EARTH DAY IN NEW YORK ------------------- John Pazmino NYSkies Astronomy Inc www.nyskies.org email@example.com 2010 April 25
Introduction ---------- The annual global celebration of Earth Day is a direct spinoff of the Apollo lunar flights. In December 1968 the Apollo 8 astronauts took pictures of Earth, so small and blue and beautiful. That picture is now and forever branded into humanity's mind as a living demonstration of our planet's fragile and delicate nature with no alternative but to take good care of it. This article describes Earth Day in New York City in a general way, not for a specific event, to illustrate the level and scope of the shows. One peculiarity over the years is that while there were dozens and hundreds of exhibits relating to planet Earth there was so far one and only one exhibit for the other planets. This was staged by the astronomers of the City. Since 2004 they crewed the exhibit thru NYSkies Astronomy Inc.
History ----- Earth Day as a holiday in the United States was observed in 1970 after a year or so of study and planning based on the Apollo 8 pictures. The idea to have a special day to call attention to the mandate to care for our home planet sprang up in several towns in 1969 and 1970. In New York students and professors at Columbia University launched the first substantial Earth Day celebration in 1970. They found a mid-week day away from spring semester break and tests, which just happened to be April 22 in 1970. It was not based on some eco or enviro event. Nor was it birth or death of some enviro/eco advocate. That first Earth Day celebration, on 22 April 1970,was a street fair along Fifth Avenue and Central Park. It attracted close to a full million of visitors, the very largest celebration in the country and among the largest ever for the City. Since then thru the 1970s and 1980s the observances were slow to catch on and actually diminished. New York City during this time had other problems on its mind, like a fiscal meltdown, degenerate municipal functions, and enhanced street crime. Earth Day in New York lapsed into minor localized events. In 1990, on the 20th anniversary of Earth Day, the City organized its next major celebration. Since then the City celebrated Earth Day regularly, with ups and downs in scale. In many years there were subsidiary observances in various parts of the City besides the main one on Manhattan. The early events were organized thru the NYC Parks Department, By the mid 1990s a separate company, Earth Day New York, took on the operations with support from Parks and other municipal agencies. Over the years the Earth Day show in New York grew to be the centerpiece event in the United States, outranking, by just about all measures, those elsewhere. It now attracts exhibitors and visitors from all over the country and from overseas.
Astronomy Day ----------- Prior to 1990 astronomers in New York observed Astronomy Day in April or May. The date was generally not on the very date set by Sky & Telescope magazine, but on a nearby weekend. Venues included Central Park and Hayden Planetarium on Manhattan and Andrus Planetarium in Yonkers NY. These shows were modest affairs, often smothered by the other regular activity in the facility. Once the City's Earth Day was reestablised in 1990, astronomers crewed a booth there. For a few years they observed both Astronomy Day and Earth Day With Earth Day being by far the more festive and mature event, the astronomers by the mid 1990s dropped Astronomy Day completely. Never the less, the booth did feature, on occasion, clearsky solar viewing. As a peculiarity of New York, pura mente because it does not field an 'Astronomy Day' event, it looks like the City does nothing for the profession around the Astronomy Day theme. As one consequence, New York never qualifies for the Astronomy Day award offered by Sky & Telescope and Astronomy magazines. Of course this is nonsense. The City's advocancy of astronomy thru the Earth Day exhibition outclasses any and all other orthodox Astronomy Day events in the United States. None comes even close to the grandeur and magnificence of our profession's presence at Earth Day.
Dates --- Earth Day itself is April 22nd. Because this was an arbitrary date set by the inaugural Earth Day at Columbia University, there was never a cause to shift it to some more suitable date. The City's show is on a weekend near this date, tho not always the closest one. In some years the show ran on two adjacent weekends. Some coughing comes from the coincidence of April 22nd with the birthday of Vladimir Lenin, the first major ruler of the Soviet Union. Allusions to Earth Day spring up from time to time as a Communist scheme against the capitalist regimes that pollute the planet and abuse the peasants and toilers. In the earlier Earth Day events in New York the Communist Party of the United States had a booth! After the Soviet Union collapsed the communism connection is now just a silly anecdote. Subsidiary Earth Day events in the City are held on various days on and near April 22nd. These are weakly advertised, mainly only in the district media. They are orders less elaborate than the centerpiece show on Manhattan, but they do get the local people involved with caring for the planet. They also generally run on days off of from the main event. People can attend both with no conflict.
