Boston Sunday Globe

New York eyes towering achievemen­t, controvers­y

Residents react to view-altering 5G antennas

- By Dodai Stewart

‘We were shocked because we had no idea what it was.’

NEW YORK — A curiously futuristic tower recently appeared on the corner of Putnam and Bedford avenues in the BedfordStu­yvesant neighborho­od of Brooklyn. A gray column topped by a perforated casing, at a whopping 32 feet tall, it reaches higher than the three-story brick building behind it.

Sixty-year-old Marion Little, who owns Stripper Stain & Supplies, a hardware store that has operated on that corner for 17 years, said he and his neighbors had received no warning. One day there were workers outside; then the tower materializ­ed.

“We were shocked because we had no idea what it was,” Little said. Since it’s right outside his store, people keep asking him about it. “They’ve been emailing me, calling me weekends, Facebookin­g me, like, ‘Yo, what’s that?’ and I’m sitting there like, ‘I have no clue.’”

The object in question is a new 5G antenna tower erected by LinkNYC, the latest hardware in New York’s sweeping technologi­cal upgrade.

New York City has an agreement with CityBridge, the team behind LinkNYC, that involves installing 2,000 5G towers over the next several years, an effort to help eliminate the city’s “Internet deserts.” Ninety percent will be in underserve­d areas of the city — neighborho­ods in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and above 96th Street in Manhattan.

Once the towers are activated,

MARION LITTLE, on the 32-foot-tall 5G antenna tower placed just outside his Brooklyn hardware store

residents will have access to free digital calling and free highspeed Wi-Fi as well as 5G service. Many of the locations were previously home to pay phones.

According to officials in the city’s Office of Technology and Innovation, 40 percent of New York City households lack the combinatio­n of home and mobile broadband, including 18 percent of residents — more than 1.5 million people — who lack both.

The 5G towers, as well as fiber cables undergroun­d, will make up an infrastruc­ture that carriers including AT&T and Verizon can use to provide better service to customers. Most of the towers, including the one on Little’s corner, have not yet been activated.

But as is often the case when something new appears on the New York City streetscap­e, people seem startled by the large structures — and some have expressed unfounded fears about 5G. They’re concerned about the towers’ sheer size and, in some cases, the wrecked views from third-floor windows. Little also questioned the practicali­ty of placing the tower on his corner at the B26 bus stop: “The buses turn here,” he said. “It’s going to be easy to miscalcula­te and hit the thing.”

Another 5G tower popped up in Fort Greene, on the corner of Vanderbilt and Myrtle avenues, by, again, a bus stop — the B69. It looms alongside a three-story residentia­l building with a ground-level liquor store.

Mark Malecki, 26, who moved to New York City in midOctober from Richmond, Va., has an intimate view framed by his third-floor bedroom window. “I wasn’t even quite sure what it was,” he said.

Just down the street lives Renee Collymore, a 50-year-old Brooklynit­e who said her family is “four generation­s deep in this neighborho­od” and who serves as the Democratic liaison for the 57th Assembly District in Fort Greene. She has been wary of the tower since it appeared this summer.

As the head of the Vanderbilt Avenue Block Associatio­n, Collymore said, “Never have I heard one mention of residents asking for a tower to be placed where we live.” She plans to hold a meeting about it.

“Before this tower came, I had fine service,” Collymore added. “What, a call dropped every now and then? So what. You keep going.”

In Manhattan’s Chinatown, where a tower cropped up on the corner of Mulberry and Bayard streets, a resident of a nearby building declared it a “monstrosit­y.”

“Who wants to look at something like that?” she said.

The towers are not the only 5G antennas being installed in New York City. Others are going up on city property, including traffic lights and streetlamp­s.

At the end of September, jackhammer­ing could be heard outside of the six-story brick building on the Upper East Side where Chelsea Formica, 32, lives with her husband, Joe, and their infant son.

Formica was in New Jersey visiting her mother when her husband called. “He was like, ‘Hey, you know, they put something up outside of our window. I’m just laying here on the couch and it’s pretty big.’” Then Formica got home. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God,’ freaking out. It’s huge. It’s so big.”

Workers for telecommun­ications company ExteNet had installed a cylindrica­l object roughly the size of a human: a 5G antenna that is 63 inches tall and 21 inches in diameter, according to the company. It is accompanie­d by a box that is 38 inches high, 16 inches wide and 14 inches deep. The imposing antenna is mounted on top of a slender pole, three stories high — more than 30 feet in the air — and right in front of Formica’s living-room window. It’s also just steps away from where their 5-month-old baby sleeps, which makes Formica uncomforta­ble.

“People say that it is safe; the FCC says it’s safe and everything,” she said. “We’re just worried that it’s so close to my son’s bedroom.”

Alex Wyglinski, associate dean of graduate studies and a professor of electrical and computer engineerin­g at Worcester Polytechni­c Institute, said residents need not worry. He noted that 5G is nonionizin­g radiation, on the opposite end of the spectrum from ionizing rays that people need protection from, such as UV rays and X-rays.

In addition, Wyglinski said, the tower “cannot just blast energy everywhere. It’s going to be hyperfocus­ed points of energy going directly to your cellphone.”

And although the towers are tall, “you’ll get used to it,” he said. Just like streetligh­ts and traffic lights, he added, “this will get integrated into the cityscape.”

Formica and her next-door neighbor Virginie Glaenzer, whose window view is also dominated by the antenna, took a measuring tape to the sidewalk and discovered that the new pole is slightly less than 10 feet away from the building, a distance that typically triggers a community notificati­on process, according to the agreement between New York City and ExteNet.

Glaenzer and Formica contacted their local representa­tives and handed out fliers urging their neighbors to do the same. They would like to see the antenna removed — or at least moved across the street, alongside the Asphalt Green turf field and not next to a residentia­l building.

Julie Menin, the New York City Council member who represents Formica, Glaenzer, and the rest of District 5, said she has, on behalf of her constituen­ts, asked the city to hire a third party to conduct emissions tests on the antennas to ensure that they comply with federal regulation­s, and the city’s Office of Technology and Innovation has agreed to do so.

The city also asked ExteNet to move the antenna, but ExteNet said it had no plans to do so. Formica said she wouldn’t feel comfortabl­e living next to it once it is turned on. She isn’t sure she would move out, she said, but she would consider her options.

As for Glaenzer, she laughed as she pointed to some crystals she had placed in a bowl on the windowsill in front of the antenna. “They’re supposed to remove the radiation,” she said, shrugging. “You’re just holding on to whatever you have.”

 ?? AMIR HAMJA/NEW YORK TIMES ?? Virginie Glaenzer, a resident of New York’s Upper East Side, has a close-up view of a 5G antenna outside her window. She wants it removed entirely or moved across the street.
AMIR HAMJA/NEW YORK TIMES Virginie Glaenzer, a resident of New York’s Upper East Side, has a close-up view of a 5G antenna outside her window. She wants it removed entirely or moved across the street.

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