Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Holy Bricks and Mortar, Batman!

New York magazine wraps it all up and puts a pretty bow on top: Every New York development real and imagined that's ever been bandied about is summarized in the June 5 issue. The magnitude of it all is pretty astonishing, and some of it will actually get built. But this self-described "cautiously opstimistic" collection of articles doesn't even cast a skeptical eye towards Ground Zero. What's more, it's become the contrarian fashion to say Robert Moses wasn't so evil and Jane Jacobs' ideas weren't all that. The irony is too rich to be making this intellecutally lazy point while promoting the wonders of something like 20 million square feet of new development, the vast majority of which will benefit only the wealthest New Yorkers. And mark my words, the wonderful things closest to and for the little people -- such as the East River Park -- will take the longest to get built, if at all.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day Fun

On Memorial Day in the rest of America, people pull their grills out of the garage, set them up in the back yard and throw meat on the fire. In New York City, however, we pull the grill out of the closet, climb up to the roof, throw in a match ... and wait for the fire trucks to arrive. Ah, Memorial Day grilling in the E.Vil. Did we make enough Johnsonville Brats for the hottie firefighters?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Old Wine, New Bottle (aka WTC clusterf**k)

It's been a few days since I hammered away at the WTC disaster, but Miss Representation takes up the slack in a big way with another one of his scathing take-downs. This is a must-read, but I'll whet your appetite here:

"’s a total clusterfuck. Not a total clusterfuck like last year, when no one knew what the Memorial would look like, or even what the final program was; when the deconstruction of 130 Liberty was marred by poor oversight and flawed planning; ... when no progress was being made on the Freedom Tower; when Pataki was a bumbling idiot who couldn’t marshal the forces ... to finalize any site planning; when no one knew how anything was being paid for, but that all the money was definitely running out.

No, now it’s a new kind of clusterfuck, one that -- I was going to cut and paste the above paragraph, for dramatic effect, but even that isn’t worth it. Can we agree once again how unfathomable it is that these people can speak without shame in public? If this were medieval Japan ... wouldn’t they all have committed ritual suicide by now for their failings?"

I wrote an article for the July issue of Planning magazine (a trade publication for professional urban planners) arguing that the utter lack of planning at Ground Zero is the root of all the problems there. But given how milquetoast that publication is, I wasn't able to make the case as strongly as it really needs to be made. Oh well, I'll link to it anyway once it's up on their website.

(I took the above photo from inside the Winter Garden, which overlooks Ground Zero, to accompany the piece.)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Gov's Island: Photo Essay

The Governors Island Alliance and the Regional Plan Association held a fundraiser last night to move plans along for this historic island just off the tip of Lower Manhattan, the first European settlement in New York (established by the Dutch in 1623). The weather could not have been more perfect. I hope something spectacular comes of this unique place in my lifetime.

View a short photo essay on flickr of the bucolic 93-acre island that was a military base for 200 years.

Gondolas to Governor's Island: Breathtaking Inanity [Polis]

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sculpture for Living: Don't Take That Literally

I happened to be walking by the Astor Place "Sculpture for Living" high-rise condo building in the E.Vil. (aka, the Green Monster, which hasn't been selling very well, especially after the bad reviews) when I came across a much more literal "sculpture for living" just outside the entrance. There were no less than a half-dozen cops standing around waiting for this dude to pack up his "sculpture for living" and move it on down the block closer to the parking garage where he belongs.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Book Deal

I'm excited to tell everyone that I recently signed a book deal with Carroll & Graf, an imprint of Avalon Publishing Group. The origins of the idea came from an article I wrote for the New York Observer more than two years ago entitled: Generation X: Born Under a Bad Economic Sign (I would link to it, but that requires a paid subscription, so email me if you're really interested and I'll send a PDF). Following the publication of the article, I was interviewed on the Brian Lehrer show, which you can listen to by clicking here and scrolling down to the third item, Forever Broke.

The premise of the book is that not since the Depression era has a generation been so whipsawed by the economy, from McJobs to outsourcing, and two unprecedented back-to-back bubbles (to name just a few issues here), and how all of the cultural trends, lifestyle choices and sociological circumstances of this generation have been dictated by economic insecurity and ultimately by diminshed expectations. The good news? Well, I'm no Ben Bernanke (click here for a hilarious video made by some Columbia Business School students featuring Dean Glenn Hubbard spoofing Mr. Bernanke), but I will argue that it will be up to Generation X (right now, approximately aged 29-41) to bring the economy back from the brink, and that diminished expectations could very well be exactly the right sensibility to pull that off!

So, having said that, I will do my best to keep up with Polis (and of course I'll still be covering real estate for the Times), but I probably won't be quite so active here as I have been in the past. Look for a couple posts a week, plus updated photography. Cheers.

The Manhattanville Project: So?

The Sunday Times magazine has a piece about the dispute between Columbia University and Harlem over plans for a new campus designed by architect Renzo Piano (labeled "dispute" right at the top in case the combination of "Harlem" and "Columbia" doesn't already say "dispute" quite enough already). Plenty to chew on here, no doubt. Yet, please let me know if any readers can find one original idea, one good turn of phrase, one surprising thought, one timely bit of information in this entire piece.

