Sunday, July 31, 2005

Wow. I Mean, Seriously, Wow.

A most astonishing and useful article is online at The Architect's Newspaper, which summarizes 43 new development projects underway in New York City for a total of approximately 15 million square feet of new residential and commercial space (only a handful of these projects are adaptive reuse). As I type this, I am in Cleveland, Ohio, where 15,000 square-foot residential building conversions require tax breaks in order to make them economically viable, and not a single new commercial building has been built downtown in more than ten years. The overview of New York City projects in AN – which isn’t even comprehensive (no WTC projects are included), and the vast majority of which are actually going to get built – is truly, truly astonishing. Real estate bubble or no bubble, the “development friendly” era we currently live in is going to have an impact on New York the likes of which not even Robert Moses could have imagined. Except this time, there’s no iron-fisted uber-planner that easily lends himself to David and Goliath-like jeremiads (the only possible exception might be Alan Greenspan). The sheer volume that is being built in New York is astonishing all on its own, but in contrast to what is NOT being built elsewhere, it is just mind-boggling. (Via Curbed, of course.)

Friday, July 29, 2005

Can I Take Out a Home Equity Loan on That?

A couple days ago, I mentioned the Loft Cube. Now comes the Spacebox, semi-permanent studio apartments that come with water, electricity and sewer. The Spacebox is designed by a Dutch firm, presumably in anticipation of climate change, which is going to put most of the Netherlands under water. Good thing they can be stacked on top of each other and “installed and moved quickly.” Via Apartment Therapy.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble

According to a comprehensive report by PMI Group , a residential insurance and credit company based in California, risky “piggyback” loans – simultaneous first and second liens – have exploded, and are now exposing lenders to greater risk. Fourty-two percent of mortgages involved piggyback loans during the first half of 2004, compared with 20 percent in 2001. In the New York region, 32 percent of mortgages use piggyback loans. The August, 2005 study ranks the New York region 14th in overall risk for a “wide decline in house prices over the next two years.”

What isn’t explicitly stated by the report is that real estate is both regional and global, largely due to these very types of financial tools (the financing, after all, knows no boundaries, only the bricks and mortar do). I discussed this very briefly here, and posted a really good Times article on this here.

Group Hug

Yesterday, I blew a kiss to Lockhart Steele over at Curbed and it turns out to have been a banner day for him. Curbed just picked up a 2005 Inman Innovator Award in San Francisco, along with the online crew of the Sunday Times Real Estate section, which I contribute to. Par example: You can hear me talk about the Garment District in this audio slide show.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

My first fan letter

I just got my first fan letter, which I’m dying to share with my 3 readers:

Hello Lisa,
I was directed to your blog by a link on I love your blog.
In case you are interested, I am the producer of Living with Legends:
Hotel Chelsea blog I blog about roaches, obscure and known writers and artists and superstars
associated with the famed Hotel Chelsea.

Good luck.
Anonymous Hotel Chelsea Blogger

Here’s the delio, AHCB: I will definitely link to other NYC blogs just as soon as I figure out how to do that. See, I've been an ink-and-paper journalist for, ahem, more than ten years, so I’m a little slow on the uptake, technologically speaking. But I want to take this opportunity to thank Curbed for linking to my blog and to share a little of the love: The fact is, we NYC bloggers are just the GoGos waterskiing behind the speedboat that is Lockhart Steele, creator of Curbed.

EVil in Vegas, Baby

I’m way late to this post (but hey, I just launched this blog). A Las Vegas developer is planning a 44-acre retail complex that will be a knock off of the East Village. That’s right, in Vegas, baby. Okay, so the “meatpacking district” and “Washington Square arch” are a little out of place, but when you’re building a simulacrum (i.e. a perfect replica of something that never existed), who cares? Lots of great pics over at Curbed.

Badminton, Anyone?

Now that New York’s 2012 Olympics bid has gone down in flames and won't be revived for 2016, I’ve been wondering what is going to happen to all the development proposals attached to it. So I cursorily checked on one such project that threatened to eradicate the Bronx Terminal Market. At one time the largest Hispanic market in the country, the BTM sits on more than 30 acres of city-owned waterfront property just south of Yankee stadium, and is about as dilapidated. Part of the Olympics proposal was to knock it down to build a velodrome, or a badminton arena (along with some retail, of course) – a particularly insulting sport to be displaced by, especially if that’s where you’ve worked your entire life, as several of the merchants have. So now for the update: The Related Companies' retail portion of the redevelopment project is going forward even though the velodrome is not, but the merchants have been assured that they will be relocated to better facilities. According to Stanley Mayer, president of the BTM Preservation Association, “We got a very firm commitment [from the Bronx city council delegation] that we’re not going to be disbanded and broken up. We have reserved optimism they’ll find a spot for us.” That's nice and all, but where are New Yorkers going to play badminton?

