Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Zoning: What a difference having rules makes...

Dish antennas are becoming popular, partly because monthly costs are lower than for cable.

But there are some rules:
The installers are supposed to get permits. The dish cannot be mounted on the front of a building, must not be visible from the street, and cannot exceed 2 feet in diameter.

It's nice to know the rules are guarding us from visual pollution.

-- Dan Damon

Keywords: Code enforcement

Monday, January 30, 2006

Plainfield Avenue underpass opens to traffic as NJT finishes work

Sometime in the early part of January 2006, without any fanfare, New Jersey Transit finished up the work on the Plainfield Avenue underpass.

Tarps, tools and barricades were removed and the street was swept and left open for traffic.

Most people had gotten in the habit of not going down Plainfield Avenue to try and get from one side to the other side of the tracks. So it took a few days for the word to percolate around that the underpass was indeed open, even though the 'Detour' signs were still visible on Front Street for a few days.

View of the refurbished underpass, facing North

The yearlong project may be the last that Plainfield sees for some time, as word has it that NJT's capital budget has run nearly dry.

With fourteen underpasses and one overpass [Terrill Road], Plainfield has more crossings than any other community on NJT's Raritan Valley Line.

A number of years ago, NJT did work on the Leland Avenue and Watchung and Park Avenue underpasses, in conjunction with work on the Main and Netherwood train stations.

Community activist Rasheed Abdul-Haqq was pleased with the investment NJT had made and with how attractive they were -- with their signage welcoming passersby by to the Queen City.

But, he wondered, what about the rest of the crossings, especially those in the West End. So he went out and inspected them, taking photographs to show their deteriorating condition.

He approached me about writing an extended letter to the editor for the Courier News about the issue. I suggested that perhaps he would have better luck if he made a presentation directly to the NJT Board of Directors.

Since their meetings are public, Rasheed made plans to attend their next public meeting and present the case for Plainfield's underpasses. He was allowed to speak to the Board and with the encouragement of stories in the Courier and Ledger, NJT soon agreed to a long-term plan of repairing and refurbishing Plainfield's underpasses.

Jersey Central logo , from one of the historic
predecessors of the Raritan Valley Line,
decorates the refurbished overpass

The work turned out to be quite extensive, taking about a year for each underpass that was done. The dislocation this caused for local businesses that depended on through traffic for customers was considerable, but merchants soldiered on resolutely and all seem to have recovered.

The worry, of course, is that drivers who are used to using a particular street may adjust to a new travel pattern and not come back at all once the obstacle is removed. Though I am not aware of any traffic studies being done subsequently, the impression is that traffic has picked back up to pre-repair levels.

So here we are in 2006 and the following underpasses have been completed: Rock, Clinton, Grant and
Plainfield Avenues. Along with Terrill Road, Leland, Watchung and Park Avenues, which were done earlier, a total of eight crossings have been refurbished.

This leaves seven to be done: Berckman, Richmond,
New, and Liberty Streets; Roosevelt, Madison and Central Avenues.

I'll follow up with another piece looking at conditions of these remaining underpasses in a future post.

-- Dan Damon

Keywords: NJT, Capital Improvements

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Queen City House Tour set for June

The city's six residential Historic Districts and Friends of Sleepy Hollow are joining together to put on the first 'Queen City House Tour.'

Mark your calendars now: Sunday, June 4th. 11:00 AM - 4:00 PM. Rain or shine.

Joining together to work on this project are the following:
  • Broadway Historic District
  • Crescent Area Historic District
  • Friends of Sleepy Hollow
  • Hillside Historic District
  • Netherwood Heights Historic District
  • Putnam-Watchung Historic District
  • Van Wyck Brooks Historic District
I'll keep you posted as further details are firmed up.

There will be a need for volunteers. Interested? Email me your interest and contact information and I will pass it along to the organizers.

-- Dan Damon

Keywords: House tour

Saturday, January 28, 2006

PHS grad Bourke-White gets an exhibit at Rutgers...after 85 years

Gutsy and adventurous, Margaret Bourke-White was a famed photographer whose major working period was during the Great Depression and World War II.

She was also a Plainfield High School graduate. Born in New York City, the family had moved to New Jersey and she lived between Plainfield and Bound Brook, in an area where families could choose between the two different school districts. They chose Plainfield.

