Bob's Travels

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Bison Peak August 18, 2017
No Payne June 6, 2017
New York City May 17, 2017

Big Blue in the Uncompahgre Wilderness

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It is evening and I am half way up the canyon trail in a quiet and still camping spot in the forest, across the Big Blue Creek from the remnants of an old landslide, 1,000 feet tall. The creek is backed up by the landslide, creating wide, flat braids in the Creek that are silent and reflective of the evening light. The burbling sound is of a small stream, running by my camp into the Creek.

I started up the Big Blue Trail at 2:00 pm. I had had a slight tightness in my right calf for a couple of weeks and going around a muddy spot, churned by the horse outfitters, I stepped on a tiny evergreen sapling, which acted like a spring, sending sharp pain up my calf.  After that, I limped for a half an hour until I found the campsite. It was 5:00 pm and too late to turn back, and so, I decided to rest and decide what to do in the morning.

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The next morning I felt better and my calf improved during my long, second day of hiking. At 7:30 am, I continued hiking up the valley, and a couple miles on, I discovered a wonderful, up-valley view of Uncompahgre Peak, its square, wedding-cake shape dominating the meadows and forests. After that, the ascent became steeper, hotter, and more difficult.  After another hour, I left the trees behind and climbed up the final section of canyon into alpine terrain. Ascending, I followed a stream towards the saddle above me, and where I saw that the stream was dry, I went down to where there was still water and filled all my containers.  There would be no water above me.

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On the saddle, there were more grand views of Uncompahgre Peak to the west and of the surrounding ridges and mountains. On the saddle, I made a hairpin turn, back to the south, on the Ridge Stock Driveway traversing up the side of the eastern ridge above the valley at a straight, vertical angle.  The views from this ascent back to the peak and across to the western ridge were varied in shape and color and truly astounding. The top of the ridge was a very wide, treeless place of rolling terrain with a floor of rocks and short grass. At the top, there was a large cairn, carefully built from small stones, and there were never-ending views in all directions. I would find similar cairns on knolls all along this path, characteristic of these areas where men on horseback with dogs, drive their sheep. The trail was very faint and difficult in this open place, and I often resorted to my GPS to stay on what passed for a path.

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The views back to Umcompahgre Peak continued from this high place but changed dramatically as I continued away from the mountain, but now I also had views of the vast distances to the north and east. Later in the afternoon, I hiked over one hill after another, until around 4:00 pm, I started thinking about finding a campsite. I thought about camping on a high open saddle, but the clouds were gathering and turning dark to the south. So I climbed over the last three knolls and down to the first trees I had found in this high place. I camped on the edge of a large meadow with trees around me. There was thunder in the distance in a couple of directions, but the storm stayed above the peaks and never got to my camp. Sitting at camp, watching lightning over the distant peaks to the east, I heard a coyote yelping and then saw him cross the meadow in front of me. The evening was wonderful at this high camp with towering clouds, mountains and ridges, and a colorful sunset.

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The next morning I continued hiking the ridgeline alternating between forest hiking and open meadows, where I could still look back to Umcompahgre Peak. Finally, there was a descent down densely forested switchbacks to the dirt road.  I had to walk several miles on the road back to my car.  No cars passed as I walked the road.  In fact, I had only seen two groups of horse outfitters on the Big Blue Trail and some people day hiking from the Umcompahgre Trailhead at the saddle.  On the wonderfully high Ridge Stock Driveway, I enjoyed complete solitude in the endless open distances.

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Bison Peak

I climbed Bison peak yesterday in the Lost Creek Wilderness. It was a CMC trip led by Michael Zyzda and Ander Peterson. I climbed it many years ago when I was still shooting photographs using film, and I have been wanting to get back up there to shoot digital pictures. With twelve miles round trip and 3,900 feet elevation gain, it was a long strenuous climb.  It is so amazing because of the incredible rock formations on the top and the great views of Pikes Peak and South Park.

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Continental Divide Trail in the Weminuche Wilderness

In July of 2017, we walked fifty-five miles on a remote section of Continental Divide Trail in the Weminuche Wilderness of Colorado, a profound experience, hiking ridge top trails at the level of the clouds.  Our group consisted of six people lead by Alicia Viskoe, a tall, quiet engineer who lives in Cody Wyoming. Alicia didn’t have a lot to say but displayed significant wilderness skills, especially in the use of Geographic Positioning Systems to navigate.

