Friday, September 30, 2005

San Gennaro Festival

I have a new photo essay on Polis, this one of the San Gennaro festival in Little Italy last weekend. There's a link at right or click here.

Silvercup Sunset

I took this shot from a roof-top party at Silvercup Studios in Long Island City last night. The party was celebrating the installation of the largest green roof in New York City on top of the studios where Sex and the City and the Sopranos was/is filmed. (I wrote about the green roof for the Times.) The sunset was spectacular (as was the party). Click the photo to enlarge, or click here to see four shots in a time lapse arrangement.


I'm all for political diversity, except in my neighborhood. So please, any misplaced red-staters asking for the removal of the above painting because it offends them need to get the hell out of the E.Vil. (from Curbed, which then quotes The Villager):

What better way to get going on a Friday morning than with a controversy over boobies? An argument over the display of the above painting in the window of an East Village gallery is easy fodder for those who decry the current state of the neighborhood as a yuppie playpen, but you'll be happy to know that there's at least one guy committed to keeping the East Village edgy:

In the week since the gallery’s curator put the painting in the window, several local residents have requested he remove it...

“What a bunch of nerds these kids are!” said Jesse Gee, the gallery’s curator, standing inside his store on a recent Friday afternoon.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Art Meets Commerce in DUMBO

Opening tonight at the Wessel + O'Connor Fine Art gallery in DUMBO (through Nov. 5) is an exhibition of black-and-white photographs by Wouter Deruytter, who has spent four years shooting large-scale billboards around town. The photographs don't just capture the intersection of high art and commerce, but in fact ARE the intersection of high art and commerce. (They also depict jaded New Yorkers ignoring these outsized billboards at will.)

On a side note, the DUMBO gallery collective at 111 Front Street, Second Floor where the Wessel + O'Connor gallery is, has rather organically become a center for photography. I was going to write about it awhile back for the Times, but alas, I just couldn’t come up with anything new to say about DUMBO, even though the gallery collective itself is definitely worthy of ink.

Home-Ownership: Not Just for the Rich and Famous Anymore?

Continuing on the middle class housing squeeze, the Times has an interesting trend piece today about how programs to help middle income people buy homes have proliferated around the country. There are some good anecdotes in the piece, but with no attempt to quantify how many people have benefited or might benefit – not even in a single city where the programs have already been implemented – renders the article less than convincing. Nonetheless, here’s one program I find pretty encouraging:

Investment funds totaling $190 million have been created in the past year in Los Angeles and San Diego Counties for the purpose of building middle-income housing in so-called urban infill areas that have access to public transportation.

The funds' manager, the Phoenix Realty Group, expects to finance more than 3,000 homes in the next five years. As in many work force projects, the builders will be allowed to construct more units than typically permitted under zoning laws. The "density bonuses" enable the developer to make up the lost profit on each unit by selling more of them.

This strikes me as precisely the right way to go about providing home-ownership opportunities for middle income people: investment funds incentivizing developers to build higher-density housing around public transportation. This is killing a bunch of birds with one stone: reinvesting in urban cores, cutting down on the need to drive and consume gas, creating vibrancy and density to support further commercial investment, and hopefully relieving pressure on exurban sprawl.

The article doesn't report out what programs are being implemented in New York except to say that zoning variances have been offered to developers if they include moderate-income housing in their plans for Greenpoint and Williamsburg. That's like throwing a few bricks into the Grand Canyon.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

My Hometown

A piece I wrote for the Times about Cleveland, my hometown, is a good excuse to break from my New York City musings here at Polis. On a more personal note, I grew up in Cleveland Heights, an inner ring suburb kind of like Montclair. I moved in and out of Cleveland several times, first to Northern California, then to D.C. and finally to New York with two tours of duty in Cleveland in between. The last time I left, I knew I wasn't ever going back for a whole host of reasons. But I remember feeling almost angry at my hometown for being so lame that I couldn't possibly stay -- despite the fact that my friends and family lived there, and I owned a house that I loved -- because the job market was so shallow and the city was nearly devoid of life. I had been an editor-in-chief of a weekly paper there and worked for a member of Congress who represented Cleveland, so I knew the place like the back of my hand and had deep connections with civic life. I do hope that Cleveland really does make a comeback, and not in a boosterish, PR-kind of way, but in real way. And I'm not one of those people who thinks that's impossible. Anyone in Cleveland who doesn't think it's possible should come to New York City and tour a few neighborhoods in Brooklyn that were all but left for dead 10 years ago. Things can and do change. It's a question of, for better or worse?

