Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Walk Around Greenpoint, Part Three: Stinky, Yet Beautiful


Over the past couple of years, we've witnessed a strange, alienesque complex of giant onion-shaped structures rising over the banks of Newtown Creek on the northernmost edge of Greenpoint. If you've been anywhere in Greenpoint, Long Island City, or driven on the western end of the Long Island Expressway, you've probably seen them, too.

Greenpoint residents (and curious-types like us) already know that the huge pods are a new part of the Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) Newtown Creek Water Pollution Control Plant (WPCP). The Newtown Creek plant - the largest of New York City's 14 WPCPs - also happens to be the only remaining plant that's incapable of "secondary" treatment of wastewater.

The DEP's website provides this primer for the poor souls who missed sewage treatment class:

Preliminary Treatment: The first step in wastewater treatment is preliminary treatment to screen out, grind up, or separate debris. Sticks, rags, large food particles, sand, gravel, toys, etc., are removed at this stage to protect pumping and other equipment in the treatment plant. The collected debris is usually disposed of in a landfill.

Primary Treatment: Refers to the separation of suspended solids and greases from wastewater. Wastewater is held in a quiet tank for several hours allowing the particles to settle to the bottom and the greases to float to the top. The solids drawn off the bottom and skimmed off the top receive further treatment as sludge. The clarified wastewater flows on to the next stage of wastewater treatment.

Secondary Treatment: In place at all WPCPs with the exception of Newtown Creek, this refers to the biological treatment process to remove dissolved organic matter from wastewater. Microorganisms are cultivated and added to the wastewater, digesting organic matter from sewage as their food supply.

Disinfection: Final treatment focuses on removal of disease-causing organisms from wastewater. Treated wastewater can be disinfected by adding chlorine or by exposing it to ultraviolet light.

The treated sludge is dewatered and subsequently used for soil enhancement, while the water fraction is treated and then discharged into harbor waterways.

And so you ask: "But whatever do they do with the sludge from Newtown Creek?"

Well here's where it gets good. The solid part (yep, your poo) gets baked into fertilizer pellets at the New York Organic Fertilizer Company plant in the Bronx. The crap pellets are sold to orange and soybean farmers in Florida and the Midwest, where they fertilize your Tropicana and Tofurkey crops.

The liquid sludge gets loaded onboard one of three DEP "Sludge Boats", and sails down the East River to a WPCP that does do the secondary thing (and presumably has time to do Newtown Creek's dirty work for it).

sludge boat
M/V Newtown Creek

I Sludge New York
In the good ol' days (until the late 1930s), sewage treatment was limited, and the few operating plants just puked the sludge over the railing into the closest waterway. In the early '40s, the Department of Sanitation began restricting the practice, and the city's fleet of sludge boats was born. At first, the ships dumped their goods in the Narrows, between Bay Ridge and Staten Island, soon turning to Long Island Sound for fear of German U-Boats during WWII.

In 1972, new environmental regs pushed the dumping to 12 miles offshore, and in 1987, when the law was amended to force dumping to 106 miles offshore (not in MY reef!), the boats began ferrying the sludge across the harbor to ocean-going barges.

Finally, in 1991, the Ocean Dumping Ban Act outlawed the practice entirely, and the city's remaining fleet of three ships switched to transporting the waste to other WPCPs for secondary treatment. Which brings us back to the giant pods in Greenpoint.

Its About Stinking Time
In August 2003, the Newtown Creek plant began a 10-year, $2.4 billion retrofit and expansion, designed to increase throughput by 50%. The plant currently treats an average of 238 million gallons of water per day (that's almost 87 billion gallons per year; the plant's so large, it treats waste for much of Manhattan as well as huge sections of Brooklyn and Queens). The overhaul also adds secondary treatment capabilities - potentially putting the sludge boats out of business (sludge boat booze cruise, anyone?). And it brings New York City into compliance with the Clean Water Act.

And the Giant Chrome Onions?
Those are eight new "grit, aeration, and separation tanks" (aka "digesters"), being built by Skanska-USA. They each hold 3 million gallons, are 84 feet in diameter, and stand 90 feet tall. They took over 2.1 million cubic yards of concrete to build.