Locations ------- New York's Earth Day shows migrated among the municipal parks, sometimes to help inaugurate a park's rehabilitation. Since 2003 the Earth Day show convened at Grand Central Terminal, hosted by Metro North Railroad. In 2010 a satellite show was held in Times Square. The table here gives the location of the celebrations from 1970 thru 2010. The day of the 1997 Earth Day seems lost. Neither I nor Earth Day New York could find records for this year. I don't plan to update this list, being a historical table of past events. -------------------------- date | location ----------------+--------- 1970 April 22 | 5th Av and Central Pk (1st observance_ 1990 Apr 22 Sun | 6th Av, 42nd St-57th St (20th anniversary) 1991 Apr 27 Sat | Water St, South Ferry-Brooklyn Bridge 1992 Apr 22 Wed | 42nd St, 1st Av-12th Av 1993 Apr 18 Sun | Bryant Pk 1994 Apr 17 Sun | Tobin Pz, World Trade Center 1995 Apr 23 Sun | Madison Av, 42nd St-57th St 1996 Apr 20 Sat | Union Sq 1997 Apr -- --- | [missing record? 1998 Apr 25 Sat | Inwood Hill Pk 1999 Apr 24 Sat | Battery Pk 2000 Apr 16 Sat | Battery Pk 2001 Apr 21 Sat | Belvedere Castle, Central Pk 2002 Apr 21 Sun | Belvedere Castle, Central Pk 2003 Apr 26 Sat | Vanderbilt Hall, Grand Central Terminal 27 Sun | do 2004 Apr 24 Sat | Vanderbilt Hall, Grand Central Terminal 25 Sun | do 2005 Apr 22 Fri | Vanderbilt Av, 42nd St-44th St 23 Sat | do 2005 Apr 14 Fri | Vanderbilt Hall, Grand Central Terminal 15 Sat | do 2007 Apr 14 Sat | Vanderbilt Hall, Grand Central Terminal 15 Sun | do 20 Fri | Vanderbilt Av, 42nd St-44th St 21 Sat | do 2008 Apr 18 Fri | Vanderbilt Av, 42nd St-44th St 19 Sat | do 2009 Apr 24 Fri | Vanderbilt Av, 42nd St-44th St and | Vanderbilt Hall, Grand Central Terminal 25 Sat | do (both venues) 2010 Apr 22 Thu | Times Sq (40th anniversary) 23 Sat | Vanderbilt Av, 42nd St-44th St 24 Sun | Vanderbilt Av, 42nd St-44th St ------------------------------------------------ Booths ---- The setup for a given exhibitor varies from a simple folding table and pair of chairs to a free-standing pavilion. The greater number are of the former type, including that for NYSkies. The table is about 2- 1/2 meters long, quite sufficient to hold a backboard, selection of litterature, and maybe a model or computer. The pavilions are built by larger exhibitors, mainly corporate sponsors. They may have little theaters, film or video displays, stages and decks, models, samples of products, demonstrations, and performers. For the simple exhibit the table has a plastic or fabric cover that must be placed over the table. Exhibitors who forget or opt not to cover the table are sternly advised to get the cover in place. This is for aesthetics because the tables are pretty roughed up. The table cover makes it hard to secure items against wind or bumps. One trick is to attach the items to the back or side edge of the table, then lay the cloth over the attachment. An \other tactic is to use stands weighted by a stone or heavy bag. The cloth itself can slide or pull off if snagged. A common trick is to tape its ends to the table legs or clamp it to the table edge with butterfly slips. The cloth also screens the area under the table, where supplies, coats, items collected from other booths are stored. A common strategy is to hang an exhibitor's banner over the front of the booth. This is then both an identity for the booth and a storage screen. The chairs are very flimsy, with plastic shell and thin metal legs. They are good only for sitting down for a rest or to store items under the table. Two come with each table unless more are requested at registration.
Weather ----- For the outdoor Earth Day events, the City was very lucky with weather. April can be a rainy month with showers falling unexpectedly at any time during the day. Only one Earth Day was squelched by rain, 2002. Some astronomers believe the 1997 show was also rained out but records seem lacking. On this occasion the rain was a nasty pitter-patter that slowly soaked thru the exhibitors and visitors. After a couple hours many booths closed for being eroded by rain or abandoned by their crew. On all other occasions the sky was at worse letting down a thin or brief rain. Clear or partly clear skies with good sunshine were common, allowing for solar viewing when this feature was offered. One instance was killed by strong wind. The 1994 show was in Tobin Plaza of the late World Trade Center. This was always a windy place, as I well knew from once working in the vicinity. Wind sweeped off of Hudson River, funneled by the narrow gap between the Twin Towers. The astronomy table was prepared by omitting backboards and having weights to hold down the litterature. Other tables were not so well prepared. Their displays and litterature blew all over, making the plaza into a gigantic snow dome! Wind in the plaza impeded skating and biking to the extent that riders were blown off course or toppled. With gentle care you can stand on the chair to work on higher parts of your exhibit or take pictures above the crowds. For safety sake, place the chair out of traffic flow and against a solid support like a lamp pole or wall. it is risky to free-stand on the chair. It may deform and topple you. For the outdoor shows in streets or parks there was no shelter provided. The exhibit standed in the open, exposed to weather. The practiced exhibitor had weights to hold down loose items. These were usually jerry-rigged from odd-&-end materials. City astronomers and NYSkies used, at various times, shelf rails, bookends, bicycle chain, stones, beanbags, aluminum channel. One favorite weight is 'urban tektite', rivets that pop off bridges, els, overpasses, other girder work. The sheared ends fall to the ground under the structure, where they are gathered as souvenirs.. Rubber bands don't work because they are too easily snapped when papers are pulled out from them. Routing pouches are also no good because the papers tend to get pushed too far inside to be seen. Even clear plastic bags are lousy for being too easily torn and clumsy to fetch papers from. In case of rain, it is prudent to have to hand a clear tarp to cover the whole table, yet allow the litterature to be seen and fetched. Weights, butterfly clamps, masking tape hold it in place. A good tarp can be made from a large, barrel-size, trash bag. Cut off the sealed bottom and slit it top to bottom along one edge. Then carefully refold it to a compact pad for packing with the exhibit. Events held indoors at Grand Central Terminal were free from weather worries. A fierce thunderstorm during the show of 2003 slashed attendance for several hours but did no harm to the exhibits.
