Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Out and About in the East Village

In this weekly feature, East Village-based photographer James Maher provides us with a quick snapshot of someone who lives and/or works in the East Village.

By James Maher
Name: Diane McLean
Occupation: Child Psychiatrist at Lincoln Medical Center
Location: East 4th Street between 2nd Avenue and 3rd Avenue
Time: 10 am on Friday, April 10

I’m from New York, born on the Upper West Side. My father was from Baton Rouge, La., and my mother grew up on a farm in Canada and became a nurse. They met in Montreal and had never lived in New York, but they came, got married and loved the city. My brother and I were born here, grew up here. After college my father became ill and my mother ended up leaving the city.

I wanted to come back after college and build a home here because the city was my home. I had $300 in my pocket. I lived in the living room of my college roommate's apartment with her friends. I got a job. I was able to sublet and share an apartment. That was in January 1979 and by August two friends and I found an apartment. It didn’t have any ceilings. It didn’t have a bathroom. It didn’t have a fridge. It didn’t have a stove — anything. It only had two outlets in the whole apartment. But it had light, windows and high ceilings.

We wrote a contract with the landlord and we committed to building a home. It was my first adult, actually my only adult home. This has been it. We renovated it and created the apartment. The landlord then sold the building to the Hrynenkos. We ended up being in landlord tenant court for nine months because they decided not to put in a stove, fridge, bathroom or wire it for lights. So eventually they had to do that.

I took over the lease in the early 1980s. Love Saves the Day was in the retail space of my building [at 119 Second Avenue at East Seventh Street]. The people who owned it were friends. Tom Birchard and Sally Haddock, who owned Veselka, lived in my building.

When we were working on that apartment, I locked myself out and my two roommates were working late. I couldn’t get in, so I went to Veselka, but I had no money because I was a graduate student. I could only buy coffee and I sat at a table and the hours started to go by. The waitress came by and said, ‘Oh aren’t you going to get anything else’ and she kept coming back and finally I said, ‘You know, I don’t really have money and I’m just waiting for my friends.’ And then she came over and brought a huge plate of food, enough to feed three people and she said, ‘Eat, eat, you have to eat. You’re young, you need strength, you need meat on your bones.’ She fed me. And that for me was our neighborhood. People helped each other out in the East Village.


Affordability and light and air brought me to the neighborhood. Light and air were a priority for me, so it didn’t matter that the apartment had nothing. There was nothing I could afford anywhere else, and also, everything was open at night. I started a masters in public health at Columbia a month after we started that apartment. I was given the gift of my parents believing in education. I was fortunate to go to an amazing university, Harvard, and then to Columbia, and I always felt I could put that back into use. You use your skills to give people the best and I could do that.

I’ve always done public service. As a New Yorker, I felt I could put my education to use. I was first an epidemiologist. I have a Ph.D. in epidemiology from Columbia and a Masters of Public Health. Epidemiology is a science to understand the causes of disease in people. Why do people get sick and what can we do to prevent it. I committed to trying to understand this.

In 1990, two surgeons at Harlem hospital published a paper saying, ‘Hey, wait a minute, people in our community of central Harlem are dying at earlier ages than men and women in Bangladesh, which has fewer resources. Why in the greatest city on Earth, are people dying from preventable illness before they’re 65 in central Harlem? So the CDC funded a network of research centers to understand that. In 1991, I became the first director of research of epidemiology at that center, based in Harlem Hospital, connected to Columbia. We were committed to doing participatory research, involving the community, in figuring out what was happening in the community. People were really dying of preventable illnesses.

At that time, I met doctors at Harlem Hospital who were amazing. They could have worked anywhere and they were committed to doing just that. Not just the research, but providing the best care to people in the community. I got inspired to go back to school and become a doctor. I went back to school at night. I took physics, biology, organic chemistry at night as a second job in addition to this. And I applied to medical school. I was incredibly fortunate that Cornell accepted me. I was their oldest student at 42. It’s a progressive medical school. It’s one of the most diverse in the country across social class, background and education.

Right now, I am incredibly fortunate to be a child psychiatrist, working in the Child Outpatient Clinic of Lincoln Hospital. We serve the South Bronx community, one of the most underserved in the country. We serve children and families. I have great colleagues and we’re a wonderful clinic. We do everything we can.


I’m a single mother with an 8 year old and two 5 year olds. I’m an alternative family. I’m an older mother, and I’m a single mother by choice. This is a diverse neighborhood, and that’s what I want my kids to know — that you can have every kind of family. Every kind of person lives in our neighborhood. That’s what I want them to in a sense take in by breathing by walking around. Our neighborhood is a little microcosm of New York.

[After the deadly explosion and fire of March 26], my challenge that keeps me from not sleeping is that my family has to find a home. We don’t have a home. Cooper Square Committee is inviting me for an interview, which I am so grateful for. They are the only ones to do that. They might possibly have a studio. I would be grateful for a roof over our head but four people in 375 square feet is very tough. People are looking but there’s nothing out there. So that’s our challenge — to somehow, somewhere find affordable housing where we can commute to the Children’s Workshop School.