After hiring a shuttle from Wolfe Creek Pass to 30 Mile Campground on the Rio Grande River near Creede, we started our hike on a sunny morning climbing very gradually up the broad Squaw Creek valley. Half way up the valley, we spotted a dark shape moving in the vegetation by the creek below us.  Suddenly, the shape moved rapidly up the other side of the valley.  We thought it might be a moose, but I looked at it through my camera zoom lens, and it was definitely a horse – a most unusual sight. The lone horse raced away from us and into the wilderness.

We walked through large stands of Chiming Bells, Geraniums and Jacobs Ladder, and spotted the deep purple flowers of both Monkshood and Larkspur. Many scattered clouds passed overhead, but the day remained dry and very warm. At times, we found it difficult to follow the Squaw Creek trail because of fallen dead trees and dense vegetation. We hiked all the way to the place where the trail intersected with the CDT. There we had a choice.  Alicia and Don had hiked the CDT segment to the north and knew we could camp close by if we went that way. However, we were headed south, and on the map, it looked like there might be a place to camp ahead of us near a large stream. So Joon and I volunteered to scout ahead less than a mile to the stream.  There we found no level ground for a camp.  After we returned to the group with the bad news, we hiked north and camped on the low, level top of Squaw Pass in a marshy area.

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On July 10, we climbed south from Squaw Pass on the CDT, first through the forest and then through dense willows.  Near the beginning of the climb, I spotted a mountain sheep ram running across a scree field and steeply up the slope above us to join with two female sheep and then disappear into the forest. Soon we climbed up rocky alpine tundra to the top of the ridge where there were vast views of the San Juan Mountains and of an enormous, green basin far below us. We spotted elk in the basin. We saw a young elk frolicking among the others, and an adult splashing in a pond.  We saw several lying on a snow field. Eventually, more and more elk came together, until we realized we were looking at a herd with over seventy individuals. We could hear the bugling of the elk far below us.

We stayed high on the ridge top for the rest of the day. We dropped onto a saddle where there were two ponds, mirror-like, reflecting the surrounding mountains, and there we refilled our water containers. Later, we looked down into another basin where we spotted a lone elk and then a bald eagle flying loops.  Alicia said, “It is rare that you get to watch a bald eagle flying from above.”

We next climbed to a highpoint above 12,000 feet where we ate our lunch. By the time we reached the next high point, the sky was dark and we could hear thunder in the distance. We hurried down into the next basin above beautiful Trout Lake. The trail was near another smaller lake where we could have camped, but Alicia told us we still had two more miles before we could camp. We traversed the side of a ridge and started climbed towards a point on a ridge.  The far end of the ridge with the point was called the Knife Edge because of its narrow width.  As we climbed, there was booming thunder above us.  The trail hung off the side of the ridge and was covered at places by small snow fields. We managed to skirt the first couple, but arrived at one that was too big to skirt and too steep to cross. A couple of members of the group attempted to go above the snow field but found that too difficult. Alicia said that we needed to go below, so I led the way below the field.  By then it was pouring rain and it was a difficult traverse and climb, requiring the use of hands and knees because it was steep and because the rocks and dirt were loose, wet and slippery. But we all eventually made it, with some of the group creatively finding new climbing routes. We had to climb over a second snow field on a route consisting of loose boulders.  By then, we were working well as a team, helping each other find the best way.

The Knife Edge was interesting. The trail followed the top of the ridge which fell away steeply on both sides. There was a jagged fence-like formation on one side.  The trail turned sharply and descended into the next basin, which we immediately climbed out of to a ridge where we found a pond.  We camped next to the pond.  My tent site was at the top of a cliff where I could see Cherokee Lake below. At camp, the sun shone long enough to dry us, but after dinner the wind picked up and it got very cold.  I went into my tent and was quickly warm under my down quilt.

