Thursday, December 29, 2005

WTC Site Planning (Or Today's Installment of Breathtaking Inanity)

When I first proposed "breathtaking inanity" as the new "irrational exuberance," I knew the phrase would come in handy, but I had only an inkling of just how handy. Today's installment comes from a great Times article by David Dunlap about how a draft of the design guidelines for the World Trade Center site have been circulating for two years with no finalization in sight while building designs have been thrown at the wall like spaghetti just to see what sticks:

In that time, the Freedom Tower has been designed and redesigned, partly following the draft guidelines and partly ignoring them. The transportation hub has been designed in a form quite unlike that contemplated in the 2003 draft. Ditto, the memorial. Ditto, the cultural building.

Now, the architect Norman Foster ... has been chosen by Larry A. Silverstein to design the second largest office tower on the site...

And there are still no guidelines.

In a recent piece I wrote about the Transbay Terminal (or the "Grand Central of the West") in San Francisco, my favorite line got cut from the piece (for good reason, I will readily admit), but I so wanted to indirectly point out the right way to plan a site. The final line in this graph, alas, did not appear in print:

The [Transbay Terminal and accompanying tower] competition, guided by conceptual designs unveiled on Dec. 19, is a result of … the adoption of a high-density master plan, devised by Skidmore Owings & Merrill, to redevelop the surrounding 40 acres and provide much of the financing for the terminal and tower. In other words, years of planning, coalition building, and financial structuring were done before the public’s imagination was dazzled by star-studded architecture.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Lounging, Not Just for the Homeless Anymore

The Times has a great little piece today about lounge chairs popping up in public spaces around New York City, and rightly notes that we've come a long way (baby) from a time when people walked around parks trying to avoid getting mugged rather than into them to take a little snooze.

Above photo by Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times of a park in Queens that encourages sunbathing (weather permitting) and skyline gazing.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Suburban Dystopia

No matter how many American downtowns get redeveloped and revitalized, there remains an unmistakable obsession with the suburbs. To wit: "Sprawl: A Concise History," a new book by Robert Bruegmann, an urban planning egghead at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He makes a contrarian argument in favor of suburbia on a populist soap box; namely, it is the liberal elites who oppose sprawl even though, were it not for the suburbs, many people would not be able to partake in the good life that the liberal elites so enjoy. And I will admit there's enough truth to this argument to entice me to actually read the book. But from what I've read about the book, the author neglects to address what happens to a city when there is sprawl without population growth, which is the cause of death for essentially the entire middle section of the country, save for Chicago, where he just so happens to live (i.e. there's an important distinction between "surburia" and "sprawl").

More interestingly, a recent article in the Times asked, "What is the future of suburbia in America?" The article notes the life cycle of suburbia and how Long Island is at the crisis point: "local taxes are among the nation's highest, gangs, traffic jams, pockets of poverty and decay, dwindling open space, insufficient mass transit, segregation, blighted strip malls, an influx of immigrants, sprawl and a lack of focal points for community life." In other words, it's the inner-ring suburb syndrome writ large.

Long Island needs to reinvent itself, and lo-and-behold, one of the more promsing options is to urbanize, especially by applying urban revitalization techniques that have revived downtowns from Providence to Albuquerque. What's more: "Some call for radical transformation, even a startling new look. A couple of miles from Levittown, in Uniondale, Charles B. Wang proposed something never before contemplated on Long Island: the Great Lighthouse, with a luxury hotel and condominiums, topped by an observation deck and a large shiny ball visible for miles" (pictured above, inset).

Suburbia, of course, is not going away and nor should it. I don't hear liberal elites (or even E.Villagers for that matter), walking around complaining about the horrors of suburbia ... that's so '80s. All we are saying is, give density a chance.

P.S. I've been alerted by Starts and Fits that Wong has dropped his plans to build a tower on Long Island. I can't say I was crazy about that idea to begin with, but that doesn't mean that certain parts of Long Island shouldn't densify to revitalize itself.

Photographs, above and inset, by Barton Silverman/The New York Times

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Steeeee-rike Three: "Breathtaking Inanity"

My thought for the day: "breathtaking inanity" will come to define the current era the same way "irrational exuburance" once defined the bubble years. Like any defining catchphrase, it applies to so many current circumstance and has a great cadence. The two-thousand-oughts: Breathtaking Inanity. Pass it on.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Steeeee-rike Two

Day two of the transit strike ... and like any fairweather New Yorker, I'm outta here. Wish me luck getting to the airport.

In the meantime, Miss Representation has some wonderful musings about the strike, offering his usual ill humor towards the media and politicians, sprinkled with some positive thoughts for good measure:

With lots of air time to fill, we’ve been subjected to mostly the uninteresting stuff, even though this is actually a rather rich story, from end to end: a militant union that is perhaps rife with an internal conflict that is the driving force in the walkout, a intellectually bankrupt governor who set the stage by cravenly handing out ill-advised benefits (with the rousing approval of a state legislature -- heavily funded by that same union -- eclipsed only by Maoist-era China in its intransigence and seeming permanence), and the seeming inability to manage (stocked with appointees from that dimwit governor) the long-term health of one of the largest, best, and most effective public transit system in the world.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Steeeee-rike One

It seems there's some kind of strike happening here in New Yorkistan. Not sure about the details since I work at home and rarely ever see daylight. But hop on over to Gothamist to find out what the brouhaha is about, and then enter their "most inconvenient commute" contest. The winner's prize? An unlimited monthly Metrocard, of course!

