Posts by charmainepoh:

Articles By: charmaine poh

Charmaine is an undergraduate at Tufts University, studying International Relations and Mass Communications. Born and raised in Singapore, she has had the opportunity to travel around various countries in Asia and doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon. Her post-graduation goal is to travel along the Silk Road. She writes, takes photographs and loves seeing how creativity can be used for social good. She Tweets at @psxcharmaine.

During Murder Is My Business, a walking tour hosted by the International Center of Photography about the photographer WeeGee, we had the opportunity to learn about not only the areas in New York that held meaningful significance to WeeGee, but also the history behind them. One of these areas was Hell’s Kitchen, now also known as Clinton.

Hell’s Kitchen got its tough reputation due to its close proximity to the Hudson River docks, where the first German and Irish immigrants found work and eventually formed gangs in the 19th century. With gangs such as The Hell’s Kitchen Gang, the Gorillas, the Parlor Mob, and the Gophers, the neighborhood soon became known for its violence. And even before the German and Irish, African Americans who worked on the Croton Aqueduct in the 1840s lived in what is now Hell’s Kitchen.

May Matthews Playground on W 46th St, between 9th and 10th Ave, was once a park where many gang murders occurred.

Young boys play basketball in the former May Matthews Park

Young New Yorkers of Hell’s Kitchen. Courtesy of MCNY’s digital archives.

Despite this brutal nature, old gang traditions meant that the area was relatively safe, as crimes had to be accounted for by each gang, and businesses were generally left untouched if they had paid their dues. The Westies, one of the last Irish gangs, subverted the tradition and began to work with the Italian mafia  to wreak havoc on Hell’s Kitchen’s population. Eventually gentrification caused many of the working class to move out, and the Westies were arrested. There are still remnants of the old Hell’s Kitchen that are visible, such as the old walk-ups, and several working-class families that remain in the area, although much has been revamped over the last two decades.

The city government, in its efforts to clean New York up, even tried to rename Hell’s Kitchen, although their efforts have not quite succeeded. While official signs and transportation maps point to Clinton Hill, residents and the public still refer to the area by its old name.

W 46th St Lyric Apartments. Courtesy of MCNY’s digital archives.

Laundry airing in Hell’s Kitchen. Courtesy of MCNY’s digital archives.

Richard Hoe Lawrence Flat in Hell’s Kitchen “Ruin”. Courtesy of MCNY’s digital archives.

Hell’s Kitchen and Sebastopol (the rocks). Courtesy of MCNY’s digital archives.

Walking through the neighborhood today, it’s easy to simply focus on the newly minted condominiums, fancy restaurants and hip bars that litter the area, and overlook the fact that many of these places were once murder sites. The Hudsonview Terrace apartment tower, the “Battle Row” of W 39th St and many dive bars that have now been converted to upscale dining places are just some examples of where grisly crimes occured. Looking back on history, it seems that gang culture was a way of life. Even The Sacred Heart of Jesus, a Catholic church in the area, was where gang families would marry into each other.

In a fast-paced city like New York, snippets of history can easily be exchanged for the allure of modernization and gentrification. It’s evident in the many construction spots found within the neighborhood alone. Even the original source of the name Hell’s Kitchen has been lost to time. With such rich history behind it, Hell’s Kitchen seems to embody the tough, determined spirit of New York, and it would be a pity if the city forgot these roots.

Should you like to explore these spots yourself, this map by The New York Times has some Hell’s Kitchen points of interest…for those interested in the grittier side of New York City. From the haunted Landmark Tavern, to former speakeasies on Restaurant Row, to locations which all seem to have at some point been known for severed body parts, there’s still a lot to take in while this neighborhood continuously transforms.

Summer in New York is always a bustling time, filled with outdoor markets, music festivals and art exhibitions around every corner. It’s been no less busy at the Untapped HQ; we started working on Untapped full-time in June, and although it’s only been two months, it feels like we’ve come a long way since summer began. When fall arrives, we’ll be relaunching the website and organizing a charity launch party, among other plans we have up our sleeves.

As an intern here for the summer, it’s been rewarding to gain an insight into how an online magazine startup works on a day to day basis. There’s so much more to running Untapped than merely creating and publishing content. Although the team is small, we’ve managed to cover most of the areas through sheer hard work and a tremendous amount of passion for what Untapped stands for.

Today is my last day at the HQ before I leave to go back to school in Boston. Born and raised in Singapore, I’m thankful for the chance to explore New York, not simply as a tourist, but someone with an attachment to the little treasures this city has offered me. This might be the end of my internship, but it’s only the beginning of my relationship with New York. And as with meaningful relationships with those you love, I know with certainty that I’ll be back.

Charmaine Poh, Untapped New York 2012 Summer Intern

Early on a Sunday morning, about 15 people gathered at the International Center of Photography (ICP) for a walking tour about the life of  New York photographer, Arthur Fellig, better known as Weegee. The ICP is currently presenting a traveling exhibit, entitled Murder Is My Business, that chronicles his decades-long career.  (more…)

The East River Ferry is no stranger to many of New York City’s inhabitants. Transporting passengers to and from Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan, it serves as a daily mode of commute to work. Unfortunately, in our hurry to get to our destination, we often don’t get the chance to interact with the people who steer us there. Recently, Untapped Cities got a chance to sit down with a captain, Norman Little, and listen to his stories about working as a captain for 18 years.