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From Cherokee Lake, we climbed high up onto the Continental Divide and walked the narrow ridge for miles. The views were endless, mountains and more mountains. Then, we descended into forests where many of the trees had been killed by the Pine Beetle. Studies have suggested that there is a strong link between climate change and the killing of forests by pine beetles in Colorado. In the journal Science, a study was reported which suggests that the devastation is simply due to a longer warm season in the high Rockies.  With this longer season, the beetles are able to breed an additional generation during the season, creating severe destruction. The Forest Service concurs that there is likely a link between climate change and the pine beetle plague.

As we hiked, we often followed stone cairns, and just before we went around a pyramid shaped mountain, I found a tall cairn built on a large rock extending free into the air. All day long, we walked up and down on the Divide, and it was hiking on the top of world. We camped in a large meadow with a small pond fed by a melting snow field. When the next storm struck, after a beautiful evening, we were in our tents. It rained all night.

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The rain stopped around 5:00 am the next morning, and outside of our tents, we found that it was foggy. Our campsite was in the low clouds. By the time we started hiking, the weather had cleared and we had a beautiful morning walk through the wonderful high country of the Divide. I was hiking far ahead of the others when I caught a momentary glimpse of a female elk with her young little one. We descended into the dead trees and into the wide open valley of the Piedra River Valley. In the valley, using her GPS, Alicia realized we had missed a turn, followed an informal trail, and were now off our route. With the help of a camper, we found a trail which took us back to an intersection with the CDT just below Piedra Pass. From the pass, we began climbing through the forest and found a nice stream where we filled all our water containers so we could, if we decided to, camp far above water sources, in the alpine country above us. We climbed to the tree line and into a large alpine basin where we could see our trail traversing the slope, up a high grassy wall to a pass between two peaks. At the top, we camped in a low spot on the pass at an elevation above 12,600 feet. We spent time in the heavily flowered meadow looking at the astounding views of the mountains to the south. The skies darkened in the evening and through gaps in clouds, beams of light illuminated parts of the hard stone mountains.

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When I got up on July 13, we were in a cloud, surrounded by dense fog. The wind was cold, and I started hiking with all my layers on. We spent the day on top, resulting in one of the most marvelous hiking days in my life. The sun and wind were gradually dispersing the clouds but fragments of low hanging clouds scattered across the landscape, and clouds remained over much of the scene.  We followed mountain-top trails across the high terrain.  Ahead was a climb to a high ridge, and I went slowly hoping more clouds would disperse before I got there. When I got to the thin ridge, I could see one range after another. Here I could see much of the Weminuche Wilderness. The others went on but I stayed for some time. I walked out to a rounded point on the ridge and took pictures. In his CDT guide book, Tom Lorang Jones has written that this spot “may be the most breathtaking experience on the entire CDT.”  For me, it was a transformed consciousness. This place at this time was meant for me. It was hard to leave it.

I descended from the pass on a trail with several switchbacks, and then hiked for some time on the rolling, open CDT. I hurried to catch up with the others on a highpoint above me.  When I got there, they told me that a black bear had run across the trail behind me.  I did not see it. We stopped on a high pass for lunch.  Next, we climbed steeply to a high point above Archuleta Lake.  From this highpoint, we could see the South San Juan range and, in places, on to New Mexico. We hiked down past Archuleta Lake and up to smaller Spotted Lake where we made camp and spent time in the warm sunshine doing chores, talking, and soaking our feet in the stream. The whole day had been a highpoint.

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The last night at Spotted Lake, I did not sleep so well because of the anticipation of hiking back to civilization the next day.  On our last day, we had approximately 10 miles to hike back to Wolfe Creek Pass and our cars. I was up early and packed and ready to go by 6:30 am.  I asked Alicia if she minded if I took off.  She said, “Sure, I would do it too if I could.” I enjoyed the morning immensely because I was free to challenge myself and pick up my hiking speed.  I hiked through quiet forests, grassy meadows, muddy basins with small lakes and wildflower gardens. There was a final long climb to the high point above the pass.  Then down to the car.  I arrived at the car at 11:00 am.  After some cleanup, I headed for home and, on the way, had a nicely authentic Carne Asada for lunch at Cavilla’s Mexican restaurant in Del Norte.  This largest wilderness area in Colorado was wilder than expected.  We saw a number of other people, though all we saw on the CDT were serious hikers – they had to be to be there, but the numbers were diluted by the unexpected immensity of the place.  The adventure exceeded my expectations.