I’m absolutely trying to take a positive attitude. I believe in the future and I’m a positive person. But that does not mean that we’re OK. People gave me everything I’m wearing besides my shoes and my jacket — the shirt, the pants, the socks. But I feel good about that. I’m walking around and I can say, ‘Oh yeah, Lori and Rachel gave me that,’ and my kids can get up in the morning and say, ‘I’m putting on Ella’s clothes, I’m putting on Zachary’s clothes.’ We’re wearing people’s care and that’s practically helpful, but now we have to get to the next step. I’m really overwhelmed on how we’re going to get there, and that’s what I don’t know.

I’m hoping we can find that and I’m hoping all of my neighbors can, especially my other neighbors who were rent-stabilized and rent-controlled. Every person was displaced. Every person lost their homes and every person lost everything. But we lost the ability to pay for housing. We lost the ability to create new housing. That is so far not what the city can offer. They can offer us shelter but they’re not offering anything else. And probably they have goodwill and maybe they can’t. You want to think the best.

We’re going back, definitely, for real. I know that corner from every possible angle, in every weather, in every season. I know everything about it. I can walk through every inch of that apartment in my memory; I can walk through every life stage of that apartment. I made it a home for my kids. It was my only home.


You may find more information on Diane's GoFundMe page here.


James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.


Anonymous said...

So many thoughts and emotions after reading this. Best of luck to Dr. McLean and her family. She is the kind of caring professional, community member, and mother I aspire to become, and I truly hope she and her family are able to stay in the neighborhood. We're lucky to have them.

Anonymous said...

Our sons are in the same class at CWS on 12th st. On a class field trip, before the fire, Diane told me a shorter version of this story when i asked her background.
My wife started this indigogo for Diane the Day after the fire started:

Unknown said...

I don't know anything about crowdfunding but can't we do that for this family? Somebody must know how to get that going. C'mon East Village.

EV Grieve said...

There is a crowdfunding campaign underway for Diane and her family. It's linked to her name at the top. It has been quite successful to date.

Gojira said...

I find it impossible to believe that the city cannot do more. How many billions do we pay in taxes every year, and they don't have an emergency fund for shit like this? How absolutely shameful. And has Bill "Man of the People" Bloomblasio even come down to the EV to see the site?

blue glass said...

wouldn't it be nice if our large and not so large-scale landlords got together and provided just one affordable apartment in each of their buildings for the folks that were displaced and cannot afford a market rate apartment!
if the owners got a tax write-off for the loss of the market rate rent, wouldn't that soften the blow?
shouldn't cooper square be talking to all the displaced folks and providing, at the very least, temporary housing for as many as possible?
it is impossible to imagine how great a loss these tenants have suffered, unless you have also experienced it.

xootrman said...

Bluegrass, I think you'll find that Cooper Sq is in fact doing this as we comment.

Anonymous said...

The city needs to start seizing Hrynenko buildings, selling them and using the proceeds to give these people down payments for new apartments. Limited liability be damned.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

Thank you for this touching interview.

Anonymous said...

Great interview, but I have to wonder: why does someone with a BA, MA, PhD and an MD (all from Ivy League schools to boot) need a rent-stabilized or rent-controlled apartment? I find it hard to believe that she can't afford a market rate apartment for her family.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 2:19- I made the same point earlier, but Grieve killed my comment.
I'm sincerely sorry for her loss, and I'm glad she wasn't hurt, but as someone who knows physicians who work at both hospitals and colleges, I know she is making six figures, and would have no problem paying market rate.
Meanwhile, many other folks in the buildings that were destroyed are in much more dire financial circumstances. If folks want to generate tens of thousands of dollars for this woman and her kids that's their business, but it would be a good idea to start crowdfunding for the other tenants who aren't Ivy League educated PhD's.
No disrespect intended, by the way.

Anonymous said...

This: " . . .why does someone with a BA, MA, PhD and an MD (all from Ivy League schools to boot) need a rent-stabilized or rent-controlled apartment . . . " I realize this is either trolling or ignorance but, hello, did you note that Diane is a single mom with three kids and she works at Lincoln Medical Center, providing mental health care to (presumably) people with few other options. Yes, I'm sure she could make more money but . . . to do what she does, to help the community at large, to basically work in a government health care job, she's probably not making a lot more than a NYC grade school teacher with a dozen years of experience. (Glassdoor lists various MD jobs at Lincoln as averaging well under $100k.) She needs a rent stabilized apartment to be able to afford to feed, and put clothes on, her kids, provide care for them when she's at work, and . . . and . . . well I doubt she spends money on much else. It's pretty tricky to raise four kids on a modest salary in the city. I think the city, the community, gets quite a bit of return on rent stabilization in this case . . . Diane is able to continue to use her skills to help people who need help.

Anonymous said...

@2:19pm: You're an idiot, but WORSE, you're an idiot with a very hard heart (and NO comprehension of NYC housing law).

