The design of the newly opened Hurricane Maria Memorial (located at the Chambers Street overlook, on River Terrace) features an ascending glass spiral, meant to evoke both a hurricane and a nautilus shell—symbolic of protection against a hostile environment.
On Friday, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the opening of the Hurricane Maria Memorial in Battery Park City, located at the corner of Chambers Street and River Terrace. Mr. Cuomo made this announcement at an unrelated event in the Bronx, which was closed to the press, as has become the embattled Governor’s custom in recent weeks, while he faces multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, along with allegations that his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic led to thousands of deaths in New York that might otherwise have been prevented.
“New York was proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters when they needed our help the most, and we will never forget the victims who tragically lost their lives to Hurricane Maria,” Mr. Cuomo said on Friday. “We committed to have a Memorial symbolizing the spirit and perseverance of the Puerto Rican people completed in one year’s time, and today we deliver on that promise. New York continues to stand with Puerto Rico, and this monument will serve as testament to that enduring partnership today, tomorrow and always.” (In fact, plans for the Hurricane Maria Memorial were announced in September, 2018—two and a half years ago.)
The Memorial, conceived by architect Segundo Cardona and artist Antonio Martorell (both based in Puerto Rico), features an ascending glass spiral, meant to evoke both a hurricane and a nautilus shell (symbolic of protection against a hostile environment). The structure reflects and refracts multi-hued beams of bright sunlight and is crowned by the star of the Puerto Rican flag, emblematic of hope rising from devastation. The glass panels, painted by Mr. Martorell, include the poem, “Farewell from Welfare Island,” by one of Puerto Rico’s most beloved poets, Julia de Burgos. (The text attests to the resiliency of the Puerto Rican people, and was written by de Burgos when she was living in New York City. It is the only work she ever wrote in English.)
The Hurricane Maria Memorial is part of a recent wave of monument building in Battery Park City by Mr. Cuomo, which has proved controversial among local leaders. In addition to the shrine commemorating 2017’s Hurricane Maria, the Governor last October opened the Mother Cabrini Memorial (located overlooking South Cove), and more recently raised the possibility of building in Battery Park City a memorial to those lost in the ongoing pandemic.
A student at the University of Puerto Rico School of Architecture protested Governor Cuomo’s decision to build a Hurricane Maria Memorial in Battery Park City by designing a statue that resembles a house submerging into the Esplanade. (This plan was rejected.)
A resolution enacted at CB1’s February 23 meeting notes that, “while we are receptive and thankful for the suggestion that Battery Park City should host a memorial to the victims of the pandemic, there are so many other New York City communities that were more deeply affected and impacted and we believe that should be reflected in the selection of a site for any memorial.” The same measure observes that, “the siting of the monument should be as carefully considered as the monument itself, respecting and honoring the communities that bore the brunt of this cruel virus.”
Battery Park City activists and leaders have a record of opposing plans for additional memorials that they believe conflict with the interests of the community. These include successfully derailing proposals to locate two relics of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 within the neighborhood: the so-called “Survivors Staircase” (a flight of 38 steps that once led from Vesey Street to the World Trade Center plaza above) and the Sphere (a metal globe sculpture originally located on plaza between the Twin Towers, and heavily damaged when they collapsed). Both were initially slated for relocation to sites within Battery Park City. Instead, each was later incorporated into plans for the new World Trade Center complex when the community objected to the proposals.
But State officials have an equally long record of vetoing these concerns and locating within the community monuments that often seem calculated to curry favor with politically significant constituencies. One illustrative case in point is the Irish Hunger Memorial, which was dedicated in 2002, at the corner of North End Avenue and Vesey Street, in spite of the fact that Battery Park City has little discernible connection to the history of New York’s Irish-American community.
The same template seems to apply to the memorials for Hurricane Maria and Mother Cabrini, in that Battery Park City has scant significance in the narratives of Puerto Rican or Italian-American immigrants to New York. As Ninfa Segarra, a longtime Battery Park City resident who once served as Deputy Mayor, and more recently chaired the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1), noted, “as one of the few Puerto Ricans who live in Battery Park City, I think placing a Memorial here is ridiculous. The Governor should identify who in the Puerto Rican community asked that it be placed here.”
Mr. Cuomo appears to have settled on Battery Park City for his recent spurt of memorial building (which includes not only the Hurricane Maria Memorial and the Mother Cabrini monument, but also a plan to expand the Museum of Jewish Heritage), at least in part, because it is one of the few areas of New York City that, as chief executive of the State government, he controls directly. The Lower Manhattan location also effectively guarantees significant media coverage and public visibility for all three projects.
In another proposal that sought to make a pointed statement (but was also passed over), an architecture student imagined Battery Park City’s tribute to Hurricane Maria as a brobdingnagian gasoline can, where Puerto Rican survivors of the storm would queue up to fill to replenish their tanks.
In December, 2018, CB1 enacted a resolution calling upon Mr. Cuomo to set up, “a process [of] communication and transparency with the community prior to the placement of any new memorials in Battery Park City—or anywhere else in Lower Manhattan.” Neither of the commissions appointed by the Governor to oversee the two recently opened memorials ever held a single public meeting, invited comment from residents, or liaised in any way with CB1, before announcing the decisions to locate their respective monuments within Battery Park City, or settling upon a final design.
The 2018 resolution also noted that “all public land within Battery Park City has already been designated for uses on which the community relies;” that, “Battery Park City has more memorials per square foot than any other neighborhood in New York City;” and that, “there are numerous locations within the State that could be better suited to locate the Hurricane Maria Memorial than Battery Park City.”