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Wetterhorn Basin and Cimarron River Backpack

On June 30, I led a three day backpack into the Uncompahgre Wilderness Area, with a group of seven people. Because of the large snowfields and the difficulty of following new trails, this was certainly the most difficult 21 mile hike I had done. We started from the Matterhorn Trailhead outside of Lake City, Colorado.  There were many people in the area climbing the Wetterhorn Peak, a 14er. Not long after our start, we left the people behind when we turned onto the Matterhorn cutoff. Almost immediately, we had to wade across Matterhorn Creek in our sandals or water shoes, and my feet were numb from the cold water after the short crossing.  As we climbed up through the forest, we had a more challenging stream crossing requiring some agility on our part.  Soon, we climbed above the trees into alpine tundra. There were still many snow fields in this high area due to the heavy spring snows. We climbed through rolling terrain up to a point where we climbed a snow wall and descended on the Middle Canyon trail down into an open, beautiful canyon.  The Forest Service had marked routes with poles, so we followed poles as we did with most of our backpack. We followed a trail into the forest and then steeply up the north side of the canyon.  Climbing up the slope we saw trails and informal trails, and it was hard to know the difference.  At one point, we missed a turn and had to traverse under the very top of the ridge across sharply tilted tundra and slippery scree fields.  Finally, we got to the unnamed saddle and looked down into Wetterhorn Basin.

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The Wetterhorn Basin is scenically dominated by the large, square Coxcomb Peak massif and by the enormous pyramid of Wetterhorn Peak at the top of the basin. It is a large open basin with scattered stands of evergreens, and because of the recently melted snow, it was covered by water-loving Marsh Marigolds and scattered Paintbrush flowers.  We had a beautifully sunny evening in this gorgeous basin. Vaune made s’mores over her camp stove, a reviving medicinal for everyone.

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From camp the next morning, we could see the steep climb we had to do over the high pass under Coxcombe Peak.  Early in the climb, we traversed an interesting, light-colored geologic formation which drop steeply on both sides below us.  The climb was steep and steady, and from the top, there was a grand view, endless in terms of both width and distance. We could see, to the south and west, much of the rugged San Juan range, speckled by innumerable snowfields.

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As we climbed down from the pass, into the Middle Fork Basin of the Cimarron River, the clouds intensified and darkened behind us, and behind us, Coxcomb Peak had transformed from a large square mesa into a single, narrow spire. We descended to a plateau with a beautiful small pond and then reached our final steep descent into the basin. On this final descent, the snow fields were plentiful, and Vaune, our glissade expert, lead us all on a fun and easy glissade down the first snowfield.  We slid down seated on our behinds using our poles as both rudders and brakes. Further down, we came to the most difficult spot on our backpack. The trail was buried by a very steep and hard snowfield which was too dangerous to cross.  Vaune and Gennie, both trained climbers, climbed down some rocks on the side of the snow.  Vaune glissaded down the field, accelerating at a startling rate, hit and crossed a rocky bare spot and at the bottom immediately jumping up to shout and indicate with gestures not to come down that way.  Jennie continued to climb down the rocks around the snowfield. The rest of us decided to find a different route and climbed steeply, off-trail above the snowfield and  steeply down the other side of the snowfield through willows and down streams, back to the trail. On the way down, we heard thunder above us, and it started to sleet and rain. When we got to the bottom, we realized Vaune had lost one of her hiking poles, high above in the snowfield.

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We continued into the valley, less one hiking pole, waded across the creek, and climbed into the woods where there was a previously used campsite. The rain intensified and the temperature dropped, and we spent several hours under the trees at the campsite, waiting for the weather to improve before we climbed up to the next pass. The group decided to make a campfire which warmed us significantly, and we toasted marshmallows in the rain.

Eventually, the storm stopped and we even saw some sunshine.  So, we started the climb to the next pass.  We were hiking above tree line, through a large meadow when we heard thunder.  Another storm was coming from the west; so we retreated back to the trees and set up our camp for the night.  It was an uncomfortable evening with rain and cold winds.  I was nearly hypothermic eating my dinner, and everyone went to bed early.  During the night, I rose to find the sky clear with a bright Milky Way crossing it.

