Clifton, Staten Island
Clifton is a neighborhood on the North Shore of Staten Island in New York City, United States. It is an older waterfront neighborhood, facing Upper New York Bay on the east. It is bordered on the north by Stapleton, on the south by Rosebank, on the southwest by Concord, and on the west by Van Duzer Street.
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The name "Clifton" for the area dates to 1817, when a town by the name, larger in area than the present neighborhood, was laid out along the waterfront. In its early history, much of the surrounding land was owned by the Vanderbilt family. As a young man, Cornelius Vanderbilt established ferry service from the waterfront to Manhattan at the foot of present Vanderbilt Avenue. Bayley Seton Hospital, north of Vanderbilt Avenue, was formerly the United States Public Health Service Hospital and housed the original headquarters of the National Institutes of Health (now located in Bethesda, Maryland). In the 1840s the Townsend family built a huge home that had turrets so it was called the Townsend Castle. It was located at what is now Townsend Avenue and Tompkins Avenue. In the 1870s many roads and large homes were built near the water. The area has many Victorian houses left from the late 1800s in the area from Vanderbilt to Norwood Avenues. In 1900 the Fox Hills Golf Club encompassed the entire area of where the Park Hill Apartments are now. There was a big clubhouse on Vanderbilt Avenue. Many tournaments were held there until the 1920s when it closed. The land was taken over by the government and used for military barracks during World War II. By the 1950s, it evolved into a middle-class, multi-ethnic community of civil employees including firemen, teachers, and doctors.
The Park Hill Apartments, located on Vanderbilt Avenue and on Park Hill Avenue, were initially developed in the 1960s as a private apartment complex to which many people from the other boroughs of NYC moved after the opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. By the late 1960s, however, people realized that it was relatively inexpensive to move to Staten Island and purchase a home or rent an apartment in smaller buildings, which resulted in a loss of the emerging middle-class population it initially attracted. Park Hill remained privately owned but became federally subsidized low-income housing complex, and became the site of steadily increasing crime and drug abuse beginning in the early-1970s. By the late 1980s it had gained the nickname of "Crack Hill" due to the many arrests for possession and/or sale of crack cocaine that were taking place in and around the development and the adjacent Fox Hills Apartments to the south. However, crime in this area has dramatically decreased since the late 1990s. Community activists are addressing the ongoing conflict between Liberian and African-American youth, primarily between the ages of 10–14. The community organizations run after-school programs to help keep the youth occupied in a productive way. This helps curb gang and street violence. The community tension that occurs in Park Hill is based on poverty and unemployment.
In the 1990s, the neighborhood became the center for an immigrant community from Liberia and West Africa around Targee Street. The residences in the neighborhood are mostly one-family houses, but the last decade has seen the development of many attached homes and duplexes.
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Park Hill has been a predominantly black neighborhood for a while. However, there is a growing Asian and Hispanic population in the area. Census tract 4 has seen the second-highest growth rate in the Asian population of any census tract on Staten Island (with the highest growth rate being tract 231 in Mariners' Harbor). East of Tompkins Avenue, the White population increases noticeably.
Over the years 2000–2003, Clifton's unemployment rate increased by 3.2 percentage points, and average wages declined by 8.7 percent, the only Staten Island zip code that experienced a decline. Hundreds of local jobs in the health care and social assistance fields were lost in the downsizing of Bayley Seton Hospital, which had been a major employer of neighborhood residents.
The bulk of the Park Hill neighborhood was built in the 1960s in keeping with New York City's plan for urban renewal projects. It consists of 15 acres (61,000 m2) of 6-story brick apartment buildings. The individual apartments contained within are quite large, with many having 2 or three bedrooms. As ownership has passed into private hands, upkeep on the apartments has dwindled, leaving many of them in a state of disrepair.
The average price of a private house in Park Hill increased from 2002 ($159,254) to 2007 ($321,426). The Clifton neighborhood consists mostly of one-family houses; however, in the past decade many duplexes and attached houses have been developed on property previously zoned for commercial use.
History and context
The Liberian Civil War led to a flight of Liberian immigrants, fleeing ethnic struggles between the Kru, Gola and Grebo communities, corrupt government, and political strife. Beginning in the late 1970s, a small number of Liberians, whose nation was founded by freed American slaves in the 1840s, settled in Staten Island. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Liberian immigrants in huge number fled the country, mostly trapped in the limbo of refugee camps on the borders of Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire. The United States government, always highly involved in Liberian affairs, began to offer refugee status (Temporary Protected Status-TPS) to displaced Liberians, especially those who had family in the United States.
The Liberian community in Clifton has been involved in a string of government lobbying campaigns since the 1990s to extend the "deferred enforced departure" (DED) status, which since the Presidency of Bill Clinton has had to be deferred on a yearly basis by presidential order for immigrants who fled the Liberian war without immigration visas. Clifton-based community groups like the Staten Island Liberian Community Association (SILCA) have become politically active in defending the estimated 3,600 Liberians across the country who are on DED status.
This new wave of immigration settled near the first small handful of Staten Island Liberians in the Park Hill Projects (now private apartments). As the civil war intensified, more immigrants followed, creating a vibrant community with African restaurants and businesses, and others working and building businesses across the area, notably in the Nostrand Avenue area of Brooklyn. The wife of soccer star (and former Liberian presidential candidate) George Weah owns a business in Brooklyn and lives in Staten Island. In recent years, Liberian families have been settling in nearby New Jersey, with a large community in the Trenton, New Jersey area. The area has become a regular stop for Liberian politicians and leaders visiting the United States. Local Liberian civic groups organize Liberian-American involvement in their homeland, and promote a variety of charitable missions in West Africa.
