Tag Archive | "Van Nest"

Putting Little Yemen on The Map

At a small intersection with an under-developed park called Green Streets, no longer than the length of three tightly parked cars, lies the center of Little Yemen in Morris Park. Door-to-door services crowd the street in front, including Al-Meraj, a halal meat market, and Gamal Business Services, where Arabic-language employees provide tax, translation, and notary services.

The Green Steets intersection that Yahay Obeid hopes to rename “Little Yemen” park.

For Yahay Obeid, this is also the center of his dream.

Obeid, a control supervisor at JFK Airport, serves on Community Board 11 as the public committee safety chair and is the outreach liaison for his local mosque. His current mission is to establish the enclave’s identity as Little Yemen on Google Maps.

Obeid wants the official designation because it will encourage residents to feel a sense of belonging and pride in the Bronx, he said.

His goal is to give residents “a place where they can say, ‘Yeah, I’m waiting for you at the Little Yemen triangle.’”

The heart of the neighborhood is on White Plains Road and Rhinelander Avenue, where the most popular Yemeni restaurant, Arth Aljanatain, is located. The restaurant’s windowed walls offer a view of Green Streets, where passersby can see local Yemeni customers sitting on one of their eight tables. It’s where the coach of the Yemen United Soccer Club takes his his sons for dishes such as salta, a meat broth-based soup, and rice and chicken dishes. The main mosque of the area – that holds two Friday prayer services to accommodate the worshippers – is here too. Hookah cafes, a Yemeni supermarket, and Yemeni delis and pharmacies surround that one intersection.

Little Yemen, which encompasses pockets from Van Nest and Bronx Park East, is a small pocket of the approximate 120,000 residents in the area, according to the NYU Furman Center.

Local Islamic-wear boutique, across the street from the Bronx Muslim Center.

And it’s even a smaller fraction of the approximate 6,900 Yemenis in New York State, estimated by the Arab American Institute Foundation. The number of Yemenis residing in the Bronx and specifically in District 11 is unclear to community officials. 

Obeid got the idea to reach out to Google earlier this summer, when he took part in the planning of the city’s first-ever Yemeni-American Day Parade. Anwar Alomaisi, the parade’s volunteer photographer, took a drone photo that captured the crowd at the triangle intersection. Once Obeid saw it, he was inspired to try to create “Little Yemen.”

Obeid submitted his request to Google using its My Business mobile application. Google verified the location and a few weeks later, Little Yemen was on the map. Sort of. It appears on Google Maps as a museum open 24/7. All Google Maps users can also manually add suggestions for businesses, hospitals, streets, and other places, where it will go through a verification process, but they cannot add neighborhoods.

Screenshot of Little Yemen on Google Maps as of September 5, 2019.

“It might not be an official museum, but people will check it out,” Obeid said about the designation.

Separately, Obeid has made a request to the Department of Parks and Recreation to rename the park to “Little Yemen.” He will reach out to Google to change the museum designation if the park is renamed with a sponsorship from the Department of Parks and Recreation.

In the meanwhile, “it will be somewhat of an outdoor museum of the Yemeni community.”

Google retrieves neighborhood information from third-party providers and public sources that they describe as local government websites and transportation operators, according to a Google Spokesperson.

They define borders with a red outline to map boundaries. 

Establishing Little Yemen on the map would solidify the Arab presence in the area, said Jeremy Warneke, Community Board 11 District Manager.

“They’re very visible and present, and you can either embrace the future or do your best to deny it,” Warneke said.

Ethnic enclaves, or Littles, in New York City, are typically defined by “commercial, residential, and institutional concentration of a particular ethnic group,” said Tarry Hum, Professor and Chair of the Department of Urban Studies at Queens College, CUNY

She notes that neighborhoods develop out of  “reciprocity and ethnic solidarity, class relations (and conflict) [that are] tempered by shared culture, language, experience of racial discrimination.”

Many Littles in New York don’t appear on Google Maps. The New York Times mapped out several based on population concentrations. In the Bronx alone, there are at least six distinctive neighborhoods, including Little Ireland in Woodlawn Heights, Little Albania in Pelham Parkway, and Little Ghana in Concourse Village, which are just some of the 30 Littles the Bronx Ink identified throughout New York City.

Obeid considers his efforts “a gift to the Yemeni community.” 

“Now they see us out of the grocery stores.”

On October 3, 2019, a few weeks after this story went live, The Bronx Ink discovered that Little Yemen’s designation on Google Maps changed from museum to neighborhood. The new designation can be viewed by clicking this Google Maps link.

This story was updated to reflect the following correction: Yahay made the request to change the name of the park to the Department of Parks and Recreation, not the community board.


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Van Nest Library Asked to Do More With Less

As technology needs grow, the budgets of public libraries continue to shrink. (ANDREW FREEDMAN/The Bronx Ink)

It is never easy to provide more services with less money, but the Van Nest branch of the New York Public Library is trying to figure out how to do so.

In the case of the three branches in Community District 11 of the Bronx, the social and technological needs of the residents have grown every year, while the budgets of the libraries have shrunk.

The library manager at the Van Nest branch on Barnes Avenue said that he is starting to feel the squeeze from years of modest cuts. Last year, the city library system was operating with a $245 million budget, down by $118 million from two years earlier.

“Three or four years of modest cuts in a row has significantly eroded the budget,” said David Nochimson. He said that the branch reduced hours in 2010 and is working with a smaller staff.

Data regarding specific branches is not available, though Nochimson explained it covers little else besides staff salaries and office supplies.

While there have been no layoffs at his branch, some positions such as part-time pages have been eliminated as people left their positions. Four years ago, Van Nest had six part-time pages – students who shelve books, assist patrons with technology and complete other tasks that keep the library running smoothly. In 2011, they were down to one. They have managed to hire one more since.

“When someone retires or leaves they just don’t replace them,” said Jeffrey M. Panish, a volunteer at the Van Nest branch. “They expect more service out of less people.”

The New York Public Library System has faced modest budget cuts since 2009. Another cut is planned for the 2013 fiscal year. (ANDREW FREEDMAN/The Bronx Ink)

The Van Nest branch is also consolidating service desks. Previously, their service desk was combined with their children’s desk. That desk will be combined with circulation. Plans are for the children’s section to be manned for fewer hours with a librarian at a desk on wheels.

This all occurs as the libraries of Community District 11 face a changing role, accommodating the needs of teenagers and children who like to socialize – popular visitors after school – as well as older patrons who prefer the quiet that is customary to libraries.

“Gone are the days of the ‘shh’ and the quiet areas,” said Denise Lyles, the library manager at the Allerton branch on Barnes Avenue between Arnow Avenue and Allerton Avenue. She said her library served as an unofficial day camp for neighborhood kids during the summer. They provided activities and programs including time playing video games and other games like UNO, in addition to their usual services.

At the Morris Park branch – just under a mile from the Van Nest branch – library manager Sandy W. Henry said her staff tends to be very busy. Their community room is often turned into a “homework zone” in the afternoons, while programs for older patrons, such as book discussions and lectures, are held earlier in the day.

Nochimson has a unique problem in that the Van Nest branch’s community room isn’t on a separate floor. Instead, it’s behind a glass wall. This allows Nochimson and his staff to keep an eye on children, but it doesn’t prevent noise or music from travelling. He said, however, that constant communication with both kids and adults helps keep the peace.

“We want to make it clear that we see a distinction between social interaction and disruptive behavior,” he said.

The libraries in Morris Park and Allerton have not yet felt constrained by the budget cuts, according to their library managers. Lyles admitted she would like to see more computers in her library, but had no other complaints. Henry suggested that her library may have been spared from cuts due to high circulation and attendance. The New York Public Library’s administration did not return several calls seeking comment regarding how its budget is allocated to individual branches and whether that involves circulation and attendance.

District Manager Jeremy Warneke said that he thinks Nochimson does well with the changing needs of patrons and is especially good with the needs of children.

Nochimson acknowledges that the work is hard and that his staff has been experiencing crossover in their job responsibilities. But with some sacrifice, everything manages to work.

“We need to be able to deploy our staff in this more efficient way,” he said. “We’re now expected to help each other out as needed.”

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