P.S. When I told my lovely mother, who lives in Cleveland, that the transit strike might cause me a problem getting to the airport tomorrow, she replied, "Well, can't you just get a cab?" As if the other 8 million people trying to get around New York wouldn't also be vying for a cab. Ah, the blissful ignorance of living where no one else does.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

This is What I'm Talking About

I don't know about you, but I'm getting really freakin' tired of luxury condo this, luxury condo that, especially when they're as uninspired as the Astor Place Sculpture for Living, which still infuriates me on a regular basis as I walk about the East Village (read Paul Goldberger's take-down, titled Green Monster, in the New Yorker here). I mean, if I can't afford to live in it, at least make it nice for me to look at.

But I digress. The fact is, there's a housing crisis in New York that the luxury condo glut is not going to fix because, no matter how bad the market gets, they'll let 'em sit empty before they rent 2000 square foot high-rise lofts to people making$75,000 a year (i.e. while the filtering effect is undoubtedly real, there is surely a limit). What we need to be erecting are fantastic and innovative buildings like this, discovered (belatedly) on one of my new favorite architecture and design blogs, Inhabitat:

A company in the UK has developed a high rise apartment concept ... Abito ... a testament to the wonders of technology and the huge potential of small spaces. The template is a 347-sq-ft apartment with a central pod that serves all the functions that are traditionally distributed among a number of rooms.

One side of the pod contains a bathroom behind double doors; another has a cupboard with washer/dryer hookups. A third side contains a his and hers wardrobe and a utility console, and the fourth contains a kitchen unit featuring integrated fridge/freezer, a two-burner range, an oven/microwave/grill combo, and a waste sorter. Opposite the wardrobe is a bedroom wall with a fold-up bed. Atop the pod is space for an extra bed or additional storage.... And every Abito apartment has a private balcony.

My favorite part is the two-burner range complimented by the oven/microwave/grill combo. Brilliant! What urban cook uses more than two burners at once? Several of these uber-efficient buildings are planned throughout the UK. Read and see more images here.

New York Times Real Estate Blog

The Times has officially unveiled its real estate blog (although it wasn't password protected during development) called The Walk-Through. It will focus on residential real estate and related topics aimed at a national audience. I will be contributing, so please send me blog ideas for the site. Check it out here.

Friday, December 16, 2005

New Museum Digs

The New Museum of Contemporary Art held a groundbreaking ceremony a couple of months ago (as noted here on Polis in early Oct.), but the actual digging for its new building didn't get underway until earlier this week. The new building, on Bowery, will be the first museum built in downtown Manhattan in more than 100 years, and will liven up the area with some very modern architecture.

Tropolism excerpts a recent interview with the Japan-based architects for the new building, SANAA:

what are you afraid regarding the future?

s: I am always afraid of the future but at the same time I’m looking forward to it. we want to be able to contribute to it.

Well, okay. The future of The New Museum, which will relocate from Chelsea, gets underway about 2007. Unfortunatley, one of the best museum bargains in town ($6 general admission) will likely go way up in order to pay for this:

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Political Pirrocide

I generally stay away from politics here on Polis, with the one exception of watching Jeanine Pirro go down in flames. I predicted here that she wouldn't even make it through the primary in her bid to challenge Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Sure enough, after running a comletely hapless campaign, starting with her fumbled announcement, New York Republican leaders are now asking her to step aside and she's refusing! Is this woman completely tone deaf or what? I hereby call out all political commentators and pundits who said she would be a good candidate to "rough up" Hillary. Please.

Previous Polis Post: Can Anyone Say Flyspeck?
New York Times article: Republican Leaders Tell Pirro to End Senate Bid

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Happy Holidays from the East Village

The Alamo at Astor Square, aka The Cube, a long-time symbol of the neighborhood, was recently reinstalled after a refurbishment, disappointing E.Vil. conspiracy theorists who were sure it was taken away at the behest of yuppie condo dwellers. Note the hanging wreaths just behind The Cube. Kinda cheers the place up, no? (Click to enlarge the photo and get a good view of this man's happy face.)

Friday, December 09, 2005

New Yorker Hotel Sign

Last night the New Yorker Hotel sign was relit for the first time since the 1960s. The hotel had a party and, in addition to hotel workers and other guests, invited some decedents of the hotel's historic luminaries to watch the relighting via closed circuit camera. Using an original elevator control handle that was still in use as late as 1994, the general manager of the hotel, Kevin Smith, pulled the lever and after a pregnant pause, the red letters were alight. The sign refurbishment is part of a major renovation. It was built in 1929 and -- despite opening shortly after the stock market crash -- became one of the hottest spots in New York City. But the hotel declined and finally closed in the 1970s. It was partially reopened in 1994 and has been operating as a modest mixed-use commercial and hotel building, a far cry from its glory days of yore. Photo courtesy of Joe Kinney, the hotel's fascilities manager and keeper of all things Hotel New Yorker. For a Times article about the renovation, click here.

Another shot from Mr. Kinney: