Friday, March 31, 2006

Good News (For People Who Can Recognize It When They See It)

Talks to hammer out who will build what at the World Trade Center have once again collapsed, and for the first time in awhile, I'm optimistic about what will ultimately come of the rebuilding effort. That might seem counterintuitive, but the fact is, the best thing that could happen right now is nothing because the people with the most power in these negotiations are completely consumed by what the rebuilding process will do for them, not for New York. As Nicolai Ouroussoff put it:

An aggressive government role in galvanizing the best creative minds is virtually nonexistent in the United States, where political and financial power has shifted to the private realm. ... In New York, the system can foster a poisonous mix of political self-interest and commercial greed, as it did at ground zero.

So the best thing that could happen is for the whole process to get derailed for some period of time while the one person who has no real political agenda beyond looking good for doing the right thing, i.e. Bloomberg and his legacy concern, to step in and impose some common sense at Ground Zero. And it seems that's exactly what's happening.

Photo by Julian Olivas.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Damn Yanks

If there was any doubt that technology and the internet have radically changed community organizing and activism, it has been permanently put to rest by onNYTurf (via Bird to the North). OnNYTurf makes its case against the new Yankee Stadium with this complex and detailed map, showing exactly how this deal will go down (critics maintain that parkland to be taken for the new stadium is inadequately replaced elsewhere). Activists no longer need to show up to public meetings just to be dismissed when they're ill-informed and short on details. Critics of the plan came to a City Council hearing on Tuesday and put some serious pressure on this deal not just because they showed up in numbers, but because they knew what they were talking about. This is impressive community activism, foshizzle. City Council will vote on the plan April 5.

UPDATE: If the map is a little too complex for those of you not following this very closely, check out a commentary by WNYC's Brian Lehrer (hands down, the best host on the radio anywhere, and a New York treasure). He offers five reasons the Yankee Stadium deal should be voted down by City Council next week. Here's just one reason:

The current stadium has no apartment buildings right across the street from it. The new stadium would, both east and west. That's a big hit to the quality of life of the people who live in those buildings, which now face the park. Imagine the outcry if the city proposed doing THAT to the residents of Central Park West.

Leave it to Brian Lehrer to break this all the way down to its essence.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Corbin Building

I have a piece in today's Times about the current owners of the Corbin Building -- the Collegiate Church -- who want to turn this historic Lower Manhattan building into the New Amsterdam Center. But it's being taken by eminent domain for the new Fulton Transit Center. Not much to add to the piece, really, so click here to read it in full, and find out how those mild-mannered, tolerant Protestants of Dutch heritage are going to take it to MTA!

Photo: John Harrington Jr., left, and Casey Kemper of the Collegiate Church Corporation and the original staircase and railing from 1888 by Michael Flaco.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

VideoBlog on the E.Vil.

A former real estate agent turned "drunken poet" has a short video on the East Village, with several scenes from my block (via Curbed). I've really gotta get busy learning this video/blog thing.

P.S. The Cube still spins ... all that alcohol appears to have weakened this guy's upper body strength.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Western Massachusetts

I have a new slideshow totally unrelated to New York City. Click here to see pics of Western Massachusetts (only six slides ... painless). They're all taken with a very unsophisticated digital camera, so the quality isn't great (I was bummed I didn't bring my real camera), but I got a few decent ones nonetheless.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Breathtaking Inanity: The 24-Hour Real Estate Office

I haven't come across a good candidate for my ongoing series entitled Breathtaking Inanity, but here's a doozy: The 24-hour real estate office at 20 Pine Street, the luxy-condo conversion of a former Chase Manhattan Bank office tower in Lower Manhattan. Mark my words, when the real estate bubble totally deflates, this will become a symbol of its breathtaking inanity.

It's 4 a.m. Do You Know Where Your Realtor Is? [New York Times]

Photo Credit: Robert Stolarik for The New York Times

Would You Like Some Brie With Those Crackers?

NPR: Brooklyn Bridge Gives up Cold-War Secret

Morning Edition, March 24, 2006 · A secret cache of Cold War-era emergency provisions was recently discovered beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. Engineers inspecting the bridge found the hideaway, meant to help people survive in case of a nuclear attack. The cache includes water drums, medical supplies, blankets, drugs to treat shock and more than 350,000 crackers.

