On the Waterfront

Last year, Obsidian Kitten moved from a very urban area (Hoboken, which is a mile-square town just across the Hudson River from Manhattan) to a relatively rural one.

There is now talk amongst the village elders of building an industrial park on a large tract of farmland near the highway interchange. This plan has struck a surprisingly raw nerve with me.

I don't really think of myself as a political person. I am glad that there are people who are.

Mostly I'm just opinionated and kind of irritable. But I'm really grateful that there are people who care enough to do things about things -- you know, circulate petitions, organize marches, call senators, make signs. (I can sign and march and send email.)

And I vote. That's something easy enough for a relatively unmotivated person like myself to do. In my opinion, if you don't vote, you don't get to complain, at least not to me. So please vote. Then we can debate.

If you are a person who believes your vote doesn't count, please read the following. It is my story about voting.

This story concerns Hoboken's riverfront development and
the public referendums that ultimately shaped it into something
beautiful: a reasonable combination of commercial & residential
low-rise property designed with Hoboken's small scale in mind,
public access to the Hudson River the entire length of town, with
great public parks and even a commuter ferry slip.

Had the Hoboken Mayor and City Council originally had their way,
high-rises would've blocked the town off from the river with big
commerical construction that lacked proper permits or adequate
infrastructure. (I wonder if those folks paying $500,000 for condos
in Hoboken now would fork that over for rooms with no views and
no river access?) [And no, that's NOT an extra zero in there LOL]

Anyway, I wrote this last fall when friends were getting
discouraged about the upcoming elections. It's just my opinion,
based on my personal experience.

Bigger is not always better, but sometimes it's hard to put a price
tag on quality over quantity.

Once you smack a high-rise on your riverbank, or pave over your farmland, you can't get it back. Ever.

Just One Voice
Sept. 2004

I moved to Hoboken, NJ when I was 21 and called it my
hometown-of-choice for 14 years. This little Mile-Square City,
home to 30,000+ people, has a gorgeous mile-long stretch of
waterfront facing the west side of Manhattan. (Anyone seen "On the Waterfront"? It was filmed in Hoboken. *proud grin*)

Once the shipping industry closed its ports in the 1960s, the
Hoboken Waterfront (and Hoboken itself) fell into disrepair. The
1980s met an influx of artists looking for studios and inexpensive
housing, and these were soon followed by Yuppies and
gentrification (for both better and for worse).

Anyway, city officials were delighted with the 80s economic boom
and decided to develop the abandoned waterfront property.
Despite a ban on new construction of buildings over six stories,
they came up with a plan for several huge riverfront towers--office
buildings, luxury housing and the like. One particularly corrupt
builder, with ties to the mayor (who had ties to--well, that's another
story), was slated to begin the immense project. Permits were handed round with no due process and work was slated to begin.

A few citizens began asking questions. Why not have public parks on the waterfront? Is there infrastructure to support these enormous buildings? Do they meet building codes? There should be public access to the river, they argued. Moreover, city residents should have some say in what happens to the--to THEIR--waterfront.

The mayor and city council turned a deaf ear. So--to the shock and
horror of the city government--the Hobokenites called for a public

I should mention here that Hoboken is a city where it was tradition
for dead voters to turn in ballots, for people to vote twice (or more),
and for city employees to show up at the polls under duress, fearful
of losing their jobs. Yet the first public referendum was won by the
"Coalition for a Better Waterfront" (CBW) by a mere handful of
votes (I believe by a margin of 5 or 6 votes). City officials called for
a recount, of course, but the results were the same. The city
stubbornly pushed forward and took the CBW to court, contesting
their votes.

With the help of several local lawyers working for the CBW pro
bono, the CBW won the referendum in the end and the mayor's
project was blocked. Two more public referendums eventually
were called in relation to the waterfront project, and each was won
by the people (over the city government), by narrow margins. In the
end, the public had a big say in development of Hoboken's

A decade later, Hoboken's riverfront incorporates lowrise mixed-
use buildings that incorporate affordable housing. There
is public access to the waterfront the entire length of Hoboken (and
to adjacent towns as well. There are several public parks,
ballfields, a bike path, a skateboard park, an outdoor ampitheater,
and a ferry slip.

I might also mention that this same waterfront property (post 9/11)
has attracted an international publishing company, financial firms,
and others, plus some pretty swanky riverfront restaurants--but all
in buildings **in keeping with Hoboken's personality and small-
town scale.**

So, I know from experience that a mere 2 or 3 votes matter. A lot. I
voted in those elections. If I hadn't? Well...my vote counted.

Love in a ballot box,


everybody's looking for something

Obsidian Kitten has just returned from a journey to her southern homeland and a reunion with friends and faces of the past.

The Georgia coast is still hot and humid, "sweet tea" is still never Snapple, crabs and shrimp still come off the boat (not out of a freezer), and voices remain, as always, soft, caressing, and familiar.

I travelled with some baggage, and left much of it there.

Returning home, I think of my 87-year-old grandmother, who is not from Georgia, but from Pennsylvania Dutch country. Her eldest son (and my favorite uncle) died last year, as did my grandfather (and her husband of 60+ years). She lives alone in the house my father grew up in, tending her tomatoes and roses and her enormous grape arbor. She is lonely now, and so much thinner than I remember.

