Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Green (Garment District, Manhattan)

The leaves, especially in New York City where a layer of soot blankets everything, are always the greenest when they first appear.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Flowers & Tube Socks (Upper West Side, Manhattan)

You know it's spring in New York when the trees start blooming and the street fair vendors start selling tube socks.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Redundancy (Bag of Almonds from Walgreens)

Take note: This bag of Nice! almonds from Walgreens is made of almonds (see "ingredients") AND contains almonds (see "contains").

Friday, April 24, 2015

Murals of Brownsville (Brownsville, Brooklyn)

I spent the day in Brownsville and had a chance to visit some of the amazing murals created by teenagers in collaboration with Groundswell and other partners, including the Brownsville Community Justice Center.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Payphones are Still Useful for Communication (Even if No One Dials) (104th Street & Amsterdam Avenue)

Payphones are still part of the street flora in New York City although I never see anyone using them--at least not to make phone calls. They get more use these days as public bulletin boards, attracting flyers, graffiti, and stickers (and stickers with graffiti), like the one below.

The notion of "payphone" will one day pass into history, and with it the memory of a way of life when people weren't connected to the world and everyone they knew via a touch screen in their pockets. 

These days I hate to carry change, and try to avoid it by always using a credit card, but in the 1980s and 1990s, pay phones made carrying coins a necessity. Once when I needed to make a call and didn't have the 20 cents, I asked a passing couple if they could give me change for a dollar. Seeing that I needed to make a call, they handed me a quarter and said, "Keep it." I was amazed and tried to press the dollar on them, but they refused it with a laugh. 

Twenty cents may seem insignificant but the act of giving wasn't. I thanked them profusely, but I've realized since that it wasn't just a quarter they gave me. They also gave me a conviction that people have the capacity to be kind and generous, and you might never know in advance when or how someone will come to your aid. The fact that I remember that brief interaction from 25 years ago speaks to the lasting impression it made.

Friday, April 10, 2015

'We Invented Social Security & We're Proud of It' (Madison, Wisconsin)

More often than not Social Security and other safety-net programs get a bad rap. Politicians and reporters call them "entitlements"--which sounds derogatory to me--and popular wisdom says they'll need to be curtailed or they'll eventually break the federal budget. But there's no hint of doom and gloom on Bascom Hill, where this sign proudly proclaims University of Wisconsin Professor Edwin Witte's role in the development of Social Security. And this bold declaration is within sight of the Capitol Building, where Scott Walker, enemy of labor unions and public education, is trying to leverage his governorship into a presidential candidacy. Fortunately, Social Security has lasted longer than the careers of many nay-saying politicians and hopefully will continue to help government secure "the well-being of its citizens" for many years to come.

Biggest Fears & Dreams (Madison, Wisconsin)

A series of handwritten signs on Bascom Hill on the University of Wisconsin campus offers refreshingly candid insights into the minds of their unidentified authors. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

But This Sign, Get Free Building (Grinnell, Iowa)

Dairy Queen's cookie-cutter cheeriness seems, on the surface, incongruous with the desolation of the vacant interior, empty lot and cracked sidewalk. But then maybe not. At least the humorous appeal for a buyer reminded me that franchises aren't the products of just big corporations but individual people.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Little Building That Could (38th Street, Manhattan)

I'm amazed whenever I see a small building nestled among much larger ones, especially in Manhattan, where real estate is so expensive. Has someone deliberately decided to forgo the millions of dollars they would make by developing or selling it? Or have the owners forgotten they own it? Or does someone love this building, or this corner of Manhattan, so much that they want to keep this little piece of littleness just as it is? Then again, the scaffolding and boarded-up windows suggest that maybe the building isn't long for this world anyway...

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Yesterday I Was ... (Mural in Brownsville, Brooklyn)

Work brought me to Brownsville, Brooklyn, today, where I met several life-long residents who shared stories about the neighborhood, past, present and future.

Among the people I met was a grandmother, who talked about learning to swim and sew at the Brownsville Recreation Center and playing games and going to dances at the various community centers in the local housing projects. In those days, anyone could go to any of the community centers, but today, many of the community centers have closed, and those that remain offer fewer activities. Worst of all, the projects where they are housed are divided by rivalries, so that it’s no longer safe for “outsiders” (i.e., someone from another housing project) to walk through them. Projects have their own gangs, or “teams” as one person called them, which zealously guard their territories.

Only a few places are considered neutral, like the Recreation Center and the Brownsville Community Justice Center, which many hope is in the process of inspiring change. The Justice Center has created innovative programs for youth, including art and design workshops, a peer-led youth court and job preparation. The Justice Center is actively trying to change the narrative of Brownsville from the one fueled by media, which habitually portrays the neighborhood as a place of high crime, high poverty, and dense public housing, to one that emphasizes its strengths, like its large, supportive family networks, its many citizens who care deeply about its future, and the vast potential of the its young people, who eagerly grab onto any positive social or learning activity whenever it is offered.

The mural above is the result of one of those activities. Located at the Brownsville Student Farm Project, the mural was created jointly by young people under the supervision of the Groundswell Community Mural Project and Brownsville Community Justice Center. It's one of several murals they've helped young people bring to fruition throughout the community.
This little toy was minding its own business on a window ledge outside one of the Justice Center's offices.