Even at PHS, Bourke-White was what we today would call an edgy outsider. In a classic Plainfield putdown, one classmate recalled that students at PHS came in two varieties, the 'crystal chandelier set' and the 'linsey-woolsey set.' Margaret was decidedly linsey-woolsey.*

Tractor Factory, Stalingrad, 1930.

Not to worry. By the mid-1930s, she was having her photos published as covers on Life magazine. Her photography of massive New Deal construction projects is visually stunning. She also traveled to the Soviet Union and photographed life there during this decade.

Ft. Peck Dam, Life, Nov. 23, 1936

During the war she did many shoots of war production and women war workers for the federal government. At the end of the war, she was in Germany and photographed the liberation of prisoners of the Nazi death camps.

One of Bourke-White's most famous 1930's photos.
(Click on picture to enlarge.)

After World War II, she spent time studying and photographing Mahatma Gandhi's passive resistance movement which led to independence for India in 1947.

The Rutgers exhibit is curated by Gary Saretzky, an historian of photography and coordinator of intern programs for Rutgers' history department, and will run through May 31.

The exhibit focuses on the public's perception of Bourke-White at the height of her career and features many clippings, magazine picture-stories and other memorabilia.

The exhibit is at the Alexander Library, 169 College Avenue, and is open to the public during Library hours.

For more information, call the Library at: (732) 932-7505. A 50-page catalog of the exhibit is available.

Parking, as always, is on the street and somewhat of a hassle.

Rutgers information on the exhibit is here and the University press release is here.

A Google search of visual images of Bourke-White works on the Web will bring up over 1,800.

-- Dan Damon

*Linsey-woolsey: A coarse, homespun woven fabric of wool and linen or of wool and cotton. Hence, a person who wore homespun fabrics or was unsophisticated. A class-based snobbism.

Keywords: Exhibit, PHS, photography

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Van Wyck Brooks Historic District meeting tonight

[This dispatch by Dottie Gutenkauf passed along for the community. --Dan]

The next membership meeting
of the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District will be held at 8 pm on Thursday, January 26, [that's tonight ] at the home of Mark Newton and Sam Delgado, 990 Central Avenue.

The District's officers will be elected, so please be sure to attend if you are interested.

The Twelfth Night Dinner January 7th was a huge success--more people than ever attended. The food was terrific, the hosts and their homes were fabulous, the company was fun, and a surprisingly large number of people--including Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and her husband, Peter, as well as the new city administrator, Carlton McGee---stayed for the entire evening. Thanks to all who helped put it together, and special thanks to our hosts--Joseph and Vee DeMeyer, Mark Newton and Sam Delgado, and Rowand Clark and Sheila Harding.

The District's lawsuit to overturn the Zoning Board's decision on Abbott Manor has been filed, thanks to our attorney, VWB member Bill Michelson. He'll give us an update at the meeting.

And we'll get a report from president Gayle Jones on the developing plans for a spring house tour that will include homes from all of the city's Historic Districts. It's being coordinated by VWB member Victor Quinn, who also serves as president of the Netherwood Heights HD.

The District has many new members, and we met a lot of them January 7th. Welcome to all! And if by any chance you haven't paid your dues yet, treasurer Sue Keller will accept your check ($10 per person) at the meeting.

Zoning Board news: Sally Hughes is the new chairperson; Bill McNeill is the new vice-chair. Richard Olive continues as Board attorney. The Board's February 1 agenda includes a request for by the New Covenant Christian Association for a variance to allow them to use space in the church at 315 West 7th Street for a K-8 school. Notice was published January 13; all relevant documents are available for inspection at the Planning Office on the second floor of City Hall; the Board meets at 7 pm in the City Hall Library.

Planning Board news: Ken Robertson is the new chairperson; Ron Scott Bey is the new vice-chair. Michele Donato continues as Board attorney. They plan to review the Master Plan and Zoning Ordinance, as well as all of the redevelopment plans put on hold last year; and to begin work on the Capital Improvement Plan for Council approval in the spring. Next meeting is 8 pm on February 2 in the City Hall Library.

Historic Preservation Commission news: The first meeting of the year was held last evening, January 24, in the City Hall Library.

Keywords: Historic district, VWB

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Earthquake relief fundraiser - corrected post

Seems there was more to the fundraiser than I was aware of. It is being sponsored by a group that calls itself 'Plainfield Responds!' as Councilman Burney told me in an email Tuesday. Councilman Burney and his wife, Wendy, are indeed hosting the event at their home, but other portions of the event are being attended to by local businesses, residents and members of 'Plainfield Responds!'
------ Amended post below reflects new information------

Survivors of earthquakes in Southeast Asia have received far less in relief than other, more high-profile disasters such as the tsunami of Christmas 2004 and last fall's Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

But Plainfield Councilman Rashid Burney and members of 'Plainfield Responds!' intend to correct the oversight, as least as far as Plainfielders are concerned.

