Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Continuing to question the BMW Guggenheim Lab's benefits to the local community

Work continues in the former rat-infested lot on East First Street near Second Avenue where, starting in August, the BMW Guggenheim Lab will open as "as an urban think tank and mobile laboratory."

As the news releases goes, "the BMW Guggenheim Lab will explore issues confronting contemporary cities and provide a public place and online forum for sharing ideas and practical solutions."

Meanwhile, more leaders on East First Street are continuing to question the Lab's benefits to the local community. For instance, according to one local restaurant owner, the Guggenheim selected Roberta's, a Brooklyn-based restaurant, to hold the food contract at the Lab's outdoor café. In turn, Guggenheim officials have asked what kinds of free programming East First Street businesses could provide to the Guggenheim.

While local leaders support the rat-reduction efforts in the long-empty lot, the insult to the dignity, sustainability and history of the community is bothersome. Here are more points from a letter to local leaders by Lyn Pentecost, executive director of The Lower Eastside Girls Club on East First Street. (This is a shorter version of the original letter.)

It takes great chutzpah for an uptown museum and a high-end car company to promote community sustainability at the expense of...well, community and sustainability!

As they say in their press release: "The theme for the inaugural BMW Guggenheim Lab will be Confronting Comfort: The City and You — how urban environments can be made more responsive to people's needs, how people can feel at ease in an urban environment, and how to find a balance between notions of modern comfort and the urgent need for environmental responsibility and sustainability."

And yet First Street was chosen as the location for this "urban experiment" precisely because we have addressed many of the problems the brains behind the Guggenheim/BMW lab have newly discovered. We already have a strong and viable community structure in place! One that residents have spent the past 30 years cultivating and nourishing. We have at least a dozen tenant-owned coops and homesteads, heavily used recreational facilities: handball court and playground, a wonderful community garden, the historic Catholic Worker house, and many mom-and-pop galleries, restaurants and small businesses. Was there really no need to 're-think' and study the critical problems of, say, urban Bushwick or any other community lacking the organization and amenities of the newly gentrified/touristified LES?

To add insult to injury, the main entrance to our new community center/think tank has been placed on Houston Street. Right across from Whole Foods, and will host a lovely outdoor café in the just finished Parks Department garden. It is highly unlikely that our small businesses and organizations will benefit from this expression of urban caring. The only impediment to the beauty of this scenario was the homeless bicycle repair man who has provided a valuable entrepreneurial service on the NE corner of 2nd Ave and Houston St. for a number of years. A few weeks ago, the Parks Department had his entire tool pushcart confiscated and dumped into a sanitation truck.

Forgive my outrage — but am I the only one who sees the irony/tragedy in both ruining a man’s livelihood and making it more difficult for bicyclers to bike the city. How sustainable is that? But why would BMW (or an art museum for that matter) care? They are a car company, and this is a huge PR opportunity for all involved!

Previously on EV Grieve:
The Guggenheim wants our rat-infested First Street lot

Residents pitching in to help refurbish First Street garden

Designs for urban life apparently don't include trees


Jeremiah Moss said...

amen to that! Lyn Pentecost, tell it like it is. we all have to see through the pretty veneer of these bullshit machines.

Anonymous said...

There are so many problems here, but I will focus on one. Why was the food contract given to a Brooklyn restaurant? Why wasn't it give to a local East Village establishment, or maybe more than one? If this was opened in Brooklyn, would they give the food contract to an East Village restaurant?

Anonymous said...

This whole thing is ridiculous. How was this allowed to happen? $$$$? :-(

Stedman said...

How do we stop this from proceeding? Seriously.

Media glut said...

So that's why they have been such busy bees fixing up the park area on Houston between 1st and 2nd.
There have been a lot of people working in there the past few months, gardening, planting lots of flowers, etc.
I didn't realize they were going to enter from there.

Uncle Waltie said...

Why should the people eating $18.00 artisanal sandwiches in the Whole Foods cafeteria not have a nice, BMWish outdoor "art" installation to enhance their EV 2011 experience?

Ken from Ken's Kitchen said...

BS press releases about balancing notions of modern comfort, etc aside, for BMG Guggenheim Lab this project is all about finding places to erect their experimental carbon fiber structure.

For the First Street Green and the First Street Block Association it's probably all about the permanent resurfacing that will remain when the structure departs.

Considering the cost and city's long history of refusing to do a thing about the lot, it still seems that a public/private partnership (with private picking up most of the tab) was and is the only way the neighborhood can deal with it.

The project people worked with two local architects on plans for the lot. I do not know how decisions about entrances and vendors got made, but if the BMG Guggenheim Lab is bypassing in-place community structures, that's not good and hopefully that will be addressed.

