Block Residents and Mycophiles Clash over Street-Naming Request

By Alex Israel

Residents of 95th Street clashed with members of The New York Mycological Society over a Secondary Street Naming request in honor of Gary Lincoff during last week’s Community Board 7 Transportation Committee meeting. 

Gary Lincoff was a self-taught mycologist, educator, and author, whose death earlier this year was a dark day for mycophiles — mushroom fans — around the world. An Upper West Side resident for more than forty years, Lincoff was a notorious citizen scientist, devoted to educating experts and first-timers alike on mushroom identification in parks throughout the New York City area. 

To honor his legacy, the New York Mycological Society (NYMS), a nonprofit organization of 700 members who share an interest in the study of mushrooms and fungi as well as the eating of mushrooms, put forward a request to CB7’s Transportation Committee for a secondary street naming at West 95th Street and Central Park West, where Lincoff regularly kicked off group forays into the park. 

Vivien Tartter, a member of NYMS, shared what it would mean to see Lincoff’s name marking the group’s meeting place. “Gary Lincoff was our beloved teacher, our mentor, and a New York City fixture,” she said. “It would be so meaningful to so many people to be starting our walk on that corner, with his name there.”

Tartter came prepared with evidence to illustrate Lincoff’s contributions to the community, including more than 100 signatures of approval from local residents, various published books, essays, and research, syllabi from his course at the New York Botanical Garden, a letter of support from his widow, Irene Liberman, and a New York Times obituary. 

“Soliciting signatures for this, if I stopped anyone wearing binoculars, they knew Gary,” said Tartter. 

Another NYMS member present for the meeting jumped in to elaborate on Lincoff’s impact on the city and Upper West Side community. “In his work in promoting mycology, botany, and citizen science generally, he I’m sure has grown the advocacy for city parks in general, but Central Park in particular,” he said. 

But while stating their case, the NYMS members were met with opposition from members of a resident block association operating on West 95th between Central Park West and Columbus. 

“I live on 95th Street [on the park block], and I don’t think we’re interested in having the name changed,” interjected a woman, who said she signed the petition under the impression the secondary street naming would occur further West. 

“I’m sure I speak for all my neighbors when I say that we are really touched and moved by hearing all about Gary Lincoff … and it’s wonderful that we had somebody like that in our neighborhood,” said Sheila Gordon, Vice President of the block association. 

“But we have a devotion to our block, and we feel there are stewards of the block we are very closely connected to … Frankly, it’s never occurred to any of us to put a sign on the corner of the street with a name of somebody. Had we thought about that, we’d have many significant people [to propose] who have lived on our block or have worked for the block,” said Gordon. “To many of us, the idea of having a name of something that has no connection to our life and blood and energy just feels inconsistent.” 

Following testimony from both sides, Transportation Committee co-chair Andrew Albert claimed that, though the guidelines do not currently reflect this practice, the committee typically only approves requests for secondary street naming on the block where the person resided. In this case, while Lincoff’s legacy was built parkside, his residence was at 157 West 95th Street—between Columbus and Amsterdam.

As a compromise, the Committee recommended that NYMS amend their naming request to 95th Street and one of these avenues, rather than Central Park West. NYMS will need to update their petition with the appropriate cross streets and receive another 100 signatures before returning.

“Nobody intends any disrespect to the work he has done,” emphasized Albert, as the NYMS members packed up their things, visibly upset. “We’ve never encountered this particular problem before.”

Earlier in the meeting, the Transportation Committee had no issues tackling a number of quick resolutions. 

The first was approving the installation of a new bike corral at 43 West 65th Street (between Central Park West and Columbus). With Shun Lee West committed to maintaining it, the Committee hopes the new addition will help alleviate some reported issues with illegal parking on the block. 

Another was in approval of a request by GrowNYC to add a new day for the 79th Street Greenmarket, in a slightly smaller footprint on Columbus Avenue between 79th and 81st Streets. Following requests from the community, they are looking to open up on Wednesdays from July through November as an initial trial period, with the opportunity to extend year-round should it prove a success. 

Both resolutions passed unanimously and will be up for a vote during the next full board meeting on July 17, 2018. 

NEWS | 11 comments | permalink
    1. dannyboy says:

      Great news about the expanded day for the 79th Street Greenmarket. Fresh food!

    2. Sid says:

      Children being ripped from their mothers, and the Earth is heating up. Yes, let’s spend our valuable moments on Earth arguing with neighbors over a name on a street sign.

    3. Sherman says:

      Mr. Lincoff was a very interesting guy and a bit of an unsung hero in the botanical world.

      It would be nice to have a street named in his honor.

    4. Sarah says:

      Seems kind of randomly mean of the residents, frankly.

      “Life and blood and energy” of an expensive coop block…shaking my head.

    5. Take My Joke, Please! says:

      Good time for a revised mushroom joke:

      Two mushrooms walk into a bar

      Bartender says, “Gedd-ouda-heah, we don’ soive youse!”

      Mushrooms reply, “Why not! We’re Fungi’s”

      (new part:)

      Bartender says, “No youse ain’t! Youse is deadly Amanita’s, and it sez here in Google dat eating youse can cause “vomiting, delirium, convulsions, diarrhea, liver and kidney failure”!

      Sarcastic mushroom replies: “So can eating da food in dis joint!”

    6. Mark Moore says:

      These people need to check out HMart on Bway and 110. They have some strange mushrooms for sale there.

    7. DrM says:

      Seriously??? The block association’s reason for fighting this request was, ‘Well golly! I wish I’d thought of that first! So…NO’. Evidently that block is inhabited primarily by 3rd graders.

    8. Margaret Kirsis says:

      Mr Isreal did a fine job of describing Gary Lincoff and his contributions to The New York Mycological Society. He did very little to find out about the Friends of West 95th Street, its members and the history of our block between Central Park West and Columbus. Many names could adorn our street, how to choose? But Gary Lincoff,– he lived on the next block.
      I thought that it was a random act of chutzpah to usurp our corner.