On Saturday, February 18th, 'Plainfield Responds!' will host a fundraiser at the home of
Councilman Burney and his wife Wendy to benefit the earthquake victims.

The evening will have a Venetian theme, according to the Councilman, and guests are invited to come in costume. There will be a buffet, music, and dancing.

Members of 'Plainfield Responds!' include:
Charles Weltner, Ellie Campolie, Mark Newton, and Paul Beckwith.

The entire proceeds from ticket sales will go to Direct Relief International, an important aid agency in the earthquake relief effort.

Earthquake Relief Fundraiser

Saturday, February 18, 7:00 PM

Home of Councilman Rashid and Wendy Burney
1127 Watchung Avenue

$35 per person

Councilman Burney, (908) 803-7606 or kit0415@yahoo.com

Keywords: Fundraiser

Monday, January 23, 2006

Jonas Lie, Norwegian-American artist with Plainfield ties gets New York show

Norwegian-American artist Jonas Lie, who painted the landscape that graces City Hall library is getting his own show in New York. Co-sponsored by the Embassy of Norway and the Spanierman Gallery, the show runs through February 25, 2006.

Plainfield actually has two Lie [pronounced 'lee'] paintings, the landscape in City Hall and a small painting of a solitary, wind-swept tree against a bright sky that is in the collection of the Plainfield Public Library.

The City Hall painting, with a donation plaque dated 'January 1, 1923,' is a very large landscape of a mountain tarn as seen through a stand of birches, a favorite motif of Lie, with mountains in the distance.

Although the value of the City Hall painting is not known, auction records showed recent sales of more modestly sized paintings in the $40,000 range. The painting, now mounted for 83 years, was recently cleaned, courtesy of Plainfield's Cultural and Heritage Commission. The dark tones are perfectly congruent with the Arts & Crafts period in architecture, in which a painting like this would have made itself right at home.

Who were the 'friends' who paid for, and donated, the painting? Only more research will reveal, but it was a magnificent gift and is an important part of our community cultural heritage, whether or not we pay much attention to it.

Spanierman Gallery
45 East 58th Street
New York City
(212) 832-0208
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 9:30 - 5:30

Spanierman has some of the exhibit online here
A biography of Jonas Lie is here
The Plainfield Public Library's painting is here

Keywords: Art, Lie

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Martin Luther King, Jr. - A Week of Events

A Week of Events Honoring
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

FRIDAY – January 13

“The Origins of Slavery”
Presentation by Willie Lynch

7:00 PM
Mohawk Lodge #307
1357 West Third Street
Hosted by Brian Bilal, Exalted Ruler
Sponsor: Mohawk Lodge #307

SATURDAY – January 14

“Martin Luther King, Jr.
– Educational Trailblazer”

2:00 – 4:00 PM
Hubbard Middle School Auditorium
661 West 8th Street
Free, for children and adults.
Sponsor: Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Omicron Chi Chapter

SUNDAY – January 15

An Ecumenical Service of Worship
Rev. Leon Harrell, Speaker

6:00 PM
Shiloh Baptist Church
515-17 West 4th Street
Sponsor: Concerned Urban Clergy

MONDAY – January 16

30th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr.
Memorial Breakfast

Dr. Herbert Daughtry, Speaker

8:30 AM
Plainfield High School Cafeteria
(Use Kenyon Avenue parking lot)
Sponsor: Frontiers International

MONDAY – January 16

Annual Martin Luther King, Jr.,
Commemorative Service

Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, Speaker
Pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Mt. Vernon, NY

7:00 PM
Shiloh Baptist Church
515-17 West 4th Street
Information: (908) 754-3353 x100
Sponsor: Shiloh Baptist Church
Rev. Gerald Lamont Thomas, Ph.D.,Pastor

TUESDAY – January 17

NAACP Martin Luther King, Jr. Essay Contest

Prizewinning essays by Plainfield students

7:00 PM
City Hall Library
(Parking behind City Hall)
Sponsor: NAACP – Plainfield Area Chapter

WEDNESDAY – January 18

“Live Like Dr. King: Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win”

Presentation and Workshop

7:00 – 9:00 PM
Friends Meetinghouse
Watchung Ave. & East 3rd St.
Sponsor: People’s Organization for Progress (POP)

Keywords: MLK

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Plainfield Events Calendar now online


OK, gang! The 'Plainfield Events' online calendar is up and running. Check it out here.

