Volume 23, Number 6 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | June 18 - 24, 2010
Another Ground Zero, says residents
By Helaina N. Hovitz
It’s no surprise that tourists have recently been mistaking the giant construction pit on Fulton and Gold Street for Ground Zero. The disaster area resulting from the simultaneous construction of the Fulton Street Transit Center and DeLury Square Park has been disrupting our lives for almost a full year, turning our community into one big construction site.
Many question whether or not the tremendous sacrifice of our quality of life could be worth the end result, no matter how beautiful the park promises to be. Just as we began adjusting to the Transit Center construction, the park’s construction began, making the impositions we’ve encountered ever since virtually endless.
The park was supposed to be finished at the beginning of this month, yet we are still plagued by mice, rats, roaches, frequent loss of cable and internet, giant dust clouds and noise pollution on a daily basis.
The narrow walkway that requires people to walk single file past the Key Foods supermarket and Pasta and Pizza is especially trying for our senior citizens, and for parents pushing strollers. Trocom, the project’s contractor, submitted the layout plan to the Department of Transportation for approval, who confirmed that the walkway does indeed comply with the bare minimum distance that had been set for the walkway: a whopping five feet. Also a challenge: having to navigate past throngs of rats at every turn, rats who often travel in packs of up to eight at a time. They scurry through garbage bags on every corner of the complex, run underneath the benches where residents sit in front of 100 Beekman Street, and swarm around the nearby sewers and crosswalks. They don’t even wait until it’s dark out, scurrying past children who are on their way to and from school.
What many of us miss most of all is being able to simply cross the street to get to the other side. We live in a maze, constantly navigating the sidewalks right along with the mice that have made our street their home. Barricades and unloading trucks force us to walk two blocks out of the way just to cross Fulton Street. This week, new barricades have been put up on Gold Street, extending the detour even further.
The elderly and handicapped residents of Southbridge, who make up over half of the population, are practically trapped on their own grounds. Many can no longer even travel to the drugstore unassisted. How are they expected to maneuver the route to N.Y.U Downtown Hospital with wheelchairs and walkers, past delivery trucks and ambulances, without walking into oncoming traffic?
Telling people how to get to the building who aren’t familiar with the area is difficult. My friend Spike Schwab, 23, often comes to visit, and getting to the building is always a hassle for him, even though he only lives four blocks away in the New School’s William Street dormitory. “When I tried to find the building for the first time a few months ago, I wandered around for half an hour - I remember I finally had to ask you to come outside and help me. I’ve lived down here for two years, but when you completely hide the entrance of an apartment building with a giant construction pit, it looks like the building is closed,” he said.
Many residents have been suffering allergic reactions to the vast amounts of dust that blow into in their homes. “Our allergies are in such an uproar that we can no longer open our windows or enjoy the terrace, which is filthy no matter how many times we try to clean it,” said our neighbor, a member of the Agro family.
Adding insult to injury, a third “project” was taken up several weeks ago by our very own who are in charge: fencing was put up around the seats in front of Burger King and the empty retail space next door, fully eliminating the option of sitting anywhere near Fulton or Gold Streets. Southbridge Towers made this decision in response to the frequent disruptive incidents involving Murray Bergtraum students.
Longtime resident and community advocate Joe Morrone said, “This is like killing a mosquito with a hand grenade. This seating has been a place for kids coming out of school and for seniors to sit for years. Now it’s nothing. It’s a war zone. This is bad for our residents, it cheapens the whole area, and it’s taking down our quality of life.” Many have spoken out against these “cages,” most recently at the Seaport Committee Meeting and the monthly First Precinct Meeting, saying they felt that the place looks “like a zoo.”
It was suggested last week that the seniors find seating elsewhere in the complex. That does not excuse the fact that many seniors have found this “caging” of their daily seating confusing and emotionally jarring. How inhumane to force those who are able to make their way through the courtyard to find alternate seating among the crowds of teenagers and people from other neighborhoods who, sometimes, take up entire benches, to move elsewhere so they can sit?
Another dangerous consequence of the construction: school busses can no longer park in front of the building on either side.
“The children struggle to get on and off the bus every morning and afternoon,” said my neighbor Eric Ayala, whose son Lucien, 8, attends P.S. 150. “As soon as the bus comes, we have to find a designated area where there are no barricades and figure out how to get them of the bus.” Ayala also has a 7-month-old son, Sebastian, and has a hard time navigating the stroller through all of the barricades and narrow walkways.
Because of all the fencing and street construction, residents of 77 Fulton and 80 Beekman Street can only hail a cab or meet a car service at 80 Gold Street or by St. Margaret’s. This is a disaster for anyone using Access-A-Ride because there’s nowhere to wait. In bad weather it is horrific, with many appointments missed.
The site is a safety hazard. Residents have reported fallen fencing numerous times during rainstorms and on windy days, but calls to 311 did not help. The sand bags meant to keep the fence upright are broken, and there is often loose sand everywhere.
Local businesses are hurting because the hundreds of feet of barricades, netting, and construction machinery make it almost impossible to see the pizzeria, the grocery store, T.J. Byrnes and Squires restaurants. To someone who isn’t familiar with the area, the navigation just seems like more trouble than it’s worth for a gallon of milk or a slice of pizza. Schwab works nearby in the William Street Residence Hall for The New School, and students often ask him for recommendations about where to buy groceries. He often directs them to Key Food (formerly Associated) and to the neighboring pizzeria, but students find it extremely difficult to locate, and often end up going to Jubilee or Zeytuna instead.
Like many residents of 77 Fulton Street, Ayala and his family have encountered roaches in their own home on too many occasions to count, and the pests keep reappearing even after countless visits from the exterminator. “I bombed the place, and yet I still find roaches here,” he said. “It’s disgusting.”
Other residents have reported numerous incidents of baby mice invading their apartments, both living and even breeding in their radiators.
“At first, we only had one or two mice. Then we encountered more, but these were smaller,” said a neighbor of ours who asked not to be named. “When the exterminator came, he found several dead mice in the radiator. They had mated.”
“Every time I walk by, I feel like I’m looking at another Ground Zero,” said Schwab. “How long is everyone supposed to just live with this? How long is this going to take?”
The new completion date is set at July 15, but whether or not this is the case all depends on how quickly the crew can get the last and most intricate aspect of the park, the fountain, up and running.
For now, all we can do is what we’ve been doing since August, and that’s wait. Southbridge resident Ann Marie De Falco, who has lived in the complex since it opened in 1970, expresses the patience and frustration we all feel.
“I’ve been very tolerant of all of the sidewalks that have been jammed because it’s been a way of life in Lower Manhattan,” she said. “But it’s not a positive one.”