Friday, March 31, 2017

"A Rezoning Poem" from City Limits

I found this powerful poem just now.  I thought I would post a bit of it here.  I can certainly relate to this writer. And a POEM is surely good one way to express one's profound dismay.  I believe I know someone else who has worked in this genre...
...."Positive results are made in numbers. We must demand those who are oppose; to assist in…
Preventing the throes of oppression…the people want to abolish pandemic depression.
It is a responsibility to look towards the betterment of all, living in the neighborhood, that we may live peaceably and fairly as we should…and it is only fair for the “Small Businessman” to receive a helping hand…Let him stay! What more can we say..? Can there be another way to persuade the “Powers” behind the system, to make them listen…if they would?
Just listen closely to the cries of everyone, surviving in the neighborhood."

See City Limits for the rest of this poem.

Ijaaza EL-Nuwaubun is a poet who lives in Gowanus.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Brooklyn Blogger with the Paul Manafort Scoop

One of Carroll Garden's finest: Katia Kelly, PMFA activist and blogger ('citizen journalist') has a scoop that has gone viral this week! 
Way to go Katia! I
I am sooooo sooooo proud of you and delighted to be your friend/activist buddette!
xxoo t.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Our culture is in YUGE trouble.

Hello, I am featuring this story here NOT to make more "drama" about these two schools where I work as a Professor In Residence or because I advocate violence or hatred or evil acts. 

I am placing it here because I truly feel and know in my gut that the words and deed of 45  and our current political climate are sowing GINORMOUS seeds of despair, anger, and powerlessness in many parts of our society. (Not just in urban school districts). However I feel these places are surely cultural barometers and yes, I happen to work there too.

It does not take a rocket scientist to understand this. And it does not take take a genius to understand that students and the poor and all the "others" will always be the easy scapegoats of the powers that be because these powers that be face so LITTLE blow-back when they profess their many hatreds and accusations. Hatred has become popular in our culture in fact. Hatred is trying to become the new "normal".

And it does not take an art educator to realize that the reactions of A FEW (not the majority by any stretch of any imagination) of these targeted young people in these situations who see and hear and FEEL these cultural hatreds will turn away form rational behaviors and instead issue a warning of their own in their own powerless voice/s in order to try and and have a 'voice' in a culture gone mad. In other words, they emulate the constant bullying and the hatred spewed at them from the powers that be. You see?

Such young people are also excellent "students' after all. But they are learning NOT from the passionate and teachers and administrators and all the many others in the building who are trying so desperately hard to make a difference in these students' lives daily. Nope. Such students are actually learning from their cell phones and their internet culture and all the visual culture and media culture with the blatant and cleverly disguised, constant daily messages of RACISM and and SEXISM and ALL the "ism's based on hate including: TERRORISM now disguised as 'News" and endorsed by the now ruling party.
And if anyone is dumb enough to think that this violent behavior will begin and end in an "urban" public school district, full of many so many "others" (and it is not a problem for ALL SOCIETY) oh, what a YUGE learning curve you now face have to get yourself to any truth. Our culture is in YUGE trouble.

Isn't it time for ALL OF USE to demand a better country and a better world?

Triada Samaras 

And where is Governor Christie in the public education mess in his state and especially in the Paterson School District that is under control of his state? (And that just lost funding for "school security"? I guess Mr. Christie has some other fish to fry his hoped for WH drug czar ? appointment....

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Abolish the Board of Standards and Appeals/BSA! by City Councilman Tony Avella

Dateline : Thursday, August 07, 2008

Abolish the Board of Standards and Appeals!
By City Council Member Tony Avella

If the framers of the Constitution/Declaration of
Independence were still alive today, I am confident
they would cite the operation and existence of the
City’s Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) as a
perfect example of unrepresentative government.

It is time for this unresponsive, undemocratic bureaucratic
body to go!

For many New Yorkers, BSA is a totally unknown entity,
yet its impact is being felt in every neighborhood in this City.
A quasi-judicial agency, BSA is comprised of five
commissioners appointed by the mayor for six-year terms
to, in large part, issue variances to the zoning code.

It is the implementation of this responsibility that has
irked, frustrated and outright angered elected officials,
community boards and residents.

The original mission of BSA was to provide a relief valve
for property owners in those rare circumstances where
existing zoning regulations would prohibit them from
reasonably developing their property. I stress the
word “rare.”

