Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Props to New Orleans Journos

As Brian Lehrer said this morning on WNYC, “We’re all New Orleaners now." With that justification for venturing beyond New York City boundaries, I want to bring up a small but important side issue that has arisen from the Katrina disaster. The New Orleans daily paper, the Times-Picayune (widely respected in the journalism world), had an exhaustive five-part series in 2002 warning of the devistation the city could suffer if a big hurricane hit the area. This was not tossed-off, fear-factor reporting. In the series, called Washing Away, the paper pretty much nailed every contributing factor to this nightmare, both human and natural, including evacuation problems and levee breaks, which are apparently the main sources of misery at the moment. So, at the risk of sounding strident, I just have to say as a journalist that -- while the mainstream media gets trashed, is called biased and gets dismissed for fear-mongering or irrelevance -- hard working and talented people are putting out important and useful information every day that gets denigrated and ignored – to which I would add – at our own peril. As a side note, the hard working people at the Times-Picayune – whose homes are under water – have continued publishing critically important information on the paper’s website since they can’t put out a physical paper. In the annals of journalism, I have no doubt this development will be considered a turning point in the evolution of ink-and-paper press to the internet. The New York Times has a slide show feature on its website of the aftermath (photo no. 9 is really compelling).

P.S. The NY Times also has an impressive, multi-level graphic showing flooded areas, where levees broke, evacuation routes, and the oil indstury.

De La Vega Takes the E.Vil.

First I noticed the folk-artsy chalk drawings on sidewalks around the E.Vil. accompanied by sayings like “Become Your Dream” and
“I Just Bought Real Estate In Your Mind.”
Then I happened to be strolling along St. Marks towards Tompkins Square Park, as I do most every day, and discovered the De La Vega East Village art gallery/shop. T-shirts and post cards -- with philosophy-lite sayings such as, “You are your best investment” -- are sold along side works of art, notably oil paintings. My very brief perusal of his sometimes serious but mostly irreverent works made me think of a life-affirming, minimalist Basquiat. According to his website, James Delavega is a native of Spanish Harlem, was educated at Cornell and has been described by David Gonzalez of the Times as “a hybrid between a street kid and an Ivy League guerrilla performance artist.” The E.Vil. shop hasn’t been open a week, but I’m betting he’ll do quite well here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Time Marches On

The Third Annual Howl! Festival of the East Village Arts wrapped up on Sunday with a parade down St. Marks Place (where I live). Of course, there are those who dismiss it as an acid-less nostalgia trip for a time when the “real” art scene was happening in the E.Vil., but my answer to them, as I’ve said before, is get over it. I have a short slide show on Flickr, or go to My Photo Essays at right.

Agassi, U Da Man

It’s easy to love Andre Agassi these days, this being his 20th straight appearance at New York’s Flushing Meadows (he won the US Open men’s singles title in 1994 and 1999). This wasn’t always so. He was often dismissed as all sizzle, no steak. People took his long-running advertising campaign for the Canon Rebel camera with its tagline “image is everything” a little too seriously. But as a full-fledged member of Generation X, Agassi has a well-developed sense of irony. (Of course, he’s very much an Xer in this sense as well: expressing apolitical rebelliousness with misguided fashion statements.) The ultimate irony is that he skipped Wimbledon from 1989-1991 because he refused to wear the required all-white uniform, but then made his grand slam breakthrough by winning the grass court title in 1992. That’ll shut up a few critics, no? But then he handed them a gift by getting fat on sprinkled donuts and losing his way with Brooke Shields in the mid-1990s. Schedenfreudians said his career was over. In one of the most humbling and determined comebacks in sports, Agassi hit the small and medium-sized tournaments and built his game back up from the bottom, becoming one of only five men to win all four grand slam titles (Wimbledon, French Open, US Open, Australian Open). Of course, everyone loves a comeback, especially one fueled by so much integrity. But with Agassi, it’s more than that. He is a truly charming and substantive person with a vast love of the sport that has treated him so well. Pete Sampras, his long-time rival who was always considered a substantive if not charming tennis player, might have won more grand slam titles and dominated the sport in a way that Agassi never did. But when Sampras rode off into the sunset with his model/actress wife never to be seen again except wearing a Movado watch, there was Agassi, still hitting the tennis courts because he loves the game, not just winning. And here’s the kicker: Mr. Image ended up married not to a waifish model, but to the least image conscious, most serious tennis player of all: Steffi Graf.

