“The Jews Have Stopped The Billboard,” Says American Atheists President

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The American Atheists billboard controversy continues today. According to sources, the landlord of the S. 5th Street building where the billboard was scheduled to go up on Monday refused to let the workers on the premises. Now the billboard is planned to go up on the BQE tomorrow. Landloard Kenny Stier is keeping mum.

Things are getting messy though, if not downright anti-Semitic, with AA President David Silverman reportedly telling the press, “The Jews have stopped the billboard” and blaming “powerful neighborhood rabbis” for preventing the sign from going up. Silverman tweeted throughout the ordeal:

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Update: The billboard finally went up mid-day on Wednesday. The New York Times has a photo. Happy Purim!

Here’s The New Site For This Season’s Waterfront Concerts

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Open Space Alliance, the nonprofit that organized Williamsburg’s summer concerts in McCarren Park and East River State Park, has put out a call for proposals for this season’s new site. This summer, the concert and event series will move from East River State Park to 50 Kent Avenue, between North 11th and North 12th Streets.

The proposal describes the new location as “an empty industrial site” and asks for entries that include “a comprehensive visual identity, perimeter screening, designated VIP area, shade elements, water features, lighting…[and] recreational opportunities for non-concert days.” A jury will decide which proposal to present to the Parks & Rec department based on cost, construction feasibility, and sustainability. Finalists will be notified on April 8th and the concert season begins on June 1st.

More On The Atheist Billboard And Why It’s So Provocative

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Today, the organization American Atheists unveiled the billboards that have been stirring up controversy since first announced last week. The Williamsburg sign, which features both Hebrew and English writing, is located near the Williamsburg Bridge.

To the non-religious eye, the billboard seems controversial in its message and location, but JewishPress.com sheds new light on just how offensive the sign is to the local religious community. According to the site, not only does the billboard’s unveiling coincide with the important Jewish holiday of Purim, which begins on Wednesday,  but also it contains a Hebrew word that cannot be erased. This makes trashing the billboard a sin.

“The Hasidic Jews of Williamsburg have certainly not been involved in pushing a national agenda of any kind,” writes JewishPress. “Posting an intrusive and insulting billboard in the midst of their neighborhood is nothing short of an unprovoked attack.”

Meanwhile, Dave Silverman, the president of American Atheists who ironically has a Jewish-sounding name, told CNN, “The objective is not to inflame but rather to advertise the atheist movement in the Muslim and Jewish community.”

Update: I’ve been having trouble finding a photo of the billboard. Turns out, it wasn’t unveiled on Monday as planned.

Check Out This Century-Old Plan To Fill The East River

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On Friday, Gizmodo posted about some of the craziest urban plans ever proposed for New York City. One of the most fascinating and bizarre is Dr. Kennard Thomson’s 1916 proposal to fill the East River and create a new waterway between Brooklyn and Queens. The project would have united Manhattan and Brooklyn to create more space for housing and business.

Despite how crazy the proposal seems now, Thomson was a well respected and experienced urban designer. He called the proposal “A Really Greater New York” and published it in Popular Science, writing that it would “prepare New York for a population of twenty million.” The project would add fifty square miles of land and one hundred miles of waterfront and cost $50-100 million (about $1-10 billion now) for each year of construction. “As a result of the construction,” Thomson wrote, “it would not be much harder to get to Brooklyn than to cross Broadway.”

It seems that nothing was ever made of the project, but it wasn’t long before someone else proposed something similar. In 1924 the city’s traffic commissioner proposed a plan to drain the East River and convert the land into a highway in order to alleviate traffic problems.

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These projects seem insanely ambitious now, but the website BigThink writes that “land reclamation” was in vogue at the time, coinciding with the growing popularity of the zeppelin and exploration by air. Around the same time, there were proposals in Europe to connect England with the mainland and to dam the Mediterranean.

It’s clear today that at least someone thought Thomson’s plan was a bad idea. Had the city gone through with the project, Brooklyn no doubt would have taken on Manhattan’s aesthetics and costliness and most of us would probably be living on Long Island.

Check out the full proposal here, thanks to the magic of Google Books.

What’s This “Occupy” Bus Doing At The Future Brooklyn Whole Foods?

