--Posted By Gray Wolf-6 to Gray Wolf's Howl at 8/19/2008 12:39:00 PM

Friday, August 15, 2008

At Harlem’s Heart, an Enigmatic Neighborhood

Real Estate

Living In Manhattanville
At Harlem’s Heart, an Enigmatic Neighborhood

Andrew Henderson/The New York Times
WITH PARKING Fairway, tucked under the viaduct at 131st Street, is one attraction of Manhattanville.

Published: August 15, 2008

These days, some residents are disquieted by Columbia University’s plans to absorb a chunk of the area into its campus. More Photos >

STEP off the elevated subway at the center of Manhattanville and you may wonder if there’s really a there there. The view from the station above 125th Street and Broadway can be disorienting: no little shops and bodegas to say, “This is it.” What you see instead are warehouses, bus depots and factories, as well as unmarked towers and a crosshatch of diagonal streets more reminiscent of the West Village. Yet there’s something slightly magical about the way hills rise up around the area. A recent group exhibition of photographs dedicated to Manhattanville characterized its haunting mix of low-lying back streets, vaulted overpasses, vintage churches and riverfront as “strange, unresolved or unsettling.”

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No wonder few people agree on its future — or even, for that matter, whether it exists in the first place. “I’ve considered the whole area Harlem,” said Sarah Martin, who has lived in the Grant Houses complex in Manhattanville since 1957, voicing the dismissive sentiment of some longtime residents.

Others say you hear the name these days mainly because it’s attached to the controversial plan by Columbia University to transform 17 acres of Manhattanville into an extended campus.
But there is a there there, insists Eric K. Washington, the author of “Manhattanville: Old Heart of West Harlem.”

“It’s not a neighborhood that you walk through and all of a sudden you’ve stepped into a Jane Austen novel,” Mr. Washington said. “But it does have a quality of intrigue. It seems to whisper to you, ‘Boy, have I got stories.’ ”

He described how it was incorporated as a village in 1806, straddling two thoroughfares now known as Broadway and 125th, its streets laid out old-style, pregrid. Some east-west streets still hold onto names like Tiemann Place — “a real cabbie-stumper,” said Mr. Washington, who lived on it for 20 years.

The 2000 census counted roughly 39,000 residents, 51 percent Hispanic or Latino (of any race), 32 percent non-Hispanic black and 10 percent white.

Many more people simply pass through, to shop at the sprawling Fairway supermarket on West 131st, line up with the crowds at Dinosaur-Bar-B-Que on 12th Avenue, and rubberneck at the film crews that set up under the arches of the Riverside Drive overpass.

With more warehouses than town houses, it’s an area that real estate agents like to redraw as part of higher-profile neighborhoods, as if tugging on the corners of a Google map. Though upscale condominiums occasionally come onto the market, the pickings are slim, according to Sidney Whelan, a sales associate at Halstead Property.

You can hardly blame people for trying to live there, though. West Harlem Piers Park opened this summer near Fairway; there’s a bike path along the river and a strip of hot new watering holes just up 12th Avenue; and the Henry Hudson Parkway is right there, offering a quick route upstate. And where else would a doll factory face an auto-body shop, or a renovated commercial space called the Mink Building — rich people’s furs used to summer there — sit opposite a live poultry shop?


For an area so small — 122nd to 135th Streets, from the Hudson River to St. Nicholas and Manhattan Avenues — Manhattanville covers a lot of psychogeographical ground. West 125th, home to the Cotton Club, feels like Harlem, while the southwest corner is oriented toward Riverside Park, where “you can stand at the top of the hill and see the George Washington Bridge,” said Linda Mahoney, who lives on Tiemann Place.

Farther north, on Broadway, you pick up a Dominican flavor. “It’s always been polyglot, unlike Harlem,” Mr. Washington said. “It forces you to rethink where you’re visiting — it’s a bit more complex.”

Today’s multiethnic mosaic includes Latinos who don’t speak Spanish and Middle Easterners who do, said Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, a member of the local community board who has lived on West 136th since 1964. Holding it together, he says, is not only tolerance but also the residual glue that brought the community together in the 1990s to fight a common enemy: the drug lords who ruled northern Manhattanville’s streets.

By 2005, the dealers retreated indoors, he said. He credits not only a police crackdown but also newcomers determined to make the area their home. One of them was Judith Matloff, who lives a few blocks north of Manhattanville and has written a pungent memoir, “Home Girl,” about her family’s 2000 purchase of a dilapidated house on a block then ruled by Dominican dealers.