Street shows ---------- Here I discuss street fairs other than the one at Grand Central Terminal. That one is a special, quite elaborate, setup, handled in its own section below. For the shows in a street, the street was closed to motor traffic. Buses were diverted to parallel streets or suspended for the day. Tables were lined up along the curb lanes while visitors used the traffic lanes as a midway. Motor traffic was barred by parade fences at each corner. Cross traffic was let thru by police more or less in synch with the traffic lights. Traffic control was similar to that for a parade or other street closing. At certain corners food and music stands were set up. Food service was also obtained at vendors in the surrounding streets. Waste management was provided by extra trash baskets along the street. Signs and banners advertised the event all along the street. Adjacent businesses were encouraged to promote their wares and services with litterature or extra signs. When the fair neared closing hour Earth Day crew gave warning about the street being open for traffic. A half to full hour notice allowed to knock down the booth and clear the table and chairs for removal. Once cars start streaming into the street you better ne out of there with all of your exhibit.
Park shows -------- Shows in a park required only minor extra work for the Parks Department. It posted additional rangers and police. Earth Day deployed its crew, signs, props. Booths were lined along the wider walkways, leaving enough room in the center for visitors. At times, as visitors piled up at the booths, the path was constricted. Earth Day monitors had to clear the path. Waste management was by extra trash bins placed thruout the park. With the Earth Day theme of reduce, reuse, recycle, many trash baskets were labeled for certain recyclable materials. Enforcement was lax because the park and fair staff was busy with many other chores. At certain more open spots a music stand was placed. Food service was usually provided by the normal concessions or by vendors in the surrounding streets. The show of 1998 was combined with the annual Native American Day. Inwood Hill Pk is the most natively preserved part of Manhattan. It suffered very little 'improvements' over the centuries, leaving it about as it was before Europeans arrived. It also has Manhattan's last surface-flowing river.
Vanderbilt Hall ------------- Vandrbilt Hall is the former waiting room of Grand Central Terminal. It had benches, restrooms, some conveniences. Nothing elaborate was put in here because any needed service was offered else where in the building. It extends across the 42nd St side of the Terminal. It is bisected by a north-south flyway from 42nd St to the Main Concourse. This flyway is also an overpass for ramps leading to the lower level dining hall and tracks. With the renovation of the Terminal in the 1990s Vanderbilt Hall was made into a function space hired out for parties, exhibits, shows. Earth Day New York and its sponsors chip in for the myriads of dollars per day rent. This is only for the bare room. The customer must then outfit it for his show. The place of the former benches are marked by a darker slab of stone. One of the really fascinating points of interest is the floor adjacent to these slabs. The floor is scooped out slightly, as felt by sliding the foot over it. This is erosion from passengers sitting in the benches while waiting for their trains. They swang their feet under the bench, swiping and scuffing the floor with their shoes. The utterly countless swipes at each bench hollowed out the floor! These marks are part of the landmarked features of the Terminal and are best seen when the Hall is empty. The unwary visitor at a show in the Hall can lose balance when he steps into the scoop. An other fascinating feature are the chandeliers or 'cone' lamps. Other, round, chandeliers in the depot are the 'melons'. When the Hall was under renovation these lamps were removed for cleaning and repair. They were insured for $25,000 each as a nominal value based on them being made of bronze or similar material. The restoration company found out that the lamps were not plain bronze or other usual alloy. The metal is an amalgam of iron, nickel, and gold! Insurance for the return shipment was about $2,000,000 each. During 2009-2010 these lamps, and all others in the Terminal, were converted from incandescent bulbs to small fluorescent bulbs. These bulbs should last a year or so between replacement. The railroad was replacing ONE HUNDRED old bulbs PER DAY thruout the edifice. It posted a team of 3 or 4 monitors to find the dead bulbs and change them. The depot was built before the modern standards for electrical fixtures were set. The sockets are unique to the depot. A special factory was found to handle the standing order for, uh, 36,000 of these unique bulbs per year for the Terminal. The borders of the windows, rosettes of the lamps, wall trim carry oak leafs and acorns. the family symbol of the Vanderbilts, the railroad builder. This motif prevails thruout the Terminal. Please inspect the relief of a Native American, one of the rare early positive recognition of indigenous peoples in America. The railroad runs thru Native American lands in upstate New York. Inspect the plaque honoring Jacqueline Onaissis, who headed the campaign to preserve Grand Central Terminal from pig-headed modification in the mid 1960s. Besides saving the depot,her work founded the nation's first public landmarks preservation system,