Andre Agassi def. Razvan Sabau of Romania, 6-3, 6-3, 6-1, in the evening's premier match at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Be Still New York

For 30 years, water colorist Frederick Brosen has been painting New York scenes. They’re amazingly photographic, especially for watercolor, and have been collected in a book called Still New York. There’s a great slide show on the Times website.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Don't Hold Your Breath Waiting for East River Park

Newsday has a feature about the village of Greenport, in North Fork, Long Island, and its ten-year effort to build a waterfront park, and concludes there are lessons for New York City. SHoP architects, who designed Mitchell Park’s second phase, is also working on the East River Park:

The second phase in the greening of Greenport has just been finished, giving the village a showcase of self-effacing modern design and providing a portent of other, grander waterfronts. SHoP, the architectural firm that was formed to complete this project, is developing a master plan for a two-mile esplanade on the Manhattan side of the East River. Some ideas incubated at Mitchell Park may come to roost in New York City.

As we fret over the prospect of every ambitious new plan, it might help to recall that it took the Village of Greenport nearly 10 years, $16 million, half a dozen public agencies and a lot of fractious town meetings to build its little park.

Fractious public meetings, huh? This picture's too pretty to believe it:

Housing Sales: Down is Good, Up is Bad?

Floyd Norris tackles a very scary subject matter today regarding risky mortgage financing:

At issue is whether financial innovations that have made it easier for Americans to buy homes have also made the system less stable and more subject to shocks that could drive many from their homes.

A really interesting point he makes is that if sales of existing homes drop, that’s a good thing. If they stay high, that could be bad. Why? A slow-down would be more akin to a soft landing:

But if sales volume stays high, that could indicate that the mortgage innovations are hurting. Then we could see rising numbers of foreclosures as homeowners discover they cannot sell their homes for what they owe but also cannot pay their suddenly higher monthly mortgage bills.

Read the whole column.

The Big Pick-Up Closing

When I first started coming to New York City on a regular basis, I often stayed with my brother-in-law (now ex-brother-in-law) and his partner in Chelsea. I wiled away hours reading the Times and drinking coffee at the Big Cup, “a boisterous Chelsea coffeehouse with a Day-Glo interior … big couches and stay-all-day atmosphere.” Today’s story in the Times about its imminent closing says the Big Cup was nicknamed Gay Grand Central, but I always heard it referred to as the Big Pick-Up. Needless to say, I was one of the “Women and straight men [who] were welcome too, but as a review once put it, ‘They just seem sort of irrelevant.’” Doors close on Sunday, a victim, of course, of rising real estate prices. Scott Siler, an owner of the business since it opened in 1994, told the Times: “You can only charge so much for a cup of coffee.”

Read the whole article here.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Contrarian Times

I just don’t buy it. I’ve been hearing the argument for some time now that places like the LES and the E.Vil. have sold their souls to the real estate devil, that all the creativity has been drained out of the neighborhoods (a sentiment usually espoused by a craggy old-timer who thinks it was a creative act when he and his friends puked on the street, but not when the current crop of college kids puke on the street). Is the neighborhood undeniably different? Yes. Is it now devoid of character and vitality? Absolutely not. Having said that, a piece in today’s Times about an activist filmmaker and photographer is still a good read:

As obsessive as he is ubiquitous, Mr. Patterson has taken hundreds of thousands of photographs and thousands of hours of videotape in his adopted neighborhood. Where Jakob Riis and Weegee photographed the area "as a project or a job," Mr. Patterson said with a smile in a recent interview at his home on the Lower East Side, "I do it as a disease."

He can't stop, even after more than a dozen arrests by camera-shy police officers. He has amassed a huge day-by-day visual history of the area, told mainly through unpretentious portraits of its myriad and diverse faces: tenement kids and homeless people, poets and politicians, drug dealers and drag queens, rabbis and santeros, beat cops, graffiti taggers, hookers, junkies, punks, anarchists, mystics and crackpots.

Read the whole article here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Midtown v. Downtown

In the absence of anything interesting to say today, I’m just going to plug my own story in the Times about how financial firms are gobbling up all the super-premium Class A office space in Midtown. The point towards the end of the piece -- that downtown is not attracting the young, dynamic and fast-growing financial firms because there just isn’t the right kind of commercial office space -- gets to a larger issue about what needs to happen downtown from a commercial real estate perspective. There just doesn’t seem to be much demand for more “cruise ship” style office buildings. Sleeker, smaller, high-tech “boutique” office buildings are attracting the mid-sized and smaller financial firms, and there just aren’t any of them being built downtown. And the fact is, it’s not just the large financial firms that make an office district dynamic. Like any other neighborhood, an office sector needs diversity in order for it to be lively, and that means attracting tenants of all sizes, colors and shapes. The redevelopment of downtown is going to be an amazing thing to watch over the next ten years, and as I said in a previous post, I think it will be driven not by the World Trade Center, but from all the other trends that were underway before Sept. 11, but got kicked into high gear when everyone really got focused on downtown.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Radical, Dude.

