The Broken Build It Back Program

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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.

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Visionary Architect Trailblazing Seaport Living

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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.

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

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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.”


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.