Deadline for Harlem Success Academy 2 Months Away!

If you’ve seen Waiting for Superman, then you know about the great work charter schools like Harlem Promise Academy and Harlem Success Academy have done  for hundreds of Uptown kids. You would also know that it is incredibly hard to get into — hunreds of applicants compete for just a few dozen slots.

Well, it’s your chance to be one of those hundreds of applicants. Harlem Success Academy, which uses a lottery system and some preferences (such as living in Harlem) to select students, is now accpeting applications through April 1, 2011.

Click here for the application and best of luck.


ABOUT TIME: Sane judge lambasts city for abusing eminent domain in East Harlem development

The $700 million development will be located on the corner of 125th Street and Third Avenue

Yes, apparently the city can say your neighborhood is shitty in order to let the corporate vultures in.

Although the lawsuit  against the developers of the East Harlem Media, Entertainment and Cultural Center was dismisses in October 2010, the ruling is making headlines once again after an appellate judge chastised the city for falsely claiming “blight” in the neighborhood as a means to transfer private property to developers.

In a searing statement, Justice James Catterson of the state Appellate Division stated:

“In my view, the record amply demonstrates that the [East Harlem] neighborhood in question is not blighted . . . and that the justification of under-utilization is nothing but a canard to aid in the transfer of private property to a developer,” Catterson said of the city’s argument that it can grab two blocks between 125th and 127th streets along Third Avenue because the area is economically depressed.

“Unfortunately for the rights of the citizens affected by the proposed condemnation, recent rulings . . . have made plain there is no longer any judicial oversight of eminent-domain proceedings.”

The lawsuit, Uptown Holdings vs. New York City, was dismissed on Oct. 12, 2010, infuriating the half-dozen East Harlem merchants who had brought the lawsuit hoping it would save their livelihoods.

The $700 million East 125th Street megaproject, which when finished in 2016 (allegedly!) will have 600 affordable housing units, community and cultural space, a public plaza and office and retail space built by a team of developers. That’s about five phases from now. The first phase, a 49-unit building with retail space, is now under construction on the southeast corner of 125th Street and Third Avenue. That’s expected to be completed in July 2011.

“Whose Barrio Is It?” Screening Tonight!

So the primary campaign is over, and it seems that Melissa Mark Viveritos is the Democratic Council Candidate for District 8. We’ll see how she does in the general election come November.

In the meantime, try to check out the free screening of “Whose Barrio Is It?,” a documentary film about gentrification in East Harlem by Laura Rivera and Ed Morales. It will be shown Friday night at East Harlem Cafe, 1651 Lexington Avenue, at 7 p.m.

Click here to check out an interview of the directors and movie clip.

The Last Call: Citywide Candidates’ Night

Rev. Billy, who is running for NYC mayor, was among the primary candidates who attended "Last Call" at St. Mark the Evangelist Church in Harlem tonight.

Rev. Billy, who is running for NYC mayor, was among the primary candidates who attended "Last Call" at St. Mark the Evangelist Church in Harlem tonight.

It’s hard not to notice there’s an election primary in the city.

For the past week, Harlem has been bombarded with flyers, posters and the ol’ bullhorn speaker on the truck promoting a candidate (which, before I moved here, thought it was only something practiced in Latin America). So, as someone who wanted to be well informed about the candidates, I attended “The Last Call” Citywide Candidates Night” at St. Mark the Evangelist Church in Harlem.

Everyone running in Uptown districts (Districts 7,8 and 9) were invited, as well as mayoral and public advocate candidates. I was really excited to hear all the candidates speak. But as is the case in small neighborhood meetings, with about 50 people present, not all of the candidates showed up.

For the mayoral race, Tony Avella and the ever-entertaining Rev. Billy Talen attended. For District 7 (Morningside Heights, Hamilton Heights, West Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood), Manuel Lantigua and Julius Tadjidin attended; District 9 (Central Harlem, Morningside Heights, parts of Upper West Side and parts of East Harlem), Landon Dias and Carlton Berkely; and for District 8 (Upper West Side and East Harlem), only Gwen Goodwin showed up.

It was actually a joke among the candidates there. “We’re have a political conversation with no incumbents present tonight,” Rev. Billy Talen said.

That comment made everyone chuckle, but it also was a sad reminder on how it’s always the underdogs and activists, who seem to be hard at work at trying to reach the movers and the shakers of Harlem. It’s also a shame that not many people attended (although the church hall was equipped to fit more than 200).

Nevertheless, it was a great night. There was a high-spirited energy in the room, and here are a few notable impressions from tonight’s attendees:

Landon Dias, Council Distirct 9 Democratic Candidate: Dias is a young, intelligent and ambitious man. I really hope to see him in future election if tomorrow doesn’t pan out for him. He has a masters in real-estate and believes that developments in Manhattan should be controlled more. He spoke about his own asthma problems and the need to help children Harlem, who suffer high rates of asthma. He also spoke about vocational training for young people in Harlem and the need for local government to be more transparent.

Tony Avella: He knows that his chances of winning the mayoral race are slim. But what I gathered from tonight, Avella is truly an activist at heart and believes that the current New York City education system needs to be decentralized. In other words, teachers shouldn’t only teach standardized tests, they should be teaching the subjects and comprehensive material they are trained to teach.