The public part of the equation, the Parks Dept is another story. The Parks Dept does not respond to neighborhood concerns, it responds to Bloomberg. I feel sorry for the bike repair guy, and I feel sorry for all the artists who are no longer, as of last week, allowed to show and sell their work in parks across the city. Unfortunately, the city owns the lot, so the city would have to have been involved no matter what.

HEY19 said...

@Anon 848 - They probably picked Roberta's because it is an icon of urban sustainability, more than anywhere else in the city. Im not defending this project, Just Roberta's which has a great DIY entrepreneurial spirit, which seems to go well w the EV, even if it is located in Bushwick - prob because they couldnt afford the rents in the EV.

Otherwise, this thing stinks. But maybe they picked this location BECAUSE this area has done so well at addressing these issues?

Rob D said...

Lyn, thank you for that brilliantly-written, impassioned assessment of what I believe to be THE problem facing long-time EV/LES residents. I would A) love to know what response (if any) you may have received, and B) what you believe the average concerned citizen can and should do as an immediate response to this threat to our neighborhood.

Liberation said...

Don't expect to see these ridiculous, self-indulgent projects hatched by the city's hardest thinking 20 year olds to go away anytime soon.

Bloomberg held a press conference a few weeks ago unveiling his wish to make NYC the next big tech/venture capital hub. And his wish is everyone's 'find me funding' command.

Lyn Pentecost's letter hits all the nails on the head. What an insult to the local businesses and to the community. And for what? A new gathering place that will exist for the sole purpose of the Millennium generation checking into Foursquare? Fuck off.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

Wow, thank you for this letter. I had no idea what happened to the bike repair man - disgusting all around.

Big Brother said...

Great, another ill conceived, useless piece of crap in the neighborhood. I'm so SICK of people treating our homes like their own private science fiction project.


glamma said...

I absolutely hate everything about this, you can smell the BS from a mile away, and they took that beautiful tree down ILLEGALLY. this will only make our community worse for us residents. sounds like they are just continuing the trend of suburbanizing the city for transplants and tourists. give me a break, "making people more conmfortable in an urban environment." the native NYer is an endangered species!!! protect US you bast@rds!!!

Anonymous said...

I don't understand, up until this point everyone on the block, who has been involved, was ok with this project? The letter is great but who on the block is against this and who is for it? The community board thought that it was a good idea. It seems late in the game for criticism, this project has been in the works for years. I thought that it was a collaboration???? $$$$.........

blue glass said...

is this a collaboration with - or contest with - cooper union and the new muaeum?
sounds just like their BS street event a few weeks ago.
and what will really happen when (if?) the guggenheim leaves?

Ken from Ken's Kitchen said...

@Anonymous 2:50 PM

According to their website:

First Street Green is behind the effort to get a park or a community center built on the abandoned lot on 1st Street. Back in Jan of this year, they met with the Parks Dept and the Guggenheim people. The Guggenheim proposed the temporary installation and programming, and First Street Green was excited.

Next, the Guggenheim made their presentation to CB3 and it was unanimously approved.

First Street Green then proudly announced, "Coming Soon - Guggenheim BMW Lab!" and added links to the Guggenheim Lab and to a story on it in the NY Times.

On the Support Page of First Street Green's website, the Lower Eastside Girls Club is still listed as one of their "Partner Organizations and Volunteers."

I also am a little bit confused.

Bowery Boy said...

This makes me wanna puke, cuz I feel so bad for not attending the CB3 meeting when this was proposed. Not that I knew about it, but maybe I should be keeping better tabs of what's on their calendar. Does anyone else feel bad for just whining here, but not showing up when something could have been done?

HEY19 said...

@Ken - Things that make you go Hmm.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

Great letter, Lynn! This thing makes me sick! And right across from the Catholic Worker - hah! Lived on this block & always come by. Walked by today & checked on the "progress". What crap. The people that need "modern comfort" to feel at ease in the "urban environment" hardly need any more fucking encouragement in this city, do they?

esquared™ said...

think tank? like the sheep...err people...who would patronize this have brains.

oh, and expect them to apply for a full liquor license, which cb3 would also unanimously approved. they are guggenheim and bmw after all

Anonymous said...

i am not a local...hell i don't even reside in new york state...but i was moved by the portion of the letter that was posted...IMHO bmw/guggenheim lab appears to be total BS...

my $0.02 ymmv

Anonymous said...

So help me understand this - everyone supported this and the Lower Eastside Girl's Club is a Partner Organization but now they trash the thing. Did they support it because they thought it would bring tourists to their bakery/cafe or because they thought they would get a contract to supply the place with cookies and other baked goods? Neither of those things happen so now they are pissed?? Don't get me wrong I am totally against this thing and believe people got duped, but this is typical of how CB 3 operates and how myopic not-for profits operate. They are very short-sighted. So thanks for trashing this place now, but it is a bit too late.