We walked to the wheelhouse in the front of the ferry, where he greeted us with a smile. “Hello, it’s nice to meet you!” he said energetically, a feat considering he wakes up at 3 a.m. every day. He starts his shift at 5.45 a.m, and ends at 2 in the afternoon. However, there are days when he takes on additional shifts, which could mean he is on the ferry until 8.p.m in the evening. Within each shift, he gets a 10-minute break, during which he heats up some food in the microwave oven situated near him in the wheelhouse, and gobbles down a quick meal.

Perhaps his cheerfulness was due to the fact that we were on his favorite route. He was ferrying passengers in between the ports of Long Island City, Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Manhattan. He says the route is “challenging, because you’re not just going back and forth. Every docking is different” due to the currents in the East River.

While most of his days offer a routine schedule (and a spot of people-watching), Norman has seen some eventful days throughout the years. During 9/11, he transported families, stranded commuters,  politicians and later, bodies. In the days that followed, he would find himself crying at work. “It’s something you never forget,” he says haltingly.

Norman got into the occupation after a lifetime of boating. He has owned a total of four to five boats, each one bigger than the last, before his expensive hobby forced him to sell them. It looked like his boating days were over, until he saw an ad in the newspaper calling for captains. He applied, and has been here ever since. “I’ve always been a water person,” he said, smiling.

Stand by for our next series of articles on Untapped spots to check out along the East River Ferry!

In today’s saturated media world, it seems that news and stories have been shortened and distilled to mere soundbites and snippets. One journalism startup based in New York City is trying to steer the system another way. Narratively, a long-form multimedia journalism platform, is “devoted to original, true and in-depth storytelling about New York,” through writing, photography, video and animation. It focuses on one theme a week, with a new story published every weekday. Launching this summer, Narratively is currently trying to fundraise through Kickstarter to get the project off the ground. Untapped Cities managed to talk to founder, Noah Rosenberg, about the exciting startup.

How did Narratively come about?  

I’ve always gravitated toward human-interest stories and a journalistic ideal that places an emphasis on craft, quality and story. These aren’t necessarily the types of stories you’ll find on the front page of The New York Times or at the top of an evening newscast but they inform you nonetheless. They provide a new way of looking at a city and understanding its people and places.

As someone who has a background not only in writing, but in documentary film and photography, I understand the importance of multidimensional storytelling ”” of presenting a story in the medium that is most appropriate for that particular piece.

And that was essentially the inspiration for Narratively several years ago ”” to create a platform for local features and human-interest reporting told in longform writing, short documentaries and photo essays, among other formats. We’d launch in New York and expand to other cities that were also hungry for this type of in-depth multimedia treatment.

Over time, Narratively evolved into what it is today with the help of the dozens of extraordinarily talented and dedicated contributors we’re fortunate to have on board. I’m particularly excited about our weekly themes and one-story-a-day model, which is a different approach to journalism, certainly on the local level. And I think it’s an approach that will engage audiences in new ways.

Photo from an audio slideshow featuring an Upper East Side woman with a collection of thousands of antique eye-glasses. (Elizabeth Herman for Narratively)

Who makes up Narratively?

I’m Narratively’s Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. For nearly two years I freelanced on a near-fulltime basis for The New York Times, in writing, photography and video. I’ve also worked for The Wall Street Journal and GQ and have had my work published by New York magazine, among other outlets. I’ve also produced documentaries and nonfiction content for CBS News Productions, reported on-camera for Channel One News and served as Digital Director at The Queens Courier chain of newspapers, for whom I also launched and edited L.I.C. Courier Magazine, an arts, culture and features publication covering Long Island City.

Our Managing Editor, Brendan Spiegel, is a travel, food and features writer who has worked extensively for The New York Times and New York magazine. His work has also appeared in The Washington Post, Wired and The Village Voice, among others. He’s been an editor at Congressional Quarterly and is also the editor and publisher of Endless Simmer, an independent food website.

Our contributors ”” writers, photographers, illustrators, animators, filmmakers, web developers, and others ”” have collectively worked for outlets like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, New York magazine, CNN, NPR, The Atlantic, The Village Voice, GQ, the BBC, Travel + Leisure, Details, Time magazine, Wired, Newsweek/The Daily Beast, Slate and Rolling Stone, among others.

One thing we all have in common is that we absolutely love this city and its stories.

The Narratively team in Fort Greene Park, filming their Kickstarter video.

Do you think this multimedia approach is the future of journalism?

There’s definitely been a sort of rebirth of in-depth, longform journalism in the past couple of years. Obviously, the craft itself is not new, but digital tools and platforms have enabled practitioners to take it in new directions and cultivate audiences in different ways.

