Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Jewelry Making at GSAC

Last Wednesday, the fourth Arts in the Garden workshop happened indoors at the Green Street Arts Center. Darn rain.

BUT, it was so much fun. My little girl made a necklace out of beads with holes big enough for her two-year-old fingers to negotiate, but many of the participants created much more sophisticated adornments.

This workshop was led by Cookie Quinones, NEAT's president, who did an outstanding job of including everyone and teaching along the way.

This Wednesday, July 30th is the final Arts in the Garden workshop and it's taking place in the Erin Street Garden (corner of Erin and High). This week will be African Drumming and Dance with Abdulaye Sylla. 5:30 pm.

Thanks so much to the Middletown Commission on the Arts for funding this program!

Middletown Parking Study

For the last year, the Downtown Parking Study has been meeting to discuss parking problems in Middletown. I have sat on that committee and experienced more conversation about parking than I ever hope to have again! We met over 25 times and came up with some concrete solutions to downtown's parking problems. There were many proposed solutions and many compromises made, and in the end, a report has been created. The findings of the committee and study will be presented to the Middletown Common Council on August 4th from 6:00-7:00 pm.

The committee will be recommending efficient ways to use the federally earmarked $19 million dollars in parking money. While the committee did find that there is an extreme need for parking in the North End, none of this money will be used to improve the parking problems in the North End (because of a complicated restrictions on the money: please call if you want me to explain it to you, it's too much to write!) so NEAT members should 1) come to this workshop and hear how this important Middletown money will be used and 2) in the coming months, be diligent and insistent that the findings of the committee are acted upon. We need parking on this side of town, and we need to help the city find creative ways to make that happen outside of this $19 million dollars. Remember, the North End will be ignored if we don't show up.

Click here to be directed to the City of MiddletownParking Study info.

Friday, July 18, 2008

North End Mexican Food!

So, it looks like the North End is becoming Middletown's capital for inexpensive, family-owner, tasty, low-key ethnic food. I tried the new restaurant, Iguanas Ranas today, and it was good. (sorry to sound like a food critic, here, but I have to give you reason to go!)
Let's start with dessert first. They have flan, and that is enough for me. I had a delicious barbacoa (slowly cooked beef) taco, which was really good. Mostly, I like that this restaurant offers your no-so-American Mexican food. There are interesting things on the menu, like rice & egg tacos or choriso gorditas and really familiar things like hot dogs and french fries for unadventurous, under 10 set.

The service was friendly and approachable. Overall, it is worth trying out.

Between Pho Mai (right next door) and Iguanas Ranas, our neighborhood has some really tasty food!

Steel Pan Drumming

watch a video of the workshop
It was a beautiful night on Wednesday and the (surprisingly good for beginners) sounds of novice steel pan drumming filled the air on Green Street. North End resident, Bill Carbone led a workshop in the back garden at the Green Street Arts center. There were a bunch of North End kids and families there, and we all learned a lot about these instruments and about playing as an ensemble. Maybe we should start our own!

Next week's Arts in the Garden Workshop will be jewelry making. with NEAT's president, Cookie Quinones. Come make some dazzling adornments!

Thanks to the Middletown Commission on the Arts for funding this program!

On Tuesday, the Erin Street Community Garden was buzzing with young North End farmers as the Community Health Center's Kids Camp, run by the Homeroom program, hosted its closing party. Camp is over, and families were invited to celebrate the season's harvest.

The campers made party food from their garden plot, slicing squash and sharing blueberries. It was a great event, and all who attended were amazed at what the kids had learned.

Though camp is over, the kids will continue to harvest their plot all throughout the summer.

Thank you to the Middletown Commission on the Arts for funding this series!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Garden Party Committee

NEAT's garden party committee is up and running (Party is August 14th at 5:30) and will have its first meeting tonight (Wednesday, July 16th) after the Arts in the Garden workshop at the Green Street Arts Center. This committee is the most fun one that NEAT hosts, and is a great way to get involved on the social side of NEAT! We will meet tonight, inside, at the Green Street Arts Center at 6:30. If you can't make it tonight, I'll be sending out notices about future meetings, so keep an eye out.

VOLUNTEER at Middletown Mission Week

A collection of Middletown churches have come together to do volunteer projects throughout Middletown, and a group of people will be working on NEAT projects in the garden and throughout the neighborhood.

If you are available at all next week (July 21-25), please consider volunteering some time. I have sign up sheets if your are interested.

Middletown's Wharfside Commons Gets Mixed Report Card

By JOSH KOVNER | Courant Staff Writer

July 15, 2008


Wharfside was this city's most anticipated housing development when it opened a year ago on Ferry Street in the North End, the poorest street in the poorest section of Middletown.

Now, Wharfside's 96 apartments are all rented, and the tenants, most of whom are working and earning $25,000 to $40,000 annually, have boosted employment and income along the blocks between the northern end of the city's wide, bustling Main Street and Route 9.

But the one-year report card is mixed, clouded by a recent assault and a nonfatal shooting involving people living or staying at Wharfside. Those incidents, and an impression that the complex had relaxed its tenant-screening policy, raised concerns about management and triggered an ultimatum from Mayor Sebastian Giuliano.