However, the troubles of the Liberian Civil War period have been carried into the diaspora as well. There are thought to be dozens of former child soldiers living in the Park Hill area. These former child soldiers are often unwilling to talk about past experiences and fear judgment (or prosecution) for wartime deeds. Because of the large population of Liberians in the neighborhood, the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission established after the civil war sent a representative to Clifton to collect testimony from Liberian nationals who experienced the Liberian Civil War and who currently reside in the neighborhood.
While there are successful business leaders in the community, the vast majority of Staten Island's Liberian immigrants are employed in low-wage service or medical fields. Many of the current residents of Park Hill are struggling with illiteracy, difficulty in finding employment, and poverty. Liberian immigrants in Park Hill also suffer from the legacy of poverty and violence in the wider community in which they live. While crime in the area has improved over the last 20 years, the reputation of Park Hill for gang and drug violence has afflicted some Liberian youth, already victimized by the Civil War. Liberian youths caught up in criminal activity, if arrested as refugee-status visa holders, face deportation back to their homeland. Friction between the Liberians and some in the local African-American community, over jobs, housing, and culture, has also been a source of tension for an already troubled community.
Park Hill struggles with environmental issues involving pollution and litter. The community's public school system plays a large role in environmental protection including park cleanup, lake maintenance, and litter removal. Eibs Pond, part of a 17-acre (69,000 m2) wetland adjacent to the Park Hill community, was recently restored by the current students of PS 57.
Clifton is served by the intermediate school I.S.49 and the elementary school P.S.57.
Staten Island Railway's Clifton station is three stops from the Staten Island Ferry at St. George. Clifton is also served by the S51/81 buses along Bay Street, the S52 and S78 buses along Tompkins Avenue, the S74/84 buses along Targee Street/Van Duzer Street, and the S76/86 buses along Vanderbilt Avenue.
In the early 21st century, Staten Island is New York’s fastest-growing borough, which has led to increased traffic congestion. Many city agencies believe that the streets of Staten Island lack the proper infrastructure to support the growing use of automobiles. The Staten Island Transportation Task Force and Co-Chairs New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Iris Weinshall and Department of City Planning (DCP) Director Amanda Burden have acted to relieve the congestion in the Park Hill area. Staten Island has a low rate of mass-transit ridership in the area as compared to the other boroughs, according to the MTA. DOT has outlined several short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals which include safety enhancements, bus stop additions, street widening, and traffic light reconfiguration. The placement of more "Stop" and "Yield" signs in the neighborhood is another pertinent goal.
- Alice Sargent Johnson – artist
- William Emerson – judge, lived on Tompkins Avenue near Vanderbilt Avenue, eldest brother of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
- Henry David Thoreau – author, spent summers at the Emerson house in the 1840s, where he tutored the children of Judge William Emerson and penned several letters to Ralph Waldo Emerson.
- John Carrère – architect who designed New York Public Library; lived in Clifton.
- Wu-Tang Clan – hip-hop group; 6 of 9 members—Method Man, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, Cappadonna, King Just and U-God—are from Staten Island.
- New York City Commission on Human Rights: Staten Island Office. The actual text says "outside Liberia". As other sources document well over a million Liberians were living in refugee camps within West Africa during the first decade of the 21st century, "largest outside Africa" seems more accurate.
- Figures are estimates. The OECD estimates just over 28,000 Liberian born people live in the United States. http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/18/23/34792376.xls
- Fact Sheet: Liberians Provided Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), Department of Homeland Security. September 12, 2007. Press release on 2007 deferment of status hearings for Liberian refugees in the United States until 2009.
- Ryan, Rich (2009-03-21). "Staten Island's Liberian Community Rejoices at Extension". Staten Island Advance. Retrieved 2013-06-19.
- Barry, Ellen (2007-09-18). "From Staten Island Haven, Liberians Reveal War’s Scars". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-06-19.
- Trying Times in Little Liberia. On Staten Island, Reflections of a War-Torn Country. Johnny Dwyer. The Village Voice. August 19th, 2003
- [http://www.motherjones.com/commentary/columns/2007/07/witness.html The Child Soldiers of Staten Island: While Hollywood swoons over teen guerrillas, the real lost boys are hidden in plain sight. Alissa Quart. Mother Jones Magazine June 30, 2007
- African Refuge, youth counseling center for Liberian youth on Staten Island.
- The Liberians of Staten Island. New York Voices, Thirteen, WNET, New York.
- From Staten Island Haven, Liberians Reveal War’s Scars, Ellen Barry, the New York Times, September 18, 2007.
- Photos from the New York Liberian soccer team's game in the African Cup of Nations. Ruthie Ackerman. Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
- Liberia: From One Battlefront to Another. January 11, 2008 . Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
- Liberian president to attend black heritage parade here. Staten Island Advance, 01 October 2007.
- Tense wait for NY Liberians, Jane Standley, BBC correspondent in New York. 17 July 2003.
- Liberian Truth & Reconciliation hearings expand across country. African News Journal. September 09, 2007
- A View of Liberty. Matt Reed, NYC24: the New Media Workshop at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
- "Staten Island Bus Map January 2013" (PDF). Metropolitan Transportation Authority. January 2013. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
- Anonymous, Illustrated sketch book of Staten Island, NY: Its industries and commerce, New York 1886 page 133, Excerpt at www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nyrichmo .
- Stapleton, Clifton, and Rosebank, forgotten-ny.com.
- Liberian asylum-seeker keeps memory of victims alive
- Eibs Park at New York City Parks Department