Indoors at Grand Central ---------------------- The Earth DAy shows from 2003 were all in or near Grand Central Terminal. The actual setting was either in Vanderbilt Hall or in a tent city in Vanderbilt Avenue adjacent to the depot. In 2007 it convened in each place in turn on successive weekends and in 2009 the show was in both places at once. The show runs during the regular operation of Grand Central Terminal. Full traffic flows thru the depot, amounting to 500,000 people on a typical weekend day. There is no diversion or interruption of this traffic. Extra rail service for Earth Day is added to it. Vanderbilt Hall can be configured either as one large space or two separate ones, according as the size of the exhibit. Earth Day takes both sides. Entry to the Earth Day show is via the flyway. Visitors divert from the straight path to or from the Main Concourse to either side of the Hall. To gain the other side, visitors have to intersect the main flow along the flyway. This causes momentary interruption of flow. This is quickly cleared by Earth Day and Metro North agents. As visitors pour into Vanderbilt Hall they stop at the tables and pavilions where they examine the offerings. Even without music the din of conversation around a given exhibit can make it hard to interact with the visitors. The booths are set in rows parallel to 42nd St, orthogonal to the flyway, with the music booth at one of the far ends. No food service is provided, there being enough food points all over the depot. The confined floorage can accommodate only small pavilions with limited space for elaborate shows. The placement of the booths is constrained by the need for electric. The power points are embedded in the floor at irregular spots. A powered booth must be placed over or next to an electric outlet. This constraint can make walkways between rows either too wide, wasting floorage, or too narrow, causing congestion. No booths are placed against the walls for fear that the exhibitor may hang displays on them. Such a deed is a major offense due to the landmark status of the Terminal. Similar prohibitions apply to all other structure and fixtures in the hall, such as columns and floor. I can't recall any violators for an Earth Day show but those at other shows were 86ed on the spot by railroad police. Behind the booths are wireframe and elastic fabric partitions. These take up some floorage and are stricta mente off limits for hanging any items. Exhibitors at first placed posters, banners, signs on the partitions, to be sternly ordered to remove them. When music was provided it was totally overly loud to the point visitors and exhibitors could not converse. Amplification was used and the sound ricocheted off of the stone walls. In more recent years music was no longer featured. Due to the indoor setting, exhibits must pass a fire safety inspection. No construction of a fire hazardous nature is permitted. Minor exceptions are paper for litterature and cardboard or foamboard for displays and backboards. One exhibitor a few years ago was expelled because his entire display consisted of furniture made from recycled wood and cardboard. The inspection is done either early on the morning of the show or on the previous evening. Any items failing the inspection are banned from the booth. A fire safety talk is given to all the exhibitors at some early hour during the show. This instructs on the location of exits and handling of fire-quenching bottles. In the 2007 show NYSkies missed the fire inspection. It was scheduled for the Vanderbilt Hall show on the first weekend of Earth Day. While getting ready to head to the show. I found a water leak in my cellar at home. Securing and stabilizing the leak consumed time, making for an arrival at Grand Central after the inspection. NYSkies was barred from setting up in Vanderbilt Hall! Earth Day shuffled NYSkies to the outdoor show on the next weekend.
Outdoors at Grand Central ----------------------- When the show is in Vanderbilt Avenue, the street on the west flank of the Terminal, the setup is radicly different from that of Vanderbilt Hall. Vanderbilt Avenue has four lanes, two along the curbs and two in the middle for vehicle traffic. Booths are placed in tents in the curb lanes. The tents are very substantial heavy fabric models closed on three sides and open to the street on the fourth. The open side is the front by which visitors reach the booths. A tent is about 20 meters long along the curb. Booths are allocated to 3-meter segments within this length. The effect is like a galleria with many adjacent independent stands within it. Enough of these elongated tents are deployed to contain all of the exhibitors. The number of exhibitors excedes the curb space in Vanderbilt Av. The overflow is lined up in tents in 43rd and 44th St between Madison and Vanderbilt Avenues. The corners of these blocks are reserved for the pavilions of the larger exhibitors. The music stage is at 45th St, capping the show at its north end. Entry is by any street and from the Terminal. Visitors may approach a booth from any direction, requiring its crew to keep its heads on swivel. Food service is minimal by Earth Day regulation. For one, serving food increases substantially the dwell time of a visitor. Other issues are mess, garbage, litter, odor, and fire hazard. Booths may give out prepared samples. These are typicly packaged, poured from bottles, otherwise quickly assembled on request. Full food service is obtained within the Terminal or surrounding streets. The two traffic lanes can clog up when visitors pack up at opposing booths. Earth Day agents quickly swoop in to clear the jam. The tents are heavily braced against wind and really do shelter the booths from all but a really heavy rain. Most water damage would come from runoff passing under the booth and filling the gutter along the curb. For this reason, if there is any chance of rain, exhibitors store items on the table or chairs, not directly on the the ground. Humidity can damage display items.This happens overnight when the booths are idle and air temperature falls. It's wise to cover the entire table and display with a plastic tarp to defelct moisture away.
