Wednesday, October 21, 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: Gina
Occupation: Social Worker
Location: East 2nd Street and 1st Avenue
Time: 5:30 pm on Monday, Oct. 19

I was born in Canarsie, Brooklyn. I came to the neighborhood in 1990. I needed to get a job and I had been going to school full-time, and I couldn’t continue that because of my situation. So I got a job at NYU and got tuition remission and finished my degree there. Then I just stayed in the neighborhood.

I got my master's degree in social work. I’m the director of a homeless shelter in the neighborhood. It’s a shelter for older adults with medical and mobility issues. I feel like it’s a very service-rich neighborhood in many ways and I hope that continues because there are a lot of people who have been living here a long time who don’t have high incomes and [it’s hard] to be able to maintain, especially when people become older. It’s difficult to balance if you’re working your whole life and you’re living paycheck to paycheck — one thing can set you off and then you wind up in a shelter.

People like to vilify the homeless but really most people are just poor in a city where rents are skyrocketing. So I feel good that I’m making a difference in helping people to get into a secure environment. Anyone, anyone can wind up there.

My interest in the neighborhood is totally outside of my professional life, though. It’s just a coincidence that I wound up getting a job here. I moved onto St. Mark’s Place in 1990 and that was like the middle of everything. I used to go to Green Door parties at Coney Island High. There was a lot of music and creative people.

But then I got tired of living on St. Mark’s because it was just a little too busy. There were people sleeping on my steps and stuff, so I moved down to the Lower East Side, just a couple blocks below Houston Street on Clinton Street, and then I watched that neighborhood open up. It went from a couple little shlock stores to this whole stretch of trendy restaurants. You never, ever would have expected that in a million years.

My husband grew up in this neighborhood. There was a small Ukrainian community that has really dissipated. I knew nothing about the Ukrainian community until I met him. It’s interesting that there are still people who go caroling. I remember I was my mother-in-law’s house after we first met and some carolers came around and sang Ukrainian Christmas carols. So there’s still a sense of community in that way that’s still there. It’s nice to know at least that the people who’ve been living around here a long time who all know each other still stick together.

Most of my friends who are not native New Yorkers have left because the things they came for aren’t here anymore. The cost of living goes up, but the things that make it fun are gone. It’s depressing, isn’t it? [The neighborhood has] been taken over by people just want to come and drink and just tear the place apart, and it saddens me because the sense of community is really withering away.

In the mid-90s, you had people who were creative, people who were just fun. Now it just feels like you’re being trampled on and then everyone leaves. I think there’s still a sense of community to some extent and we can’t be stuck in the past, but at the same time we should all be part of shaping the future, instead of being the passive recipients of consumerism.

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


Anonymous said...

Great interview, and she makes a great point when she says: "[The neighborhood has] been taken over by people just want to come and drink and just tear the place apart, and it saddens me because the sense of community is really withering away."

I had to get up early for work today, but I couldn't sleep last night because a bunch of guys were singing in front of Doublewide on 12th singing at the top of their lungs. I was also saddened to see someone damaged one of the trees down the street.

Like she says, people just trample through the neighborhood, drinking and showing no respect for people or property or trees for that matter.

It's nice people like her that keep me hanging on.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Gina, for doing this important work. I agree with your assessment 100 percent...daily I ask myself why am I still here (when much of everything I loved is gone), but there is still a strong community are living proof! I try to be a positive community member too, but it gets harder and harder when ALL your energy goes to just keeping your head above water and the rent paid. It begins to feel like you're "just a passive consumer", which is very depressing indeed. WE SHOULD ALL TAKE YOUR ADVICE. The holidays are coming. What can each of us do to help each other? One thing is true: We need to be nicer to one another on the street.

Anonymous said...

Agrred. Gina, you're great, glad you're here. I am from a younger generation, and I share your views and sentiments, and am annoyed by those same people. So there are a lot of us who moved to the neighborhood in early 2000's that feel how you feel. It is our neighborhood, not the fratty disgusting boring and loud "woo" peoples!

Anonymous said...

"In the mid-90s, you had people who were creative, people who were just fun. Now it just feels like you’re being trampled on and then everyone leaves." How true for too many other cities, or neighborhoods therein, as well: Chicago, San Francisco, Austin . . .

This is really hard for people who'd moved to such places at settling-down ages of their lives, and now find themselves too settled or too old to relocate to a city where not everyone wants to live (yet). It's worst, though, for people such as Gina's constituents, who've grown too old, and now too poor, to live anywhere.

Anonymous said...

I love her cape! If you are reading this, let us know where you bought it! Also, thanks for doing the work that you do and being a great neighbor.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

Another great interview. Thank you for your work and words, Gina. They ring so true.

Anonymous said...

"In the mid-90s, you had people who were creative, people who were just fun. Now it just feels like you’re being trampled on and then everyone leaves."

Not to play the old-timer card, but she is at least a decade (probably 15 years) off of when the community began to stop being a "community."

Anonymous said...

New York is becoming/has become a city of consumers, not creators. That's the biggest and saddest change.

Anonymous said...

NYC is part of America, and America is a country of consumers. That sickness has taken a long time to get here (so "all-consumingly"), but here it is.

Humans with heart and soul can take the country back, though it will take time.

This is a place where the political left and right can work together, too, because many religious people on the right also seek -- and find -- genuine depth and connection. See The Politics of Meaning:

Anonymous said...

Good point about the departure of fun, and music from the neighborhood. I feel like the two are related. When I moved here, there was still live music in the EV. It was a major ingredient in the stew that made the East Village tasty. Sad that the majority of live venues are kaput. I know its hardly a local problem and music generally does not mean as much to people.

But the fun, that is so true. East Village people today's idea of fun seems rote and tedious. Maybe it's just me getting old. When I see roving packs of bro's and ho's, I hardly ever get any sense of genuine fun or revelry being had. Just going through the motions.

Anyways, when as a neighborhood you lose artists and musicians, you end up losing a lot.

Anonymous said...

It's probably true that the fun is gone. If people even try to have a party, someone sprays them with a hose, and the commenters cheer.

cmarrtyy said...

Much love and thanks, Gina. But if all good things come to an end so do the bad. From my digging around I've been told that restaurants and shops are experiencing a real slow down. Not all but a lot. People are rent poor. Something has to give. So they cut back on their spending or move out. Lets hope.

Anonymous said...

@12:29pm: Your definition of "fun" is very limited IMO. It *is* possible to have a good time without making your neighbors wish they had a hand grenade available.

Scuba Diva said...

At 10:45 AM, Anonymous said:

I love her cape! If you are reading this, let us know where you bought it!

When I was about 7 years old, I had a red poncho like that; my mom made it with a Simplicity pattern.

Also, thanks for doing the work that you do and being a great neighbor.

Grieve keeps profiling people that really give me hope for the neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

I was lucky enough to move here in 1990 when there was still a great sense of community. The young people coming in at that time all had to hustle to be here, a lot of us working a couple of jobs to pay the rent, and we were probably more grounded and mature than the spoiled brats who have taken over the neighborhood and have parents paying their way as they party. We were also excited to be part of NYC and meet interesting people from all generations. I made friends with everyone in my buiding from the elderly people to the younger people like me. The newbies don't want to associate with their neighbors and get to know anyone who isn't in their limited demographic. It's too bad. They are missing out!

Anonymous said...

i was told to come to the village from Venice Beach, 1997, saddly i didn't make it.
Oh well, pack your knífe, and hide it well...

nygrump said...

no one wants to understand this is the front line of the a class war, of genocide against white intelligentsia because genocide is not simply mass murder but the destruction of a culture.

Anonymous said...

It is refreshing to see someone who cares about the homeless situation doing something positive for it INSTEAD of all the others involved getting salaries, etc and not caring at all..being part of the problem...

Anonymous said...

There's still music happening in EV and on the LES.... Go to Otto's Shrunken Head, Rockwood Music Hall, Rue B, The Stone, DROM, Mercury Lounge, Cakeshop, Arlene's Grocery, Piano's even (although...ugh!) It's up to us to support the creatives in the neighborhood - to show up - before everything really does disappear. Thank you for another great article and compelling conversation. I <3 E.V. Grieve!!!

Gina said...

Thanks everyone! :)

I should mention my adult frame of reference was from about 1986 onward, and I agree that 1995 was kind of the end of the era I think about as my best time here. But my grandfather was born on Norfolk St grew up in the LES and I totally blanked on talking about that! About buying socks on Orchard St. and getting the onion rolls from Ratner's as a kid and getting free sheets of matzo through the window from the workers at Streit's and stuff like that.

I bought my cape from Topshop, but in the UK.

I forgot to mention the #savenyc stuff and how I was one of many who contributed funds to B&H Dairy reopening, among other efforts.

And yes, there is still music happening in the EV. But I long for the days when people climbed into the Tompkins Square Park band shell and started playing. I mentioned Wigstock, but it got cut from the interview as he could only put in so much. I remember sitting in Stingy Lulu's when the cops raided the park and shut it down for real, and then stood guard around the perimeter for I don't know how long until it reopened. I don't miss the drugs, but I do kinda miss the anarchy signs spray painted on the entrance.

People are seriously rent poor and when I was younger I definitely worked two jobs for a very long time - even while going to school. I'm sure loads of people still do, but somehow it felt like the struggle was more of a shared experience.

I'm so happy people enjoyed my interview, and thanks James for stopping me on Avenue A to ask if I would be interested. EV Grieve is a great asset to the community.

Gina x