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NYC and Dynamic Change: A Reflection by Sarah Hartman

Written by Sarah Hartman

As a Fordham University undergraduate, I found it an enriching and necessary experience to take the Master Class on New York City and Dynamic Change with Dr. Sheinkopf. Because New York is Fordham’s campus, it is important for me as a student to get to know the city and its current events. New York is ever changing and Dr. Sheinkopf emphasized this in his class. Dr. Sheinkopf was a perfect guide as he is a New York native and knows the ins and outs of New York City politics. With Dr. Sheinkopf we explored the five boroughs and their evolution. A thought-provoking topic of discussion was demographic inversion, a phenomenon affecting many US cities, including New York. Demographic inversion is the process of upper class individuals and families moving into the city while those who are less affluent replace them in the suburbs. This phenomenon is directly related to gentrification, the displacement of low income and minority communities, a process that we as a Fordham community should be cognizant of. The demand for inner city living is growing in popularity but with this growth, one must look at the counter effect. As rent increases, as well as gas prices, the demand for low-income housing increases.

I was particularly interested in our discussion of low-income housing and the issues pertaining to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). NYCHA apartments are in high demand but are in terrible shape. People live in squalor and endure high crime rates to be able to live in the city. Some of the apartments are infested with mold and have lead paint issues that have resulted in lead poisonings. To talk more about this issue, Dr. Sheinkopf brought in Gregory Floyd, the president of the Local 237 Teamsters. One of the issues that Mr. Floyd discussed was the security of NYCHA buildings. Police units assigned to the apartments have been limited and while crime is down in New York City, crime remains steady in NYCHA apartments. This was expressed with frustration as efforts to improve public housing has left the union out of the loop. Mr. Floyd told the class of how the Union has ideas and wants to help the housing authority, but they go ignored. It was a great opportunity to get to hear from someone who knows exactly what is going on and what could happen in the future. This class was an eye-opening experience, one that I could only have gotten from Dr. Sheinkopf.

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NYC and Dynamic Change: A Master Class by Dr. Hank Scheinkopf

Written by Michael Weldon

A political insider for decades, Dr. Hank Sheinkopf’s master class, New York City and Dynamic Change, focused on a central question:  What is power?  Simply defined, power is the ability for A to get B to do something; or alternatively, to do nothing, to force a non-decision.  Power does what power wants and does not ask permission.

Dr. Scheinkopf provided fascinating insight to the historical factors, which brought such dramatic change to the city over the course of the 20th century.  From systemic corruption at the highest levels of government down through the ranks of the police force, to organized crime and labor unions, to entanglements between bankers and developers, the story of New York City is of epic proportion.  A historian of New York City, Dr. Scheinkopf extemporaneously delved into the city’s main players of the previous century, from Frank Costello and the political machine of Tammany Hall, to the Irish dominated police force, the Italian mafia, as well as the powerful Catholic Church.

Dr. Scheinkopf explained as the GI’s returned home from the war in ’44-’45 to a housing shortage, new homes were built with guaranteed mortgages and guaranteed profit.  New York’s “master builder”, public official Robert Moses, favored projects like expressways out to the suburbs, over public transit, and with that, great change followed.  The automobile would transform the city as white families fled for a suburban life.  Jobs changed, manufacturing changed, and the city was left with empty spaces, fewer jobs, and a decline of social welfare.  The population that would fill the vacuum were blacks migrating from the south, and Puerto Ricans from the Caribbean.  Racially biased policies against the city’s new residents resulted in the deterioration of once flourishing city neighborhoods as the process of ‘ghettoization’ ushered in the era of ‘war on crime’ and mass incarceration.  Through myriad examples of politics at work, Dr. Sheinkopf drove home his point that power has no political affiliation, yet all societal conditions are political.