While fashion designer Marc Ecko was winning his lawsuit against the city to allow “graffiti” artists “tag” mock subway cars (AKA a street party that is really a promo tool for a new video game), a much smaller graffiti drama was playing out in the E.Vil. From Miss Representation:

And if you are the sort who tags a building early enough in the evening to have a middle-aged blogger catch you, you probably drive to the East Village in your parent’s black Range Rover (plate: NY BVN 5161), and then race off, your revolutionary act of resistance complete.

Keep reading the blog. The next item is a really impressive, thoughtful and nuanced piece critiquing the Goldman Sachs deal downtown.

Cute. Real Cute.

From a clever op-ed in today's Times entitled Bubble? What Bubble?:

"More important, the housing market is incredibly durable. Unlike sneakers with lights in them or monogrammed poker chips or - I believe - computers, houses are not some fad that people will any day now look at and say: 'This is stupid. I don't want mine anymore.'"

Monday, August 22, 2005

Now For a Dose of Optimism

Okay, enough with the housing bubble. Back to more fun stuff:

In recent years, as young architects abandon established firms employing dozens of associates to strike out on their own, many of them have congregated in the dilapidated former tenements and discount shops around Delancey Street, not far from the Williamsburg Bridge. …

The architects have been drawn by the comparatively low rents, the vibe of a neighborhood in transition - artists and small businesses have gravitated there, too - and a sense of creative ferment.

It occurred to me reading this Times piece that Lower Manhattan will be redeveloped not in concentric circles with the WTC at its heart, but in ripples emanating from multi-nodal points, both spontaneous and planned, that will eventually intersect and overlap, creating entirely new configurations and associations, such as architects congregating around Delancey meeting redevelopment plans in Chinatown; a new esplanade along the East River Park bumping into historic cobble stone streets populated by five and dime stores; downtown condo conversions overlapping with artists temporarily converting vacant offices into cheap studio space ; etc. Hopefully, some of these more organic ripples will wash over the WTC site and mitigate the worst development instincts that are battling each other to a stalemate.

Photo by Michael Nagle for The New York Times of Lower East Side architects at work. Mimi Hoang and Eric Bunge of nArchitects supervise a project in the neighborhood, at 109 Norfolk Street.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Mr. Housing Bubble Part Trois

The Yale economist who predicted the internet bubble and prompted Alan Greenspan to utter the words “irrational exuberance” is now warning about the housing bubble. From Sunday’s Times:

"This is the biggest boom we've ever had," said Mr. Shiller…. "So a very plausible scenario is that home-price increases continue for a couple more years, and then we might have a recession and they continue down into negative territory and languish for a decade.

"It doesn't even attract that much attention," he continued. "There will be many people thinking it was a soft landing even though prices may have gone down in real terms by 40 percent."

Even if Mr. Shiller is right, there’s still time to cash out. According to another article in today’s Times, online bettor markets (which predicted a Bush victory and the new Pope, among other things), are now taking bets on real estate, and in the short run, things look good:

Now one of these markets has turned its gaze to a consumer activity that is a favorite discussion topic these days: real estate. And the bettors see no signs of a bursting bubble anytime soon.

San Diego? Prices will rise another 5 percent in the third quarter, according to the bettors at HedgeStreet, another Web site. New York? They will inch up 2 percent. In Los Angeles, they will jump 7 percent. In each of the cities, as in San Francisco, prices will be more than 10 percent higher than they had been a year earlier.

So, stop freaking and get flipping!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

It's Over, People. O-V-E-R.

Holy crap. I turned off my computer and went to Bikram Yoga on the Lower East Side on Friday afternoon just a little too soon. While I was sweating out the toxins of the work week, the New York Observer was breaking the news that Barbara Corcoran had quit the real estate biz to go into television. This is big, people. This. Is. Big. Even Gawker was left momentarily snark-less: “We don’t even have a joke for this.” It’s the equivalent of the shoeshine boy giving you a stock tip on Oct. 23, 1929. The doyen of upscale real estate has left the luxury condo building.

Friday, August 19, 2005

See You There?