Attendance -------- At all of the Earth Day shows the volume of visitors is stupendous. When held along a street visitors amounted to a full one million! Readers remote from the City simply can not imagine so humongous a crowd packed into a single place. Even the worst attended Earth Day fair, 1994 at World Trade Center, attracted a few myriads of visitors. At Grand Central in the recent years attendance tops off at 120,000 to 150,000 per day, or up to 300,000 for the two day run. This is fully one half of the attendance of ALL the Earth Day events in the instant year thruout the United States. Such numbers handily excede the entire contents of substantial American towns! With out much chance of dispute I hazard that the astronomy profession at New York's Earth Day interacts with more of the public than ALL of that year's Astronomy Day events in the United States. At Grand Central Terminal a slug of visitors are opportunity visitors, those passing thru the depot for other reasons and then seeing the Earth Day signs. They are supplemented by a deliberate migration to the depot, like school classes and families. These come for the show and, while in town, take in other attractions. A third component is the tourist traffic. It takes in the Earth Day exhibition as part of their visit to the City. This makes the exhibit a face to the whole world, not just to local or regional attention. Exhibit at Earth Day in New York and the entire planet sees you. An incredible feature of the Earth Day show at Grand Central is that it must run under full rail and foot traffic. The depot is not closed off, like for a street fair. Trains course thru the station with no interruption. The more recent Earth Day fairs were on Friday and Saturday. The rail traffic is about 500 trains per day on Friday and 250 on Saturday. This is augmented to handle the additional ridership coming to the show.
Comparison -------- These immense crowds at Earth Day are, believe it or not, near the LOWER level of attendance at other New York City celebrations. The 9th Av Food Fair attracts one million visitors; Thanksgiving parade, one to two million; New Year's Eve in Times Sq, a half to one million; 4th of July in Lower Manhattan, one to two million; 3rd Av Street fair, a half million. Coney Island pulls in a million visitors on a torrid summer day. Tickertape parades get half to one million spectators. Special events, like the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty celebrations of the 1980s, drew two to three million visitors each. The utterly biggest attraction of all of the country is the Caribbean Carnival on Labor Day weekend. That, in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, pulls in, hold your hat, 3-1/2 million visitors! The joke is that during this show, there are more Caribbeans in New York than are left on the Caribbean islands. On the low end, the new High LIne, an elevated greenway from Gansevort Market thru Chelsea, attracts 50,000 per day. Large department stores like K-Mart and Macy's routinely pass 50,000 to 100,000 shoppers per day. Political and social rallies can field myriads of people in places like Union Square, United Nations Plaza, City Hall Park. The World Science Festival in Washington Sq brings out 100,000 to 150,000 visitors. These people showed up for, what?, SCIENCE?
Travel ---- A prime reason for massive attendance for events in New York is that essentially no one arrives by personal vehicle. Just about all Earth Day visitors arrive by foot or transit. A few do come by bike or other human-powered vehicle to support the Earth Day theme. The only motor vehicles arriving at Earth Day are those carrying the booths and displays. These must unload at assigned hours and then get off site. They either go home or park in garages scattered around the fair location. They return at the end of the fair to remove the exhibits. There is a growing residnecy around Grand Central of several myriads of new inhabitants. They live in new housing towers or converted former commercial towers. They walk to Earth Day from as far as two kilometers away. Transit at all of the locations for Earth Day was ample and dense. Subways ran near or under the site. Buses worked the adjacent streets. The walk from a transit stop to Earth Day was at most a quarter-K. In some cases the fair was almost at the top of the subway stairs! Transit at Grand Central is provided by street bus, interboro or express bus, subway, and Metro North Railroad. They run by their normal schedule for the instant day, with supplemental service for the extra ridership to Grand Central. Many visitors find it easier to ride to a stop near, but not at, Grand Central to get away from congestion. They then walk the remaining hundreds of meters. When the fair is in Vanderbilt Av, there is minimal disruption to buses because there are no routes in that street. Buses are delayed, with all other road traffic, at the 42nd St end of Vanderbilt Av as crowds clog the street to enter or leave the show. At earlier fairs in other streets, buses were rerouted.
Luminous graffiti --------------- Because Earth Day is the show for looking after the wellbeing of our home planet, it is a ready-made stage to promote the reduction or removal of luminous graffiti. NYSkies works with the energy and development exhibitors to show how luminous graffiti is part of their overall efforts to reduce, reuse, recycle energy. Among the sponsors of Earth Day in New York are the New York State Power Authority, Consolidated Edison Company, NYS Metropolitan Transportation Authority, NYS Public Service Commission, US National Park Service, NYC Department of Environmental Protection, NYS Energy Research and Development Authority, NYC Audubon Society, TO NAME JUST A FEW OFF HAND AS I TYPE THIS. By dialog with these groups in the preparation for Earth Day and at their booths during the show, NYSkies made substantial progress in reducing the emission of luminous graffiti. Power Authority, for example, now has a program to remove or reduce outdoor lighting on its facilities thruout the state, partly after speaking with its booth-mate NYSkies. MTA tightened its rules for exterior lighting to improve safety and comfort by reducing up and side spray of light. Con Edison offers lighting advice for placing, aiming, shielding, outdoor lamps. Due to the ongoing work of NYSkies, and City astronomers before its founding, luminous graffiti is under control here and the City has an amazingly dark sky for the immense conurbation it is. We achieve 4- 1/2 magnitude transparency from Central Park on the dark nights. On specially dark nights, like for the Leonids of 2001, fully fifth magnitude stars were spotted. A more usual limit is 4th, which still outranks towns of but 1/10 the size of the City.