At the meeting in which this measure was passed, Bruce Ehrmann, who chairs CB1’s Landmarks Preservation Committee, observed that, “apparently we have no real say, but it’s a little odd to put a memorial to the deaths of almost 3,000 predominantly Puerto Rican people in the middle of maybe the whitest neighborhood in all of New York City. It makes no sense.”
Mr. Ehrmann’s point is borne out by statistical data. The Department of City Planning’s website estimates that Battery Park City has a total population of more than 15,000 residents, of whom fewer than 700 (or slightly less than five percent) are of Puerto Rican ancestry.
Demographically, the New York City neighborhood steeped most deeply in Puerto Rican culture is the area of the South Bronx between the Triborough and Whitestone Bridges. In this section, which includes the neighborhoods of Hunts Point, Soundview, and Castleton, residents who trace their ancestry to Puerto Rico comprise more than 40 percent of the local population.
Another section of the Bronx, Morris Heights, also boasts a large Puerto Rican population, as well as a State park named after Puerto Rican immigrant Roberto Clemente, who gained fame as a legendary right-fielder with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Roberto Clemente State Park, located on the east bank of the Harlem River, covers 25 acres, making it nearly one-third as large as Battery Park City in its entirety. But while locating a memorial to Hurricane Maria in either of these Bronx communities might have meant more to their large Puerto Rican populations, it would almost certainly attract less national media attention than a parcel in Lower Manhattan.
Pearl of Wisdom
Brewer Pushes for FiDi Thoroughfare to Be Made Pedestrian-Friendly in Perpetuity
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is pushing the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio to expand and make permanent a trial implementation of the Open Street program in Lower Manhattan. Since last summer, the City’s Department of Transportation (DOT) has each day restricted vehicular access to Pearl Street, between Broad Street and Hanover Square, from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm and again from 5:00 pm to 11:00 pm To read more…
Proposed Federal Law Would Further Restrict Helicopter Flights Over New York City
For the second time in as many months, U.S. Congressman Jerry Nadler (who represents Lower Manhattan in Washington) has introduced federal legislation that would impose stricter regulations on helicopter flights over New York.
On March 7, Mr. Nadler reintroduced the Improving Helicopter Safety Act—a measure that he first sponsored in 2019, when it failed to pass. According to the Congressional Research Service, this law would “prohibit operating helicopter flights over any city with a population of over eight million and a population density of over 25,000 people per square mile, except for purposes of (1) public health and safety, including law enforcement and emergency response; and (2) heavy-lift operations in support of construction and infrastructure maintenance.” To read more…
Alliance For Downtown New York Hosts 2021 Shred-A-Thon
And Clothing Drop-Off
After a year like the one we all just endured and the promise of a brighter day emerging, the idea of “spring cleaning” takes on new energy and meaning.
Now is the time to round up all the old clothes and unwanted documents that have been piling up and bring them over to Fulton Street (between Cliff and Gold Streets) for the Downtown Alliance’s annual dual shred-a-thon and clothing drop-off Saturday, April 17 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
A shredding truck parked on Fulton Street will securely dispose of and recycle all your sensitive documents, tax receipts, junk mail and old bills.
The Alliance is also partnering with NYC clothing recycler Wearable Collections, which is providing a bin to collect all dry, used clean clothing including shoes, sneakers, belts and hats, as well as household items such as linens, towels and handbags.
Rain or shine, the Alliance will be there to dispose of your much-loved old outfits and no-longer-needed memories, minus a few items (e.g., carpeting, rugs, bath mats, comforters, pillows, large luggage). This spring will be even sweeter when you’ve got some extra space.
One Act of Kindness
Matt Keating is a singer/songwriter who lives in Lower Manhattan with his wife Emily. In a recent post on Facebook, he described his friendship with a man who took shelter outside his building, and how he helped this man receive his federal stimulus check.
This is my neighbor Jamal. We became friends about a month ago when I met him taking shelter outside of my building under the construction scaffolding that’s been put up for a while now. He is currently without a home and asks politely for any help from me whenever I walk by so I started giving him something every once in a while whenever I had it. He was very grateful and we struck up a conversation about politics and the current situation of inequality in this country.
About two weeks ago, as Emily and I were leaving to do our weekly visit to the Union Square Farmers Market, he came up to us and showed us that his shoes were falling apart. His soles were flapping and it was wet out. To read more…
Turn-of-the-season dazzle: brightest stars, vivid constellations, and rusty-gold Mars
The calendar in the night sky marks Spring Equinox evenings with the rising of golden Arcturus, the second brightest star in our sky. Sunset is at 7:11 this evening and about a minute later each day going forward.
As twilight deepens, about an hour after sunset, gold-to-red twinkling Arcturus climbs above the northeastern horizon. The great star, -0.05 magnitude, appears later over obstructed views. To be sure to locate Arcturus at any time of night, follow the diagram at the top of this page. On spring evenings, the Big Dipper can be found high in the sky from the northeast to southeast. Trace the arc of its handle down to “arc to Arcturus”.
On Friday, for the second time in three weeks, a task force of New York City sheriffs shut down an illegal bar and nightclub in Tribeca. At 11:30 pm, half a dozen sheriffs entered One Harrison Street (at the corner of Hudson Street), ordered more than 120 patrons to disperse, and arrested five of the party’s organizers, charging them with violations of emergency health orders related to the pandemic, selling liquor without a license, selling liquor to minors, and dispensing cannabis products to minors, along with various vice and health-code violations. To read more…
9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Report
More Survivors than Responders Now are Submitting Claims
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) has released its annual report for 2020, which documents some significant developments.
Over the course of its ten years of operation thus far, the VCF has awarded $7.76 billion to more than 34,400 individuals who have suffered death or personal injury as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath. The vast majority of these injuries take the form of illness caused by exposure to toxic materials that were released by the destruction of the World Trade Center.