What I’m doing this weekend: Going to an exhibit titled “City Art: New York's Percent for Art Program” at the Center for Architecture, 536 LaGuardia Place. More info here. P.S. It took me awhile to figure out what the weekend hours are, so I'll save you the trouble: Saturday, 11-5.
Photo by David S. Allee

Just the Facts, Hold the Froth

There’s a very level-headed analysis in the Times comparing the advantages and disadvantages of investing in real estate versus the stock market. The vast majority of people think that real estate is more stable than the stock market, a perfectly legitimate, if short-sighted, conclusion, given the last five years. The whole article is worth a close read, but here’s a point I think is interesting:

Stock … price changes can be viewed every day. "The news doesn't report to you daily that your house price might have gone up or down," Mr. Lys said. "So you think your house price is more stable than it really is because you don't observe these minute-by-minute gyrations."

Read the whole piece here.

There's also a good column in the Wall Street Journal today:

If you're trying to find a slow leak in a tire, you can submerge it in water and look for tiny bubbles of escaping air. That may be the best way to look for signs of a deflating housing market, too.

I think you know where this is going. This column is one of the free WSJ online items, so you can read the whole thing here.

And finally, one more item from today's papers just for laughs (note the building's new name):

C.E.O.'s Name Off Building

Seton Hall University removed the name of L. Dennis Kozlowski, the former chief executive of Tyco International, from a building at his alma mater yesterday, said Thomas White, a school spokesman.

Mr. White said the name was removed at Mr. Kozlowski's request. The building, which houses the business school, has been renamed Jubilee Hall, he said.

Mr. Kozlowski, a 1968 Seton Hall graduate, faces up to 30 years in prison after his conviction for larceny and fraud. His lawyer, Stephen E. Kaufman, did not immediately return calls for comment.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Bring in Da Noise, Take Out Da Funk

Giuliani’s lifestyle issue of choice was to attack the squeegee men. Bloomberg has chosen to attack a more ubiquitous but less tangible nuisance: noise. There are no more squeegee men. But there still is a whole lot of noise. Mayor Bloomberg is quoted in New York Newsday today saying that’s because City Council President Gifford Miller has refused to push a new noise code through City Council. Oh. So that’s why there’s still so much noise! We don’t have a new noise law that allows the cops to ticket violators without having a noise meter in hand.

Whatever. Forget about the noise since there's vitually nothing that can be done about it anyway. Tickets aren't going to make a lick of difference. I say, promise the voters you’ll take a Comstat approach to eradicating the smelly, dirty street trash. That is something the city could actually have an effect on and it would be a highly visible improvement. One ingenious demonstration project that I’ve mentioned before is taking place in Queens: solar-powered curbside trash compactors. Read more about them here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Tough Row to Hoe

I’m not sure how you cram 200 years into a 55 minute documentary, but that’s what director Scott Elliott has done to the Bowery in Slumming It: Myth and Culture on the Bowery. It was released in 2002, so he obviously missed the sublime real estate boom currently underway there, but that would have added considerably to its running time. Nonetheless, with CBGBs about to close (have you noticed the proliferation of CBGB t-shirts around the EVil and LES lately?), the flick was due for a rescreening, and so the Municipal Art Society obliges: Tuesday, Aug. 23, 6:30 pm at the urban center, where you will also find a photography exhibit titled, “CBGBs: A Place That Matters.” (Details can be found here.) If it all sounds a little too earnest and nostalgic, equally earnest but more current photographs of CBGBs can be seen here taken at a recent benefit concert, with many to come.

Starfucks Part Deux

The blog world, particularly the NYC blogosphere, is dominated by tossed-off posts (a category I put Polis in), or worse, snarky items riddled with either obvious puns or obscure self-referencing. Not so with Miss Representation. Here you aren't bombarded with 25 posts a day. What you get is one thoughtful, well-written critique of New York life and all that it encompasses every few days or so. Today, Missy R. weighs in on the not-quite-played-out topic of Starbucks opening on the LES (as I did last week). And while I’m happy to say we are in agreement on several points, it is definitely a richer piece worthy of a scrupulous read:

Boy, I sure do miss the Pyramid. If it weren’t for Starbucks, what would be have to complain about? Well, I’d have plenty, but I don’t know about the rest of you. The end of hipster civilization (LES, oughts edition) as we know it occurred last week, when the dreaded green awning appeared over a storefront somewhere on the frontier (I believe it was Delancey). I wouldn’t notice because that stretch of the LES is populated with such stalwarts of alternative culture as Dunkin Donuts and Payless. …

Read the rest here.

