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The man who started fielding questions is overwhelmed and referring people to individual breakout rooms for their questions to be answered. His name tag reads “Hello, my name is: Adam” and I wonder if he’s the same Adam I read about from a previous town meeting:

During the meeting, Adam Meagher, a representative from the EDC [Economic Development Council], described the project as a “proactive approach to development” that would set a framework for regulating private development in the neighborhood… At the start of his presentation, Meagher had already lost the crowd. When Meagher took the microphone, about half of the people who showed up for the meeting stood up to display signs with messages such as “#SaveUptown” and “Northern Manhattan is not for sale.” via: Patch

Regardless, people were amiable and went to the respective rooms scattered through out Inwood’s Manhattan Bible Church. I followed a group of people into a small side room which contained NYC Parks, the DOT, and the Department of City Planning or DCP’s waterfront plan. In this cramped space it was impossible not to notice that nobody’s questions were actually being answered, instead people were being deferred to comment boards and interactive community maps.

Now, I really love putting dots on maps. It’s a lot of fun, but people didn’t want to be part of a survey, they wanted to know what would happen to their parks if/when this development occurs. Furthermore, I can’t help but wonder where do these boards actually end up? Maybe mixed in with the pile of glossy English and Spanish information boards I saw stacked outside the auditorium at the end of the open house. It was in this backstage, end of the show, setting that I noticed two city employees laugh at the “My future #InwoodNYC” signs that the city put out for people to write their # ideas on. They were scoffing at one sign in particular that had a list of tree hugging hopes like “clean air.”

Admittedly that’s an impossibility in this city, but it doesn’t make it comic, especially not in Inwood. Here, at the upper tip of Manhattan where the only natural forest left on the island survives. Here, where the Hudson and Harlem rivers are as wild as they can be in the metro-area. Here, in Inwood, the environment makes a stand against the sprawling metropolis that is the rest of Manhattan and people live here, in part, for just that reason.

I didn’t plan to come to this zoning meeting. I had planned to go to a clean up at Inwood Hill Park, but the cleaning was canceled or just didn’t happen, so I went home and decided I might as well go tweet a few snarky things about this event, especially once I read about the waterfront plan:

However, once I got into the meeting a lady asked if any media were present to sign in and, trying my luck, I asked, “does it have to be affiliated media or freelance?” She assured me that freelance was fine, so I signed in under The Frontier and Appalachian Voices with whom I have a forthcoming feature.

Once inside the first person who talked to me asked if I would be interested in signing a petition to protect the North Cove. She explained it as a migratory bird habitat being threatened by the development, so I signed, then told her I was an environmental journalist and asked if I could talk with her about it, “I’m just a volunteer,” she said, “you’re welcome to talk to me, but I think you probably want to talk with my boss.” I agreed that’d probably be best so she went to see if her boss was free. He was.

She brought me towards the back where it looked like some of the power players were sitting and introduced me to Martin Smith, ” I have thirty years of experience with environmental struggles in upper Manhattan and I work directly with Senator Adriano Espailat, so what do you want to know?” He asked as he handed me his business card (Director of Constituent Services for Senator Espailat) in one smooth motion. This was the first inclination I had of how serious a battle I had stumbled into.

Smith and I spoke about the environmental history of Upper Manhattan and I got a quick education in the struggle over the North River Sewage plant at 145th street. Smith stressed to me the importance of clean water, his personal environmental passion, and the ecological innovations the North Cove and allied organizations are devising that are working towards that end.

At the close of our interview we discussed what exactly the problem with the proposed water front reclamation is and one of Smith’s concerns is the idea of preservation the EDC is throwing around. Smith, sizing it up from a budget perspective, asks, “what is preservation if we’re not talking about a step by step process of identifying funding?”

After speaking with Smith I mingled my way into the Parks/DOT/DCP room I described earlier. Here I chatted with a member of NYC Parks about Inwood Hill and eventually the Shorewalkers Great Saunter event, a walk-marathon/urban hike around the shoreline of Manhattan. “So you’ve seen the gaps then,” the Parks official said and it’s true. When I hiked the Saunter it was impossible not to notice that on the west side, whether the FiDi’s esplanade or Riverside Park, the entire Hudson shoreline is connected by green space while the east side is sorely lacking and much of the Saunter’s east side shoreline left a lot to be desired until hitting the opulent Charles Schurz Park. I asked the official to go on record about the future of upper Manhattan’s parks, but was turned down, a response I received from all the city people I spoke with at the open house.

But when I talked with people from Inwood and told them I was an environmental journalist, they were delighted and always had a recommendation for someone for me to speak with. In this manner, I bounced from person to person until I reached Maggie Clarke who was finishing an interview with a Guardian reporter when I was introduced to her. Clarke has been involved with Inwood’s environmental movement for decades, founding the Ring Garden in 1984, and she filled me in on the battles Inwood has fought in the past, including real estate zoning

However, Clarke isn’t just a historian, she’s still fighting and this new battle is one of the toughest yet because, “the community board up here is anti-enviornmental…they are pro-buisness to a fault.” 

It was while I was speaking with Clarke that James Cataldi was introduced to me. James Cataldi is the steward of Inwood’s North Cove, a 35 year resident of Inwood who worked on Wall Street until the Septemeber 11th attacks changed his perspective and led him to pursue a new life purpose, the environment and specifically migratory birds.

Nine years ago Inwood North Cove, where the migratory birds Cataldi had begun studying converged, was an illegal dumping site sitting right next to an MTA rail yard. Cataldi pulled out over 1000 cubic yards of trash, became a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, and in the process garnered an Environmental Equality Award from the EPA.

Now the habitat he’s restored is being threatened by the proposed development. The vertical rezoning would open the door for high rises which, if not built with the birds in mind, could lead to the death of migratory species who rest in the cove, not to mention the potential damage to the cove itself and the loss of an internationally important habitat.

 

Cataldi’s in it for the long haul though, he see’s the North Cove, “not as an adversay to development, but in partnership with development.” He’s hoping that if this development happens he can work to have bird-safe glass put on the windows, to create green roofing, and to put other, even more innovative, ecological approaches into practice to ensure that there’s a coexistence between developers and nature.

Since going to this zoning meeting I’ve visited the North Cove with Cataldi and, in the process, met the with the Friends of Sherman Creek Conservancy, I’ve had educators and school leaders reach out to me to discuss the impact this will have in their classrooms, and I’ve been invited to cover affordable housing protests. However, this is just the beginning of a story. The survival of North Cove is crucial not only to the greater ecology of the area, but to the identity of a neighborhood that cares deeply about it’s green space. So deeply, in fact, that if you find yourself walking through Inwood someone volunteering their time might just come up to you with a lined sheet of paper and ask you:

Protect the North Cove.

North Cove

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