In September 2020, New York began to sample and test wastewater at New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) wastewater plants for COVID-19.
If you recall an earlier post on wastewater and New York – https://hnba.nyc/where-does-my-sewage-go/ – you may remember that virtually all of Harlem’s wastewater (basically anything that goes down your drain or toilet) ends up at Wards’ Island’s DEP complex. New York Open Data has made the wastewater sampling data available, so I decided to plot COVID-19 as detected in our (Harlem’s) poop.
As you likely know, wastewater sampling can only give a community average of sorts, but what it does (that swab sampling of individual New Yorkers can’t do) is integrates information on the people who never or rarely test.
The chart above is amazing and terrifying at the same time. The left-hand side is September 2020, and the right hand side is April 2022.
That crazy spike is from 12/27/2021 – after Thanksgiving 2021, around Christmas – when Omicron converged in the US. Holiday travel, family gatherings, shopping, and the shift to socializing indoors, all combined with a more contagious COVID variant.
Completed in 1937, the Wards Island Sewage Treatment plant was the first to use the activated sludge process to treat sewage by removing solid matter, known as sludge, to leave behind clean water that could be released back into the environment. Prior to this only a fraction of the city’s sewage received treatment. Instead, most spilled from sewers directly into surrounding waterways where it strangled marine life and polluted city beaches. The project was realized with more than $11 million in grant monies from the Works Progress Administration. By 1939, both the Bowery Bay and Tallman Island sewage treatment plants were also in operation with more being planned. Today 14 Wastewater Resource Recovery Facilities treat over 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater every single day and New York City’s waterways are cleaner than ever.
Below is a photo of the sewage treatment plant in 1950.
The area to the north, where the FDNY training facility now exists, was a marshy peninsula, sticking out towards the Bronx.
Here is an image of this plant being build during the New Deal 1930s:
And the completed Administration building:
New Uptown Gallery and Exhibition
Be sure to check-out the AHL Foundation’s new gallery in Harlem (on FDB at 139). Their inaugural exhibition features Buhm Hong, Gyun Hur, Devin Osorio and Dianne Smith and is well worth visiting.
The exquisite drawings and digital art by Buhm Hong is mesmerizing and somehow both calming and disquieting at the same time.
New York, NY – AHL Foundation is proud to announce the opening of its first gallery in West Harlem in April 2022. The wheelchair-accessible gallery is located on the ground floor 2605 Frederick Douglass Blvd, New York, NY with a basement space for additional programming. The new space houses the Archive of Korean Artists in America (AKAA) and an educational space for the community.
Following AHL Foundation’s move to Harlem after its 19 year history, it is fitting that this inaugural exhibition in the new space uptown responds to its new neighborhood. Guest curated by Amy Kahng, the inaugural exhibition, Space Uptown opens to the public on April 30, 3-6pm and is on view until May 21, 2022.
An exhibition about locality and neighborhood history, the exhibition features artistic practices that reflect the local neighborhood. Participating artists Buhm Hong, Gyun Hur, Devin Osorio, and Dianne Smith, three of whom live and work in upper Manhattan, consider the communities, histories, memories, and environments that make up Harlem and Upper Manhattan more broadly.
Dianne Smith’s dynamic video work, The House of Lois K. Alexander-Lane, celebrates Harlem’s Black cultural history by weaving together footage from Smith’s participation as a young model in the 1985-1989 iterations of Harlem Fashion Week. Buhm Hong’s intricate and labyrinthine architectural designs, rendered both digitally and on paper, draw on various architectural references from his personal biography including his current homebase in Harlem. Devin Osorio’s fantastical paintings and sculptural works document his neighborhood of Washington Heights, highlighting the quotidian experiences of community, work, commuting, and familial connections. The twelve teardrop vessels filled with Hudson and Harlem River water by Gyun Hur reflect on loss, commemoration, and memory, particularly for the victims of the 2021 Atlanta Spa shooting. Installed here in Harlem, Hur’s work takes on new resonances within the current and historical movements for racial justice that have taken place in this neighborhood.
At the base of the Triborough bridge (where the pedestrian walkway starts in Astoria) there is a wonderful, vintage and cast metal map of Randalls Island:
Note the red button on the right-hand side that indicates where you are.
Note how Wards Island was not ‘open’ to the public (greyed out) and had a dock on the east river. There is also a more significant water/marsh/wetland separating the two islands at the time – although admittedly they were physically joined by infill.
Got the itch to do some spring cleaning? Then meet up with Uptown Grand Central this weekend to spring clean on a massive scale.
This Saturday, April 10, marks the kick-off of Uptown’s spring cleaning season, with the first of our warm-weather community clean-ups along the East 125th Street corridor. We’re glad to be doing it in partnership with the Sanitation Foundation (who, yes! know a thing or two about trash)!
We’ll meet up at noon in the Uptown community space under the tracks at 125th Street & Park Avenue. Gloves, brooms and other supplies will be provided, so sign up here to help us get a headcount! Social distancing will be enforced. And most likely there’ll be snacks.
Where Does My Sewage Go?
Quick. Do you know where your sinks, bathtubs, showers, and toilets eventually empty? For most of us in Harlem, our sewage waste goes to Wards Island to the sewage treatment plant that was built in the 1940’s in the shadow of the Hellgate Bridge.
A 2013 plan to upgrade the facility is ongoing, but since the Public Works Administration built the Wards Island plant, your sewage flows (in a pipe) under the East River to Wards Island where in 8 hours, the solids are removed, the liquid cleaned, and the resulting clean water is put into the East River.
In the map above, any drain or toilet in the purple area, eventually gets to Wards Island.
Please note that you should never believe that anything labeled ‘flushable’ is indeed flushable. Do not put it in the toilet. Place it in a garbage can and take it out with the solid waste.
COVID-19 Positivity and Vaccination Rates for Harlem
Before Wards Island and the infamous M35 bus, Camp LaGuardia, north of the city near Chester, NY, was New York City’s homeless facility.
Camp LaGuardia begin in 1918 as a prison for women, but in 1934 it became a work camp for homeless men. Men at the camp were trained under a scheme of “rehabilitative work” and it was hoped that they would find employment at the many nearby resorts in the Catskills.
By the 1990s, Camp LaGuardia’s homeless population had grown to consist more of young, drug addicted and/or mentally ill males who were allowed the leeway to leave the grounds. The residents of Chester were on edge after incidents of lewdness and public urination. As part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s five-year plan to reduce homelessness in New York City and allocation of Camp LaGuardia’s $19 million budget on more long-term solutions such as subsidized housing, city officials announced the closing of the camp in November 2006.
New York City sold the Camp LaGuardia to Orange County in 2007 for $8.5 million.
Lead with Brown Bike Girl
Everyone is invited to attend another round of group ride leader training with The Brown Bike Girl!
The purpose of this training is to build local cycling leadership and provide safe, local opportunities to ride outside. Participants will receive free training and promotional items, and are expected to lead at least 1 group bike ride in East Harlem in 2021. Details about this year’s training cycle are included below. Please let us know if you have any questions, and share this opportunity with your communities!