I heard this story on NPR last week and didn't see any other coverage, so I assumed I had just missed it. Turns out, the Times and every other New York paper got scooped.

But in keeping with the Timesian tradition, when the paper gets beat on its own turf, it comes out with a smarter, more in-depth piece. Without ever mentioning the words "war on terror" the piece uses Cold War hysteria -- with its bomb shelters and stash of crackers -- to shine a light on the current state of affairs:

"'All civil defense can do is to frighten children and fool the public into thinking there is protection against an H-Bomb,' declared a flier calling for a Civil Defense Protest Day on May 3, 1960, in City Hall Park."

Sounds just like Tom Ridge suggesting that we duct tape the windows.

Credit: Above image from The Onion.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Trifecta of Animal Spottings

New York animals stories abound as of late. First there was the update of Pale Male and Lola, hawks who squat on the Upper East Side. Then there was the coyote in Central Park who succumbed to a traquilizer dart (I'd like to try that on a few obnoxious drunks on St. Marks Pl. some Friday night), and now the Times reports on seals hanging out in the lower New York harbor off Staten Island. Apparently, the seal population has recovered enough to delight the urbanites.

Last year, 1,200 seals were spotted off Long Island and Connecticut alone. This year, for the first time, the count has included the waters off New York City. Donald E. Moore III, the director of the Prospect Park Zoo ... said he had spotted 26 seals off Orchard Beach in the Bronx last week.

Whoa, the Bronx. Now we're talking gentrification.

Photo credit: Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Bring it On!

Curbed reports that New York City has unveiled some groovy new street furniture designs. It's about freaking time! Go to any other global city (and even a few villages in Europe) and you'll see well-designed, contemporary street furniture instead of the overflowing trash cans that are the most interesting thing on most NYC blocks. Final designs for automatic toilets, bus stations, and newstands by Grimshaw (architecture firm for the new Fulton Transit Center in Lower Manhattan) should be approved shortly, manufactured by local vendors and installed not a moment too soon (although no projected date was mentioned).

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

King of Queens

The Architect's Newspaper has a comprehensive piece by David Grahame Shane about all the development that's planned for Queens: "The Department of City Planning’s surgical approach to zoning is stimulating strategic development throughout the borough, promising a series of dynamic urban patches— as well as some awkward seams."

In this article, Shane -- who teaches urban design at Columbia and Cooper Union -- applies the theories he laid out in his book, Recombinant Urbanism: Coneceptual Modeling in Architecture, Uban Design, and City Theory, which I interviewed him about when the book was first published in the fall. Here are some excerpts:

What do you mean by "recombinant" urbanism?
Recombinant comes from genetics. Watson and Crick had a big influence on me. My idea is that through history, urban elements combine and recombine to make something entirely new and unique.

What is the difference between urban planning and design?
My definition, it’s a scale thing. Urban planning is very large scale. Urban design is much more about the fragments. It’s more in tune with the way catalyst development works. People can only assemble so much at one time. It’s more about packaging. Urban design is more pragmatic.

It's a dense book. Can you sum it up?
It starts with the idea that there are basic elements of urban design, one is a centering device, a town square or an atrium. Another is a linear sorting device, a street or a mall. The third one is places of urban change, the recombination of urban elements, or heterotopias as [Michel] Foucault called them.

Your book argues that there’s no such thing as a master planner anymore.
Planners and their dream of a rational scientific world just doesn’t work. The world is an irrational place where strange things happen. In the past, the illusion of planning scientifically was supported by the state and corporate economic planning departments. It was a different world. A lot of the book is about complex interactions and layers of different approaches. People in the past tried to simplify things. Today, in a heterotopia, actors work out their differences and come to some kind of agreement about its future shape.

Progressive urbanists say there’s no good planning in New York. Do you agree?
In certain ways, the New York adversarial model works. Otherwise you end up with Portland, and that doesn’t appeal to me much.

Mies in Newark

When I was taken on a tour of Newark recently (click here for the resultant Times article), three apartment buildings by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe -- in good, but dogeared condition -- were pointed out to me. I thought it was interesting, but then forgot about it. Today, I came across an article about the Mies buildings in Newark by Fred Bernstein, who points out that the Mies buildings (built in 1960) stand across Newark's "central park" in contrast to the masterpiece Basilica of the Sacred Heart (built in 1899), which I photographed (above photo by Fred Bernstein).