Photo credit: Brenda Ann Kenneally

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Sometimes a Photo is Just a Photo

Polis readers know I'm into photography, but usually there's a back story to my pics. This one happens to be just a pic I like, no back story other than it was taken at Mud Cafe on E. 9th, my favorite hang in the nabe (click to enlarge). I've also posted a new photo essay (at right) combining some of my favorite pics of St. Marks Place.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

E.Vil.: Too Sexy for National Retailers

Crain's has a big real estate edition, and one of the stories is about how small spaces have immunized the East Village and Lower East Side from big retail chains. Hallelujah.

"Welcome to the East Village, a modern-day real estate anomaly, virtually untouched by the astronomical rents and multiplying mass merchandisers that have afflicted neighborhoods from Harlem to SoHo in recent years."

In addition to the nabe's small spaces, the article attributes the lack of major retail chains in the area to two other factors: low density and a more economically diverse population (which distinguishes it from the West Village, although this point isn't made).

"The population of Community District 3, which encompasses the entire Lower East Side, is 164,000, according to the 2000 Census. By comparison, Community District 8, which comprises the entire Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island, has 217,000 residents. Though the East Village is no longer the blighted slum it was as recently as the 1980s, average income levels lag those of many other Manhattan neighborhoods."

Need I say it again? Hallelujah.

I took the above photo of the artist DeLaVega in front of his gallery/shop on St. Marks Pl. Below: Another quirky small shop on St. Marks, Dumpling Man, which is owned by Lucas Lin.

Breathtaking Inanity: Memorial Turmoil

I've been terribly negligent here on Polis. Too much to do. But for the few people who read Polis and don't follow the WTC rebuilding effort, turn your attention to this must-read New York mag piece -- a behind the scenes blow-by-blow of how Michael Arad's memorial design got to the point of teetering on the brink of collapse.

It's clear to me from reading the piece that Arad agreed to go on the record because he thought he was going to get a positive review. And he mostly does. But even a cursory read reveals that Arad is one arrogant guy. Even the most sympathetic presentation of his side of the story can't hide that fact. Of course, I totally believe him when he says that he's had to fight off any number of dumb ideas. But this guy is out of his league. Period. He had been tauted as the next Maya Lin, but that just goes to show how incredible and unique Maya Lin is. There is no next Maya Lin. Only she could come up with the breathtaking Vietnam Memorial design as well as have the grace and internal fortitude to see it built. No true for Arad, it would seem.

So, we add arrogance on top of the fact that memorial designers were encouraged NOT to follow the design guidelines laid out by the original Libeskind plan (which wasn't really a plan to begin with), and what you have here my friends is a failure to communicate. Big time.

(Photo: Michael O'Neill)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Now, the Memorial Fight

The "Freedom Tower" fight has been settled with Larry Silverstein (for now), and we move quickly into the memorial fight. As most people reading this probably know, the latest estimate for building the memorial came in at an alarming $1 billion, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg jumped in to say that it should be capped at $500 million. This provided an opportunity for those who have various beefs with the design to use its cost as a wedge; namely, those who think the memorial should be above ground are now saying the design should be radically overhauled. [See Times article today.]

Michael Arad's original design, which was selected from more than 5,000 entries, put the memorial under ground with water falls and galleries. I haven't studied the design closely, but I can well imagine that the decent into the memorial would be a powerful experience. I can also imagine the benefits of having different levels serving different purposes, the most solemn area being below ground, and more relaxing and serene areas at ground level. No one who is contemplating the horror of this tragedy wants to encounter kids running around acting goofy. But there needs to be room for joyfulness as well as solemnity, and giving those emotions separate levels to take place is one good solution.

Having said that, there is obviously a very serious safety issue that is exacerbated by an underground memorial. As the late Jane Jacobs said, safety comes from eyes on the street. If you're below the street, it's hard to keep an eye on things. And there is the other practical matter of cost. Unquestionably it will be more expensive to have any part of the memorial below ground.

These are all legitimate design issues, and therein lies the rub. While the "planners" of Ground Zero have been focusing on the commercial towers and the shopping mall of the site, the memorial design has been at best an afterthought. So it is only now that we're getting around to having a perfectly reasonable debate about how this should be built -- now that most people have all but disengaged from the whole sordid process.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Chelsea Hotel Blog Party

Living With Legends, the Hotel Chelsea blog, hosted a party over the weekend. The blog has been chronicling the dark and quirky side of living in the Chelsea Hotel for a year now, and I have to say, it was one of the more interesting evenings I've had in awhile. I met fascinating and slightly crazy artists, musicians, composers, photographers, designers and writers who have lived in the hotel for years and even decades, and boy do they have stories to tell. I'll have more to say about the party, the people and the hotel when I get passed a couple of other deadlines, but here's a slide show. The party took place in an apartment where Thomas Wolfe once lived (and wrote You Can't Go Home Again -- how appropriate), which is now occupied by photographer Julia Calfee (her B&W photos adorn the walls). Debbie & Ed, Living With Legends bloggers, live one apartment over.

Click here to see a slide show of the Living With Legends anniversary party.