Anonymous said...

Some people clearly have no idea how much it costs to raise a child (or THREE) in this city.

Scuba Diva said...

I started to write a comment earlier, but I guess it didn't send; I recommended that Diane register with the DHCR because as a rent-stabilized tenant she still has a right to be placed in an alternate apartment owned by her landlord [When A Rental Is Destroyed].

It's good that the MHA is placing her in temporary housing, and although I can't exactly recommend she contact NYCHA—the worst landlord in the city; I've been on a waiting list with them for at least 20 years, and it will probably never be my turn to get housing with them—she probably should apply with them since her situation is so urgent and extreme.

I had a photographer friend who even got a place in Stuyvesant Town when they were still a middle-income development and she had become homeless. She said they were the only ones who delivered.

I agree that she's one person who's really been giving to the city for years; she deserves to get something back. [As an aside, I'm happy to see kinder comments than followed the original piece about her on EVGrieve; people were speculating how she got the kids at her age, and other nasty stuff. Grow up, people; anonymity is no excuse for such nastiness.

blue glass said...

anonymous 2:19 et al
it is not up to any of you to decide who can afford a market rate apartment or how much a person with a degree or degrees can/should earn.
if you want to gauge what rent should be charged for a stabilized apartment based on income, then when a person's income goes down will the rent also go down?
we have a flawed system of rent control/stabilization and the big winners are attorneys and landlords.
stop bashing this woman because she is educated. she has three children and just lost everything.

Anonymous said...

This may not be the appropriate forum for this tangent, but I was wondering if someone could ballpark the annual cost to raise one child while living in the east village. I've never been a parent (nor will I ever, most likely) so I have exactly 0 concept whatsoever of what that figure would look like. By cost though, I do mean just including necessities. So I guess my more specific question is how much does it cost to healthily feed, clothe, provide educational resources + safe transportation for one child? Another question I have (as someone who grew up in the suburbs and has never attended school in Manhattan) is do parents have to pay tuition for their children to attend public school? Or is that still just for private schools? I'm unsure of what the norm is for children in Manhattan - I'm always overhearing talk of grade students having to apply to high school and parents having to apply to elementary schools. What is that all about, and how much does that cost typically per child?

I'm asking these questions because as most east villagers are, I am *intimately* familiar with the housing market, shortage, and application processes, but not with the exceedingly complicated parental aspect of Dr. McLean's life. I am by no means trying to judge anybody's situation or start an argument - I just don't think I have ever really sat down and tried to think about how much it would cost to be a parent in one of the most expensive places in the world before, as it's not something I've ever wanted.

Additionally, does anybody know if all of the units lost in the fires were rentals - or did these tenants own? Wondering if property tax is also an issue here or not.

Anonymous said...

All the best to you Diane and family. xo

Also, just about every displaced tenant has a crowd funding campaign going. Both BoweryBoogie and Bedford & Bowery have had posts with links to all the various campaigns. You are free to donate to any resident or business who has one. You can also make the decision not to.

Anonymous said...

Of course, people who attend three Ivy League schools NEVER have any student loan debt to pay after they graduate and join the workforce. They just start working and are rich from that point forward. Everyone knows that, right 2:19?

Anonymous said...

Would anyone know how I can donate tons of brand new toys to Diane's young children. It's not much, but it would at least put a temporary smile on their faces. Any leads are greatly appreciated. Thanks!

FigKitty said...

2:19 here. Forgot to add my "name" before. I tried to reply earlier, but my comment didn't make it through. Not sure why, I don't think it was mean, but maybe it was off topic.

In any case, I wish this woman and her children the best. It sucks to lose your home and all of your stuff, but it could be worse for her - she could be someone with no resources and no skills with which to get resources. She's not - she's highly educated and capable, and she will be fine, rent stabilized apartment or not. Not all of the displaced residents can say the same.

@9:49 - actually, I doubt she has much student loan debt. Ivy League schools have very generous financial aid packages, and very few people ever pay for a PhD (they are generally paid a stipend during the process).

Anonymous said...

I have learned from knowing some of the families who lost their homes that it is better to donate to the fundraising link above than to send things--as they don't have housing and many are staying on couches in other people's full 1- or 2-bedroom apartments, they don't have room for "stuff" until they find housing...

Anonymous said...

My partner went to Cornell medical school as an "alternative" (read: older) student. At over 30, they still would not allow us to apply for financial aid without giving the parents' financial info and an assumption of parental responsibility, which was not possible at that age. Med school equaled an MD and over $250,000 in student loans just for medical school--not to mention outstanding undergrad loans. Many physicians at public hospitals earn what is considered a lower-middle income in NYC--just enough not to qualify for loan forgiveness, but not enough to pay off the debt and afford housing in an area with good public schools in NYC. Diane's is not a situation that anyone would want to be in--and while blaming the victim may feel good if you are yourself hurting, it doesn't help anyone!

Anonymous said...

Reading Comprehension owns all of you - She clearly states her gratitude that her parents paid her tuition.