"All my friends are dead," she says, her perfectly white hair still always perfectly set.

This is not remorse, or self-pity. It is a statement of plain fact.

She had been in a sewing circle with the same group of friends for over six decades. These women have all passed away. Her brothers. Parents. The neighbors she knew. The customers in the grocery store her family ran for more than thirty years on Main Street. The women she traded recipes with at church picnics. All gone now.

My grandmother remembers all of their names, and many of their children's names (although she would not recognize the grown children now, with the children and grandchildren of their own). And she can tell stories about many of them, who talked funny, who practiced pow-wow, who was in a tragic accident, who moved to Florida, who had their hip replaced, who lost their husband in the war. She remembers everything, and is writing it all down.

But the people are all gone. Her friends really are all dead now.

Most--though not all--of my friends are still living. And many of us were kissed by the sweet, salty southern ocean breeze last weekend.

I am very blessed in this.



Emma, Copernicus, & Grey Cat Posted by Picasa

Llamas are watching you Posted by Picasa

Hmmmm...an odd prophecy

I had a very odd and powerful dream once and woke up with the distinct feeling that God had revealed to me something very important about life. But all that I could remember of the dream was one simple yet majestic image:

All the blades of grass on the mountainside bent together in the wind.

Talk amongst yourselves.

From City Mouse to Country Mouse

If you don't live in a city, I doubt any of these things will seem strange to you. But I grew up in the suburbs, then lived in NYC for 15 years. My spouse was born and raised in Queens. So all these little things struck us as, well, kinda startling.

So here's my list of "Ways I Know We Live in the Country":

1. I had to put those reflectors on plastic sticks in the front yard so I could find our driveway in the dark.
2. Our town has a First St., Second St., and Third St. -- then you're out of town.
3. I drive a 1988 Ford Bronco II and a woman stopped me at the gas station to ask me what year it was because she had the same model. She thought this was very cool.
4. The busiest place in our town is the King Kone ice cream joint. And yes, it IS shaped like an ice cream cone. With a cherry on top.
5. There are no stoplights in our town (unless you count the one at the end of town where you hit the highway).
6. We throw dirty kitty litter in the grass at the edge of our yard.
7. We feed all our food scraps to the chickens.
8. We toss any moldy or rotten food, onions, garlic, and coffee grounds on a compost pile.
9. We burn the rest of our garbage in a 50-gallon drum.
10. If a deer gets hit on the road in front of your house, no one comes to pick it up. You have to remove it yourself. I know because we had to do this.
11. It takes at least five hours to mow the lawn on the riding mower. (And I actually *like* mowing the lawn.)
12. A bevy of bats comes out of the barn at dusk every night. We like bats (they eat bugs).
13. On a clear night you can actually see the Milky Way. And shooting stars.
14. My spouse and I both have muck shoes -- and wear them. (Yes, this is the man who practically wore his combat boots to bed.)
15. Cows live next door.
16. You can make an entire meal (like ratatouille) with vegetables from the garden.
17. We canned homegrown fruits, vegetables, pickles, and salsa.
18. I have been doing crossstitch. I also learned to needle-felt with wool from our llamas.
19. We are going to the State Fair this week.
20. The hardward store is closer than the grocery store.
21. I shop at the Feed'n'Seed.
22. You hear train whistles instead of sirens.
23. Almost no one is ever seen talking on a cell phone.
24. There are far more more pick-ups than SUVs.
25. It's 12 miles to the nearest Starbucks.
26. Every room in our house except one is panelled.
27. Our mailbox is across the road with one of those little red flags you put up so the mailman knows you have mail to pick up. (This completely baffled my spouse, who is from Queens.)
28. There's no cable TV. We had to get a satellite dish.
29. Our water comes from a WELL.
30. We hear coyotes several times a week, and see a pair of sandhill cranes almost as often.

step into my parlor said the spidress...

It is a dark night in Michigan as I join the blog universe. I am a blog newbie. And let me tell you, I hate doing anything new. I hate change. I hate jumping on bandwagons, I hate liking things other people like, I hate that I have begun wearing colors other than black now that I live in Michigan (and I really hate that I have three pairs of overalls in place of long black skirts. Well, I still have the skirts, but they're just not practical for cleaning up after llamas.)

In fact, I have bibbed shorts, I have full-length overalls, and I have fully-lined thermal Carhart overalls. (Aside from the fact that these are an atrocious shade of tan, these things totally rock in the winter.) I have muck shoes for summer and artic muck boots for winter. I have even planted green things in soil and they have produced vegetables that we have actually eaten.

For someone whose only outdoor access was a fire escape for 15 years, this is all very, very strange. I have even learned to ride a lawn tractor.

Cats do not like change. They do not like it one bit. But they do like green things. They like to go outside and eat grass, and then throw it up in slimy piles on the kitchen floor. Or in the shag carpet. Which makes the carpet, actually, very like a wet garden when you walk through it in sleepy bare feet.

I welcome you to Obsidian Kitten. Please come in. Posted by Picasa