Ms. Matloff paused during a recent walk around the area to stare at movers unloading a mattress — a once-popular way to transfer cocaine, she noted. Then she rallied, heading toward Broadway and its signs of a gradual upswing. “Ray’s Wines and Liquors is having wine tastings,” she said wryly. “Gallo tastings — behind bulletproof glass.”

Critics of Columbia’s plans say these signs of revitalization seem natural and organic, in contrast to the university’s buy-and-hold approach. “Even before a shovel has been dropped in the ground, the expansion has caused disruption and a sense of impending loss,” said Tom DeMott of the Coalition to Preserve Community.

Robert Kasdin, Columbia’s senior executive vice president, argued that rather than disrupt the area, redevelopment would improve its infrastructure. He said the university had taken steps to help preserve and develop housing.

There isn’t a vast stock right now; apart from plentiful student and public housing, inventory is negligible. But for those who qualify, the public housing comes in the form of “H.D.F.C. co-ops,” referring to the Housing Development Fund Corporation — some in stately prewar buildings. Created after the landlord flight of the 1970s, when tenants bought their buildings from the city, these co-ops have buyer income restrictions and caps on sale prices.

Christa Myers, who lives in an H.D.F.C. building near Convent Avenue and 129th Street and is buying a two-bedroom apartment there, said she was drawn to the building because it was on a quiet block in “a neighborhood that is getting nicer and nicer.”

“I will say, having been raised in Harlem and seeing gentrification, I have mixed feelings,” Ms. Myers said. “I’m an alumna of Columbia, and I love my alma mater,” but the growth will take place “at the expense of some people.”


A condo in a former warehouse on St. Nicholas Avenue near West 123rd recently sold for more than $1 million. Such properties are relatively rare.

The going price for co-ops is about $700 a square foot, said Patty LaRocco, a Prudential Douglas Elliman senior vice president.

Bellmarc Realty is offering a 1,000-square-foot two-bedroom at 501 West 122nd at $750,000, and Willie Kathryn Suggs, the well-known Harlem broker, valued an apartment she will be listing on Riverside Drive, overlooking the Hudson, at $800 a square foot.

For those who qualify and do not mind purchase and sales curbs, H.D.F.C. co-ops often go for less than $100,000. (See nyc.gov/html/hpd/html/developers/til.shtml.)

Renters should expect to pay up to $2,500 a month for a two-bedroom two-bath apartment, and $1,900 to $2,100 for a one-bedroom, Mr. Whelan said.


At the Mott Hall School, serving Grades 4 through 8, 93.9 percent of eighth graders showed proficiency in English and 98 percent in math, versus 43 percent and 60 percent citywide. At Kipp Infinity Charter School, serving Grades 5 through 7, 98.5 percent of the seventh graders showed proficiency in English, and 100 percent in math. At the Kipp Star College Prep School, serving Grades 5 through 8, 54 percent of the eighth graders showed proficiency in English, 95.3 percent in math.

The High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at City College, which admits by test only, reported 2007 SAT averages of 576 in reading, 627 in math and 551 in writing, versus 441, 462 and 433 citywide.


West Harlem Piers Park extends from West 125th to 132nd Street.

Fairway opened on West 131st Street in 1995. When asked why there, the owner, Howard Glickberg, said, “There aren’t many places in Manhattan where you can have 40,000 square feet of selling area and a parking lot also.” How true. Don’t miss the meat section, which fills an entire refrigerated room.

Just north on 12th Avenue are the Hudson River Cafe at West 133rd Street and a restaurant row at West 135th.


Midtown is a quick subway ride from the 1, 2 and 3 stop at 125th and Broadway. Switch to the express at 96th; you’ll get there in 15 minutes.


In the early 1800s, Manhattanville was a port village with a crooked main drag called Bloomingdale Road. In the early 1900s, Riverside Drive Viaduct went up, along with a subway line held aloft by Eiffel Tower-like arches, and the village became part of the city. The New York Times bemoaned the changes. “Quaint Landmarks in Manhattanville Passing Away for Modern Improvements,” read a headline in 1912.


A version of this article appeared in print on August 17, 2008, on page RE8 of the New York edition.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Debt Repaid, Marine Serves With Pride

A Debt Repaid, Marine Serves With Pride
August 13, 2008
Marine Corps Newsby Cpl. Timothy T. Parish

ABOARD USS PELELIU (LHA-5) — For some, the ticket to freedom is granted through
citizenship in the United States. The guarantees of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are a birth-right passed from one generation to the next, a free admission into the land of the free and the home of the brave.

For others, like Lance Cpl. Eric Hirwa, freedom is the gift for an indomitable spirit. The desire to earn what is, for most other Americans, freely given. This is Hirwa’s story.