Unfortunately, BSA has been allowed to mushroom into a
huge loophole for developers who want to circumvent
the law. For far too long developers have used BSA as
“an old boys network” where a handful of law firms
represent hundreds of clients/developers trying to
build in excess of existing building and zoning code

While the borough presidents and community boards
routinely submit comments on variance applications,
their opinions are only advisory and often dismissed by BSA.

Despite BSA’s assertions to the contrary, borough
president and community board recommendations
are generally only successful in achieving very minor
changes to original plans. It is fascinating to note that
City Council members have no official role in the
process other than to receive a copy of the application.

When reviewing applications, BSA must evaluate the
request in terms of the following five criteria:

* Does the unique condition of the property prevent
reasonable development?
* Would unique property conditions prevent an owner
from obtaining a reasonable financial return?
* Does the variance, if granted, alter the essential
character of the neighborhood?
* Is the situation the result of a self-imposed hardship?
(In other words – you cannot buy a property knowing
the restrictions and then claim hardship.)
* Is the variance requested the minimum necessary
to afford relief?

Unfortunately, BSA routinely disregards these guidelines.
The self-imposed hardship restriction is rarely enforced.
The BSA requirement that the variance will not alter the
character of the neighborhood is a joke! It is never really

And why does the city, through BSA, reward developers
for making a bad financial decision. If you own any other
type of business in this city and make a bad investment
or your business fails, the city does not bail you out. But,
BSA will grant a financial hardship variance for developers
who make poor judgments or risky investments.

This practice clearly demonstrates the huge political
influence that the real estate industry enjoys in this city.
It is a foolproof system that rescues developers from
their own incompetence and investment mistakes.

To justify their favorable actions towards developers,
BSA will frequently rely on their “quasi-judicial” status
as a defense. This convenient excuse provides political
cover for their lack of common sense and failure to
adhere to the five variance criteria. Yet, the
qualifications for appointment to the board say
nothing about being an attorney.

The only qualifications mentioned in the City Charter
are that one commissioner shall be a registered
architect with at least 10 years’ experience as an
engineer and one shall be a planner with professional
qualifications and with at least 10 years’ experience
as a planner.

Why is there no requirement that the Commissioners
have legal experience? Because it was never meant to
be the final legal arbiter of these land use issues.

Ever since the old Board of Estimate was eliminated, the
only recourse for New Yorkers to appeal BSA decisions is
to file an Article 78 lawsuit against the city – a time consuming
and expensive proposition. Good luck in trying to get
satisfaction by that route!

When the Board of Estimate was in existence, BSA decisions
could be appealed to that legislative body. Under that
system, at least New Yorkers had the opportunity to
press their case for justice before officials elected by the
people as opposed to the appointed bureaucrats on BSA.

Since taking office in January of 2002, I have authored
several pieces of legislation in an attempt to reform this
agency. Unfortunately, all of them are languishing in
the City Council as a direct result of the pressure
exerted by the real estate industry and the opposition
from the Mayor’s Administration.

In order to address the lack of oversight and an
appeal process, I introduced Intro. 261/2006. This
legislation would re-establish the review process over
variance and special permits decisions, previously
held by the former Board of Estimate, under the
auspices of the City Council.

The City Council already has jurisdiction in land use
matters under the Uniform Land Use Review
Procedure (ULURP). Adding this review process
would strengthen the ULURP procedure and add
balance to this area of land use decision-making.

I authored two other bills in a further attempt to
address the total control of the mayor in appointing
members to the board.

Intro. 263/2006, if enacted, would expand the
number of BSA commissioners from five to thirteen,
with the eight additional members to be appointed,
one each, by the borough presidents, public advocate,
comptroller and City Council.

The five mayoral appointees would remain; but their
voices would be tempered by those of the eight additional
members. Obviously, this would enable elected officials to
better serve their constituents by having direct
representation on the board.

As a companion bill to Intro. 263, I introduced Intro.
262/2006, which would require that all variance and
special permit decisions by BSA be made by a
two-thirds majority of the quorum present and voting.
Once the membership of BSA is expanded to 13 members,
requiring a two-thirds majority vote would ensure that
decisions of such magnitude are addressed by a
substantial majority of the board.

This past February, I introduced Intro. 695/2008,
which would require one of the members of BSA to
be a financial analyst with professional qualifications.
Since one of the five variance criteria involves the
review of an alleged financial hardship, it only makes
sense to have a member of the Board who has the
financial background to determine the legitimacy of
any such claim by a developer.

I am also in the process of writing legislation that
would change the statute of limitations for filing
an Article 78 proceeding challenging BSA decisions,
from thirty days to four months.

The current 30-day time frame presents an unnecessarily
harsh procedural hurdle. The very short time frame within
which an Article 78 petition must be filed makes such challenges extremely difficult to execute due to the cost and extensive preparation that is required in bringing these actions before the Supreme Court.

The majority of Article 78 BSA cases are brought by
aggrieved citizens who need a significant amount of
time to come up with funds to retain counsel, and for
counsel to properly prepare the necessary petitions and
accompanying documents that must be filed. Making this
change in the law would provide residents and community
groups the necessary time to properly develop and file an
Article 78.

The passage of any of these bills would make a
significant impact on how BSA operates and allow for
additional community input and a more balanced
decision making process.
Having said that, I have come to believe that BSA
decisions are so skewed in favor of developers that
the entire system must be scrapped.

After personally testifying before the board on
numerous variance applications on behalf of the community,
not only those within my City Council district, but other neighborhoods/boroughs as well, I have come to realize
that the entire process is a charade.

It is extremely disheartening to watch neighborhood
residents travel to the BSA office in lower Manhattan
for hearing after hearing to contest a variance application,
only to see the commissioners vote in unison to approve the application.

It has become a BSA routine; whereby multiple hearings are
held on an item until; it would appear, the community is
simply worn down. It is almost impossible for the average
person to continuously take time off from work or other
duties to fight the developers.

In the final analysis, while most people do not know
agency even exists, it has had and continues to have
dramatic and damaging effect on the residential
character of neighborhoods throughout our city by
allowing developers to circumvent the zoning – in many
cases ruining the quality of
life for millions of New Yorkers. It is time to end
this sham and close what is the biggest loophole for

Abolish the Board of Standards and Appeals!

“Abolish the Board of Standards and Appeals!”
pub. in the Queens
Ledger by Tony Avella 8/7/2008.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Democracy Wall in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn 10 Year Anniversary!

     I am very proud to be part of the following 'his/herstorythe Ten Year Anniversary of the Democracy Wall in Carroll Gardens' 
Triada Samaras, Artist/Activist 2017

  Suffice it to say, for the sake of brevity:   
If you have an urge to fight the powers that be in your own circumstances or situation, JUST DO IT!  Even if you do not get the precise result you hoped for, you WILL get results! And you will never ever regret finding your own voice and your own courage in your own community!
CORD Co-Founders, Rita Miller, Lucy DeCarlo, Triada Samaras 2017

     The "Democracy Wall"  is a story about a long-term, community and art activist project that happened in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. This tale is for the many artists and community activists who are out there in NYC (and elsewhere) right now fighting major battles in their communities. I want to tell you this:  Stay the course!
 Above:  First mural, Democracy Wall, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn NY by Triada Samaras 2007

     I am an artist and I have lived in Brooklyn all my adult life.  One day in May, 2007, in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, where I live, I was launched into artist activism quite spontaneously. So were my neighbors.  Like them, I had no idea what to do when a serious land-use and zoning issue arose in our community.   We were angry but felt powerless.  After several meetings on each other's stoops, three of us: Lucy DeCarlo, Rita Miller, and myself decided to co-found an all-volunteer community coalition:
CG CORD/Carroll Gardens Coalition for Respectful Development with ART as one of its primary communication vehicles.  
     In other words, we decided to fight the powers that be in NY. We did not have previous experience; our guide was passion for our cause.  We placed the Margaret Mead quote:  "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." on our new CORD blog that I created (with no prior blogging experience) and plunged in.  Over the next many, many months we engaged in wide range of activist and art activist activities.  
      I will summarize a few of these activities below for the reader to get an idea of the type of activities involved in community and art activism.  While the entire story is too long for one page or even ten,  the story is documented in its chronological entirety starting here (scroll to the bottom of the page to begin).  I wish, here, to simply add to the ever-growing body of information now available to other would-be artist/activists who might need to know how to begin to engage with a civic or public issue.  I certainly would never presume nor pretend to be exhausting all the artist/activist actions and possibilities.  In fact, brainstorming is the creative and 'fun' part of art activism and should not be missed! Each issue is naturally different and thus each will require different approaches and methods.
     Here are some of the art and art activist activities we engaged in to make our case, to inform the public, and to communicate with the 'powers that be':
First, we created a petition calling for a moratorium of all construction over 50'.  Honestly I must re-congratulate, for the ten thousandth time, my 'colleague' (CORD Co-Founder) Rita Miller on this absolutely winning idea. It was perfect!  And we made protest signs that we gave to people to place in their front gardens (see photograph below). Many people placed these signs in their front gardens and Carroll Gardens became a sea of hard-to-miss, yellow signs.
     Simultaneously we launched what later became know as the "Democracy Wall." I placed the very first protest mural at the Carroll Gardens outdoor subway platform on 2nd Place and Smith Streets. (See image below)  Later in its evolution, the Democracy Wall became a Brooklyn News 12 item on television (See video below image or at:

     In other words, the original art mural wall I placed at the Carroll Gardens MTA station grew and grew quickly, with additions by new artists, local residents, and even children.  (See images above)It took on a life of its own and was featured a great deal in the media, rewarding us with lots of attention and naturally, free publicity.  This art/mural/protest wall was coined the "Democracy Wall" by then blogger Bob Guskind founder of the *Original "Gowanus Lounge" blog.  
     See some of our early press:
1) 5-25-2007
Smith Street Could Get Very Very Shiny
2) Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Smith Street Revolt Brewing Over Shiny New Building?
3) Thursday, May 31, 2007
More Heavy Metal Backlash in Carroll Gardens
4) June 1, 2007
Carroll Gardeners Continue to Oppose Smith Street Building
5) Saturday, June 02, 2007
Not a Good Week to be a Controversial Brooklyn Architect: Scarano
Rally Planned
6) June 3, 2007
Anti-Building Signage Torn Down on Smith Street
7) June 5, 2007
Battle of 360 Smith Street: Fight for Your Right to Plaza
8) June 6, 2007
Major New Developments in the Battle of 360 Smith Street
9) Thursday, June 07, 2007
Robert Scarano is Having a Bad June
10) June 8, 2007
GL's Guide to Elected Officials & Community Board 6
11) June 11, 2007
Battle of 360 Smith Street: Strategy Session Tonight
12) June 12, 2007
New Shots Fired in Battle of 360 Smith Street
13) June 13, 2007
The Big Carroll Gardens Issues: Rezoning & Landmarking
14) June 15, 2007
More Curious Street-Level Developments in Battle of 360 Smith
Street: Mystery Paint Job
15) June 15, 2007
A Little Brooklyn Tour de Scarano
Scaranos copy 6-15-2007
16) Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Battle of 360 Smith Street: Councilman Circulates Scarano Email
Second Place Plaza
17) June 20, 2007
Carroll Gardeners Busy With Robert Scarano Wikipedia Page?
18) June 21, 2007
Carroll Gardners Post Online Petition, Report Illegal Work
From Curbed
1) Thursday, May 24, 2007
Heavy Metal Coming to Smith Street?
2) 5-30-2007
Scarano Pushback on Smith
3) Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Carroll Gardens 'Monstrosity' Seem to Have Fan Club
4) June 1, 2007
Carroll Gardeners Now Tossing Bricks at Big Smith Street Building
5) Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Will Carroll Gardens Fight 'South Beach' Look?

