Tony the Tour Guy's Blog

A not very regular series of posts on New York City history, historic preservation, genealogy and related themes.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Mighty New York Sparrow

The ubiquitous House Sparrow (passer domesticus) does not share in the contempt which New Yorkers have towards city birds, especially starlings and pigeons. Maybe it’s because they’re small and attractive, but we tend to look fondly upon these tiny creatures. They seem so frail and vulnerable. Ecology and history tell us otherwise. 

Like the much-despised pigeon and starling, the urban sparrow is a European transplant, brought to the New World in the 19th century as a means of controlling insects. And since sparrow chicks consume an enormous amount of insect larvae, they did help. But the Big Apple was such a hospitable environment that their number exploded. Passer domesticus, it appears, is ideally suited to urban life. Besides insects it also consumes seeds, both of which are in abundant supply, and it will build its nests just about anywhere. As for its small size and tendency to shy away from humans, don’t let that fool you; the house sparrow is aggressive and will often take on other birds when competing for nesting space. 

Friday, July 25, 2008

SUV drivers and their phoney "patriotism"

You’ve seen ‘em – the huge, gas-gulping SUVs and Hummers roaring down the streets of NYC. Just why a person would need such a truck (I don’t think of them as cars) in a town such as ours is beyond the scope of this post. What gets me is when their owners decide to display their alleged patriotism with American flags or bumper stickers stating “support our troops!”

What’s going on in the heads of these people? Each time these guys fill their tanks they are sending a check to Crown Prince Abdullah and his cronies in Saudi Arabia, a nation which has, to be charitable, a …’mixed’ record on terrorism. And isn’t it the world’s dependence on oil that is behind so much of the tension in much of this world?

If such individuals really wanted to help their nation, and prevent more Americans from dying due to IEDs, they would be pedaling bicycles or, at least, driving compact cars.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Bronx's Answer to Sunnyside Gardens: Hillside Homes

Most people don't think of the Bronx when it comes to historic preservation.  But one block off of Boston Road in Williamsbridge lies Hillside Homes, a model housing complex that has made a remarkable comeback following years of decline. 

Around New York, architect Clarence Stein is best known for the Sunnyside Gardens and the Phipps Houses developments in Queens. A leader in the movement to create low-density, quality housing for people of modest means, Stein specialized in developing communities with plenty of open space. Like the Phipps Houses, Hillside featured mostly four-storey buildings, great brickwork, landscaped gardens and many walkways. Stein also added a community center, playgrounds and sunken interior courts.  

Like many areas, Hillside Homes was hard hit by economic hardship and the drug epidemic. But new management and some tough-minded residents have really turned this community around, and nowadays Hillside is a huge success.  When I visited there with some friends a while back I found the entire six-block area to be clean, well-maintained and cheerful. Kids played and older people relaxed outside. The residents we met were proud of their homes, which were graffiti-free. Compared to the projects, it was a virtual paradise. 

Hillside Homes is located one block west of Boston Road at Eastchester Road. It's a little bit out-of-the-way, but if you're interested in local history or historic preservation, it's worth the trip. 

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