Other issues ---------- While luminous graffiti in some parts of the US is the number one nemesis against stargazing, in the City is is merely one of several impediments. Probably the biggest obstacle for stargazing in the City is the paucity of open sky exposure. Traditionally, views from the waterfront over large waters was closed by the shipping industry and adverse personal safety. The revival of a open access waterfront, mainly because the industry that hogged the shore is gone, allows for free and realisticly safe prospects of the sky. More must be done, and NYSkies is banking on the implementation of the new PlaNYC actions to increase sky access thruout the City. An other is transit in the late to dawn hours. Due to rising population and expansion of the work hours into this part of the day, transit service did improve substantially in the 2000s. On the other hand, the perpetual rebuilding projects do cut off certain transit lines to make a predawn ride into an odyssey. The service reductions in summer 2010 are a concern. On top of the reroutes and suspensions and the decrease in frequency, to three or four trains per hour, inhibit activity in the predawn hours. Removal of overnight or weekend bus routes is also an obstacle. It can force stargazing near these routes to wind down by midnight. Housing for our astronomers, like those coming to take careers at our universities, is a monstrous problem. Rents for one-room flats, studios as they are called here, floor at $1,500 per month on Manhattan and $1,000 per month in the inner ring of the other boros and riverfront New Jersey. The potential expiration of certain subsidized housing, like the 40-year program of Mitchell-Lama rent abatement, may push astronomers (among all other residents) to bail out of the City for remote homes of lower cost. A primary concern in years past was street crime. It often was plain too dangerous to be outdoors, specially in an isolated place, for stargazing in late hours. This situation was broken loose by the all=points work of police and civic groups. The City is comfortably safe for night time activities, altho you must always be alert and cognizant of your surrounds. Agencies and groups addressing these other urban situations are at Earth Day. We dialog with them during the show.
Registration ---------- The earlier Earth Day fairs were ether free or charged a nuisance fee for the table. At Grand Central the fee was set at several hundred dollars! This for just about any other astronomy group in the country is truly an astronomical amount! For NYSkies, and other exhibitors, this is part of the everyday cost of doing business in New York. This fee is for a bona-fide nonprofit exhibitor, like NYSkies, and is for the smallest booth, the table and two chairs. Larger spaces, pavilion floorage, and commercial exhibitors are assessed higher fees. These range up to many thousands of dollars. Is this expense rational for our profession? Yes, positively, and we really can not opt out of it. Earth Day, along with World Science Festival and North East Astronomy Forum, are showcase events to fly the flag of New York's astronomers. NYSkies attract comfortable donations to do this, even during the current, so far thru 2010, Depression.
Paying for Earth Day ------------------ How can NYSkies and other local nonprofits afford Earth Day? The all-in cost is not only the registration. It includes building the display, printing litterature, making costumes, renting equipment, carfare or parking, meals and incidentials. One principal fount is the federal reward program for fighting luminous graffiti. It's rolled into an overall scheme TransitChek to promote use of transit over personal car for commuting. Because cars and the industry and culture they engender produces the dominant amount of lumious graffiti in our skies, darksky agitators push astronomers toward it as a way to reduce luminous graffiti and get paid for doing so. Your employer's benefits office will explain the details, but essentially at least part of your commuting to work is paid for with federally dedicated tax-free subsidy. This is the actual cost of your commutation ticket capped by the program's macximum as at early 2010 of $230 per month. The cost you avoid is released to give to your astronomy work, like paying the costs of fielding an Earth Day exhibit. With a crew of four and a monthly qualifying subsidy of only $150 per month for each peson, your ehibit earns $600 IN ONE MONTH. If you start your Earth Day plans in January the three months until April accumulate EIGHTEEN HUNDRED DOLLARS!! Your club cna pay the ENTIRE cost of BOTH Earth Day and NEAF!
Registration also requires general liability insurance. The ordinary astronomy club has no insurance for lacking either the corporate identity to be insured or the finances to sustain it. The requirement for liability insurance is increasingly common for any outfit availing of a host facility. Without it the astronomy club may be turned away. The amount to carry depends on the host's stipulation, the general trend in the club's district, and the size of the club. Speak with an insurance broker and have proof of organization and financial status. NYSkies, with other nonprofits in New York, are essentially required to carry substantial insurance. This is a prudent business feature. Premiums can be many hundreds of dollars per year, but without it, the club can be annihilated on even a minor injury claim. If the club is not incorporated, specially if not a nonprofit corporation, the club officers and directors can be personally accountable. The damage can be myriads of dollars for a small settlement.