P.S. I took the above photo for the Times, and here's a link to a brief photo essay of downtown Cleveland.

Run-of-the-Mill-ion Dollar Apartment

A piece in today’s Newsday gets in on the "middle class is getting squeezed by housing prices" media jag. Wonder how those working class and poor folk are doing… but I digress:

For the first time, there are more than 1 million owner-occupied homes in the United States worth $1 million or more, according to a Census Bureau survey published late last month. … the king of outrageous housing prices continues to be Manhattan …The average price for an apartment in all but Harlem and the borough's northern tip climbed above $1.2 million in the second quarter of 2005, said Gregory Heym, chief economist for Terra Holdings, an owner of real estate brokerages in the city.

More Polis posts on the middle class squeeze:
To Be or Not To Be Broke
Gas Prices: What Goes Up Won't Come Down

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Sky's the Limit

Lewis Mumford argued many years ago that skyscrapers distort land-use costs. More recently, Paul Goldberger pointed out in Up From Zero: Politics, Architecture and the Rebuilding of New York, skyscrapers have rarely if ever been profitable and have always been about power and prestige. So, despite 9/11 and the uneconomics of building more than 80 stories high, they will continue to get built ever higher. ArchNewsNow has an interesting Q&A with Ron Klemencic, chairman of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, who is bringing together the world's tall building experts – specialists in technology, finance, and architecture – for the Council on Tall Building’s 7th World Congress, October 16-19 in New York City, themed “Renewing the Urban Landscape.” I’m not so sure there are many people who would argue that skyscrapers can “renew the urban landscape,” but then again, isn’t that what we’re trying to do with the “Freedom Tower”?

Rendering by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill: Burj Dubai, United Arab Emirates (the height is undisclosed but some experts put it at 2,313 feet)

Sorry Charlie

It seems wherever there are inflated egos, so must follow inflated prices. Until they pop. (Or is that hiss?) The Times is reporting that the fifth and final restaurant to round out the Time Warner Center’s constellation of outrageously expensive dining halls has collapsed under its own weight. The retail developer, Related Companies, has pulled the plug on Chef Charlie Trotter’s seafood spot that was 2 years in the making when the budget rose from $6 to $11.5 million “for what would not have been a formal restaurant although it was being designed by the noted architect Michael Graves.” This, of course, begs the question, what is a “not formal” restaurant? Does that mean an $11.5-million “casual” seafood joint? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Charley’s Crab already exists.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Fun With Floats

I’ve been ignoring the Floating Island that has gotten local bloggers all in a tizzy, but this is just too freaking funny. First from Curbed, and then the Times:

Conceptual Floating Art Meets Mocking Meta-Art
Robert Smithson's concept of a Floating Island -- a 30'x90' man-made island towed by a tugboat around Manhattan -- has, after three decades, become reality. Touted as the "anti-Gates," ... Smithson's Floating Island docked yesterday for the last time … conceptual art mash-up narrowly avoided.

From the Times article:

Approaching the [Floating Island] on its starboard side was a small motorboat, affixed to which was a replica of one of the saffron-colored gates created by Christo and Jeanne-Claude that dotted Central Park last winter. Captain Henry remembered "The Gates" and, putting two and two together, he worried that maybe the man in the motorboat was planning on boarding his little version of Central Park and planting a gate somewhere among the trees.

What's Up with Governor's Island?

Another summer has gone by and I never made it out to Governor's Island. It's gotten me to wondering, what's up with that, anyway? Apparently, it's become bogged down in planning wish lists. According to Gotham Gazette, Governor's Island has been suggested for any number of overflow uses from relieving crowded schools, housing a new UN headquarters, and of course a stadium. Like the Brooklyn Bridge Park, which has been 25 years in the making, Governor’s Island is moving at a glacial pace, despite early optimism:

“We're not going to spend the next ten years debating what should happen here,” Randy Daniels, then the state's secretary of state and board chair of the preservation corporation, [said in 2003]. But by this spring, with progress seemingly stalled, Daniels had lost his optimism.

