2014-04-11 / Letters

Oral History Coming Together

(From the Design/Relief project) Dear Rockaway,

Lots is happening! The “Dear Rockaway,” team has added dozens of oral histories to the archive which has grown from 34 to almost 100 first-hand accounts of life on the peninsula. Furthermore, preparations are underway for making these conversations visible as a place-based, street art campaign that culminates in a celebration on Saturday, May 3.

In addition to talking with those who have passed by The Wave or YANA during our weekly open interview sessions (which continue today, Friday, April 11, and Friday, April 18), “Dear Rockaway,” has also interviewed locals with whom we happen to cross paths. For example, over breakfast sandwiches at Surfside Bagels last Friday, we heard from two young professionals: a teacher who has always lived in Rockaway and an entrepreneur who only recently relocated to life on the beach. Each expressed a need for greater connectivity, whether improved A-train service (running more trains / eliminating the need to transfer at Broad Channel) or in the form of more public activities / places to gather. Both native and transplant alike recalled the charm of the boardwalk and how readily it brought people together, how devastating a loss it remains.

That same day, a sampling of Uzbek cuisine led to a friendly chat with the owner of Uma’s, already a staunch supporter of the local arts though his restaurant is less than a year old. While the team savored the warmth from cozy window seats and bowls of borscht, a surfer— fresh from the 40 degree water — parked his board in the sidewalk rack out front before settling down for lunch at a neighboring table. Naturally, we introduced ourselves and learned that, before experiencing Rockaway, he never even considered coldwater surfing. But upon discovering the raw beauty, crashing waves and devoted surfing culture here yearround, he was compelled to give it a try, and—undeterred by chilling temperatures and brutal winds— has rented a board locker at Beach 90th ever since.

Not everyone we encountered was as receptive to our inquiries…many were too preoccupied to spare the time or mental energy for —yet another— post-Sandy interview. Others dismissed us almost immediately upon greeting, walking away without a word while we were still mid-sentence. More often, though, passers-by politely engaged long enough to be asked for an interview at which point they excused themselves, offering to stop by “later” or to come to a future session.

However, even the most guarded individuals seemed to open up at the thought of being part of Rockaway’s history… to be recognized for being here.

Legendary New Yorker, activist, and author Jane Jacobs may have, in 1961, made the best case for sharing your own experience of Rockaway with us today when she wrote: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

On the heels of Key Food’s grand reopening, a buoyant example of Rockaway business building back, “Dear Rockaway,” invites you to wonder: How might Community build back?

CAROLYN LOUTH
Art Director and Storyteller
Design/Relief, an AIGA/NY initiative

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