Electric and Internet ------------------- Two common optional extra features for the Earth Day booth at Grand Central are electric power points and wireless Internet. There is an extra charge for these of about a hundred dollars each. You may try to work with the ambient wireless free service near Grand Central Terminal. This would be a signal leaking from a park, restaurant, other hotspot. It is almost surely intermittent and fluctuating in strength. The extra Internet service for Earth Day is a set of dedicated transponders in Vanderbilt Hall or at points along Vanderbilt Avenue. The signal is open only during the show hours. Electric in Vanderbilt Hall is offered by floor outlets. Booths signing up for electric are placed at these outlets. This can make irregular width of aisles and cause visitor congestion here and there. In Vanderbilt Avenue portable generators are stationed at certain corners with thick cables running out to power outlets along the curbs. An outlet is set up in the booths taking the service. Adjacent booths may not tap into them. The generators, besides providing electric, promote earth-friendly fuel and machinery. They may sport signs turning the device into an attractive nuisance. Please leave the generators alone. Due to the massive foot traffic in the Avenue, the cables are placed in the gutter and under wooden boards away from the gutters. Even with this precaution, it's easy to trip over the cables. Please do not run or walk with averted or obstructed vision. In-booth electric, like by battery, radioisotope, solar panels. is handled as an individual case. Apply for permission when registering. Do not show up with unauthorized apparatus.
Maturity ------ With the educated wisely audience at Earth Day, and other New York City astronomy activities, there is plain no excuse for adolescent or sophomoric behavior. In all too many cases else where I see grown adults acting like they're still in high school at their booth. Not only is this a turnoff to visitors, it stamps 'amateur' on the forehead of our profession. Dress may be casual, yet neat and clean. Clothing varies with the instant weather: jacket, sweater, shirt-sleeve. Make sure to mind personal hygiene, specially in warm humid surrounds. Bring hygiene supplies with you and freshen up in the restroom. Do not eat in the open at the booth! You may conceal food behind the backboards and take from it while out of sight. If a visitor approaches, PUT THE FOOD DOWN and tend to him with free hands.Aldo clean food bits off your mouth and surrounds. Keeping food away from the table also prevents spills on your litterature or display. You may go for larger meals in relay with other crew. Sit next to or behind the table, never in front. Chairs block access to the display. Visitors may be hesitant to ask you to move aside for a better look. Don't leave an empty chair in front of the booth, A visitor may sit there and freeze in place, deflecting visitors away. You may wear a costume provided it's decently constructed and carried. It may be funky or whimsical, but not childish or juvenile. Use good materials and workmanship. Please mind the visitor! Cease instantly your banter with your crew and look after the visitor. Making the visitor wait until you're good and ready for him says nothing less than, 'This table isn't for you. Go to some other exhibitor'. Let the visitor look over your display, ask if he needs assistance or has questions. Leave him be but stand at ready for him when he turns to you. Explain the handouts and let him pick what he wants. Horsing around, playing video games, humming or drumming, reading newspapers, watching computer or TV, singing juvenile songs are glatt no-nos. If you get tired or restless, get up and circulate around the fair. See the other booths. Get a drink. Visit the restroom. In extreme cases you may jog a few laps around the perimeter of the fair.
Indoor safety ----------- Because Earth Day, and many other, shows are staged in public spaces, there is the concern for personal and property safety. When Earth Day was held in city parks, the show was for one day. The exhibitor set up the booth in the morning and took it down in late afternoon. The park was supervised by its normal crew. Safety was the same as for days without a special show. The hazard was that of occasional incidents of theft or vandalism, such as that at park vendors and pavilions. When Earth Day moved to Grand Central Terminal the show was extended over two days, with an overnight of downtime for the booths. There are two cases. The first is for the show in Vanderbilt Hall, inside of Grand Central Terminal. The exhibitor set up the booth early in the first day or in the previous evening. He leaves it untended overnight, and takes it down in late afternoon of the second day. During the days order is maintained by both Metro North police and Earth Day security crew. Both circulate thru the Hall and are on call by any exhibitor. The usual disturbance is congestion in the aisles or at a booth. The density of visitors inhibits hit & run theft. With only limited egress from the Hall, the safety agents can be alerted to intercept the thief. I have never seen such an incident but it is one to be mindful of. In the overnight span the Hall is gated off to deter casual entry and is monitored by Metro North police. In spite of their diligence, it is well to remove any valuable items. Nowadays these are gadgets like computers, display screens, small electronics, mobile phones. They can be hidden away in closed boxes behind or under the booth or, if feasible, be taken away for safekeeping off site, They are returned on the second day to resume service at the exhibit.