Narratively’s approach, featuring one theme a week and one story a day, is just one outcome of that. We think that social media and new storytelling mediums, or mash-ups, will allow us to put an exciting, and personal, stamp on local journalism. And in the process, we’ll be able to engage our audience in new ways ”” placing an emphasis on interactivity and dialogue.

What are your goals for Narratively?  

My short-term goal is to succeed with our Kickstarter campaign, launch the website on schedule (in early September), and delight our core community of supporters from around the world.   I think if we do what we’re saying we’re going to do ”” uncover these rich narratives about New York that might not be told otherwise ”” we’ll be able to cultivate an engaged and devoted audience and reach new people. Obviously, there are business goals, too ”” to become viable and sustainable via the business plan we’ve developed, and to be able to pay our contributors what they deserve for the high-quality stories they’re producing.

Moving forward, my big goal is to succeed here in New York and expand Narratively to other cities. I really want to create a brand around Narratively, one that is focused on sharing the stories of a city in new and artistic ways.

A behind-the-scenes multimedia portrait of the Staten Island ferry. (Henry Jacobson for Narratively)

An intimate look at the life of a male stripper in New York. (Pearl Gabel for Narratively)

Where do you see Narratively in a few years?

I’d love to be successful enough in New York that we can expand to another city within two years. But I’m definitely not putting the cart before the horse. All of our time, energy and commitment is channeled into getting us off the ground in New York ”” the city that we all call home and think is hungry for Narratively.

Is there anything else you want to add?  

I see Narratively as a collaborative effort beyond our contributors. I think there are some really interesting opportunities to partner with existing media outlets, organizations, individuals and brands, and, in the process, help usher in a new era of engagement in local journalism.

Get in touch with the author @psxcharmaine

With New York City’s traffic jams and unpredictable subway trains, it can be a hassle to get around the city. Thankfully, with the new bike-sharing initiative in town, Citi Bike, launching next month, locals might soon find their lives a whole lot easier (although this is hotly debated here in New York–see below). Funded by Citi and Mastercard, and run by NYC Bike Share, a subsidiary of Alta Bicycle Share,  Citi Bike is a self-service bike share that will enable people to borrow a bike to ride across the city easily, simultaneously creating a sustainable alternative mode of transportation.

When it is launched next month, the ambitious Citi Bike project is going to be the largest bikeshare in the United States, a commendable feat, no doubt. It will consist of 600 stations, and 10,000 bikes in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, strategically placed around the city. Plans for this bike share have been underway for a long time, with the  NYCDOT researching on using open source data  to plan the locations of the bike share stations.  The kiosks, the majority which will be wireless and solar powered, will have docks for the bikes, locks and local maps. Steven Romalewski of Spatiality Blog did a great GIS analysis of the proximity of bike kiosks to mass transit options.

Anyone 16 and older will be able to sign up for either the 24-hour, 7-day, or annual access pass. These passes will give members unlimited trips, although charges will apply for trips lasting longer than 30 or 45 minutes, depending on the pass, since the Citi Bike initiative was envisioned for rides less than 3 miles. Members will be provided with an unlocking code or a special key to unlock their bikes at the docks.

To promote the bike share, Citi Bike has been setting up infobooths around New York, with the Department of Transportation  (NYCDOT) booth distributing free helmets. According to Citi Bike’s website, over 50,000 helmets have already been distributed for free since 2007. Citi Bike is still working with the bicycle industry to provide discounted helmets for members of the bike share.

Still, City Hall has been accused of “pedaling past safety measures,” according to Comptroller John Liu who released new safety recommendations just last month. Then there is the question of whether there are enough bike lanes despite the additional 270 miles of bike lanes added since 2006 (700+ miles total), counterbalanced with the backlash against bike lanes. The Bronx and Staten Island won’t have any bike stations at all at launch. And of course there is the ongoing battle between pedestrians, cyclists, car drivers and the police, as evidenced by Casey Neistat’s video that went viral last year:

It will be interesting to see how Citi Bike will change transportation and social culture in New York City. While already firmly in places such as Spain, London and Paris, the bike share trend has still places to go in the United States.

In comparison, Paris’ resurgence in bike-sharing can be attributed to the popularity of 2007’s Velib’, a network of 20,000+ bicycles distributed among 1450 stations throughout Paris. It is now considered the 2nd largest bike-sharing system in the world. While it is considered successful in terms of usage, 80% of the bikes have been damaged or stolen, despite active maintenance efforts by the city and good citizens (turning the seat backwards indicates that a bike is broken). Bikes have been found all over Paris in various states of disrepair, from the Seine, to hanging from lampposts, or even just on the roadside. These bikes have gone international too, with Velib’ bikes having been found as far as Eastern Europe and North Africa. With New York City’s reputation, Citi Bike might have to take extra measures to ensure that the same doesn’t happen with these new bikes, and that safety measures are as pervasive as the bikes themselves.

In the meantime, check out more of Citi’s demonstration events around in New York City, usually posted on their Twitter account. Try the bikes, sign up, or at the very least, get a free helmet! What’s your opinion on the Citi Bike program?