New York Times Capsule

A charming little story in today’s Times by Alan Feuer is about “the City Reliquary, a tiny storefront museum in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where you can find New York artifacts, both marvelous and mundane, including a large assortment of Kings County beer coasters and an old, rusting hunk of the Williamsburg Bridge.” If the City Reliquary is still around in fifty twenty five years, it might include pieces from such long-forgotten relics as the JMZ train line and low-rise historic buildings, or snippets of a Yeah Yeah Yeah's music video.
Photo by Chester
Higgins Jr./The New York Times

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

East Harlem, On the Move

East Harlem is a lively, densely populated neighborhood (I wrote about small business development there awhile back), and yet its historic public market, La Marqueta, under the Metro North rail line from 111th to 119th, has all but disappeared. Many efforts to revive the market have failed, but that may be about to change. The East Harlem Business Capital Corporation has secured rights from the city to redevelop the market, and the Project for Public Spaces and the Ford Foundation gave the market a $200,000 grant to get the ball rolling. While the EHBCC gets the rest of the financing together, a much smaller version of the market was launched just last weekend under the rail line between 115-116th Streets. On Aug. 28, a Mexican festival called Tianguis, with food, music and vendors, will take place on that site as well. “We’re recruiting farmers and local vendors for the space,” Elizabeth Col√≥n, executive director of EHBCC, told Polis. “The vision for the future is to develop and restore it to a functioning public market with a lot of opportunities for small businesses to grow.”

Preservation Rocks, Dude!

There’s nothing like having a scene from a hit movie filmed on site to raise a locale’s profile. The St. George Theatre on Staten Island had been vacant and unused for 25 years when the climactic scene in the Jack Black/School of Rock movie was filmed there. That’s when a Staten Island family stepped in to save it. Gotham Gazette tells the story:

Today, the St. George has been restored to much of its former glory - without the benefit of landmark status or government money. The revival of the St. George Theatre is largely the work of one family that set out to save it and create a showcase on Staten Island. ….

The St. George Theatre opened in the St. George section of Staten Island, a short walk from the ferry terminal, on December 4, 1929. Designed by Eugene DeRosa, with the assistance of Staten Island architect James Whitford, its exterior was nothing particularly remarkable. But, inside the building offered an array of lavish and ornate detailing, much of it with a Spanish flavor -- faux wrought iron balconies, heavy chandeliers and painting of bullfighters and villas.

Preservation efforts are ongoing and in need of funding, but the theater managed to reopen last December. Upcoming shows include a performance by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Monday, August 15, 2005

I Love New York

On my third anniversary as a New Yorker (actually, I was always a New Yorker, I just didn’t live here until three years ago today), here is a post that typifies why I love New York so much. That is, I could live here the rest of my life and still have a long list of places to discover, old and new.

[Maria] Burks is the first commissioner of the National Parks of New York Harbor, and her mission is to draw attention to the parks and beaches beyond the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. She wants people spotting herons in Jamaica Bay, spiraling up the nation's oldest lighthouse at Sandy Hook, N.J., and climbing around the cannons of Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island. The solution to getting them there, she believes, is ferries.

"These parks have been, in the past, divided by the water," said Ms. Burks, sitting outside her office at Fort Wadsworth. "We're saying now we're going to connect them by the water."

Click to enlarge the map of New York Harbor parks. Photo below of Jacob Riis Park in Rockaway taken by Angel Franco for the Times. Isn’t New York grand?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Good Design. It's About Time.

Robin Pogrebin of the Times has a great piece about New York City making good design a priority for public buildings, and not just taking the lowest bid. Here here! “This new emphasis on architecture, design professionals say, comes from the top: Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has made clear his interest in art and aesthetics…” One of the buildings featured in the article is a new library branch in Kingsbridge, an affordable and family-friendly neighborhood in the Bronx that I recently wrote about for the Times Sunday real estate section.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Can Anyone Say Flyspeck?

Despite being a political junkie, I tend to stay away from it here on Polis. But this is just too juicy. Jeanine Pirro, the Westchester prosecutor and moderate Republican, is quickly chewing through her 15 minutes of political fame as Hillary Clinton's opponent to represent New York in the US Senate. First, she fumbled through her announcement, shuffling for a lost page of her speech for an uncomfortably long time. Then she waffled on her position on late-term abortion, leading some observers to comment that she’s not quite ready for prime time. Now comes a scoop from New York Observer’s Politicker that she’s taken campaign donations from a company suspected of ties to the mob. After all the "girl-fight" media coverage, I'm starting to think she may not even make it through the Republican primary. It's no secret that the whole point of Pirro's candidacy is to bloody up Hillary in antiticpation of the presidential race in 2008, but with this trifecta of gaffes, it's looking like that might backfire bigtime. How much strength will Hillary actually gain just by watching Pirro spontaneously combust before managing to land a single blow?

P.S. How could I have forgotten to mention her husband? “Mr. Pirro, a powerful Republican lobbyist, served 11 months in federal prison for his conviction on tax fraud in 2000. He also fathered a child in an extramarital relationship in the 1990's.” Read the Times piece here.