“I was born in Central Africa, in Rwanda. That’s where I was raised until I was fourteen-years-old. My childhood was very regular, raised in a happy family,” said Hirwa, an aircraft mechanic with Medium Marine Helicopter Squadron-165, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. “It was a simple life. I had everything I needed.”

Then, in the early 1990s, Rwanda began to disintegrate. The civil-war which ignited between separate Rwandan ethnic groups displaced hundreds of thousands and took nearly a million lives. This is the backdrop of Hirwa’s early life.

“That was a terrible time. I was a little boy. My family was a target because of what was happening at that time. It was a civil war, with two ethnic groups fighting each other,” said Hirwa.

According to Hirwa, in 1994 at the height of the mayhem in Rwanda, family connections with the American Embassy helped spare the lives of Hirwa and his family and many of his neighbors. This was Hirwa’s first interaction with the Few and the Proud.

“My family was in a bad situation, we were about to lose our lives, every one of us. American Marines who were on guard at the embassy came to my house and helped my family to escape,” Hirwa explained.

The rescuers were just on time, according to Hirwa. Facing constant threat and nearly starved, countless Rwandans found refuge in neighboring countries with help from Marine Corps Embassy Guards in Rwanda, Hirwa said.

“I don’t remember the Marine who picked me up, I didn’t understand any English then, but I knew when I saw them that I was saved,” said Hirwa. “At the time I was heading for three months with no food and no water. I was hungry and dirty, and he put me in a car in the Red Cross convoy and they said they were American Marines, and I knew they were my saviors.”
After being saved from Rwanda, Hirwa lost track of his family who had been evacuated on a separate Red Cross convoy. It would be years before they were reunited. This was Hirwa’s challenge.

As a young man in the Congo and then in Kenya, Hirwa joined the throngs of Rwandans displaced during the genocide living in refugee camps, according to Hirwa.

“My family, they kept going. They didn’t know if I was alive or dead. They kept going and went to another country,” said Hirwa.

Hirwa’s family, through connections with U.S. representatives, tried in vain to locate Hirwa. Unable to do so, they uprooted and left for the United States.

“They came to the U.S. before they knew where I was. By that time I was about to finish high school in Kenya and I used the Red Cross to track my family,” said Hirwa. “[In 2001] I came to be with my family in the U.S.”

A new immigrant, Hirwa dreamed of becoming an engineer. Learning English during a three-month course at a local school, Hirwa began studies at Wright State University in Ohio. He earned his degree in mechanical engineering and in 2006 decided to repay his adopted country through military service. This was Hirwa’s debt to pay.

“Not only did [the Marines] save me and my family, they also saved other people. As I grew up, I tried to know more about the Marines,” said Hirwa. “I kept doing my own thing, but I didn’t forget about what those people called Marines did for me.”

In Hirwa’s opinion, the Marine Corps offered the greatest chance to serve, given the tip of the spear nature of the Marines. With that, he began his quest to join the ranks of America’s 9-1-1 force in readiness.

“I said ‘I’m going to be a Marine.’ No one tried to recruit me, I just walked into the office and they said ‘Why do you want to be a Marine,’ and I said I have a reason. I have to pay back what they did for me,” said Hirwa. He began his service in October 2006 as a recruit at Parris Island, S.C.

After facing the challenges of surviving in Rwanda and as a displaced refugee, Hirwa is grateful for the chance to give back. For Hirwa, with his wife Pacifique at home in Dayton, Ohio, the road ahead is marked with self-set goals and challenges to succeed as a Marine. After his current deployment with the 15th MEU, Hirwa hopes to earn his commission and become a Marine officer. This is Hirwa’s dream.

No matter what obstacles come his way, Hirwa knows he can handle them both personally and professionally. His core beliefs, which drew him to the Marine Corps, have only strengthened because of his experiences. For Hirwa, the way to a better world lies in the spirit of young people who, like him, are willing give back in the name of freedom.

“Cherish liberty, freedom, happiness. It is a noble cause to fight for something you cherish, some things very important like freedom, democracy, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and many people will risk their lives for those things,” said Hirwa. “America is a country that promotes those values and we need young people who are tough, who have enough courage and the will to do that. We can help spread those values to the entire world.”

The Camp Pendleton, Calif. based 15th MEU is comprised of approximately 2,200 Marines and Sailors and is a forward deployed force in readiness capable of conducting numerous operations, such as Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations, Humanitarian Assistance Operations and a wide range of amphibious missions. The 15th MEU is currently deployed aboard the USS Peleliu (LHA-5), USS Dubuque (LPD-8) and USS Pearl Harbor (LSD-52).