More digester photos [Flickr]

Great upgrade project overview []

History of the sludge boats and harbor dumping [Clearwaters]

Citizen's Guide to the Sewershed [excellent pdf download that unpacks Newtown Creek's WPCP (4 MB)]

NYCDEP Website

Wednesday Eye Candy: Austin Nichols Sunset

pier gear

cuz we can't get enough of a good thing.

Austin Nichols Sunset Photoset [Flickr]

Monday, January 29, 2007

Street Art Saga Twist: London Banksy Nicked; Thieves Leave Wall in Paddington Bare

no ball games banksy
Originally uploaded by prokillrat.
From our friends across the pond at BBC News comes a new twist in the ongoing drama surrounding 'street art'. A celebrated Banksy stencil of a rat playing ball - done beneath a "No Ball Games" sign in London's Paddington section, has been removed by thieves using a power grinder.

The artwork, done by Banksy in his early days, was considered by locals to be "something of a local landmark". The stolen piece was briefly put up for sale on eBay - at an asking price of £20,000 - then taken down amid complaints.

For whatever reason, the strange happenings in the world of graffiti/street art have been hitting the mainstream media lately, with BBC News soliciting reader photos of London-area Banksys, and the New York Times picking up the Dadaism / Faile / Banksy story in Sunday's City section (including an appreciated imnotsayin mention).

Banksy Wall Art Stolen [BBC News]

For Vandals, An Ironic Target: Street Artists [NY Times]

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sunday Eye Candy: Austin Nichols Harbor

austin nichols harbor 2

Shot Saturday night from the concrete pier behind the Austin, Nichols & Co. warehouse on Kent Avenue in Williamsburg.

More Austin Nichols Harbor on Flickr

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Walk Around Greenpoint, Part Two: Pointing Out the Pencil Building

terra-cotta pencil - detail

Yes, that's a ten-foot tall terra-cotta pencil. Its from the façade of 61 Greenpoint Avenue, between West Street and Franklin Street near the Greenpoint 'waterfront'. The unusual detail on this art-deco beauty draws its inspiration from the building's former use: the world headquarters and production plant for Eberhard-Faber, the company that brought the world the Number Two Pencil.

Eberhard-Faber occupied several buildings on the block from 1872 to 1956, when it moved operations to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The building currently hosts a wide range of artists and light-industrial tenants.

More photos of 61 Greenpoint Avenue on Flickr

History of Eberhard Faber [transcribed from King's Handbook of NYC]

Recent developments at Eberhard Faber [Wikipedia]

Monday, January 22, 2007

A Walk Around Greenpoint, Part One: What Is It?

bushwick inlet sculpture

Saturday, we bundled up against the brutally-cold winds howling in off the East River, and went for an extended stroll around Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

As residents of extreme Northside Williamsburg, the Big G is an often-passed-through, but seldom properly explored territory. Over the next few days, we'll take a peek at some of the more intriguing sights we encountered (cue the National Geographic theme music).

For today, lets start with this unusual bit of steel sculpture. The piece is welded and very properly bolted down to a brand-new sidewalk slab on Kent Avenue at the Bushwick Inlet - the commonly-accepted Williamsburg-Greenpoint border.

If this is guerilla street art, we've never seen it so blatantly and professionally-installed. Its vaguely reminiscent of some other plasma-cut steel works around the neighborhood, including a "tag" welded onto some steelwork on a North 11th Street wall near Beacon's Closet. But the origin and meaning of the birds/cow skull/wings/letter S motif eludes us.

Anyone have a clue?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Williamsburg Graffiti War Rages On; Dadaist Manifesto as Rationale for Destruction


The ongoing battle of street artists for presence on North 6th Street between Wythe and Kent Avenue in Williamsburg took a peculiar turn Tuesday night. You might recall an earlier post about a locally-celebrated Banksy work being rolled over, then replaced with a pair of classic Faile stencils.

Wednesday, neighbors awoke to find that virtually all the block's 'wall art' - including a commercially-commissioned Dewars Scotch ad - had been attacked by methodiacally splashed-on purple and teal paint.

The rather comprehensive Jackson Pollack treatment is explained in a pair of typewritten manifestos, prominently wheatpasted to a bright-green wall that regularly hosts a rotating gallery of Faile pasteups:


A Dadaist once smashed a clock, dipped the pieces in ink, pressed the ink-soaked pieces against a sheet of paper and had it framed. His purpose was to criticize the modernist idealization of efficiency. Rather than inspiring the widespread smashing of clocks and the reevaluation of time in society, the piece of paper has become a sought-after commodity. The production of a representative organ (the ink-imprinted paper) for the action (the smashing of the clock) guaranteed this outcome. Like an idealistic politician, the piece of paper, despite its creator’s intent, can only represent, and it is for this reason that it instantly became a fetishized object segregated from the action. Only in a culture obsessed with its own excrement are the by-products of action elevated above action itself.

