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The Old Forts of Queens

This Labor Day weekend, I decided to explore two of Queens’ old military forts, now open to the public as parks. Much like Governors Island, these spaces are no longer in (primarily) military use, and make for great historical viewing… or just great picnic space.

The first was Fort Tilden, on the western end of the Rockaways. This is the least developed of the two, but it’s worth a trip if you were headed to the Rockaways already. The battery ruins are probably the most interesting area, and the high point contains amazing views from a unique vantage point of the city.

The second fort visited was northeast Queens’ Fort Totten, closer to the neighborhood of Bay Terrace. Like Tilden, the park has a lot of abandoned structures and buildings to explore, but also has more in the way of recreation… a public pool in the summer, biking paths. The views here are of the area where the East River turns into the Long Island Sound… in various directions, you can see Great Neck, SUNY’s Maritime University, City Island, Hart Island, and the Stepping Stones Lighthouse.

There are no subways that serve either fort/park, so look into driving, or for city buses.

Checking out Fort Totten in northeast Queens. It’s like a really quiet, landlocked Governors Island.  #queens #forttotten

Checking out Fort Totten in northeast Queens. It’s like a really quiet, landlocked Governors Island. #queens #forttotten

Exploring Fort Tilden national park  on the Rockaways. #forttilden #rockaway

Exploring Fort Tilden national park on the Rockaways. #forttilden #rockaway

Forest Hills

Some Brooklyn friends had recently expressed interest in a walking tour of Forest Hills, my favorite neighborhood in Queens. I’m definitely planning that soon, and will post an update on that after the fact. If any locals have some areas they want to see shown, covered, let me know!

Upper Upper East Side

I recently did a walk that involved my exploring a part of the city that was mostly new to me… the upper Upper East Side. The shape of Manhattan means the East Side ends earlier than the West Side (around 130th St versus around 218th St). So while exploring the upper Upper West Side often feels like leaving the city, its lower East cousin is still very New York.

To start this walk, take the 4, 5, or 6 trains to 125th St in Harlem. Walk up to 128th St, then all the way east to Harlem River Dr… there you’ll find the uniquely-named Crack is Wack Playground. The highlight of this park are the murals on the handball court done by artist Keith Haring in 1986. The art has been preserved by the city since, and the playground re-named accordingly. Across the Harlem River, you can see the South Bronx to the north, and Randalls Island to the east.

From there, head down to E. 124th St., and walk west to Marcus Garvey Park. The highlight here for many is the old Harlem Fire Watchtower, at the highest point in the park. If you’ve never been to Harlem, take a detour and explore the surrounding area.

From there, head down Park Avenue. There’s nothing super-scenic around here— but experience the neighborhood flavor!— until you reach E. 106th St, where you’ll find the so-called “Graffiti Hall of Fame””. This is housed in a schoolyard, so it may not be accessible to you, depending on day and time. Keep heading south after this, then turn east on E. 85th St, and turn south on 2nd Avenue. On the block, you’ll find the MTA’s Second Avenue Community Information Center, a great space with info and models on the city’s largest ongoing transit project (first phase set to open in late 2016).

Turn east on 84th all the way to the water, and you’ll find Carl Schurz Park. Besides being one of the nicer parks along the East River, the park also houses Gracie Mansion, the home of NYC’s mayors. If you walk to the riverfront promenade, you can look just northeast, and see the edges of Astoria, Queens. Straight ahead, you can see the northern tip (and lighthouse!) of Roosevelt Island. This concludes the tour, but feel free to keep heading South along the river!

Yorkville, Carl Schurz Park, & Gracie Mansion. #nyc

Yorkville, Carl Schurz Park, & Gracie Mansion. #nyc

It’s Summer Streets in NYC again! No cars on Park Avenue all morning! #summerstreets

It’s Summer Streets in NYC again! No cars on Park Avenue all morning! #summerstreets

1974 Sesame Street song about the NYC subway.

Crack is Wack!!! #nyc #streetart #crackiswack

Crack is Wack!!! #nyc #streetart #crackiswack

More thoughts on Foursquare, Swarm

I use Foursquare to explore, so I think its recent changes are germane to this Tumblr, so here’s another post on that. Feel free to scroll on past if that doesn’t interest you.

On the Foursquare Superuser forums today (it’s like the Stonecutters, but with less Steve Guttenberg), one user wrote of his decision not to use the new Swarm app: “I’ve kept the Foursquare app as a way to find things when I’m in an area I don’t know, but no longer do any check-ins.”

I responded:

I think you have hit on what I assume is the reason for the split, and for Swarm.

Foursquare has a huge database of venues, and is a pretty good app for finding local spots and venues. But no one really associated that (primarily) with the app. The app was thought of it as: check-in, badges, etc. And we know from past statements from people like Dennis Crowley that he resented that people just thought of the app as more of a game than a valuable tool (which is how the database got flooded with so many BS venues). If you were someone who had no interest in a check-in app, odds are that you never downloaded Foursquare, even if it might have other helpful uses for you (for me, lists are my most valued feature, especially when traveling).

So I imagine the top execs thought “screw that, let’s take all that stuff (checking in, and the like) and spin it off into a secondary app, and make Foursquare the valuable exploration tool we wanted it to be”.

So now someone who wants a good venue & exploration tool can in theory download Foursquare and never even need Swarm. And Swarm seems to be planned to marketed to the younger generation with tight friend circles glued to their smartphones, but can also be used for those who want to keep checking in. That’s what I believe the goal(s) have been.

I think the main reason that is being met with skepticism is that Foursquare has been in public use for 5 years, and 5 years in is perhaps too late a time to want to reinvent the public’s understanding of your brand (and the confusion of its long-time users about now needing two apps to do what one did before). And Foursquare didn’t seem to anticipate that.

My advice for Foursquare would be that, when they the final updated versions of all this is ready to roll out (end of Summer? Fall?), they need to a new PR push, and one that acknowledges right up front that people are upset and confused (as many have pointed, their social media presence has ignored this for now), and more honestly explain what inspired these decisions, and how they will work with users to make a smooth transition. People like Tracey and others have been great here in responding and updating the SU community, but what % of 4sq users see these posts… a small fraction, at best. This needs to happen on their blogs, Facebook, various Twitter accounts, tech blogs, etc.

The key is more candor, and less PR. Otherwise, this anger just keeps pointlessly stewing.

Mural, 3rd Ave & Butler St. in Gowanus. #visionzero #streetart

Mural, 3rd Ave & Butler St. in Gowanus. #visionzero #streetart