“It takes two years to clear your throat in New York,”
he told the Times. And earlier this month, Daniels prepared to leave the board, saying … “We truly don't know what it will be but we have a general idea of what it can be.”

Two and a half years later, and all they have is a "general idea of what it can be”? Why does everything have to be planned to death? With stunning views, vast open space and beautiful historic buildings, why can’t we just do one small thing at a time there, like open it up to the public more than a few weekends in the summer? Let people slowly but surely discover the place and see what happens.

Above photo of Nolan Park on Governor's Island.

Big Starchitect on Campus

Phat architecture schools in New York City are finally catching onto the starchitect trend, building a slew of new campus buildings – with one notable exception, Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture. Times reporter Robin Pogrebin sums it up:

Aside from Mr. Holl's glass-and-concrete center at Pratt's School of Architecture, a new main building by Lyn Rice is rising at Parsons School of Design in Greenwich Village, and City College has thrown up construction tents around what is to become its new architecture hall in Harlem, designed by Rafael Viñoly. Next summer, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art will break ground on a $105 million expansion of its art studios and engineering school designed by the Los Angeles architect Thom Mayne.

Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture is currently housed in a lovely, old-fashioned ivy-league building called Avery Hall that has been marred by a “temporary” wheelchair ramp for years. Maybe Frank Gehry would be willing to redesign the wheelchair ramp along the lines of the his pedestrian bridge at Millennium Park in Chicago. Just a thought.

To Be or Not to Be Broke

The Sunday Times had doppelganger real estate stories, one asking if it is better to rent or buy, and the other quantifying what we all know intuitively: that the middle class is getting seriously squeezed by housing prices. From the first story:

Add it all up - which The New York Times did, in an analysis of the major costs and benefits of owning and renting, including tax breaks - and owning a home today is more expensive than renting in much of the Northeast, Florida, and California. Only if prices rise well above their already lofty levels will home ownership turn out to be the good deal that it is widely assumed to be.

And from the second story:

Across the country, the median price of a single-family home has climbed 29 percent in two years, rising to $218,600 this year from $170,000 in 2003, according to the National Association of Realtors. At the same time, median family incomes rose 8 percent. The association's Housing Affordability Index dropped over the same time period, falling 15 percent in the last two years.

The second story discusses the myriad ways in which house-poor middle class people are cutting back on other things – from vacations to food – to pay for their expensive shelter, which gets to an interesting point that is made by “creative class” guru Richard Florida in his otherwise poorly executed book The Flight of the Creative Class. In addition to the ill effects of bubbles in general, he says the housing boom has been an unfortunate waste of investment money. What used to fund start-ups, high-tech R&D, and other creative pursuits is now going towards housing, which doesn’t contribute much to the long-term advancement of civilization. A roof doesn’t really have a multiplier effect no matter how expensive it is. It either keeps the elements out or it doesn’t. Only if it gets repeatedly torn off in hurricanes (!) does a roof continue to employ people.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Can We Re "Think" This, Please? Pretty Please?!

Also from the Regional Plan Association's newsletter today (scroll to next item) is a review of Paul Goldberger's Up From Zero: Politics, Architecture and the Rebuilding of New York, which just came out in paperback (note that the paperback version uses the Towers of Light on the cover instead of Libeskind's original "Freedom Tower"). I couldn't agree with Alex Marshall more:

...after reading Up From Zero, and knowing the difficulties Libeskind’s design has encountered, I found myself regretting that the design of Rafael Viñoly and Frederic Schwartz was not chosen, which vied with Libeskind’s plan for selection until Gov. Pataki made a choice. The centerpiece of the Viñoly-Schwartz [Think team] plan, at least initially, was two tall, lattice-work towers that would rise from the site and be essentially ornamental and symbolic, and completely public. The private office buildings with their 10 million square feet would be left to another portion the site, and perhaps for another time, when the office sector rebounded. Such a plan would have avoided
the controversies that have plagued Libeskind’s and David Childs’ Freedom Tower, which must double as a symbol AND a giant office tower.
Although meant to symbolize freedom and openness, the base of the tower was recently redesigned to resemble a windowless battle-hardened bunker to withstand a terrorist blast (emphasis added).