Representation is the most elemental form of alienation. Art as representation is no exception. It is just another means by which our perceptions and desires are mediated. Art is the politician of our senses: it creates actors and an audience, agents and a mass. True creativity is the joyful destruction of this hierarchy; it is the unmediated actualization of desires. The passion for destruction is a creative passion. We are all capable of manifesting our desires directly, free of representation and commodification. We will continue manifesting ours by euthanizing your bourgeois fad.


Take that, Tommy Dewar...

Being an edutainment blog, imnotsayin did some research - so you can save time and focus on what's really important: the pictures!

Here's our best analysis: the Dadaists are an anti-art, anti-culture movement that originated in WWI Switzerland. That classic image of the Mona Lisa with a moustache and goattee penciled in? You guessed it: Dadaist. Their deal? They mock the status-quo and live in the moment.

The Manifesto appears inspired by an essay penned by contemporary British novelist Jeannette Winterson. Her Product is the Excrement of Action rails against the societal infatuation with productivity - our modern compulsion to consider the physical output and tangible results/rewards of all our actions in life, rather than just "living our dreams". She specifically references art and artists in the piece:
Artists suffer from this tendency most of all; for their vocation itself depends on making products out of the raw material of real-life experience.
Are the Williamsburg Dadaists, in paint-splashing Faile's comparitively formulaic and commoditized pasteups and stencils acting for actions' sake and 'living in the moment', railing against their contemporaries' need for physical evidence of their achievement?

Or are they guilty of leaving behind their own excrement?

Dadaism: Flickr Photoset

Required reading:

Previous 'Graffiti War' Post

Dadaists: Wikipedia entry

CrimethInc. - post-punk face of the Dadaists

Jeannette Winterson: Product is the Excrement of Action

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Getting in on the Hot Demolition Porn Action

Imnotsayin prides itself on delivering only the freshest, free-range organic content available, but we couldn't resist getting in on the current wave of Brooklyn demolition postings.

We dug up this clip of 150 Kent Avenue in its final staggering, '' moment, while the neighborhood's Grim Reaper (did we use that reference twice in one week?) - a Breeze Demolition bulldozer - has its brutal way with the building's skeleton. This is from early April '06.

While all this knock-down action is tragic for the architectural heritage and historic fabric of Brooklyn's neighborhoods, you have to wonder if there's not a market for for it. Somewhere out there, some sicko gets off on this stuff and is probably willing to pay for it.

Enough said - we know you already made a clicky up there.

Feed your new addiction [all from our friends at Gowanus Lounge]:

Revere Getting Banged Hard

South Slope Amateur Demolition Porn Videos

Dutch Demolition Porn: The Money Shot

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Northside Piers Debuts On-Site Sales Office

yes, we're open

Toll Brothers threw open the construction site gate today, challenging yupsters to locate their brand-new on-site sales office. We recommend prospective Northside Piers residents don their Carhartt work jackets and Timberland boots (hardhats optional) for the dicey treck past broken fences and construction equipment to the foot of North 5th Street. Or just drive.

Honestly, though, the on-siteness factor is actually doing future Northsiders a big favor: the muddy, broken terrain and looming overhead cranes are such standard landscaping features in the neighborhood that if one finds themselves put-off by this ramble, they might well consider keeping their Upper West Side walk-up for a few more years. Just wait til they discover that Otto Tootsis and the meat juice on North 6th are a bad combo...

Imnotsayin went sniffing around on your behalf, and was greeted by an extremely cordial and well-informed receptionist. We even scored an invite to Tuesday's champagne reception and super-secret afterparty. Plus a bunch of pics of the giant scale model of the development. The requisite kitchen and bath mock-ups are there: built-in Sub-Z, GE garbage disposal, granite countertops, blah, blah, blah. Honestly, though, our favorite part was the curiously-taxidermic bathmat.

The tower currently under construction is number one of three - with numbers two and three slated to begin obstructing the breathtaking panoramas from tower one within a year or two. That begs the question: who's the target customer for the $2 million Manhattan-facing units in tower one, who will be teased with a great view for one year? The terminally ill?