The third and final day started with a nice early morning hike across the rolling meadow below the pass. On the final ascent to the third pass, we had to climb steeply off the trail around a steep snow field.  We reached the top at 8:00 am to experience a magnificent, sunny, early-morning scene of green slopes gently descending down to the basin of the East Fork of the Cimarron River, with enormous Uncompahgre Peak dominant above it all. We had a very pleasant hike down from the pass through lush tundra on an easy-to-follow trail. There were many flowers including paintbrush, larkspur, purple fringe and old man in the mountain. At the bottom of the valley, we had to wade across the creek and started the climb over the last pass. At the last alpine trail junction, I was not sure which way to go.  Jennie, Stephania, and others convinced me of the correct way to go.  Jennie was a great help with navigation throughout the trip using her GPS skills.

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We climbed through gentle alpine terrain, crossing a few level snow fields and reached the rounded top.  From that spot, Matterhorn Peak was directly above us and Wetterhorn Peak was just beyond it.  We hiked back down below Wetterhorn Peak.  At the trailhead, I retrieved the beer and soft drinks I had sunk in the creek, and we celebrated the successful completion of a challenging but exquisite hike through some of most outstandingly scenic terrain we had ever experienced. We finished our celebration with fried okra and catfish at Southern Vittles in Lake City.

No Payne

For many Front Range Hikers, the Lost Creek Wilderness is the home wilderness. So close to the city, but so far from anyone. Yesterday, I hiked to the summit of No Payne, a mountain high point in the Wilderness, to which I’d never been.  The book made it sound easy, but it turned out to be a double black diamond backpack. Almost nine miles to the camp and 3,600 feet of elevation gain, with no water resources near my camp.  I camped in a beautiful meadow with a broad view of the far west ridge, across Craig Park.  There was probably no one around within eight miles. After supper. I bushwhacked less than a mile further through the boulders and small evergreens and climbed No Payne.  At the top, in all directions I saw views of crags in the Wilderness and of the snow-covered peaks beyond. We return again and again.

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New York City

On May 6, I attended the national conference of the American Planning Association. At the opening of the conference, futurist Peter Leyden told those assembled that we are in an historic time similar to the beginning of the industrial revolution or the period after World War II. There are three key economic drivers: the digitization and computerization of everything, globalization, and climate change. The shift to renewable energy, which is already underway, will play a critical role in the global economy. At the same time, 47% of jobs are vulnerable to automation, since any work that is routine will soon be automated. The focus of human endeavor will be creative problem solving.

Cities in the United States will be the centers of global innovation, and millennials will dominate the century.  The millennial generation is ethnically diverse in the United States, which will be minority/majority by 2050.  At the same time, Ross Douthat argues in the New York Times that, although American cities are safer than ever, centers of innovation and economic growth, and culturally rich, they are also expensive, exclusionary, segregated and elitist. Peter Leyden told us that change is difficult and times of transformation often start with political polarization and paralysis.

I next attended a session on creative urban place making with presenters from Los Angeles, Newark, New York City, and Oakland. They agreed that the process for creating new great places should be inclusionary, artistic and participatory. New great places should be designed using the cultural assets and characteristics of the community and using local artistic resources.

Greenwich Village

In the afternoon, I went on a walking tour of Greenwich Village. Our tour guide was an elderly, slim, energetic New York women who had lived all her life in the village and who knew everybody and everything in the community.  She was colorfully dressed and quite entertaining.  Greenwich Village's history dates back to colonial times, and we stopped to see various landmark buildings and public spaces including St. Mark's Church, the Cooper Union Foundation Building, and Washington Square.  Greenwich Village is best known as the center of the bohemian and counter cultures of the twentieth century.  Jack Kerouac was there and later Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and others were there.  Also, Woody Allen and Barbara Streisand were there along with a long history of painters and sculptors.  The Village's mid-level building scale certainly makes for a more comfortable environment than Midtown, but. like Midtown, it is also a place of perpetual activity. Like much of New York City, the Village is full of art. New York University has dominated real estate activity in the village and in recent years the neighborhood has gentrified to the extreme.  You can pick up a townhome there for a cool seven million dollars.