Ugh. That's really depressing. I'm going to Bikram yoga to sweat it out. Have a good weekend. The weather is supposed to be marvelous.

Gas Prices: What Goes Up Won't Come Down

With another hurricane shutting down oil refineries along the Gulf of Mexico (about 25 percent of total US capacity), experts are predicting gas could hit $4.00 a gallon or more within a couple of weeks. The newsletter of Regional Plan Association of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut has a great summary of exactly what needs to be done in light of the fact that gas will never be cheap again:

Auto dependence is expensive, and it’s hard to find a way to pay for it that’s not regressive. That’s why it’s vital to choose the right investments. This region should focus on improving the accessibility and capacity of its transit-oriented places. There are three large scale projects that would go a long way toward accomplishing that goal: the Second Avenue Subway, a Long Island Railroad connection to Grand Central Terminal, and a new passenger rail tunnel under the Hudson. At the same time,
more mixed-use development should be focused on transit villages in towns along train lines in Long Island, Connecticut, the Hudson Valley and New Jersey.

I have written about a transit-oriented developer, Eric Anderson of Urban Green Builders, who has undertaken redeveloping Bridgeport, perhaps one of the most significant projects underway in the Tri-State region. It is exactly the sort of place that will become highly desirable as it's transformed into a mixed-use transit village. If I had two nickels to rub together, that's where I'd be investing.

The Real Coney Island

Continuing with my Coney Island jag, here is a really smart analysis of what should and shouldn’t happen when redeveloping one of the most unique spaces on earth. Aaron Donovan, of Fits and Starts, presents some thoughts from Juan Rivera, who wrote his urban planning master's thesis on redevelopment plans at Coney Island. (All three of us studied urban planning at Columbia at the same time. I would link to Columbia’s urban planning homepage, but it has to be one of the worst websites I’ve ever had the displeasure of trying to navigate.):

To illustrate my point, look at the example of two current Coney Island entrepreneurs, Lola Staar and Coney Island USA. The former has started a line of Coney Island-inspired clothing that is sold is stores throughout the City and beyond. The latter has launched a burlesque revival [pictured above -ed.] that has spread throughout the City, sparking a renewed interest in a form of performance indigenous to, and closely associated with, Coney Island. Both ventures have, in their respective ways, built on the legacy of Coney Island, promoted its uniqueness, and drawn attention to it in a way that corporate retail could never do. And yet, city officials, unable to look beyond the Times Square template, continue to regard the influx of corporate retail as an all-purpose cure for urban decay. I find it ironic that the most generic little town does its best to set itself apart from other towns by highlighting its history. But New York, which actually does have a rich heritage to draw from, spends its time and money trying to look like Nowhere, USA.

Previous Polis posts on Coney Island (the first one outlines my misgivings about redeveloping Coney Island, the second one summarizes the city’s recent announcement of its strategic plans, the third one is a summary of New York magazine’s article about the developer Joe Sitt who wants to build ‘vegas on steroids’:

Coney Island in for a Wild Ride?

Coney Island, Gussied Up

Coney Island, Part III

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Attention. MTA Has an Important Announcment: Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.*

Yesterday I made fun of MTA’s new message boards that are being installed over the next year in select subway stations. (The new message boards will – hold onto your socks now – show the date, time and when the next train will arrive. And if you drop a dime into the slot and step on the scale, it’ll tell you how much you weigh, too. Swell!)

Today, Newsday reports that MTA’s new internal communications system crashed, which has been ten years in the making:

The MTA's subway modernization plan suffered a setback this week when a new communication system crashed after it was unable to handle radio traffic generated by a routine delay, officials said Wednesday.

The breakdown on Tuesday clipped contact between dispatchers and hundreds of trains ... It also delayed by weeks the opening of a $225 million midtown control center that was to replace an antiquated NYC Transit facility in Brooklyn, officials said.

This all happened at the very same time that MTA officials were testifying before City Council about how great the new message boards are.

It’s easy to crack on MTA, but here’s a serious question: Is MTA’s communications infrastructure our version of a weak and eroded levee system?

*Apologies to Noam Chomsky.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

No Love for the MTA

Over the next year, MTA is going to install 131 message boards in select subway stations that will tell subway riders the date, time and when the next train is coming. Whoa. Now that's some advanced sh*t. Just for fun, I think the message boards should also flash when and how much the next fare hike will be, how much money MTA has squandered on sweatheart contracts, and how many seconds have gone by since construction on the 2nd Ave. subway was halted three decades ago.

P.S. The NY Post reports that new monitors were announced in the wake of The Permanent Citizen's Advisory Committee issuing a stinging report about MTA's communications system. How about this for an art installation project in select subway stations: Walls of TV monitors playing in a continuous loop that infamous Saturday Night Live skit of MTA personnel making garbled announcements.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Vancouverism v. Lower Manhattanism

Trevor Body, architecture critic for the Vancouver Sun, has an interesting article looking at the way Vancouver has developed compared to Lower Manhattan. Vancouver has eclipsed Manhattan as the most densely populated residential area in North America. He offers his hometown as a cautionary tale for Lower Manhattan, which is currently converting more commercial space to housing (about 8 million square feet) than most other cities have in total, and this doesn’t bode well for the long-term vibrancy of the area, Body argues. It should be a more balanced mix of office and residential, and he believes Lower Manhattan is on its way to losing this balance, just as Vancouver already has:

This planner’s paradise – Downtown Vancouver – has exemplary urbanism, a lively social mix, and a high quality of life, all of which make it ever more attractive as … a retirement zone for baby boomers, and much less attractive as a place to conduct business.

…Lower Manhattan and Vancouver’s downtown peninsula share a problem that most North American cities would love to have – too much interest in new downtown housing. [But] it is important to look beyond the current housing bubble to ask whether the wholesale exchange of offices for condos is in the long-term interests of the economic health, even the urbanity and livability of these two cities.

This contrarian viewpoint is one worth considering, but it overlooks the fact that Manhattan has been shifting its center of commerce to Midtown for nearly a hundred years. Does Manhattan need more than one center of commerce, especially given that Brooklyn has also revived its downtown? Vancouver, on the other hand, doesn’t have another commercial core even while it wipes out the one it had in the name of developing a densely populated urbanist paradise (and we all know “paradise” is just another word for “too much of a good thing”).

I’m all for planning – which New York has little of beyond straight-up zoning – but there are always unintended consequences, and it seems that strict planning regulations combined with a housing bubble has created a problem unique to Vancouver. With little in the way of planning regulations and the housing boom about over, Lower Manhattan probably isn’t in much danger of becoming a densely populated residential "paradise" devoid of commerce. But then, who would have thought 15 years ago that million-dollar condos would be built on the Bowery?

Monday, September 19, 2005

Coney Island, Part III

I like the idea of recreating historic New York neighborhoods in Las Vegas (i.e. the "East Village" is being built in Sin City), not recreating Las Vegas in historic New York neighborhoods. But indeed, that appears to be what is happening at Coney Island. New York magazine confirms some of my worst fears about redevelopment plans for Coney Island in a feature out this week by Greg Sargent:

Over the past few years, [Joe] Sitt’s real-estate company, Thor Equities, has quietly spent nearly $100 million buying up a huge swath of Coney Island … Sitt’s scheme for reviving the world’s once-premier amusement park is far more ambitious than the whispers suggest. He plans to build a glittering resort paradise right next to the Coney Island boardwalk—a retail and entertainment colossus every bit as outrageous and flamboyant as the Bahamas’ Atlantis. The plan includes megaplexes. An indoor water park. A 500-room, four-star hotel—four stars, in Coney Island!—and, at the center of it all, an enormous, psychedelic carousel laced with visual cues to a Coney Island that Timothy Leary could have dreamed up. ... The total price tag: $1 billion, which Sitt hopes to raise from private investors. Sitt has seen Coney Island’s future, and it looks like Vegas—turned up a few notches.

Oy. More on my misgiving about redevelopment plans for Coney Island here and here (or just scroll down).

The Rise of the Microboutique

In January, New York magazine ran a feature, the Rise of the Microneighborhood. The piece focused on a few blocks of Bleecker that had seemingly overnight become a downtown version of Fifth Avenue (Marc Jacobs, Lulu Guinness, etc.).