At last, Plainfield has a place to post every kind of community event: government, business and community meetings. Plays, concerts, recitals, poetry slams, exhibits, film screenings, debates, forums, workshops.

Go to the site and play around with it. There are flexible views -- the traditional 'box' calendar like your drycleaner or real estate person gives you, and a 'list' view, where everything is presented in rows. When in the block/box mode, clicking on the event name pops up a printable window with the details for just that event.

There are the following categories: exhibits, performances, business, community, elections and government.

To date, the following have been posted: City Council meetings (agenda, business, and budget) for 2006; Zoning, Planning, Historic Preservation and Cultural & Heritage Boards/Commissions; events honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; the Plainfield Symphony, Crescent Concerts, the Plainfield Chamber of Commerce, the grand opening of an Internet cafe, and various other items.

Your further contribution of items will make it even better.

It exists for the community, so let's make use of it. Send your items to me by using this form.

-- Dan Damon

Keywords: Events calendar

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Bizz: There is life after death

There is life after death, and I'm living proof.

As you are aware, if you've been getting the daily 'Clippings,' my laptop crashed in early December. Of course, my 'life' was on it -- isn't everyone's? Bought a year ago, it had a couple of gigs of stuff that had not been backed up. Including my email address book, which led to some people not getting the dailies throughout December.

It's a scary thing going through the Yellow Pages looking for someone to fix this kind of problem. What if the diagnosis is the operating system cannot be recovered, meaning reformatting the hard drive and losing all the data? Scary thought.

Finally, I put myself into the hands of the wonderworkers at Dial Electronics in Scotch Plains. Paul and his assistant, Eric, have an excellent bedside manner, calming the patient and giving a reassuring prognosis.

Leaving the machine late Monday afternoon, along with a diagnostic fee, I received a call on Wednesday morning with news that the drive could be recovered. Upon approving the work, my machine would be ready mid-afternoon. Wow!

When I arrived, Paul booted her up to show things were working. Then, seeing my Desktop covered with icons for unfiled graphics and newspaper clippings, he opined I might want to file them so I could see my nice wallpaper -- a painting by American regionalist Thomas Hart Benton.

Paying for the work while thanking them both profusely, I told them I would write up the experience on my blog -- and hoped it might bring them some good luck.

So. . . First of all, back up regularly. It'ls like flossing. Just get in the habit and do it. On the off chance you won't listen to the voice of experience, save this posting and you can call Paul to bring you back from the dead.

-- Dan Damon

..........Dial Electronics
..........417 Park Avenue [across from the Municipal Building]
..........Scotch Plains, NJ 07076
..........(908) 322-0101
..........email: dial322@comcast.net

P.S. Paul uses Mozilla's Firefox browser, as do I. It's a religious thing.

Keywords: Business, technology, computers

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Bowser, Choi inaugurals pack extra punch

East Orange Mayor Robert Bowser's swearing-in and that of Edison's new mayor Jun Choi both boasted an extra punch: Governor-elect Jon Corzine and US Senator-designate Bob Menendez were both present.

In Choi's case, Corzine actually administered the oath of office, and the crowd sang a surprise 'Happy Birthday' to Corzine and Menendez, both of whom are New Year's babies.

News coverage of the East Orange festivities highlighted that this was Bowser's third term, a first for an African-American and only the secod 3-term mayor in East Orange's history. Another milestone was the seating of seven women as members of the 10-person City Council.

Though the NJN news clip didn't say so, I saw Bonnie Watson Coleman in the background of the footage, prompting the guess that she swore in at least some of the elected officials.

I, for one, am disappointed
Corzine and Menendez couldn't find their way to Plainfield on such an auspicious day.

Keywords: Corzine, Menendez

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Plainfield events calendar near

Years ago, when I was community programs coordinator at the Plainfield Public Library and working on the ATT-funded 'New Audiences for Plainfield' cultural planning project, one of the things that everyone wanted was a community events calendar.

This was in the infancy of the Internet, and the highest tech option available was a sort of kinder, gentler 'phone tree from hell' where callers would navigate voice prompts to obtain information on upcoming cultural activities in the community.

The project foundered, not over the technology, but because it was so cumbersome to get organizers to get the information in on a timely basis.

