Thursday, October 15, 2009

Where has all the housing gone?

For those of you who haven't driven around downtown Stamford and the South End for a while, prepare for a shock. Whole neighborhoods of low-income housing have been wiped out. Not just one or two buildings, but entire blocks. The new affordable housing being built or proposed to be built comes nowhere near the number lost. Just check out Clinton Avenue and Division Street (UBS), Finney Lane (Stamford Hospital), Henry and Pulaski Streets (BLT/Antares) Garden and lower Pacific Streets (the Urban Transitway). Entire neighborhoods have vanished. It goes beyond loss of the city's historic fabric; it's a mass extermination of affordable housing. See for yourself.

The one bright spot is new construction on Fairfield Avenue off Stillwater Avenue, where a dreary '40s housing project was replaced by attractive new townhouses that don't look as if they were designed specifically for poor people.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The changing landscape

I don't mind change, change is inevitable in an urban environment, but when it becomes too drastic in too brief a time, communities become undone, soulless, without the recognizeable landmarks that make a place "home." Unfortunately, wide swaths of downtown Stamford have been obliterated in the past years - and not just from urban renewal - making it impossible for residents (or former residents) to recognize their own home town. A friend of mine used to call it "Oz." Drive down to the South End, and with the exception of a handful (and literally only a handful) of old buildings, nothing remains but cleared lots and new construction. Half of Clinton Ave., a late 19th century street just west of Washington Boulevard, has been cleared by UBS - we know not why - and Washington Boulevard, south of the railroad tracks, West Henry Street and Pulaski Street have all gone the way of the wrecking ball. If you want a shock, check it out.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Paradise in a Parking Lot

The City of Stamford continues to wage war against the owners of Curley's Diner, having lost a court battle against them several years ago. A while back, city officials claimed the right to close off access to the parking lot at the diner, surrounding them with a 5' tall chain link fence. Not only did the diner lose access to the ten or so parking spaces to the rear of the establishment, it was unable to remove garbage without a team of strong men
lifting the 100 pound garbage pails over the fence.

Several months ago, a hole appeared in the fence next to the kitchen steps.... Culprits unknown.... Now, the kitchen help could walk the garbage pails to the dump truck. The penetrated fence was not to be tolerated by the powers that be, a
nd within a few weeks, a new, double-thickness chain link fence appeared. Shortly afterward, the hole reappeared - again, culprits unknown. Recently, a concrete block, ostensibly the base for a piece of city-owned sculpture, was dropped in place near the opening in the fence. Curley watchers are eagerly awaiting the "object d'art" to be artistically placed between a dumpster and a chain line fence. While the war continues unresolved, diner owners and staff have made good use of their land-locked backyard by planting a kitchen garden. Cucumbers climb the chain link fence, corn grows happily along with jalapeno peppers. Flowers add a note of brightness to what otherwise is a rather dreary parking lot

About a week ago, I received a call from the diner's owners telling me that the situation at Curley's had worsened. Instead of one large concrete block, there were now two concrete blocks and the second one was twice the size of the first. The purpose, of course, was to keep the kitchen staff from taking out the garbage and we can only presume, putting them out of business once and for all. According to the owners, the block was brought in by hoist at 5 a.m. (triple overtime?) Within a few days, the hole in the chain link fence was widened. What was the purpose of spending scarce city money to put the blocks there in the first place? Sheer meanness? To teach those uppity Greek women a lesson? I think the city officials who thought this scheme up were the ones who learned a lesson.