Rev. Billy Talen: This man makes me smile, pure and simple. Hearing him speak made me think, “Thank you God for putting crazies on this earth. They make the world so much more interesting.” In case you haven’t heard of Rev. Billy, he’s the guy who goes to chain stores with a large choir and preaches the gospel of citizenship, not consumerism. I hope he’s able to perform an exorcism at the East River Plaza when it does open.

Oh, and it case you were wondering where Robert Rodriguez, Council District 8 candidate, was tonight, he was having a Campaign Eve event at Ricardo’s, two blocks away from my house. The event included free drinks, which is why my partner and neighbors decided to attend that instead of the “Last Call” event.

Yes, candidates,yes. Sadly, free drinks really draw in crowds.

So Robert Rodriguez came to my courtyard…

Over the weekend, I expressed interest about meeting Robert Rodriguez, the young Democratic candidate for City Council, District 8 (East Harlem, South Bronx, and Upper West Side). My neighbor has been volunteering in his campaign, and brought him over Tuesday night to meet me and my neighbors.

I was impressed with the East Harlem native son. Robert Rodriguez was eloquent, charming and not bad on the eyes. He had a lot to say about improving our neighborhood with affordable housing, job training, and more after-school programs to help students in the neighborhood. I (and most of my neighbors for that matter) couldn’t help but nod in agreement with all he had to say.

But then a fellow neighbor asked Robert Rodriguez whether he was for the East River Plaza development (aha!). And yes, he is. So is incumbent Melissa Mark Viverito. And while they did work out a deal to have more than 70 percent of jobs go to locals in the neighborhood, what good is a minimum wage job to a father or a mother who is working to support his or her children?

Earning a minimum wage salary in this city automatically puts under the poverty level. And sure, I know that a low-paying job is better than no job, but is that all we really have to offer people out here? What example does that set for kids growing up in East Harlem, seeing parents and family get caught in the minimum wage job trap.

Another interesting thing Mr. Rodriguez said was that he is working toward having more asthma clinics built in the neighborhood because, as everyone in Harlem knows, children in the neighborhood have higher rates of asthma than anywhere else in the city.

So here’s the irony: You are helping neighborhood kids by installing more asthma clinics, but yet your are for a mega-retail development that will bring about more traffic and pollution, which can cause asthma in young children. Hmmm….it’s nice to know that if my two-year-old develops asthma due to the traffic jams Costco, Target and Marshalls are sure to bring, she’ll have clinics to go to in the neighborhood.

Here’s some sarcasm for thought: how about we avoid asthma in children, by avoiding the factors that induce it –– traffic and pollution!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Rodriguez and Mark Viveritos are good people, I’m just not sure they have thoroughly thought this through.

Yes, I’m for the creation of jobs in the neighborhood. If you’re going to propose development for it, how about something similar to East River Science Park, which is being built in lower Midtown East. They just got their first tenant ImClone, a biotech firm. Having something similar to this would produce competitive pay and sustainable jobs for people in the neighborhood and be a great example for kids in the neighborhood — something they can aspire to be. Hell, we have the Isaac Newton Middle School of Science and Math on 115th and Pleasant. We’re building the brainpower for it.

The candidates speak about diversifying the neighborhood job market so why not with jobs that will get people out of poverty. It seems that by promoting retail jobs, they are saying that that is all East Harlem residents can be good at. Pity.

The only one opposed to it is Gwen Goodwin, who is also running for the Democratic candidacy. Watch the debate in which all three candidates participate and discuss their stance on various issues affecting East Harlem.

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The never-ending debate over East Harlem Plaza

As I’ve stated from the start, this blog is meant to document East Harlem’s transformations — the good, the bad and the ugly.And one of the ugliest topics in East Harlem, which is sure to induce arguments, is the East River Plaza development (which is scheduled to open in October, but from what I saw just a few days ago, the construction is nowhere near completion). Like most gentrification issues, this is a complex one, with vocal advocates on both sides.

Some tout it as a great effort to revitalize Harlem and bring hundreds of jobs to folks in the neighborhood, which in return will draw more businesses (and jobs) into East Harlem.Others see it as the commercialization knife striking East Harlem’s soul. With it’s sprawling 500,000 square foot building and well-known chains like Costco and Target as retailers, it is sure to bring a lot of traffic, noise and pollution to a neighborhood that already suffers these maladies.

As a longtime resident, I can’t help but feel a little uncomfortable about the big development. New York City was once the haven of mom-and-pop shops and independent retailers. But now, IKEA’s, Targets, Kmarts, and Costcos have invaded the big city, driving out storeowners who can’t compete with these megastores’ low prices.

I’ll admit it — I love me some IKEA and Target. I’m not rich and I go to great lengths in stretching my budget, especially now that I have a daughter. But part of me wonders, whether saving $5 on pack of diapers is worth New York looking like the typical retail-chain littered city that exists everywhere else in this country. With that thought, I invite you to view a video produced by Hope Community, Inc. about the East River Plaza.

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Save the Date: Hacia Afuera! is next weekend


The good folks at Art for Change bring their annual outdoor art festival in East Harlem next weekend. Hacia Afuera (“get out” in Spanish) will feature art exhibits and music throughout East Harlem’s neighborhood. Visit Art for Change’s website for more info.