Fast forward ten years . . . the web has become the air which we breathe, and there are online calendar products that will make the job much easier -- basically, putting producers of events in the driver's seat.

I have developed a prototype Plainfield Events calendar that is just about ready for prime time.

Use this link to send me an email with details of any event you wish to have posted and I'll put it up.

Stay tuned for the launch announce.

--Dan Damon

Keywords: Calendar, events

Monday, January 02, 2006

About 'Plainfield Today'


As of New Year's Day, I no longer have public relations responsibilities for the City of Plainfield.

'Plainfield Today' was begun as my personal blog, but with a very particular focus. For eight years, I have dutifully ground out press releases on City policies and activities -- from the momentous to the ephemeral. One of the constant frustrations of any public information practitioner is how little of the material laboriously prepared ever sees the light of day: the media, of course, have their own ideas of what is important, and how important anything that goes on in Plainfield is. So you live with it and try not to whine.

But straws have been known to break camel's backs. And one straw finally broke mine: the refusal by one of the major media outlets to consider the City's online auction of anticipatory notes this past Fall as newsworthy. Pleading made no difference.

So I did what millions of other resourceful American have done, I started a blog: 'Plainfield Today.' And the very first posting was about the online auction [
"Plainfield offers $11.7M in notes online, a first" ].

'Plainfield Today' is my personal blog, no taxpayer money has been spent on setting it up or maintaining it. That being said, to date I have used it solely as a method of putting out the City's press releases on as frequent a basis as possible. This is for two reasons. First, it means that if citizens are interested, there is a place to look regularly, on the odd chance that the media will not pick up on City activities. Secondly, the blog's instantaneousness overcomes the lag -- sometimes two weeks or more -- in getting material posted to the City's official website.

Effective New Year's Day, postings to 'Plainfield Today' will no longer be press releases of the City of Plainfield. Going forward, press releases from the City will emanate from the office of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs.

This means that 'Plainfield Today' will now be able to expand its view to include not only news items about City activities and/or policies, but opinion pieces and a category of 'sightings and gossip' [ think the New York Post's 'Page Six' ]. All, of course, in my signature modest style.

And a 'Happy New Year' to all!

-- Dan Damon

Keywords: Press releases

A prayer for our new mayor


As Sharon Robinson-Briggs begins her term as Plainfield's first woman mayor, we enter a new era for our Queen City. I offer this prayer for her:

As the excitement of your Inaugural events recedes, you will quickly be buffeted by the demands of office: constituents with wish-lists -- not always reasonable or doable; conflicting opinions from your supporters about what should be done and what should be done first; and the inevitable precise scrutiny of the media. You will need to be strong; I pray for you the gift of STRENGTH.

Being able to lighten tension with a bit of humor, to make those with whom you must deal -- whether meeting with a neighborhood group or negotiating a prickly and complicated issue -- feel that they are valued even if not always agreed with, will require a special grace. A sense of humor will serve you well; I pray for you the gift of HUMOR.

Resourcefulness and being nimble are important to succeeding when dealing with the complicated maze of getting the resources needed to succeed -- whether from the county, the state, or the federal government. You will need agility to take timely advantage of opportunities. I pray for you the gift of AGILITY.

In government, too much is often lost because of delay or inertia, or the 'we've always done it this way' mentality. You will need to be ready to move quickly when opportunity arises, and to move decisively when the common welfare is at stake. I pray for you the gift of READINESS.

The citizens, the media, and the world at large will look to you to be open and accessible, even when you are busy or tired. They will look for you to be frank and forthright, whether or not that may seem the best course of action. Despite its personal cost to you, openness will confirm your leadership. I pray for you the gift of OPENNESS.

The Queen City is a proud community. If we have not received our due over the past 35 years, it is not because we lack pride. As we survey the wreckage that corruption and self-dealing have brought on many New Jersey communities in recent times, it is clear that nobility of purpose and conduct would have saved them from error and grief. Such nobility of purpose and conduct will serve you and Plainfield well. I pray for you the gift of NOBILITY.

The '!' mark denotes enthusiasm. Enthusiasm will go a long way to overcome the routine that fills much of a Mayor's time -- events you will have to attend rather than being at home with your family, people who will bore or annoy you, media people who will not take 'No comment' for an answer. You will need it on occasion to motivate you to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I pray for you the gift of ENTHUSIASM!

-- Dan Damon

Keywords: Mayor