Today’s Big New York Stories

Public space: There's room to do better
Op-ed By Harvey Robins, former aide to Mayors Koch and Dinkins, NewYork Newsday
“It would take an addition of $40 million ... to begin to reclaim all our parks to the standard of Chicago's. … That may sound like a lot of money, but the mayor could assign $40 million in annual revenue from park concessions, funds that now are now allocated to the city's general reserve, to be used for park maintenance.” Via Bird to the North

M.T.A. Is Expected to Postpone Vote on Railyard Bid
By Michelle O’Donnell and Charlie Bagli
"The board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is expected to postpone a vote today to select a winning bid to develop the Atlantic railyard near Downtown Brooklyn, two people connected with the authority said yesterday.”

Damaged Cars Hinder New York's Order for New Subways
By Sewell Chan, New York Times
“A $1.1 billion contract to build 660 subway cars for New York City has run into significant problems…” It’s all the French’s fault. Uh-huh.

Agency Adopts Park Plan for Brooklyn Waterfront
By Robert F. Worth, New York Times
“The proposed plan for a 1.3-mile shoreline park stretching from the Manhattan Bridge to Cobble Hill is an important step forward in a contentious effort over nearly 20 years to develop the largely neglected waterfront area.”

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Hey, This Post is Actually Useful

What do you get when you cross Google Maps and NYC subway routes? A freakin’ useful tool, that’s what (as opposed to all this blogblather). At onNYturf, you can input an address and click on the closest subway.

Housing Woes in Australia? There’s Always the Beach

This may seem far flung for a blog about New York and Its Environs, but this is definitely relevant. According to the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia’s New York Times), “The value of home renovations in [Sydney] has plunged $120 million in just three months, or more than 20 per cent - the largest fall in dollar terms since … 1974.” Why? “Analysts say … it became clear that Sydney's house prices were falling.” Of course, we all know real estate markets are regional, right? Yes, they are. I bought a duplex in Cleveland at the beginning of the real estate boom, sold it three years later after making improvements and narrowly escaped losing money. So, yes, real estate is regional, but it’s also global. The same global financial market forces have fueled the real estate boom from Sydney to New York City. Those market forces are having an entirely different effect in Cleveland. A good primer on what is being called The Big Sort can be found in Richard Florida’s book The Flight of the Creative Class (an otherwise ill-conceived follow-up to his best seller The Rise of the Creative Class). He makes two convincing points about the real estate boom: 1) it’s regional AND global, and 2) it’s also an unfortunate waste of investment money. What used to fund start-ups, high-tech R&D, and other creative pursuits is now going towards luxury condos, monstrous "hearth rooms" and other bourgeois absurdities that make for a nice lifestyle, but don’t contribute much to the long-term advancement of civilization.

Hot Enough For Ya?

Remember the line at the end of Apocalypse Now, “Oh, the horror! The horror!”? Well, I say, “Oh, the humidity! The humidity!” And yet, as oppressive as the weather has been this summer, it actually feels good to do yoga in a room heated to 110 degrees with scantily clad sweaty bodies whipping up a froth (no, I'm not referring to the real estate market). Yes, it’s Bikram (hot) Yoga on the Lower East Side, the coolest hippest friendliest studio in New York City. A little explanation for Bikram virgins: It’s a series of Hatha yoga postures designed for beginners (although people practice the series for many years and still learn something new every time). Shameless plug: BYLES has an introductory special – the first week costs only $20 and you can go as often as you like. Bonus: Yes, many students look like extras in an Interpol video, but the place couldn’t be any more down-to-earth.
P.S. That's Tricia, director of the studio.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Big New York Stories

NOTE: Once a week, or thereabouts, I’ll link to what I think are big New York stories, some which will be obviously big, and others that are big in small but important kind of way.

Rival Bid Tops Ratner's Offer to Develop Brooklyn Site
By Charlie Bagli, New York Times
“Extell, an upstart developer active in Manhattan, has fashioned a proposal intended to curry favor with local residents and others who view Mr. Ratner's proposal as an oversize and heavily subsidized intrusion on a quiet, low-scale neighborhood.”

With Many Modifications, Penn Station Project Is 'Go'
By David Dunlap, New York Times
“Important details of the latest Farley project - formally Moynihan Station, after Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan… - have been changed by the new developers and their architectural team.”

Land Deal Will Restrict Development in Watershed
By Anthony DePalma, New York Times
“The Croton watershed is the smallest of the city's three reservoir systems, but it is under the greatest threat from development and pollution. The heavily wooded 654-acre parcel, known as the Angle Fly Preserve, is the largest privately held piece of property in Westchester County.”

Bury That Lede

NOTE: To accompany Big New York Stories, I will sometimes include one in which the most important/interesting fact seems to be buried, a gentle bitch-slap to the media.

Too Tall in Park Slope
By Tom Robbins, Village Voice
Tenth ‘graph: “’It was a mistake,’ said [building dept.] agency spokeswoman Jennifer Givner regarding the 15th Street site [permit]. ‘It should not have been issued in the first place.’ She said a stop-work order had been issued for the site.”