The big model is quite revealing in other aspects though. The rezone-mandated public promenade is there in all its glory; there's a rather large new pier projecting well out into the river (gotta believe that NY Water Taxi has their eye on that); what currently appears to be a one-story frontage on Kent Avenue is actually six-story mixed-use as originally reported; and this new info: the three-story sawtooth front units lining North 5th and North 4th Streets are actually townhouses.

OK, you've all been very well behaved while we tortured you with wordy word's your eye candy, kids:

Northside Piers Photoset on Flickr

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The DHLicopter


From the imnotsayin offices here in Williamsburg, we often see the canary-yellow and red DHL chopper blasting over the East River and into the 34th Street Heliport. Not that there's any shortage of helo traffic over the river: there's dozens of takeoffs and landings there daily - mostly corporate and other private choppers, and a fair number of NYPD birds. But the DHL Helicopter (we'll just call it the DHLicopter, k?) is unique with its bright paint job and bold branding: there's no Fedex chopper and certainly no lumbering brown UPS 'copter.

So we dug into it for you, and discovered that the yellow bird is officially DHL's unique "Financial District Helicopter Service", and the international shipping giant has run a dedicated helo route from JFK and Teterboro airports into Manhattan heliports for 25 years. The chopper delivers checks, export documents, and other financial instruments and important trade documents from Europe and Asia directly - and quickly - to world banking headquarters' in the financial district and Midtown. DHL says "by cutting as much as a day off the time in transit for these shipments, financial institutions save millions of dollars each year in otherwise lost interest payments."

Not a bad consumer billboard for DHL either...

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Edge Developer Comes a Calling

this is the view that goes away soon

We won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say, after a year of wondering and worrying, an agent of our worst nightmare - Douglaston Development - yes, the folks who promise to make our lives a living nightmare of ceaseless pile driving, round-the-clock truck idling, and permanent vista destruction, showed up unannounced in our office today.

The folks bringing Williamsburg's "The Edge" had advertised a Spring 2006 groundbreaking; but aside from a week or two of exploratory pile-driving, we were spared from real construction. We'd convinced ourselves that the recently-flaccid condo and co-op market had spooked our new neighbors into a catatonic state of wait-and-see. But the Grim Reaper came a callin' today.

Bottom line, according to a Douglaston rep named Leah:

- the project will break ground in February

- all four towers will be built immediately; no phased-in construction nonsense like nextdoor at Northside Piers

- the units will be condos

- the sales office will be at the corner of Kent Avenue and North 6th

Imnotsayin may be looking for new digs very soon...

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Paint Job Failes to Curb Street Art: Take That to the Banksy

why destroy banksy?

A new salvo was fired last night in the battle between a Williamsburg building owner and some high-profile graffiti vandals street artists taggers.

The war began this past summer when British celebrity tagger Banksy did up a rather epic installation across the front (and sidewalk) of 60 North 6th Street - about half a block from the performance-art club Galapagos. The stencil-and-paintbrush work featured an innocent young girl straight out of 1950's Levittown, jumping rope on one side of the building's rollup door. Her neon-green rope trailed off the wall, through a series of crazy loops on the sidewalk, and terminated back on the building, on the opposite side of the door as a cable running into a stenciled electrical box - with an equally utopian little boy reaching up to throw the switch. Imnotsayin was lucky enough to witness Banksy and his assistant running from the scene, stencils in hand that night. The clever work was widely photographed and posted online, and Williamsburg had its very own Banksy.

A few weeks ago, when the building's owner rolled over the 'art' with beige latex, there was a palpable - though silent - sense of loss in the neighborhood. A few days later, a feeble marker scrawl on the freshly painted wall summed up the sentiment: "So wrong why destroy Banksy?"

This bit of censorship cleanup is all the more ironic when you consider one of the building's primary tenants is the progressive Southfirst Gallery.

At some point Friday night, New York's prolific street art collective Faile hit the building in the same spots that had been painted over. A classic Faile comic book cover on one side, and a pedophilic manga stencil on the other; Banksy's green rope still connecting the two panels over the sidewalk. Not as striking as the Banksy, perhaps, but seemingly a message to the property owner that in post-rezone Williamsburg, the buildings may belong to rich developers, but the walls are still the artist's domain.