The Broken Build It Back Program

Read the full story at Epoch Times

NEW YORK—The city’s flailing Superstorm Sandy housing recovery program has gone through almost $10 million in federal disaster aid, but not one home has been rebuilt to show for it. Eight months after its launch, Build It Back is still little more than a behemoth of administration, paperwork, and federal rules that both the city and program applicants find extraordinarily difficult to navigate.

Though it was launched in June 2013, the most significant progress seems to have come in 2014—after months of work to retool the program under Build It Back Director Kathryn Mallon. Mallon temporarily took over from Brad Gair in October to, in her words, “get the program up and running.” Mallon, who is also deputy commissioner for the Department of Environmental Protection, resigned as director last week. Her last day will be Feb. 28.

“We did the foundational work—and I think you’re seeing the fruits of it,” said Mallon, referring to the community meetings that are now being held in Sandy-struck communities to assist and answer applicants’ questions, as well as the number of people finally being offered assistance.

Read the rest of the story at Epoch Times


Visionary Architect Trailblazing Seaport Living

read the full article on Epoch Times website here

NEW YORK—Just where Fulton and Front streets intersect in Lower Manhattan, the city transforms into the 19th-century-era, historic South Street Seaport.

Few people live in this part of town. Despite the proximity to public transportation and basic amenities, the cobblestone streets and nearby East River waterfront create the illusion of isolation.

At night, many of the empty upper story windows of the 150-year-old four- and five-floor brick buildings are dark.

The pitch-black glass eerily recalls New York’s past, when the buildings were mostly occupied by a maritime community.

The handful of businesses and restaurants that are open are nestled on the ground floors of the district’s buildings. Still smarting from the impact of Superstorm Sandy, many stores in this commercial district remain closed. Others are locked in limbo over development deals, competing interests, and changes with the South Street Seaport Museum.

Along South Street, a row of mostly sad-looking, shuttered mixed-use brick buildings that date to the early 1800’s face the East River. Metal doors are covered with graffiti and peeling paint where the rowhouses are joined. Many were once owned by people associated with the Fulton Fish Market. Today, about half of the 10 buildings have fallen into disrepair; a few are partially occupied.

To the casual observer, there is little here aside from the area’s history to draw them in, especially as a place to live.

But at 115 South Street, one man’s dream of a truly unique lifestyle led him to restore one of the rowhouse buildings, making it modern and classy.

This is where former architect Marco Pasanella, now the owner of Pasanella and Son Vintners, rescued two rowhouses that were connected in the 1880s. Built in 1839 for ship chandlers Slate, Gardiner, and Howell, the buildings were combined in 1882 into one to make space for a bar with an upstairs brothel. Later, it was used to store tens of thousands of pounds of fish in freezers.

read the rest of the article on Epoch Times website here


On the Water: Strength, Resilience and Everything in Between

my column for Epoch Times, originally published on Oct. 23 here.

New York City is a funny place. Politicians here are always talking about the city being “strong” or “tough” or “resilient.” In light of Hurricane Sandy, the mayor, city council members, and every city agency has used such phrasing ad nauseam in the last year.

As adjectives, there’s nothing overtly wrong with the words strong, tough, and resilient. It’s arguable, though, that they could be used to describe New York City at almost any point in its history. They come easily because they are inherently true.

The problem with the words strong and resilient is that they evoke a sense of power and dominance. As a metro reporter, I spend a lot of time out in the city talking with residents, and can attest to New York’s endless array of nuanced, multidimensional individuals. It would be a disservice to limit a description of them to just a few words.

Perhaps that’s why after the dust of the last two weeks of my reporting on the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy settled, I realized something surprising about this city. The source of our strength has nothing to do with plowing through difficulties with brute force. It’s quite the opposite. Hard to believe as it may be, our beloved metropolis is subtler than that.

The proof for me comes from my memories of interviews with Sandy survivors, of whom I interviewed 14. Those men and women described in great detail what happened to them that dark night, the day after, and in the year since. They came from all walks of life and all parts of the city, but their retelling was lucid and articulate.

Even with so many voices to recall, though, it seems I’m largely left with the indelible image of tears. That’s because three tough, strong, grown men cried when I interviewed them.

It wasn’t until days later that I realized how special those tears were. Those men and their pain are a remnant of Sandy’s awful legacy that’s greatly undervalued: our vulnerability.

All the talk of being strong and resilient makes it seem as though the city’s mantra is “We’re tough, we can take anything.”

But perhaps New Yorkers can be more accurately defined by their capacity to express life-altering trauma with open hearts. Even when they are being interviewed by a stranger.


The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger on his New Book and Crazy Life

originally published on Poynter.org

Britain GuardianWhen you see Alan Rusbridger in person, there’s almost an expectation that he will be 10 feet tall and able to breathe fire. After everything he and his media outlet, the Guardian, have been through in the past few years, it seems like a reasonable expectation. WikiLeaks. The UK phone hacking scandal. Snowden.