Thursday, July 21, 2005

People, We Are Screwed

If the global competition for talent is getting ever fiercer – with much better educated people entering the labor force from India to Singapore – we are in big trouble. Take a look at the sadly entertaining website, Overheard in New York. There are so many choice quotes to support the above headline, but I’ll just leave you with this:

Girl on cell: So I went up to my Professor just now? And I was telling him I've chosen a country for my project. He was like, "Africa? That's not a country." I was like, "Come on, what was all that Live 8 stuff about, then?". He was just like, "Never mind. Africa is fine."...Yeah, totally.

--The NYU Bookstore, Washington Place

Prefab Loft Living

Check out the Loft Cube now for sale and suitable for rooftop installation (via Curbed ). At more than 500 square feet, it’s actually larger than my East Village apartment. Seriously.

Closing In The Woods to Save the Forest

I wrote about the legendary store In The Woods on St. Marks Place awhile ago, but the best part of the story didn’t get told. What readers of the Sunday Times Real Estate section already know is that Charles FitzGerald has lived on St. Marks Place since 1959. He’s owned many shops and galleries here. But the reason he’s closing the last remaining store is because he can get a whole lot more money leasing out the space (he owns the building) than operating a hippie dippy chatchki shop. He is using the money to pay back a loan that he took against his building in order to purchase old growth forests in Maine, which are not protected from logging. In fact, much of the money Mr. FitzGerald has made owning property on St. Marks Place has gone towards environmental preservation, to the point where his St. Marks property was so heavily leveraged, he nearly went broke and had two buildings repossessed in the 1980s. He estimates he owns 100,000 acres in Maine, which will be preserved in perpetuity. The 70 year-old Boston Brahman says he’s determined to die a poor New Yorker, and Maine will be so much richer for it. Hurry to In The Woods before it closes for good (the space will reopen as a lounge/café sometime in 2006), and get 50% off your hand-carved wooden salad bowl and tongs.

Vertical Farms?

A professor and some of his students at the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture have been developing a concept called Vertical Farming, or indoor farming. The idea goes well beyond growing hothouse tomatoes. Vertical Farms are many stories high, very technical and situated in urban centers. The students have proposed some fascinating designs, one of which would operate on the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. Why vertical farming? According to the website, we won’t be able to feed the world’s growing population (which will increase by 3 billion people by 2050, the vast majority of which will live in urban centers). Of course, we’ve been contemplating dire population growth v. food shortage theories since the late 1700s (i.e. the Thomas Malthus catastrophe). But the vert farm folks estimate that, if traditional farming practices continue as they are today, additional arable land larger than the size of Brazil will be needed to feed everyone, and at present, more than 80 percent of the land that is suitable for raising crops is already in use. Who knows if these projections are even remotely on target, but there are certainly other reasons to contemplate Vertical Farms, such as a way to redevelop abandoned urban centers, like Detroit, which apparently has mature trees growing right through the roofs and windows of empty buildings. In more vibrant urban areas, there’s the problem of lost farmland close to cities, an issue that farmer’s markets have tried to address. And that’s nice, but farmer’s markets don’t exactly feed masses of people. A Vertical Farm could be much more productive and efficient.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

What Does a Good Idea Smell Like? Nothing.

Today I learned about a very cool demonstration project taking place in Queens called the Big Belly. Big Bellies are solar-powered trash compactors that will take the place of open-top curbside trash containers. In addition to reducing the need for frequent pick-ups, the trash will take up less space in landfills, and by using the sun’s energy to compact the trash, they will eliminate the odor of rotting garbage – so prevalent these days – without producing any additional pollution. About 50 of them are being installed around Queens starting tomorrow by the Clean Air Communities organization, a nonprofit committed to reducing air pollution and increasing energy efficiency in low-income neighborhoods in New York. I guess one of the downsides is that people think they’re mailboxes. So, Queensfolk, take a second look before depositing your mail in a curbside mailbox.

Note to Moms Everywhere: Stop Worrying about Me in New York!

The New Yorker has an amazing piece this week about everything that the NYPD is doing to keep the city safe from terrorism. The article is so reassuring, it almost reads like a puff piece for Commish Ray Kelly, who is apparently leading the most advanced anti-terrorism team in our nation’s history. The most impressive achievement is that Kelly has managed to cut the hapless FBI out of the NYPD’s investigative loop. The article isn’t available online but an interesting Q&A with author William Finnegan is.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Lifting the Lid on a Burgeoning Trend

I declare coffee lid décor a hot new trend on the Lower East Side. My favorite blog, Curbed, fills us in on Ini Ani, a LES coffee bar with impressions of coffee lids in the wall, which has sparked some kind of architectural interior feud over who came up with the decorating idea first. But just a few weeks ago in a Habitats column, The New York Times’ real estate writer Penelope Green upped the ante by reporting on an actual lid, not just an impression of one, that mistakenly became the décor (or at least a conversation piece): “Halfway up [a concrete] living room wall is entombed the plastic lid of a coffee cup -- a modern fossil and a tiny monument to the human factor.” The architect of this modern gem of a building on E. 1st St. was none too pleased, but the building’s owner thought it was funny and let it slide. “Herein lies a life lesson,” wrote Ms. Green, “accept the coffee lid.”