"This project was sold as the salvation of the North End," Giuliano said last week, after meeting with Wharfside's management to discuss whether past problems were making a comeback on Ferry Street. "Well, it better be the salvation. Anything less would have to be considered a failure."

The mayor and Police Chief Lynn Baldoni both said they felt better about day-to-day operations at the complex after the meeting, and accepted the assertions from regional manager Tracy Luttrell that prospective tenants are aggressively screened and that rules violations by residents aren't tolerated. Luttrell said there have been three evictions so far.

But expectations are high for Wharfside, the largest infusion of new housing and working adults in the North End since the neighborhood was the destination of choice for European immigrants in the early part of the 20th century. The mayor was born in the North End and went to elementary school a few yards away from where Wharfside now sits.

Wharfside opened at a time when politicians, social advocates and business leaders are lamenting the scarcity of affordable housing in Connecticut. Household incomes at Wharfside range from a minimum of about $9,000 for a single person to a maximum of $48,660 for a family of four — equal to 60 percent of the area's median income.

The cluster of four- and five-story brick buildings replaced blighted houses and now dominates the narrow, two-block street. The building on the east end of the complex has a view of the Connecticut River, beyond Route 9, a source of joy for tenant Dawn Brooks, a teacher at Cheshire High School who has lived at Wharfside since April.

A Middletown native, Brooks lived 33 years ago in one of the buildings replaced by Wharfside. She said she loves the fact that she's just around the corner from Main Street, and that she walks to the drugstore and even to the supermarket on Washington Street, a 25-minute trip. She said her apartment is of high quality and that management is responsive and accessible.

But the complex has had its critics from the start. Giuliano and the downtown business establishment believe the complex is too big and too dense, and they believe the city — through grants, a property tax break and a donation of land — gave too sweet a deal to the developer, the wealthy Richman Group of Greenwich. Richman owns and operates thousands of apartments across the country, including eight developments in Connecticut and New York. Most of the financing for the $22 million Wharfside complex was from housing tax credits, in which corporations invest in affordable housing developments in return for federal tax incentives.

Baldoni and the mayor agreed with the notion that the realities and perceptions of the "old Ferry Street" — crime and apathy — are hard to shake. Another challenge, said City Planner William Warner, is that Wharfside is still ringed by vacant multifamily houses. Nonprofit developers are waiting for public funding and bank financing to turn those properties into owner-occupied housing, but this crucial second step of the neighborhood's revitalization is taking longer than expected.

Still, said Warner, the developer "has the experience and resources to make this work. This is a major investment, even for them, and they can't let bad tenants chase away good tenants. It's reassuring that they've got a lot of tenants making 60 percent of the median and working at good jobs — so it comes down to property management." Izzi Greenberg agrees. The executive director of the North End Action Team said, "The naysayers expect Wharfside to fail, so it's up to management to prove it's a success, to go to public meetings and talk about what they're doing.

"I think Wharfside's residents have to push back a little, too," Greenberg said. "A lot of them have joined our NEAT meetings, and that's a sign they care about the community. And that makes me optimistic about the development."

Contact Josh Kovner at jkovner@courant.com.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Take our Survey!

As a grassroots organization, NEAT must always be focusing upon issues that are relevant to the neighborhood. Please take our short survey (to the right) and help us stay informed of what you think are the most important issues right now. As always, feel free to email any concerns or comments to: neat@neatmiddletown.org. Thanks for participating!

Take our Survey

As a grassroots organization, NEAT must always be focusing upon issues that are relevant to the neighborhood. Please take our short survey (to the right) and help us stay informed of what you think are the most important issues right now. As always, feel free to email

Scarecrow Party!

With help from Old Saybrook artist, David Brown, NEAT and GSAC held our annual Scarecrow Party in the Erin Street Community Garden (ESCG) on Wednesday, June 25th. This was the first year that this event was held in the Erin St. Garden, and with a new site, brought plenty of new faces. There were residents from Erin St., High St., Pearl St, and many other streets surrounding the garden, as well as families who walked up from Bridge Street and other spots in the North End. There were families from as far away as East Haddam, all enjoying our ever-growing garden.

The participants made seven scarecrows that lovingly watch over the garden. Thanks to all who participated!
These events will be held throughout the summer at both the Erin Street site and at the Green Street Arts Center.

Arts in the Garden
WEDNESDAYS, 5:30–6:30pm

Enjoy the pleasure of a summer evening during this weekly series of participatory arts workshops held outdoors in the Mary Susan Gawlak Memorial Garden at Green Street (51 Green St) and at the Erin Street Community Garden (corner of Erin and High Streets). Arts in the Garden offers free, fun activities for people of all ages. Light refreshments will be served; children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult. In the event of rain, Arts in the Garden will take place indoors at the Green Street Arts Center.

July 9: No Arts in the Garden

July 16: Steel-pan Drums (Green St)
Bill Carbone

July 23: Jewelry Making (Green St)
Cookie Qui

July 30: African Dance & Drumming, (Erin St)
Abdoulaye Sylla

Co-sponsored by the North End Action Team with support from the Middletown Commission on the Arts