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Midtown

The second day, I walked a tour all over Midtown Manhattan. We walked from the Javits Conference Center on a number of the primary streets, visited Bryant Park, and admired several historic buildings including Grand Central Station, the Library, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and Rockefeller Center. Near Macy's, we watched a mass bike ride of thousands pass. I enjoyed the elegant large spaces in Grand Central Station and the art deco of Rockefeller Plaza. On some streets, it certainly felt like being in a canyon, although the skyline above varied in height and dimension. Often, the Chrysler building or the Empire State building loomed behind and above the surrounding buildings. The much newer, taller, and much thinner, 432 Park Avenue building was tallest of all. Midtown is a premiere mix of both historic and post-modern architecture. Despite being under clouds, Bryant Park was both spacious and intimate next to the classical Central Library building with its sculpture, columns and stone lions.  The park's lovely curved London Plane Trees carried spring green leaves above the very green lawn. We finished the tour back in the crazy chaos of Times Square.

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The Highline

Early on the third morning, I walked the Highline, the north end of which is next to the Javits Center. The Highline is a new walking path located on an old, elevated railroad trestle on the lower west side of Manhattan. I started amid the major construction projects of the Hudson Yards redevelopment project and walked the 1.5 mile trail through the Meat Packing District to Chelsea. The trail is elevated between twenty and thirty feet above street level and is nicely landscaped, providing a green walking corridor between the buildings close to the sides of the corridor. This linear environment travels through a futuristic and unique mix of historic and post-modern buildings.

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Brooklyn - Los Sures

In the afternoon, I experienced a cleverly designed walking tour in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. After leaving the subway, we walked through a neighborhood commercial area which still had a Puerto Rican feel with small bodegas with signs in Spanish. The tour was entitled Living Los Sures. The tour was described as being about community change and gentrification, and Los Sures was the name given to the neighborhood by the Puerto Rican residents. It was called Los Sures (the souths) because many of the street names began with the word "South" (like South First Street). After walking a bit and viewing a community garden, we entered a building occupied by the UnionDocs organization, a non-profit group dedicated to helping local people make documentaries about their community. Inside, the director of the group told us about their discovery and restoration of a film from the 1980s entitled Living Los Sures, which is available on YouTube. We watched the film which told the story of the Puerto Rican residents of the neighborhood.  The film described the struggles of real residents with poverty, crime and disinvestment.  The film showed buildings that were not being maintained, graffiti, and trash on the streets. In a discussion after the film, a panel told us that the neighborhood has changed with redevelopment and reinvestment.  It has become culturally diverse and an expensive place to live. But, the story is not simple; of the 80,000 residents of the neighborhood, 30,000 are still Puerto Rican.  Many of the long-time renters in the community have been forced to move elsewhere, but UnionDocs undertook a project to find the people interviewed in Living Los Sures and most still live in the neighborhood. At least, some of those people have had improved lives.

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In 2005, the city rezoned 184 blocks of the neighborhood to permit a mix of land uses and more housing.  The rezoning plan included new inclusionary housing provisions to provide more affordable housing, a plan for a 27.8 acre river front park, and provisions to ensure that the scale of buildings fit with the existing structures. After the film and discussion, we walked out into the area where Living Los Sures had been filmed.  One of the first things we saw was the new Whole Foods store.  There were new condo buildings scattered among the revitalized older buildings. I walked down and admired the new riverfront with its mid-rise, post modern condo buildings and its expansive views of Manhattan. I walked to the subway station on busy streets with locally-run, hip restaurants and shops. It was a very different place from the neighborhood depicted in the 1980s documentary.

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New York City

The next morning, I attended a session on collaborative climate action with speakers from New York City, Atlanta, and Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The speaker from Atlanta had been the climate change person for Coca Cola before moving to the Mayor's office.  We heard about New York Mayor De Blasio's Built to Last program. The program calls for an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the next 50 years and a 30 percent reduction during the next decade. The program focuses on building efficiency, which makes sense in New York City where buildings dominate energy usage. The program sets energy efficiency goals for existing and new public buildings.  It will address privately owned buildings through regulations and voluntary collaboration.

New York City is composed of many different types of places all linked by the intricate subway system. It is the east coast headquarters of American culture and innovation and of economic power.  It is the very expensive home of the elites, and in its outer portions, it is the home of working people. Creative arts are intensely scattered throughout the city.

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