Rocky Raccoon said...

Wow - Rocky hates rats and is glad they will be gone, but this sounds like a real mess. Rocky has seen this all before - anytime the City and the private sector get involved watch out.

So this Guggenheim/BMW thing can't be stopped, but you know what can be stopped THE DESTRUCTION OF THE ESSEX STREET MARKET.
So if you don't want another City and private sector partnership to ruin more of the LES do something about saving the market. CB 3 and the EDC think that moving the market across the street and putting it in the hands of a private developer is a good idea - hmm sound familiar to this crap happening on First Street.
You want the Chelsea Market on Essex Street? Rocky doesn't so, go to

Sign the petition.
Come to the next CB 3 meeting later this month. Rocky will be there, because the only thing Rocky hates more than rats is the Bloomberg administration.

If you don't - another piece of the LES will be tossed aside like the tree that used to be on this lot.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Lynn. That's a fine letter. Nope, I can't see this project helping the neighborhood in the long run and in the short term it has already caused damage.


I hate Whole Foods almost as much as Uncle Waltie but the one upside I see is the public space on the second floor. Yeah, "people eat...$18.00 artisanal sandwiches in the Whole Foods cafeteria..." but it's also one of the cheapest places to eat and, I dunno, read/wash/meet/sit. There are a steady stream of rather indigent people who very carefully buy inexpensive groceries there and then cook them in the microwaves and toasters upstairs. Yeah, WF took the wifi away after about two weeks. Yeah, their food is overpriced, not exactly local, of iffy quality. And of course, they put quite a few small truly local foodstores out of business. However, it's possible to put together a cheap meal there and then sit for a few hours. Who knows what kind of tax breaks they and the building are getting--I assume the large public space counts as a community amenity or something--but there are a few small good things about the place.

Eleanor said...

I'm a block resident and a member of First Street Green. I'm not speaking for the whole group, but I just want to pipe in on a couple of points: (1) I see this phase as a necessary evil--we tried (letters to the City, grants, our own funds and time, our benefit art shows) for two years to get funding for all the expensive work they're doing, and we had only just gotten a tiny start. (2) The "two local architects" are members of First Street Green--they only asked that some sort of structure be left that the community can use to build on later; they didn't collaborate with BMW/Gugg. Their plan is completely different and much more attractive. (3) While I completely agree that their tactics leave something to be desired, they will be leaving, and when they leave, the site will be wired for water, electricity, etc., and at least mostly devoid of rats. Maybe we should focus on how we can use the space to the community's advantage after they're gone.

Anonymous said...

@Eleanor People like you are part of the problem in this neighborhood. Very selfish and short sighted. All you do is care about your own immediate problem. Very weak. Lyn this is the best thing I've heard from you in a long time.

In terms of the Essex Street Market. The SPURA site was promised to the people by the city a long time ago. It belongs to them. CB3 members who are corrupt said that they would like to preserve the Essex Street Market lied. They changed their mind. They now want to move it because they and the Bloomberg Admin. have plans for Essex Street, Delancey and SPURA.

People need to stop being so passive.

Ken from Ken's Kitchen said...

@ Anonymous 11:44

Eleanor's comment was helpful, clarifying, and completely reasonable. Your response to her is just jawdroppingly nasty.

Preserving that ratty lot as it was in order to act like some kind of magic moat keeping developers from further gentrifying the EV is a pipe dream. And if anybody's "selfish and shortsighted," it's you for expecting businesses and residents (especially the ones with kids) on First Street to play the role you've assigned them.

Anonymous said...

Ken who are you? Do you own a restaurant? You are very conservative, very pro corporate. Why don't you join the community board.

Anonymous said...

The Bloomberg Administration is all about threats. Either do things the way that they want, or else live with the rats.
There has to be other alternatives, and to tell us that you didn't know what the Guggenhiem/BMW was going to do? come on!

Ken from Ken's Kitchen said...

@Anonymous 1:23pm

No I don't own a restaurant. I earn a modest living as an illustrator and designer and am active in the tenant's rights movement. And f@ck you too.

chris flash said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I don't understand what is happening here. Chris Flash's post on this subject was just deleted as was another earlier post from an earlier string about this subject. In both cases they were critical of the head of the Girl's Club. I have seen Susan Stetzer, Phil Hartman, Bloomberg, Chris Flash, Rosie Mendez, Real Estate developers, the Upright Citizens Brigade, you name it criticized on this blog, but comments critical of the head of the Girl's Club get deleted?? She gets to say her piece and get praised, but those who question her motives get deleted. What's up with that? Please explain as I am a big fan of this blog and the deleted comments seem a great deal less offensive than other stuff I read. There were no vulgarities, no threats, just statements.