Monday, March 20, 2006

Graffiti "Art"

Many weeks ago, I posted a photo taken from INSIDE a new North Fork bank branch in the East Village decorated with "graffiti" underneath the teller windows. This morning, I plucked from the Curbed photo pool this piece of work from OUTSIDE a North Fork bank branch. Quick reader poll: Which is the more original/authentic piece of "art," 1. corporate graffiti inside the bank, or 2. street graffiti decrying "yuppie scum"?!

Update: I was informed that the pic I pulled from the Curbed photo pool is not of a North Fork Bank branch, just an advertisement for one. But the question still stands.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Deadlines, Deadlines, Deadlines

Well, the "deadline" set by Gov. Pataki to resolve who is going to build what at Ground Zero has come and gone with no agreement ... and I have been a little bereft here at Polis as deadlines bear down on me ... deadlines that I actually have to meet. So keep checking back for new and exciting posts on Polis ... there will be some very, very soon. In the meantime, enjoy this pic I took just yesterday of Ground Zero looking west on Dey Street. I think it pretty well symbolizes Lower Manhattan ... building and construction is happening everywhere but Ground Zero (click to enlarge).

Friday, March 10, 2006

And Now for Some Good News (For People Who Like Cute Animal Stories)

Taking a break from the apocalyptic posts about rebuilding the World Trade Center site (scroll down), here's one to warm your hearts. Pale Male and Lola, the hawks that occupy some very nice real estate on the Upper East Side just off Central Park, had been mating mid-air (you try that), and then settled down to take care of their new eggs. The Times reports:

According to bird-watchers who have tracked the hawks' behavior for years, Lola has almost certainly laid eggs. If so, it will be six weeks, or perhaps until the end of April, before an unlikely wildlife saga reaches its climax and baby red-tailed hawks are hatched.

Of course, New Yorkers will recall the fight that erupted last year over the hawks' nest, resulting in their eviction by the Fifth Ave. co-op board, which of course resulted in protests. But like tenacious New Yorkers determined to maintain their coveted address, the hawks are back ... and this year, they've already got a ginned-up PR machine that Lizzie Grubman would only dream about.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Yes, It's as Bad as You Thought

For those watching the “redevelopment” of the WTC site, Miss Representation's latest post is not to be missed. See, Miss R. actually went to the public meeting that I posted about recently, and took notes. That is in and of itself quite admirable. But then he actually wrote a very coherent and important take-down of the whole damn thing. Here's just a sampling:

A new -- to me -- and rather disturbing detail was revealed: due to security concerns, the perimeter of the PATH station will be solid concrete up to ten feet (though this number was disputed by Mr. Plate). So the two projects that have cleared design development and security review [the other being the Freedom Tower, otherwise known as monumentum horibilis -- ed.] both will be complete opaque at street level. Which is perhaps good, since it was also noted that streetscape improvements are currently unfunded. ...

This is just ... I just don't know ... I'm just at a loss for words. Having repeatedly named the planning process at the WTC site "breathtaking inanity," that doesn't accurately depict the magnitude of the tragedy here. Can the worst terrorist attack on American soil be turning into the worst redevelopment disaster this country has ever witnessed ... in slow motion, no less? This can't be happening. And yet it is. Read the whole thing here.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Last Call: Your Hidden City

Your Hidden City, the world's first open-source architectural contest, is only open for submissions for one more week! On March 10, at 5pm, we will close the Flickr pool and the jury will begin deliberating. Check out the full details at our announcement a couple of weeks ago.

If you place your entry right now, you will join 551 556 560 entries from 156 158 160 entrants. The pool is growing. The jury has its work cut out for it already, we hope you will add to the collection. Be sure to include your caption on why this is part of Your Hidden City (posted by Tropolism).

Photo taken in an old Jewish neighborhood in Rome, Italy, posted by ja_mo

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

My Mom As...

DeLaVega, an East Harlem artists who opened a shop/gallery on St. Marks Pl. last summer, has the most enteraining storefront on the street (and that's saying something). I've been enjoying the portraits he's made of his mother: