The wind began to switch / The house, to pitch *

In 1938 Eastern Long Island took the brunt of a hurricane that swept through the New England area. It was devastating:

Credit: SUNY Suffolk

The Dune Road area of Westhampton Beach was obliterated resulting in 29 deaths. A cinema at Westhampton was also swept out to sea; around 20 people at a matinee, and the theater — projectionist and all — landed two miles (3 km) into the Atlantic and drowned. There were 21 other deaths through the rest of the east end of Long Island. The storm surge temporarily turned Montauk into an island as it flooded across the South Fork at Napeague and obliterated the tracks of the Long Island Rail Road.

Since then experts have been warning New Yorkers that we could get hit again. It's become a favorite fact on Discovery Channel disaster projection programs that New York City is only a few feet above sea level and the storm surge could wreak havoc, particularly by immobilizing the subway system. As Live Science writer Robert Roy Britt says, "it is a question of when, not if."

But the promised storm has only been a vague threat so far. A few weeks ago, New Yorkers braced for Hurricane Earl. The Wall Street Journal's Metropolis projected that:

Residents will see the worst of the conditions as Hurricane Earl makes its closest approach. That means gusts up to 80mph on the Jersey Shore and Eastern Long Island, with gusts to 100mph at Montauk Point.  The city could see gusts to up 40mph, higher in the top floors of Midtown skyscrapers.

We all waited a little anxiously. And then nothing. Earl gave us some wind and a bit of rain, but it largely ignored New York City and western Long Island--though I'm told there were some fantastic swells out at Montauk.  This cycle of warnings and misses has left many New Yorkers a bit skeptical about "a big one." And curious as well about what these storms can actually do. Well, last night Mother Nature decided to give us a taste of what sudden strong winds and heavy rain could do and the responses were interesting to note.

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Customer With Child

Sep 15 2010 Published by under [Humanities&Social Science], Community

My local supermarket has the required handicapped parking spaces in front of the store, but it also has “Customer With Child” parking, a convenience that has lately been the source of a few parking lot disagreements. Patrons of the store don’t seem to be quite so clear on what the sign means. Is it for customers with young children only? Are expectant mothers allowed to use those spots? What about patrons who leave their children in the car while they run in for “just one thing”? And patrons who merely pull in to stop there while another passenger runs in?

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Exploring Urban Foraging Stations

Are you wearing comfortable walking shoes? If not, best go grab a pair of sneakers—we're going foraging! Well, it's not quite foraging because we actually have to pay for our finds, but I figured that telling you that we were off to forage might pique your interest more than if I were to admit that we're actually going to the supermarket.

Well, we are going to the supermarket, and I still think you'll need those shoes because I tend to wander the aisles when I'm there even if it's just for one thing—if I don't have a list, I tend to wind up with more than I intended to buy (which happens sometimes even with a list, I admit). Anyway, over at AiP one of my early posts explored an ethnic supermarket and considered the ways food can help immigrants retain a connection to their native countries. I have some plans to continue this series—it's really a matter of writing the posts—but in the meantime, I've been thinking more about how people obtain groceries in urban centers, and how their experiences are shaped by the services they use.

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Smells From the Past: The Fulton Fish Market

Aug 12 2010 Published by under [Humanities&Social Science], Community, History, Landscapes

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgIt's been a very hot summer here in New York City. And the city smells. It's more than the smell of baking asphalt, exhaust fumes, and lack of deodorant—these smells are around all year. The heat has awakened older smells.

Around midday, if you happen to stroll down by the South Street Seaport you can pick up on the smell of fish in the air. If you can manage to follow your nose—which really isn't all that hard to do—it will lead you right to the old site of the Fulton Fish Market. It has been closed since 2005, but if you close your eyes while you stand outside the gates of the old market building you can smell the day's catch and just hear the bustle of fishmongers at their trade.

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Meeting Montauk: The Summer Trade [MTK 1]

Aug 03 2010 Published by under [Humanities&Social Science]

Let's leave the city today and head east--to the point where the sun rises. We're going to stand on what feels like the edge of the world, away from the skyscrapers and the horns of impatient cab drivers. We're going to Montauk, a small fishing hamlet and tourist destination set well away from the hustle and bustle of the everyday.

Summer visitors stroll by shops on a sunny day.

It's a  Saturday morning in July and the hamlet is just beginning to stir. The sun comes up early here--after all, we're at the eastern most point in New York State. Still, it's Saturday morning during the summer months and the folks who are up are mostly armed with fishing gear. Fishing has long been a part of life here at the very edge of East Hampton, but we'll follow the fishermen to the marina and out to sea another day. We'll leave them to chase the monsters who populate the waters nearby. Let's cast our eyes back on the slowly waking village. We're interested in those who are passing through--those who will come: the day-trippers, the weekenders, these sorts of  transients. At the moment, the staff at MTK Cafe and The Gigshack are prepping: There are no clouds in the sky, the day promises to be bright and welcoming, and soon Route 27 will be filled with cars bringing the summer trade.

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The Five Points Then and Now: Ghosts of Tenements Past [FP4]

Apr 23 2010 Published by under [Humanities&Social Science]

65 Mott Street, the first building in New York City constructed specifically for tenement purposes. April 2010.

For such a small area, the Five Points really has a great deal of history connected to it. Walking through present day Chinatown, I was really struck by how various elements of the Five Points have persisted through time, and have managed to impart some of the old character into the neighborhood. The streets bustle with throngs of Asian residents, reminiscent of the earlier immigrant settlers who called the Five Points home. The streets themselves, crowded with buildings, narrow and winding, hearken back to a time when you might have gone out of your way to avoid Mulberry Bend, Mosco, or Pell Streets for fear of harassment, robbery, or worse. Many of the buildings that line these streets are tenements that date back 100 years or more, and are still very much in use by immigrants seeking affordable housing, as is the case with the building at 65 Mott Street. Residents of these buildings often shared commodes and other facilities—and while some of these buildings may have been updated, the structure and layout remain. So has life really changed in the former Sixth Ward? Let's take a look at living conditions in the Five Points through the ages and find out.

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The Five Points and the Collect Pond: Ripples Through Time [FP3]

Apr 22 2010 Published by under [Humanities&Social Science]

The story of the Collect Pond is integral to the story of the Five Points itself, and it is a prime example of the how the relationship we have with our landscapes can impact our social order.

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The Five Points Then and Now: Landmarks [FP2]

Apr 21 2010 Published by under [Humanities&Social Science]

The landmarks of the Five Points were not artistic and architectural triumphs, but rather tenements, prisons, and churches. Using maps found here, I plotted the locations of sites that loomed largest in the history of the Five Points. Stick close—the streets are dark and possibly a little dangerous.

Map showing points of interest.

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A Return to the Five Points [FP1]

Apr 20 2010 Published by under [Humanities&Social Science]

Recent mob outbreaks in Times Square have people concerned about rising levels of violence in the city. For some it evokes the city's reputation from the 1970s. But New York City has always held a bit of a reputation:

In small clusters, the world began coming to North America via this island nestled in its inviting harbor. And while the West India Company had a firm Calvinist stamp to it, which it tried to impress on its colony, the makeup of the settlement—itself a result of the mix of peoples welcomed to its parent city of Amsterdam—helped to ensure a raggedness, a social looseness ... Days got livelier; with nightfall, the soft slap of waves along the shore was drowned out by drinking songs and angry curses (Shorto 2005: 61).

My suspicion is that the concerns about New York City today echo sentiments about New York City in the 1970s, which echo the sentiments expressed about New York City in the 1830s—when New York City was home to one of the most notorious slums in the world, the Five Points.

In other words, the time of present memory is almost always the most dire circumstance. I invite you to journey back in time with me to walk the streets of the Five Points, and draw your own conclusions about the intersection of the city's past and present. But before you secure your valuables and venture into the alleys and tenements of the area, let's look a bit at the history.

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