Hey19 said...

@ Anon 9:17 - Agreed, this has become a very curious string of comments. I would love to find out what is actually going on in some smoke filled room somewhere.

EV Grieve said...

I dunno. I got cold feet about the comment, to be honest. So I deleted it. Nothing else going on here. Here is the comment by Chris flash in entirety.

We read Lyn Pentecost's well-written letter of objection with great interest and amusement. Knowing Pentecost's history as we do, her objections sound more like sour grapes because she isn't getting a piece of the action. We remember when Pentecost was working with and for right-wing real estate developer shill "Community" Board Three member and later City Council member Antonio Pagàn to facilitate gentrification on the Lower East Side, publicly attacking LES squatters and homesteaders of abandoned buildings that they restored at no expense to NYC taxpayers, accusing them of "stealing housing from the poor." We also remember that at the same time, Pentecost, using her connections on "Community" Board Three, had no problem getting herself a nice apt. at 52 East First Street, a city-owned building designated for "low-income" residents. On top of that, Pentecost and her CB3 buddies, who also own apts. in the same building, later got into the city's TIL program, whereby the city provided a million dollar renovation of the building at taxpayer expense, for which Pentecost and her fellow scammers paid only $250 each!! And then there's Lyn's role in the scam to level La Plaza Cultural, the large community-created park at Ave. C + East 6th Street, ostensibly to create a space for the Girl's Club, but in realty to create market rate housing in the 9+ floors that were to be built above the Girl's Club. We'll never know what Lyn's cut of the revenue from this project would have been, because, thanks to community activists blocking demo crews and investigative journalists exposing the link between Pagàn, Senator Al D'Amato and Jobco, a Mafia-owned construction company that paid D'Amato off, and the violation of federal guidelines pertaining to new construction on that site, La Plaza was saved. Pentecost has been hiding behind the cloak of legitimacy, using the Girl's Club as her claim to fame, for two decades now, and she's only gotten away with it because folks are either unaware of or have forgotten about her history. Talk about "chutzpah!!" [Everything herein was uncovered, exposed in and has been documented by The SHADOW]
By chris flash

Eleanor said...

BMW/Gugg Lab is here until October. Anyone can join First Street Green and try to figure out what's the best use for that space (and how to pay for it), starting in November: Even you, Anonymous.

Crazy Eddie said...

@Chris flash

Wow! Food for thought. The D'Amato connection definitely brings a stink to the air. Time to do some serious research here.

10B Ryan said...

I think this whole string of comments proves a very fundamental truth about this city and probably every city in America:

Everyone has an agenda. They reel in people like the frequenters of this blog using buzzwords. "Community". "Sustainability". "Small Businesses", etc. The reality is around every corner is a pocket to be lined by new development programs and a tit-for-tat political cat and mouse game to be played. The same person protesting the destruction of one "landmark" might be the very same with something to gain from the demise of the other. Also, its fairly easy to find historical significance in just about any building built in this city before 1930. Placing some kind of suddenly realized nostalgia on every building around you won't stop change- it will just disappoint you whenever it happens.

This site is devoted to lamenting an inexorable march toward the "gentrification" of the East Village. I've lived in NY for 4 years, all of them here. I support local businesses. I frequent no corporate stores except Duane Reade. I put my money into keeping this place the great, unique 'hood I wanted to be in. Yes, I pay "market" to live here. Am I part of the problem? The fact that there are people like me out there makes the developers look for new buildings to renovate or destroy and rebuild. It also makes Urban Outfitters and Starbucks want a piece of the action. Its called living in a Capitalist society.

Do I want all that to be happening? No. I pay a lot of money to live here and I don't want it to suddenly turn into the same kind of place I came from- suburban hell. I think the solution is to work towards making reasonable demands. Not "STOP THIS PROJECT NOW." But "If you're going to do this, do it right." The Guggenheim/BMW thing (while embarrassingly misguided and likely a huge joke) is either coming from the right place or has tapped into the right place in order to justify its own existence. Either way, there is a positive way to act that might get things done in a more democratic way.

Here's an idea: why not actually use it for its intended purpose? Overrun that sucker and jam our community down everyone's throats.

Uncle Waltie said...

@Anonymous 5:26AM:

You're making some good points.
(Whole) food for thought.

john penley said...

I just got back from a nasty construction job upstate and saw this. I have been contacted by the lab about doing something there possibly for money. Too be honest I need all the money I can get now as my Sunset Park rent just went up and I have been thinking about leaving the city for North Carolina but if the lab wants to turn me into a living LES exhibit and let me live there I will consider it.