Outdoor safety ------------ The second case is for the show in Vanderbilt Avenue next to the Terminal. This is a public street that can not be barricaded from intruders. In fact, foot traffic continues in it overnight. During the show the street is monitored by FOUR sets of safety teams: Metro North police, NYC Police Department, Grand Central Partnership guards, and Earth Day security agents. They circulate thru the street keeping eye out for actual or potential trouble. The worse I myself ever witnessed was some harassment at a booth by some one who disliked its purpose. Agents hauled the offender off, who apparently got the drift and did not come back. The overnight situation is more difficult to manage. With the street open to the normal nighttime foot traffic (motor vehicles are still banned) it is impossible to turn away intruders. Any one may approach or enter the booths because the tents are fully open to the street with no means of shutting them from view. Metro North Railroad and NYC police do walk thru once in a while but they can not maintain a continuous watch over the tents. You BETTER remove for safekeeping all valuable items, period! This can be a hassle for an elaborate display and may call for getting your car to come around to help. The car can not enter Vanderbilt Avenue. You must wheel or carry your items to it at the end of the street. The rest of the booth may stand open but it is well to protect it from the weather. It will be untended for about 15 hours in the open air, exposed to the elements. Loose items should be boxed. Papers and other moisture-vulnerable parts of the display should be covered with tarps. Litterature should be put into bags or boxes so they don't blow away and litter the street. Check that signs and banners are firmly secured so they don't work loose and blow off. Move the chairs behind the table to lessen their chances of sprouting wings. This is a serious problem with places like Bryant Park and Times Square that have small folding chairs scattered over them. There is a nasty 'shrinkage' of the chairs that must be constantly replenished. If feasible, by living or working nearby, walk by your booth at night to inspect it for incidental damage. Else, just accept what you'll find in the morning of the second day. Part of your gear for the booth is a repair kit of tools and materials to mend damage. Items like scissors, tape, notepad, glue stick, felttips, masking tape are essential to have at ready.
Incidents ------- In the event of a safety incident at your booth, first try to lessen the impending or actual damage. Be wary of confronting the intruder without assistance or backup. He could be stronger than you, violent, armed. Call the safety crew. Usually you may see a safety agent passing by within a minute or two. Else go to the Earth Day info booth or call it by mobile phone. Earth Day in the last couple years now insists on mobile contacts in the registration. Provide them! Earth Day's instructions include mobile contact for its crew. Have them with you! If you chance to lack a mobile phone, go and get a pay-per-call phone at a convenience store. It has instructions to add talk time thru a website or keying in a purchased code number. Add a couple hours before Earth Day. This is enough to handle emergencies. You may continue to use the phone after the show to use up left over time. Give a cogent description of the intruder. Note carefully his gender, skin tone, body structure, height, weight, clothing, hair style, jewelry and ornaments, companions, prior sighting of him (maybe you saw him inspecting other booths for a hit?), names he used to speak with companions, tools or implements he carried. language and accent, scars and tatoos. Detail his actual or attempted action, damage or loss suffered. Cooperate with the safety crew and be positively available to it for followup. Be sure the agents know your contact and assure it that you will work with them for the incident. If feasible while remaining a safe distance away, try to capture a photo of the intruder. Don't do this up close! When the perpetrator sees you with a camera, he may mount to more damage or injury. Hiding in the surrounding crowd is one trick. Photograph the damage or injury of your booth. Give the pictures to the safety team. After the incident abates, please continue with the show. The remainder of your exhibit may be still operable. If the incident occurred on the first day, you may do repairs on the display and replenish materials for the second day.
Consolidated booth? ----------------- Thus far, with the single exception of 2004, NYSkies fielded its own booth. In 2004 we shared booth with the NYC Chapter of National Space Society. That arrangement worked very well, with good traffic at the table to inspect its tow displays for space and astronomy. Why not bring in other astronomy centers to crew a union booth? It can be a double-table spread to allow room for each center's display. The cost can be split among the exhibitors with NYSkies fronting the full payment. Earth Day can then deal with the individual centers for instructions and followup. Interest in a union booth at Earth Day isn't yet at the critical mass. Other groups so far are only mildly willing and for the most part simply can not afford even a proportionate share of the booth. However, with the phaenomenon of World Science Festival, there seems to an awakening of concern for a better public facade for astronomy. At the Festivals of 2009 and 2010, NYSkies was the only home astronomy center with its own booth. There were lots of astronomy features at booths for government (NASA, NOAA) and colleges (NYU) so more home astronomy presence is a good prospect that NYSkies will argue for in future years.
Conclusion -------- Earth Day in New York is the signature event that highlights astronomy for the City. A second one, newly established in 2008, is the World Science Festival, so far running in June. NYSkies exhibits at both, in spite of what seems like an insanely high cost of signing up. For us it's the cotidian way life works in New York and we evolved to adapt to it. Our supporters both from the home and campus sectors of astronomy, understand that Earth Day delivers to an intelligent, educated, cultured audience a positive image of our profession. One missing facet is participation by other astronomy groups in the City area. Some do take part in Earth Day celebrations in their own vicinity, but most do not. For what ever reason, these clubs are missing a fabulous opportunity -- courtesy of some of the very corporations we need to engage for supporting our profession -- to show what a cultural and civic endeavor astronomy is.