Think of Dumped Cars as Future Coral Reefs

There’s an excellent piece in the Times today about plots of land purchased by the city over the years, supposedly to be turned into parks: “But in scores of cases, nothing happens. Many of the undeveloped plots, which are often in densely populated, poor communities with limited green spaces, exist as de facto garbage dumps and occasional crime scenes.” The above photo was taken by Angel Franco for the Times at Pugsley Creek Park in the Bronx. When global warming puts New York under water, this should be a great fishing spot.

Mr. Housing Bubble Part Duex

Paul Krugman has a second column in a row about the housing bubble (for the previous one, click here). I’m starting to think perhaps he is Mr. Housing Bubble. Says Krugman, “I've written before about the reasons to believe that current house prices in much of the country represent a bubble. When that bubble begins to deflate, so will housing-related employment.” How many jobs are dependent on the current bubble? “Typical estimates say that each additional dollar of housing wealth adds about 3 cents to annual consumer spending, as families reduce their savings and borrow against their newly valuable homes. So we're talking about an additional $150 billion in spending, and roughly 1.5 million more jobs.”

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Mr. Housing Bubble

It’s been a lazy day for me at Polis. It’s hot and I have several deadlines looming. That being the case, I just click over to Curbed , see what’s happening and presto, get a good item. This afternoon, it’s Mr. Housing Bubble:

Take a Bath in the Real Estate Market with Mr. Housing Bubble. Free Balloon Mortgage Inside. Not Affiliated with Mr. Internet Bubble. Our 100% cotton, high-quality t-shirt is pre-shrunk, durable and extremely comfortable. Features high quality digital printing with Archival Inks. Very sharp, bright and fade resistant wash after wash.

There’s also a Mr. Housing Bubble poster, coffee mug, mouse pad, and ball cap, too.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

May Reduced Power Consumption Be With You

I have a piece in the Times business section today about New York City’s largest green roof being installed on top of Silvercup Studios in Long Island City. Here’s a kind of Star Wars-y image of what the green roof will look like when it’s complete. Design rendering by Balmori Associates.

Central Park: The First Urban Renewal Site

There’s an excellent story in today’s Times by David Dunlap about Seneca Village, an all black settlement that was removed to make way for Central Park. It was the largest community of free blacks in the country, most of whom were property owners. Of course, when it was removed, the settlement was labeled a ghetto (or whatever the terminology was at the time), but that has turned out to be false. I first read about this in a book titled The Park and the People, which is a very detailed account of Central Park. I thought it would be a boring academic book, but it was an incredibly good read. My favorite part: Originally the park was going to be located on the east side of Manhattan, but an investigative series in a downtown business publication questioned the fact that the location was selected in part because a powerful politician owned property nearby, which would have greatly increased in value with a park adjacent to it. Three more years would pass while various interests battled over where to locate the park. In 1853, another publication editorialized: “Give us a park, be it central, or sidelong, here, there, anywhere, … a real park, a large park!”

The above illustration, by Egbert Viele/Topographical Survey for the Improvement of Central Park, is an 1856 survey marked the all-black village in Manhattan, from 75th to 91st Streets and from Fifth to Eighth Avenues, which went on to become part of Central Park. New York Times.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Burn This!

Over at Brownstoner, there’s a hilarious post about a South Williamsburg woman, an innocent bystander by this account, getting a ticket from a sanitation worker while holding an infant in her arms. This gem of a story came about because apparently the sanitation police have gone ticket crazy, which I can verify anecdotally, at least.

Several months ago I came back to my apartment building on St. Marks Place to a sanitation ticket taped to the door. Keep in mind I live between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, the tattoo/body piercing capital of the world, where monstrous piles of puke act as fertilizer in the tree pits most Sunday mornings. The offense was “litter on the sidewalk.” This struck me as completely hilarious, since there is hardly a moment when there ISN’T litter on the sidewalk. So I called the sanitation department to find out if littering tickets are a regular thing on this block, and this is what Taryn Duckett said:

Since 1992, St. Marks Place [which is actually three different blocks] has received 25 summonses for various things such as failure to recycle to dirty sidewalk.

By my calculation, that’s roughly two tickets a year for three blocks. Then a couple months later, there was ANOTHER sanitation ticket on my apartment building’s door, and that would definitely exceed previous ticket averages. I’m thinking there’s a sanitation ticket campaign going on.

I understand trash in New York City is a problem of epic proportion, but so was the crime rate at one point in time. Forget about noise. Bloomberg could VASTLY improve the quality of life in the city by taking a Comstat approach to eradicating the street trash problem. This may or may not include handing out tickets to innocent women holding babies in their arms, but it certainly requires a much more strategic, citywide approach. A good place to start might be with a demonstration project going on in Queens where 50 solar-powered trash compactors are taking the place of curbside trash cans. Read more about it here.