To this trend, we can now add the Rise of the Microboutique. Just a few blocks east on Bleecker Street is Emerge NYC (between Broadway and Lafayette), self-proclaimed as “the future of retail.” Of course, the future of retail has been touted more than once recently, from the annoying NikeID “store” in Nolita that isn't open to the public, to "pop-up" retailing. But in this case, while it may not be the “future of retail,” it’s probably no microfad, either.

Like a curated art show, Emerge NYC, open about a month now, is a selection of emerging designers of fashion and art – jewelry, clothes, rare books, bags, etc. – arranged in what amounts to an urbanized version of a 3,500 square-foot indoor market. The 26 tiny boutiques are an affordable way for designers to get a piece of real estate on highly trafficked block in Manhattan and for shoppers to get one-on-one contact with designers. The space itself has the potential to become a marketplace of ideas for the designers themselves to feed off each other’s creativity. If the developers of Emerge NYC are successful in branding their vision, the designers will be able to say they were selected to show in this exclusive collection of Miniboutiques.

Of course, the whole thing depends heavily on foot traffic. This model doesn’t work on a desolate urban street or in an auto-oriented suburb. And there really isn’t anything revolutionary about the business incubator model. So, perhaps it is a bit of an overstatement that this is the future of retail, but it certainly has the feel of a successful model that brings together proven concepts under one roof.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Dames on the Waterfront

Step aside boys, the ladies are taking over the West Harlem waterfront: Bonnie A. Harken of Nautilus International Development Consulting, Donna Walcavage of Donna Walcavage Landscape Architecture + Urban Design, and Barbara Wilks of W Architecture are the women in charge of reclaiming the West Harlem waterfront for recreational use, and connecting communities along the Hudson River. They are directing two major projects currently underway, Take Me to the River, an effort to build new piers and parks between W. 125th Street and Hamilton Heights; and the W. 125th St. Pier. They will join Savona Bailey-McClain of the West Harlem Art Fund and Nancy Welsh of Environmental Preservation Fund for an all-girl panel discussion at the Center for Architecture (536 LaGuardia Place, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 6-8 pm). For more info or to RSVP for this event, click here and scroll down to Sept. 27.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Coney Island, Gussied Up

As promised, Mayor Bloomberg unveiled a “strategic plan” for spurring development at Coney Island in hopes of transforming it into a year-round attraction. I stated my misgivings about this at length (below), but here are a few things the city plans do to with $83.2 million ($50 million more than what was previously pledged):
  • The transformation of Stillwell Avenue into Stillwell Midway, a public open space connecting existing amusements with new development.
  • A redesigned Steeplechase Plaza incorporating new open space around the iconic Parachute Jump between KeySpan Park and the boardwalk. It will feature the winning design of the Parachute Pavilion Design Competition by the London team of Kevin Carmody, Andrew Groarke, Chris Hardie and Lewis Kinneir (see below).
  • Addition of hotels, possibly a spa and probably a mall on Surf Ave.
  • 3000 housing units (mostly condos, and some affordable, but few details about this are in the press release)
  • Restoration of the Shore Theater (now closed) and the retention and restoration of the historic B&B Carousel (announced last month)

The boardwalk improvements will get underway immediately, according to the press release, with the rest unfolding by 2009. As Curbed recently noted regarding yet another announcement about the long-awaited Brooklyn Bridge Park (not to mention all the other recent building announcements), 2009 should prove to be a banner year for NYC. (Photo Credit: Edward Reed)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Coney Island in for a Wild Ride?

Mayor Bloomberg is expected to announce redevelopment plans for Coney Island today, reports the Daily News. Centered on the long-closed Parachute Jump, it is an attempt to make Coney Island a year-round destination. Not only does that seem wildly optimistic, but this is one instance where the naysayers have a real point: Coney Island works exactly the way it should. The place is packed (as I can attest to, see a photo essay here) with people who apparently like it the way it is.

It really is the perfect Jane Jacobsian amusement park, meeting three of her four criteria to create and sustain vibrancy and diversity: mixed primary uses, short blocks, old buildings (i.e. cheap space), and high density (to which I would add, complementary infill development). The boardwalk is continuous, but has short perpendicular blocks to break up the monotony. It has plenty of old buildings and high density. This being an amusement park, obviously, it doesn't have a lot of mixed primary uses, but in terms of entertainment, it doesn't get much more diverse than this: rides, food, beach, games, and most importantly, open space for self expression (from break dancers to Evangelists, see photo essay linked at right). The plans to be unveiled today might be complementary infill development, and if that is the case, great. But if it ushers in Disnification or -- worse! -- a mall, that could really damage the character of this national treature that is only a subway ride away.

And speaking of the subway, MTA opened its new station there at the beginning of the summer. For a great article by Alex Marshall for Metropolis magazine about this gorgeous subway station with its solar-powered canopy, click here (the article also has cool historical info, i.e. Fred Trump, Donald's father, tore down the Beaux-Arts "Pavilion of Fun" for condos that were never built!). So I say, get the people out there, welcome them with a beautiful subway station, and then let them do their thing. Let Coney Island evolve organically, as Ms. Jacobs would say.

(Although the above rendering isn't necessarily what's going to be unveiled today, it is the winning design in the Van Alen Institute/New York City Economic Development Corporation competition, on view with other entries through Oct. 31. For more info, click here.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Glass House Should Throw Stones (Towards East River)

With the death knell of Santiago Calatrava’s South Street Seaport residential tower all but rung, is the era of daring residential development coming to an end before it got started? Philip Johnson’s Urban Glass House, “a discreet, twelve-story glass and steel structure” is being built at 330 Spring Street at Washington. Johnson’s very last building (he died in January 2005) will have 40 residences ($1.6 to $10 million) designed to evoke his famous “pared-down but modernist luxury” Glass House in New Canaan, CT. But more importantly, the developers actually BROKE GROUND recently (sales are being handled by The Sunshine Group). Apparently, earlier designs flirted with more adventurous geometries, but the discipline of modernist principles ruled the day. And that’s probably why it’s getting built.

Annabelle Selldorf is handling the interiors -- 1,400-3,400 square feet -- who characterizes the style as "free of the sort of gratuitious gestures that masquerade as important design today." Cast those stones! (Click to enlarge lovely interior rendering by Carlos Grande at Hypertecture.)

Monday, September 12, 2005

Bikes as Art

A couple of months ago, the Jen Bekman gallery on Spring Street (off Bowery) had an exhibit entitled Bicycles Locked to Poles, featuring photos taken on the streets of New York City by John Glassie (who has a book by the same name, published by McSweeney’s). Artist David Shapiro has taken this concept a step further. From today's Times (above photo by Ruby Washington):

Where do all the old bicycles go: those twisted, rusted, fragmented remnants of freewheeling happiness that are chained to poles and left for dead on New York City streets?

A group of them, at least, have been given second acts as objets d'art by a New York-based artist who found about 100 bikes on city sidewalks this summer and took them to his own Island of Lost Bicycles in Queens.

To this burgeoning artistic trend, I add my own photo taken on St. Mark’s Place last winter (the mural at Tasty Falafel has since been painted over):

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Photos of New Mexico

My philosophy of writing and photography is that everything should be edited down to its essence (and that applies to life as well). Because of that, my photo essays (links at right) are a maximum of six shots each. It was a challenge to stick to this rule with my New Mexico photos, so I broke them down into three categories of six slides each. They can also be viewed in seperate windows by clicking on the links at right under My Photo Essays (these links will take you out of Polis):
You can also read a story I wrote for the Times real estate section, "Adobe Gets Its Day in the Sun," about restoring old adobe homes here.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Accentuate the Positive

Gone for a week in New Mexico (look for two upcoming stories in the Times real estate section from that corner of the globe, and a photo slide show on Polis). A lot sure has happened since I left, much of it not so good. Honestly, it’s hard to focus on interesting, fun, things happening in New York City to write about for Polis when it seems like the rest of the world is going to hell in a hand basket. So how about I ignore all the bad shit happening in the rest of the world and focus on all the bad shit that’s happening right here in New York? Good idea!

“Residential real-estate prices in Manhattan have been plummeting this summer.” NY Post

Amtrak Is Said to Be Planning a Big Fare Rise” NY Times

Jonathan Salazar turns 4 on Sunday. Naturally, his family will have a party for him. But it will probably be a demure gathering, because it is Sept. 11.” NY Times

“Set to release on September 16th, ‘Lord of War,’ features [Chelsea Hotel resident] Ethan Hawke.” Living with Legends