The impression I got after hearing him speak Wednesday night at the New York Public Library is that he’s humble, witty and committed to protecting the future of reporters and the free press. Wherever they might hail from.

As if life as editor of the Guardian wasn’t enough to stay busy, in 2010 he also made an ambitious plan to take up the piano again. He set out to learn, in one year, Chopin’s Ballade No.1. The one-movement piece is considered by the world’s best pianists to be among the toughest ever composed.

Rusbridger spent 20 minutes a day, for one year, to achieve the task. The result was his book, “Play It Again.”

“The book is partly about having a crazy life,” Rusbridger said. His interview with New York Public Library’s Paul Holdengraber was part of an annual “who’s who” series that includes authors, intellectuals, and influential social figures.

Rusbridger said the additional task in an already incredibly busy life actually helped prepare him for each day’s events.

“I made it almost religious that I would find the time,” he said. “In times of great stress it helped a lot. It feels as though that 20 minutes prepares you.”

READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE AT POYNTER.ORG


Taking Back New York’s Meanest Streets, One Person at a Time

this article originally appeared on the front page of the July 25 print edition of the Epoch Times. Read the full article here.

(L-R) Shanduke McPhatter, Council member Jumaane Williams, and Suavee Edgar McPhatter walk through the streets of East Flatbush near the Glenwood Houses on July 19. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

NEW YORK—Even though he’s been in and out of the criminal justice system for almost 12 years of his life, 35-year-old Shanduke McPhatter has a positive outlook on the future, and he shares it with others.

As a former gang member of the Bloods (famous for its rivalry with the Crips), McPhatter knows from personal experience that it’s not always easy to make the right choices, especially in high-crime and low-income areas. But now he knows there are choices, and he wants to tell others.

Two years ago, the lifelong resident of Brooklyn and father of three founded the nonprofit group, Gangstas Making Astronomical Changes, to help uplift people caught up in what his group calls the “street life.”

“What triggered it (changing) was just the level of violence I kept seeing,” said McPhatter, who said he simply became fed up with spending his life in a destructive cycle. “I changed my state of mind.”

The charismatic McPhatter exuded that new state of mind—positive, engaged, hopeful, and energetic—as he walked through the public housing project called the Glenwood Houses last Friday, July 19. He was part of a group of about a dozen like-minded individuals putting a grass-roots initiative called Occupy the Corners into action.

It’s a long journey to reach Glenwood, an island of plain-faced brick apartment buildings attached in a labyrinth of footpaths at the far end of south central Brooklyn. Situated between East Flatbush and Canarsie, getting there requires a ride to the end of the Nos. 2, 4, 5, or L subway lines, followed by a 20-minute bus ride.

Read the rest of this article originally appeared on the front page of the July 25 print edition of the Epoch Times by clicking here.


Compassion goes a long way when reporting on tragedies like Boston & Newtown

By Genevieve Belmaker for Poynter

Journalists are often warned about the perils of getting emotionally involved with stories and subjects, but when reporting on a tragedy there’s always room to act as a human being first and a reporter second.

Reporting on the pain of the small college town of Blacksburg, Va., after the horrific 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, my natural instinct was to grieve with the folks there. At the time, though, I didn’t know how to use my emotions as a compass to help me connect with people I needed to interview.

But six years later, I know that for journalists in such terrible situations our humanity is a strength, not a weakness.

Bill Leukhardt, a reporter with the Hartford Courant, has seen tragedy from both sides. His stepdaughter, Lauren Rousseau, was one of the teachers killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14.

Leukhardt, whose wife is also a journalist, said during a recent symposium at Columbia University dealing with breaking news, trauma and the aftermath that they understood why they received so many media inquiries after their stepdaughter’s death. But that didn’t make it any easier to open up for interviews.

The symposium was presented by Columbia Journalism School’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism and the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma on Monday in New York City for an audience of mostly working journalists and journalism students.

Leukhardt and many other panelists had an overarching message for reporters speaking to the grieving: show compassion and acknowledge loss.

“Kindness is what really resonates with families,” Leukhardt said, adding that when people who knew victims don’t want to be interviewed, leave them alone. “Be respectful, be kind.”

Read the rest here at Poynter


Training Journalists for Trauma in the Field

READ THE FULL ARTICLE ON THE EPOCH TIMES HERE

NEW YORK—Peering through the haze from a smoke bomb, with the simulated sounds of war in the background, Igor Kossov bent over to bandage a fake wound on a dummy. Though it looked like a scene for a movie, Kossov was rehearsing for the real thing.

(R-L) Ben Depp, David Sperry, and Igor Kossov run to injured bodies during RISC training simulation. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

Kossov was one of 24 freelance conflict journalists from all over the world—10 of whom are based in New York City—who took part in life-saving first-aid training last week at the Bronx Documentary Center.

Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues (RISC) was created by former conflict journalist Sebastian Junger after his close friend and colleague Tim Hetherington was killed during a mortar attack while working in Misrata, Libya, in 2011. When Junger found out that Hetherington may have lived if someone had known how to treat his wounds, he decided to start a basic medical training program for conflict journalists.

The RISC medical kit straps to the side of the leg and is given to journalists who complete the training. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

READ THE REST ON THE EPOCH TIMES HERE


Online Journalists Killed in 2012 was Record High

In its annual assessment of journalists killed worldwide, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says 70 journalists were killed in 2012. The New York-based press freedom organization categorizes murders as those with a confirmed motive, those with unconfirmed motives, and the death of media workers (employed in the industry but not reporting the news directly).

According to CPJ statistics there were 31 additional murders in 2012 that they have been unable to confirm the motive for, and 2 additional deaths that were media workers.

READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE ON THE EPOCH TIMES HERE


Israeli Musician Adam Ben Ezra’s Magic Sound

Sometimes subjects for feature articles come from the strangest and most unexpected places.

Late this past summer I heard an Israeli musician perform who blew my mind. I was at a work event with my husband, out on our first “date” since our son had been born more than 9 months earlier, and ended up hanging out alone. It was the opening of the Jerusalem Music Conference, and the first performer was a double bass player named Adam Ben Ezra.

I was in the ladies room checking my hair, a bit bored and trying to find a way to pass the time, when I heard this awesome sound coming from the stage down the hall.

“At last they started playing music!” I thought. The stage had been empty for a good hour while the VIPs and staffers of the music conference and other guests busied themselves with having a few drinks from the open bar. It was your basic awkward social/work function where nobody is really there to have fun, and almost everyone is “on” in their work persona. I think I was one of five people in the crowd of about 200 that really had nothing in particular to do.

But when I heard the music coming from the other room, I came out as fast as possible, expecting to see a band on stage. Instead, I just saw one guy with a contra bass and a fedora, jamming out to a highly distracted audience. Since everyone was huddled around or near the bar, I took up a spot in the audience pit in front of the stage and enjoyed hearing the jazz/funk/rhythm tune, even more so because I had the performer practically to myself.

After less than 3 minutes, I could tell this musician was something special, and turned to the only other person in the room watching him perform.

“Isn’t this guy amazing?!” I asked him.

“Yeah, I think so,” the rather slight, wiry man with dark hair and a huge smile answered back without skipping a beat. “I’m his manager!”

The manager, who turned out to be Guy Dayan of  Goola, stuck his hand out to shake mine.

What followed was one of those serendipitous moments that happens sometimes in the life of a reporter. I got to have a long chat with Ben Ezra and Dayan outside the venue while they took a cigarette break. They are charming, down-to-earth guys who love what they do. Ben Ezra is a true musician, largely self-taught and motivated to keep working, creating and improving on his craft. Dayan is the consummate business man and manger–always on the lookout for his client’s welfare in a business and personal sense (it helps that the two have been friends since childhood).

A few weeks later I was in Tel Aviv and spent two hours talking with Ben Ezra and Dayan about music, inspiration, and the artistic mind. Even though they were smoking almost the entire time (I hate cigarette smoke), it didn’t bother me in the least. I was so interested in what they had to say, who they were, and where they were going that I didn’t want the interview to end.

That intersection of interesting, talented and charming is what makes for good copy–every time.

Here’s the article as it appeared in print in English.


Falling in Love with Instagram

There are so many social media technologies out there now, I find it hard to bring myself to try anything beyond what I already use. I started with Facebook only, then expanded to a blog, and Twitter.

Jerusalem Sunlight

A sunset shot in Jerusalem that I took in color and then changed in Instagram to black and white.

Negev Saying What's Up

A cute shot of my son that I took on my cell phone and then filtered on Instagram and added a frame.

Then I reluctantly joined Google +, Pinterest, Quora, and Instagram–simply to see how they work and what features they offer. At the time I signed up for the last few social media tools, I wasn’t interested in using them. As a writer and journalist, I already have to spend a lot of time on the computer, so I am not interested in more reasons to be sitting in front of a screen.

One significant exception to my longstanding reluctance to “have an online presence” is Instagram. It is a fantastic, interesting, and fun way to manipulate photographs I take on my smartphone while I’m out and about and make them into something really unique and special.

Several rather mundane shots I snapped recently in Jerusalem’s Old City came out in a particularly interesting way.

The color scheme in Israel can tend to be a bit monochromatic, with a lot of earth tones and rather flat surfaces. Reshaping photos in Instagram makes them come alive in a very unusual way, and in some cases I feel I can come closer to conveying the actual feeling of what is like to stand at that point in person and look at what is in the photograph.

That’s worth a little bit more time online. At least for now.


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