Maybe New Yorker's could start our own version of Burning Man to raise awareness of the issue. For two weeks a year, everyone collects street trash, hauls it out to the Jersey shore and sets it all on fire while we dance around in loin cloths.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Who Polices the Police? Guess.

Yesterday I took a little shot at the NYC blogosphere, and today I’m going to ratchet that up a notch. I know I'm really new to the this little world, but what is The Gutter, an “Ill-mannered commentary on the architectural arts” talking about? I swear I have to slog through all the uberhip language and obscure self-referencing at least twice before I can determine what in hell the subject matter is, and sometimes even then I don’t get it (like this choice item). As a longtime traditional ink-and-paper journalist as both a writer and editor (see, self-referencing is okay so long as it isn't in CODE) , I know I tend to err on the side of good old-fashioned, straight-forward, understandable, if boring, verbiage. And I do appreciate that the “site’s format deviates from the ‘flat’ style and ‘limited coverage’ of mainstream media,” but given that people read blogs because they have the attention span of an ADHD eight year-old with a Gameboy, shouldn’t readers at least get the topic at hand on the first read? That’s a rhetorical question. No need to respond.

Big New York Stories

New Proposals Afoot for Javits Expansion and Now-Jetless Railyards
"... with the stadium proposal now dead and state officials moving forward with plans to build a new $930 million train station east of the railyards in honor of the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, some developers, tourism officials, urban planners and architects are now quietly circulating three alternative plans for a larger expansion of the convention center and ideas for what could be built over the railyards."

The Museum at the End of the Line
"It is hard to picture a distinguished exhibition space in this booming neighborhood, a strange mix of trendy nightclubs, expensive boutiques and industrial meat lockers. But for Dia, that is the dream - one it hopes to realize in as little as two years at an estimated cost of $33 million."

Blog and Grind
"Mimi, a
Cambridge grad, couldn't get a journalist's visa and ended up at a gentlemen's club. The experience has given her much to write about."

Uncle Sam Sells Air Rights, and Preservationists Cringe
"The transfer of the air rights, from the Cooper Station in the
East Village and the Times Square Station on West 42nd Street
, will allow developers of adjacent properties to erect far larger buildings than they otherwise could."

Sunday, August 07, 2005


The NYC blogosphere has its panties in a bunch about a Starbucks opening on the Lower East Side. From Spinach Dip to Curbed to Gawker (and others I’m sure I missed), the “hipsters” are crying in their soy lattes that their sacred space is about to be invaded by, egad, over-roasted coffee. Okay, some of the fulminating is supposed to be “ironic,” but you know, there’s a little truth in every “joke.” All the more reason I’m so glad to be living in the East Village where – and this is NOT meant to be ironic – the hipster bubble long ago burst and now it’s just a downtown neighborhood with some musicians, some artists, some old Chinese and Ukrainian ladies, some families, some freaks and some Midwestern girl-next-door types. (Okay, so they’re tattooed and body-pierced heteroflexible Midwestern girls, but I digress.) The ‘70s writer/drug scene, the ‘80s art/drug scene, the ‘90s music/drug scene – much of it migrated to Billyburg, the LES and elsewhere, leaving the rest of us to just live here, chat with the falafel guy next door who signs for our FedEx packages, and ignore at will the three Starbucks in our midst. See, the EVil survived the hipsters AND the Starbucks, and now we just hang out at Mud Cafe, the friendliest, most unpretentious neighborhood coffee joint (and truck) this side of the Mississippi. So relax, kids. Morons who talk about leaving the LES because of Starbucks – which is going to serve tourists who consequently won’t be taking up precious seats at Ini Ani -- won’t be missed.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Man-Bites-Dog Story

The Times had a piece the other day about how Hoboken is attempting to gentrify without evicting artists. The article repeats the conventional wisdom that gentrification causes displacement. But is this true? More than a year ago, I wrote for the New York Observer and Metropolis magazine about research conducted by Columbia Professor Lance Freeman that showed gentrification does NOT cause displacement. (You may have also seen a USA Today article about this more recently, which just so happened to have very similar quotes from the people I interviewed for my two pieces, but I digress.) How can it be that gentrification doesn’t cause displacement?

What [Mr. Freeman’s] data says is this: Low-income people in gentrifying neighborhoods are, in fact, more likely to stay in their apartments longer than low-income people in non-gentrifying neighborhoods.”

Click on my archived New York Observer article for a more in depth explanation.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Just in Time for "Rent," the Movie

In case you missed it, either in today’s Times or on your block, the city is experiencing a housing boom not seen since the 1970s. I had a previous post tabulating much of the new large-scale developments being erected around New York. Now comes the small/medium scale housing tabulation: “From Bensonhurst to Morrisania to Flushing, new homes are going up faster now than they have in more than 30 years,” reports Jennifer Steinhauer. Some real estate experts are predicting a rental housing crisis in the next five years, but a competing theory disputes that. Housing is housing, and the more that’s built, the more opportunity for filtering there is, i.e. people filter up as the housing supply improves, leaving less desirable housing available for those just entering the rental market. This is a concept worth exploring in greater detail, but I’m on deadline at the moment. More later. (I took this not-terribly-relevant photo on St. Marks Place.)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Nasal Spray for Manhattan?

New York City is set to receive $71 million in federal transportation money to untangle traffic jams, convert to cleaner fuels, promote pedestrian safety, and other methods for achieving cleaner air. This is all well and good, but it’s time for New York City to start talking about congestion pricing. Since February 2003, London has had congestion pricing in the central business district during peak hours, and some reports put the reduction in traffic at 30%, greatly improving taxi and bus service, and raising revenue for public transportation. Details of how it works can be found here, but suffice to say that despite initial opposition, congestion pricing is now widely embraced in London and policy makers are even talking about expanding it beyond central London. Look for the Regional Plan Association of New York and New Jersey to start pushing the idea now that the organization came out on the winning side of the West Side stadium battle.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Corporate Graffiti

Gothamist has an amusing post about a Hummer H3 advertisement in Williamsburg, a graffiti-style mural done by Tats Cru that has been defaced. Tats Cru was once upon a time the most well known graffiti artists to tag subways. Their murals of Hip Hop artists in the South Bronx are now celebrated works of art. Some time ago, I accompanied South Bronx native Angel Rodriguez as he led a group of high school kids from the neighborhood on a musical walking tour called From Mambo Kings to Hip Hop. (I took the above photo of Mr. Rodriguez, far right, in front of a Tats Cru mural of Biggie Smalls. Click to enlarge it.) Mr. Rodriguez told the kids that no one messed with Tats Cru murals because they’d get their butts whooped if they did. Apparently, that only applies to the pre-sell-out works. Nonetheless, the kids seemed unimpressed with Tats Cru, and didn’t recognize the vast majority of South Bronx Hip Hop artists Mr. Rodriguez mentioned such as KRS1, to say nothing of the original "Mambo Kings." In a piece I wrote that was never published, it ends with this:

One of the final stops on the tour is P.S. 52, or Stevenson High, where the kids usually spend their school hours. Mr. Rodriguez recounts his own days as a young musician when his band would splice their amps into the light poles just off school grounds and play until the police chased them away. Some of the greatest names in Latin-American music went to school here, he tells them: Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri and Joe Quijano.

It’s not until he mentions another name that something finally clicks with the kids; Colin Powell was a student at P.S. 52.

“For real?” one young woman pipes up. “The black-white guy? Hey, ya’ll, Colin Powell went to Stevenson!”

Monday, August 01, 2005

Join The Gehry "Fan" Club

A Daily Dose of Architecture has a good post on the Simpson’s episode with special guest Frank Gehry. He designs a concert hall for Springfield that fails miserably and is eventually turned into a prison. Maybe starchitects do have a sense of humor after all.

For more info on real life problems with his LA concert hall, click here to learn about the acoustic problems and scroll down to Gehry Redux, and here to learn about how the roof had to be fixed because people were being blinded by reflecting sunlight, which also created an intense heat island problem. The article also mentions problems with the roof design on a building in Cleveland where huge piles of snow and ice slide off and whack people on the head.

Lost in New York

A new comic book series takes place in Cinderella City, or modern day New York. But the cool part is that in the storytelling, the comic incorporates drawings of architectural proposals that were never built. The most recent issue, according to the Times article today, shows a crazy futurist park design by Frank Lloyd Wright that he proposed for Ellis Island just before he died. (The Times article also has a multimedia slide show from the comic book.)

"I want it to be a more exalted New York, where things that were dreamed of were finally brought into reality,” Grant Morrison, creator of Cinderella City, told the Times. Maybe he should take a look at the 15 million new square feet of residential and office space currently in progress around the city. By the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, New Yorkers will have a more than enough built reality to contend with.

Walk This Way

An ode to New York City walking tours and how they helped launch the preservation movement is in today’s New York Sun. The article mentions the Municipal Art Society's tours, but there’s also Big Onion walking tours (which I like better because the guides are less stuffy but still very smart).