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It’s probably not a coincidence that a green and white school bus with “OCCUPY” painted on it is currently parked outside the future site of Brooklyn’s first Whole Foods.

As I posted yesterday, the city granted Whole Foods a zoning variance that would allow it to build at 3rd Avenue and 3rd Street in Gowanus, ending an eight year effort to get the project going. No word yet on what the Occupy activists are planning to do there.

Update: It turns out that the bus has been parked in that location for at least two years. The vehicle is known as the “Vroom Bus” and predates the Occupy movement, with which it has since aligned itself. According to a blog post from February 2011, the bus runs on vegetable oil and belongs to “the Vroom Collective – a group dedicated to transporting activists and artists throughout the country.” So it looks like it is a coincidence after all, but at least they won’t have to travel far for this cause.

NYC’s Shared Bikes Won’t Reach All Of Greenpoint

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This summer, New York City is rolling out a shared bicycle program, joining the ranks of cities like Washington D.C. and Paris. There will be ten thousand bikes for rent at six hundred hubs throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. A draft of the station locations, however, shows that Greenpoint is notably lacking.

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According to local news site DNAinfo, a Department of Transportation draft has no stations east of McGuiness Boulevard. This is odd considering the neighborhood is known for its lack of Manhattan-bound stations and bikes could be an effective way to get people across the Williamsburg bridge, or at least to the L train in Williamsburg. (The neighborhood’s only two stations, the Greenpoint Ave. and Nassau Ave. G trains only go to Queens and south Brooklyn.)

The only map draft I found is from October, which indeed shows the proposed boundary at McGuiness.

Residents Lose Battle Against Brooklyn’s First Whole Foods

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The ongoing fight to keep a Whole Foods out of Gowanus, Brooklyn came to an end last night when a city panel approved construction for a facility five times larger than zoning rules allow. While this technically isn’t north Brooklyn news, the issues at hand are certainly relevant. Many local residents and businesses opposed the plan, fearing that it would change the character of the neighborhood and hurt local establishments. This will be the first Whole Foods location in Brooklyn.

According to NY Daily News, construction will begin in the spring and the store will open in the middle of next year. Since purchasing the site at 3rd Avenue and 3rd Street in 2004, Whole Foods has had to clean it up (inspectors found the soil to be contaminated) and cut the proposed size of the facility by 25%.


While some local residents support the decision – one tweeted, “awesome, Whole Foods Brooklyn approved… I love this ‘hood, and now I may never move” – the opposition has been vocal. The Gowanus Institute, located in the Old American Can Factory across the street from the Whole Foods site, has voiced concerns about the supermarket taking away potential manufacturing spaces and jobs and in the area. “Gowanus Institute is disappointed by NYC Board of Standards and Appeals’ decision to grant Whole Foods Market the variance to build a large, suburban-style retail food market in an area that has been a haven for well-paying manufacturing jobs protected by New York City’s zoning law and economic policies,” the Institute wrote in a statement about the decision. “The retail development will indeed forever alter the essential manufacturing character of the Gowanus neighborhood.”

A change.org petition also opposes the project on the grounds that Whole Foods will demolish the Coignet Stone Building, a registered landmark. The petition has 357 signatures.

Gowanus, located between Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, is known for its industrial past. In 2009, the city declared the Gowanus Canal, which runs up against the Whole Foods plot, an environmental Superfund site.

Your Fat Tuesday Guide To Pączki Day

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Today is Fat Tuesday, which means that people from all over will be coming to Greenpoint, New York City’s most Polish neighborhood, for the most authentic paczki available. For Polish Americans, Fat Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday) is also known as Paczki Day because according to tradition, households must use up the sugar, eggs, fruit, and other ingredients before Lent. If you’re unfamiliar with the Polish pastry, here is a quick rundown:

-A paczek is deep-fried flat dough with fruit or cream filling and usually covered with sugar or icing

-Paczek is the singular, Paczki is the plural

-Paczek is translated as “doughnut” or “little package”

-The American equivalent is the jelly doughnut

-The pastry dates back to Poland in the Middle Ages

Rzeszowska Bakery (948 Manhattan Ave.), Syrena Bakery (207 Norman Ave.), and Star Deli & Bakery (176 Nassau Ave.) are just some of the places in Greenpoint to pick up the treat, according to Yelp.