Downtown Express recently published an article about the faltering finances of the Seaport Museum New York, the historic component to South Street Seaport, a museum/shopping development opened in the 1980s.  The key phrase was:  “…the problem lies in the clash between the district’s commercial character and the museum’s historic presence.”

In response to the story, I wrote a Letter to the Editor.  They didn’t publish it; all their letters this week address the SoHo Business Improvement District (BID) concerns.  So, here’s the letter now on Groundswell – feedback welcome!

Keep Scrollin’

New Amsterdam Market - Summer 2010

Dear Editor:

Re: “Seaport Museum flounders, but hasn’t yet sunk,” (Vol. 20, Number 41, Feb. 23rd-March 1st)

My family has been in the West Village for over thirty years, and I remember skipping through the fanfare of South Street Seaport as a kid in the early 1980s.  Thinking back on the years that followed, my family returned to the area occasionally with out-of-town guests.  It was a way to spend time with visitors; however, as a local family, it did not have an enduring draw.  During the 1980s-1990s, I went to the Seaport five or six times.  In 1999, while on an escalator to the food court, two visitors summarized my feelings about it, as one said to the other, “I feel like we could be home in Minneapolis.”

I’m not writing to disparage Minneapolis.  On the contrary, I’m writing with great respect for the uniqueness of local communities everywhere.  In our shared city, I have recently returned to the Seaport regularly for one vibrant, new venue:  The New Amsterdam Market.  In the past 18 months, I have visited the market – and its host neighborhood – at least a dozen times.  It’s held in the same place where the Dutch started their markets 400 years ago.  Its vendors are food entrepreneurs from this region.  When I buy produce there from the Queens County Farm Museum, I support the only continuously working farm in New York City since the 1600s.  Now in my weekly grocery shopping, I experience the history of the Seaport and the city.

In this same issue of Downtown Express, there was a great article about the Taste of Tribeca, described as one of the “most anticipated” spring events downtown.  In the Letters to the Editor section, SoHo residents lamented that their neighborhood has become “a shopping mall for tourists.”  Isn’t it evident from these two topics alone that New York City is strongest when we celebrate our extraordinary neighborhoods?

I hope the Seaport Museum New York survives its difficulties.  This is not an “either/or” debate.  Cultural and historical venues always improve our city.  As for this New Yorker, I look forward to returning to the New Amsterdam Market this spring.  I hope the city understands it’s time to give the market a permanent home in the Seaport.  The locals would love that.

Nicole Reed

groundswellblog.wordpress.com

Lunchtime at the Market

Mr. Stokes -- GRILL A CHEF -- Will See You Now

Beautiful Packaging

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Later today, a small group of New York City food advocates will gather to share ideas with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.  Tonight’s meet and greet comes on a wave of recent events, all involving city government, to engage local food and urban environment activists.  The Mayor’s office continues to hold public forums on PlaNYC, and last week, before an audience of the city’s most vocal change agents, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn presented FoodWorks, a series of proposals to improve the NYC food system, “from ground to garbage.”

In a phrase:  The cat is now out of the community garden.  There’s talk among those of us working on these issues about whether or not the city is serious in its call for change.  I certainly hope so and can’t help but wonder if officials are already past the point of no return.  As we move forward, I have two requests…yes, two for now.

1) Let’s not be a dysfunctional family.  Let’s work together.  The Mayor’s Office is in, Quinn is in — and based on the NYC Food and Climate Change Summit last year — Stringer is, too.  Yet whenever I hear proposals from a local gov camp, there’s little mention of proposals from colleagues across the street or across the river.  Yes, we are a city of geographical pride (Greenpoint, Brooklyn = Number One 4-EVA!), but we let’s not have our fiefdoms hinder the big solutions.

2) Let’s build on our resources already underway.  In Quinn’s talk, she saved her strongest language for Hunt’s Point, the city’s food distribution hub and the largest such center in the world.  In brief, it was already antiquated when it opened in 1967.  It connects to the city by a mess of highways, and diesel trucks idle around it all-day and night, contributing to ugly air in its South Bronx host neighborhood.  The area consistently registers an alarming rate of asthma sufferers.

City Council Speaker Quinn Addresses the Audience at Food & Finance High

“If we only get one thing in all of FoodWorks right, it has to be this [Hunt’s Point],” said Quinn.

I’m all for it.  But rather than get overwhelmed by designing the perfect solution for food in 2060 at Hunt’s Point, what if we were to begin now by strengthening a decentralized distribution system?   For example, shortly after Quinn’s talk, I got to have coffee with Robert LaValva, the local hero behind the New Amsterdam Market.  Here’s someone with deep skills and experience in creating systems — both as an architect and a market progenitor.  His market attracts thousands of people each week to the space in front of the former Fulton Fish Market buildings.  How can this area be a nexus for our city food system once again?  If the political will is there, as we are hearing, elements like these buildings should no longer be at the mercy of other pressures.

These are initial thoughts.  There’s much more to say on the topics mentioned here, so stayed tuned.  In the meantime, please find the full FoodWorks report here.  And with that, let’s pull up to the dinner table together tonight.

Brown paper packages tied up with string and seed packets from the Hudson Valley Seed Library — yes, these are a few of my very-very-number-one-forever-most-favorite things.  Take a look at these beauties found yesterday at the New Amsterdam Market.  Priced at $3.50/packet, I stocked up to fill Christmas stockings soon to be nailed to the wall with care.  (Greetings from NYC; what’s a mantle?)

The mission of the Hudson Valley Seed Library is glorious:

  1. to create an accessible and affordable source of regionally-adapted seeds that is maintained by a community of caring farmers and gardeners; and,
  2. to create gift-quality seed packs featuring works designed by New York artists in order to celebrate the beauty of heirloom gardening.

Can I get an AMEN?  (And some seeds for Christmas?  Thank you, beloved family and friends.  Did I mention you’re the best?)

The First of the Jewels

Suited Gentleman Not Included

Lady Lovely

Yes, I'll Take the Whole Display, Please. Thank you.