     Guskind also encouraged me to continue my art activist activities using my poetry and thus I began to create my "over-development in Brooklyn poems" under the pen name: "Graciela Radici" on his blog.  "Graciela Radici" means, roughly, "Grassroots". 
Floppy Hose Wraps
Floppy hose wraps
Spins ‘round the living tree, sick and
more since hosting a noose
for the neighborhood,
Feeds the barren development site,
In long sleeping lines the re-bars await
On the shadows of a bottomless pit
Back hoes sleep,
A raindrop
Onto their apathetic
Coming down from the hill,
from the suburbs, comes the developer
comes, his pocket empty
to the field of dollar signs,
Empty poles on a highway
attach a back hoe to his sleep.
c. Graziella Radici
       Guskind encouraged many artists, like myself, to use ART to speak out about local issues and to activate public awareness and action.  While he is, unfortunately, no longer with us, I will always be so thankful to Bob Guskind for his caring and his vision. (*Today his blog name still exists but the blog is under under a whole new management with a whole new mission unrelated to Guskind’s. See this LINK at the NY Times.)
   Thus, CG CORD, an all volunteer coalition with no "operating budget" (only a personal, "shoestring" one) made quite an impression on our community, where we continued to gather support, on our elected officials, who could not help but notice us, and on an ever expanding number of NYC agencies and departments where we our presence became known (or shall we say 'obvious').  This gave us courage. We CORD members and co-founders collected signatures for our moratorium petition.  We called for a town hall meeting.   We contacted NYC Department of City Planning and other city agencies.  We hand-delivered thousands of petitions and letters to our elected officials and many others.  Devoted CORD member, Maryann Young and her activist dog, Ringo, walked hours in rain and shine collecting signatures and explaining the issues to the community. We were featured even more in the local and NYC media. CORD Co-Founder Lucy DeCarlo staked out a tree in front of her house and it became a second, much-needed "community message/information board" (and is still there today serving this same, vital purpose).
     And Guskind introduced us to other Brooklyn activists, and to other activist bloggers.  All over Brooklyn, residents were protesting zoning and development but with little or no cohesion and the powers that be in NYC seemed to prefer it that way. But blogging was one easy and free way to unite us and to mutually inform us. Also, CORD met new bloggers and new activists in person at other Brooklyn sites such as the infamous "Atlantic Yards" site in Downtown Brooklyn, and the many sections of the re-zoned Williamsburg.  We realized the new zoning laws had thrown much of Brooklyn into turmoil, and that we were not alone. It was obvious to us all that we could have strength in numbers and by collaborating with others.
     Some of these people included the passionate and brilliant PMFA/Pardon Me for Asking Blog founder and author, Katia Kelly and the prolific and exacting Atlantic Yards Report blog founder and writer, Norman Oder  Both of these outstanding community activists/watchdogs have since received many accolades for their tireless blogs covering contentious community and political issues.  Another was, Phil DePaolo, an art activist legend in Williamsburg who has recently finsihed contributing to a new book on NYC Zoning called "Zoned Out!" "Race, Replacement, and City Planning in New York City, a veritable NYC zoning 'bible' for artist/activists today.  It goes without saying that we will always be grateful to those who supported us and who covered our story.  And there are so many here I have not even mentioned.
     So where did the Democracy Wall eventually end a couple of years later?
Well, the actual Democracy Wall was torn down on a bitter day for Carroll Gardens indeed. And, unfortunately a building did go up in its place.  Our final arguments were made at the 'lethal' Board of Standards and Appeals (the BSA) a board that is appointed by mayoral control alone. Obviously, the BSA is not a very democratic place.  In fact, then Councilman Tony Avella wrote a devastating piece on the BSA and called for it's abolishment in very strong language. See this LINK      However:
  1. We won a text amendment and a contextual rezoning. 
  2. We beat back a subsequent developer plan to take a coveted Place Block courtyard nearby.
  3. We got a street re-named for one of our original and brilliant activists: Frank Verderame.
  4. We were instrumental in getting the highly contaminated Gowanus Canal Superfund designated.
  5. We made some enemies, but many more friends and we even got an award or two along the way.
  6. And many of us are still fighting the good fight after ten years!
As one of us CORD Co-Founders likes to say:
"Not too bad for three women huddled in secret CORD meetings at a local Dunkin Donuts not knowing who they could trust other than each other."
And it gave me hope personally, believe it or not.  As an artist, I found myself rather temperamentally suited to this type of work after all.  So I went on to create three separate multi-media installations of the Democracy Wall for three separate exhibitions: 

  • Brooklyn Historical Society:  Brooklyn Utopias? Exhibition
  • Kean University:  Nancy Dryfoos Gallery Solo Show
  • Millbank Chapel: Columbia Univeristy GiSCA Palooza  Global Initiative for Social Change Through Art Exhibition
  • And I later entered and graduated from (2012) a fabulous, Interdisciplinary MFA Program where I found many like-minded artists. So, naturally, I continued to create more art activist projects (community and/or socially engaged projects) as well as other creative projects in my art studio such as this one and this one and this one.
    And, then voila, I got a part-time blogging gig (paid this time!) co-authoring another 'art activist' blog (in this case an art educational one).  Art education is another cause I truly believe in fighting for.
    And I/we am still here plugging away in our community, fighting the good fight, and hoping by now to have inspired a few of you!  
    So, young people, especially, please take note!
    Doing nothing and/or staying silent about any contentious issue around you will pretty much assure that the final outcome will be undesirable or even worse. It gives the powers that be even greater power in their power. And, this is never a good thing in any democracy. Thus the choice to act or not, to speak up or not, is really not very complicated.  Speak up; Speak out; Let your voices be heard! 

    Last words of advice to you from me/us:  
    Please document your art activist work and pass it forward! We can all benefit by this shared information.  I will be very happy to feature your project as a blog post if you wish. 
    Regards, Triada Samaras  
    3-25-2017 (Greek Independence Day!)

    PS If you have comments or questions please contact me at (In the subject please write: For Triada Samaras). 

    PPS See this project at the Actipedia