Originally planned for three-days, the two-day master class included guest speakers Gregory Floyd, President of the Local 237 Teamsters Union, and Justice George Grasso of the Bronx County Court.  Mr. Floyd spoke of a variety of examples to weaken the trade and labor unions through the concentration of private and corporate capital.  Judge Grasso shared his interesting life’s trajectory from a NYC ‘beat’ cop who moved up the ranks to become a Bronx County Court Justice.

This class was an intriguing whirlwind of New York City history and the political forces, which shaped it.  Supplemented by compelling reading selections and two eminent guest speakers, Dr. Scheinkopf’s lectures made plain that the course of history which New York City took was not guided by the invisible hand, but rather determined by fierce, if not ruthless, competition for its resources.  The take away is simple: examine issues from every angle, and participate in the struggle for equitable change.

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NYC and Dynamic Change: A Reflection by Patrick Slutter

Written by Patrick Slutter, IPED

One of the best aspects of being a graduate student at Fordham is living with and interacting with New York City. The size and scale of the city may seem daunting to some, which lends to the reputation, that New York is anonymous and indifferent. However, with context of the city’s history and the people who shape it today and in the past. Dr. Sheinkopf NYC and Dynamic Change course perfectly blended the history and academic facets of studying the city with the in person interactions with people who know and affect the city today. Dr. Sheinkopf encyclopedic knowledge of the city, through the policies and the people, as well as the academic papers, which examine them, is an invaluable resource for any New Yorker trying to get their arms around the complexity of New York City today. Dr. Sheinkopf undoubtedly has the knowledge and energy to carry through a two and half hour lecture without protest from any students, but instead, the class was enriched through round table discussions where students were given equal footing as the expert special guests.

The persisting issues that the city faces, among them housing, crime and transportation, are best first approached as phenomenons to understand rather than problems to solve. Throughout the class, not a week would go by when the course material came alive in the news. Behind each headline, there is a hundred years of history, for instance the persisting crises of the City Housing Authority do not exist in a bubble; they are the direct results of decisions made by elected and unelected officials of the course of decades. The L train debacle, the future of Riker’s Island, the opioid crisis, and Amazon’s move to Long Island City are all the subjects of ardent conversations between New Yorkers. Dr. Sheinkopf’s classes changed the way that I think and talk about these issues and others.

Another valuable aspect of the Dynamic Change class was that it drew students from a variety of backgrounds. Too often in graduate level study students get cloistered away in their own discipline with very little cross pollination from one field to the next. All of the students in the course took a chance by signing up for a class not specifically in any of our departments, that made all the difference.  

Dr. Sheinkopf course was able to appeal to me as a student in the International Political Economy and Development (IPED), but it also appealed to computer science students and teachers. We each brought our own experiences and perspectives to the class which made it truly interdisciplinary. Truly inspired learning has a “going down the rabbit hole” nature to it. The NYC and Dynamic Change readings and discussions lead me to pursue more books on the subject which only incited me to go further. This spring semester I am taking Urban Economics which gives me the opportunity to explore the issues and history of New York City further.

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Honoring Earth Day

Last month, in honor of Earth Day, two GSAS graduate students, Elizabeth Carlen and Elle Barnes gave up purchasing food in plastic.

Both of us are scientists, and because of the nature of our research we were unable to completely give up plastics. Sample tubes, petri dishes, pipette tips, and many other everyday lab supplies are plastic and essential for our research. However, because we’re often in remote areas to conduct research we see first hand the far-reaching effects of single-use plastic.

Plastic debris on Henderson Island showing the far-reaching effects of plastic debris in our environment. Photo © J. Lavers via Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

We consider ourselves relatively environmentally aware.  We carry reusable water bottles, recycle everything we can, carpool, carry reusable tote bags, are conscious of food/water waste, limit our meat consumption, eat/shop local, and so on. Elle was the self-proclaimed ‘garbage police’ as a child, checking trash cans for recyclables and lecturing people about what can actually be thrown away.

But we decided to embark on this endeavor for two reasons: (a) to help make ourselves aware of all the single-use plastics we consume and (b) to see where we could cut out or reduce single-use plastic from our lives.

Here are some things we found.

  1. It’s really difficult to cut out plastic! Our first grocery shopping trip was spent wandering around the grocery store trying to meal plan and realizing we were going to have to get creative. Chips and crackers were completely out (before you tell us that some bags look like aluminum or paper: well, they are actually made from metal or paper molded with low density plastic and thus, cannot be recycled), as were cheese, meats, berries (fresh & frozen) and most dairy (gone are the days of paper cartons without plastic). Fruits and vegetables were placed directly in our carts (instead of plastic bags) and washed at home. If we did want cheese or meat it had to be bought at the deli counter so we could ask the butcher/monger to only wrap the item in paper. Snacks on campus were even more difficult since plastic tended to be the only option. This meant we had to remember to bring snacks with us or leave campus and scout the local delis (which also contained mostly plastic-based foods).

Chip aisle at Whole Foods. Photo © E. Carlen

 

Snack options in the vending machine options at Walsh Library are all in plastic. Photo © E. Carlen

  1. BYOE — Bring Your Own Everything. Both of us were already in the habit of carrying reusable water bottles, coffee mugs, and Elle had been carrying reusable silverware. Elizabeth dug out her camping silverware, as well as metal straws. We also found that we could bring paper lunch bags to buy bulk items at the grocery store; this allowed us to purchase pasta, rice, and dried fruit that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to buy.
  2. There are a lot of hidden plastics. Foods in cardboard containers or glass that you think have no plastic have hidden plastic. Bartenders & waitstaff often put straws in your drinks without asking if you need them. This meant that on multiple occasions Elizabeth had to chase down waitstaff after ordering and ask them to not add a straw. It also meant that we bought food on multiple occasions not realizing there was plastic in or on it. It happens and helped us realize how prevalent plastic is, even when trying to avoid it.

 

Hidden plastic seal on San Pellegrino water. Photo © E. Carlen

  1. Think about if you actually need to use that plastic. At times we had to get creative. Early in the month we both forgot our silverware and ended up eating salad with a single pair of wooden chopsticks passed between us. At school social events sandwiches were placed directly on napkins (no wasting a plastic plate) and paper cups were used instead of plastic bowls.

 

Fruit eaten out of a paper cup with a coffee-stirrer ‘utensil’. Photo © E. Carlen 

  1. Be conscious of the alternatives. So if we aren’t going to use plastic, what are some alternatives? We prefer paper or metal items. In general though, any single-use item is wasteful–no matter the material. For instance, single-use chopsticks are extremely damaging to the environment as large areas of forest are cleared throughout the world to provide wood for the chopstick industry, having cascading impacts on the ecosystem. An alternative: reusable bamboo or metal chopsticks. Similar to the chip bags mentioned before, many paper coffee cups are actually not recyclable because they are made by molding plastic to the inside. This helps prevent the paper from breaking down and keeps your coffee warmer for longer. The cup may be made of recycled materials, but once it becomes a coffee cup, it becomes waste. In an effort to close the loop on coffee cups, many coffee shops have begun switching to more environmentally friendly cups that use a different method to adhere the plastic making them recyclable. However, a better option would be a cup that uses a plant-based liner, making it both recyclable and plastic-free. The best alternative: bring your own reusable coffee cup to the coffee shop–even Fordham’s Rose Hill on-campus Starbucks acknowledges BYOC (Bring Your Own Cup)–and many coffee shops will even give you a discount for it.

Overall this experience was incredibly enlightening and helped us learn more ways to cut out plastic from our everyday lives. While we were both very happy to be able to buy some of our favorite foods again on May 1st, we’ll continue many of the practices throughout the year. Our endeavor is especially timely due to National Geographic’s June 2018 issue entitled “Plastic or Planet?”, which begins their multi-year effort to raise awareness of the global plastic trash crisis and become a more sustainable magazine.

Written by Elle Barnes and Elizabeth Carlen

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