Friday, July 28, 2006

Under Construction

I'm taking a break from Polis, which will be back online and completely redesigned and updated by the end of August. Feel free to be in touch by email. Stay cool.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Revisiting Jane Jacobs One More Time

Metropolis columnist Karrie Jacobs has a really well crafted piece about all the wrong-headed assumptions that are made about Jane Jacobs, making some of the very same points that I did in a recent Polis post. Karrie (no relation to Jane) admits that she never actually read The Death and Life of Great American Cities until recently, and when she did after Jane's death in April, she realized that much of what is attributed to Jane is just wrong. She was not opposed to modern architecture or to all things "big," nor was she a precursor to the New Urbanist movement. She criticized the Garden City movement, the real precursor to New Urbanism, dismissing it as "harmony and order imposed and frozen by authoritarian planning." Ouch. Jane was a master at evisceration, using her pen like an X-acto knife.

Karrie also applies what she thinks would be a more nuanced Jacobsian criticism to Atlantic Yards. Well worth a full read.

Jane Jacobs Revisited [Metropolis]
Jane Jacobs In Memorium [Polis]

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Abandoned Building Census

Given the insane real estate market in New York City, abandoned and/or underutilized buildings aren't the problem they once were, but they do still exist. City Limits is reporting that Scott Stringer, the Manhattan Borough President, is undertaking the first ever survey of abandoned properties in Manhattan. Prompted by homeless activists, Stringer's office will unleash a cadre of volunteers this Saturday, who will identify buildings such as 190 Mercer St. (which is certainly underutilized, if not entirely abandoned). According to City Limits, other cities have conducted similar surveys with good results:

Boston does an annual street-by-street count of abandoned properties that covers most of the city. When housing agency staffers find buildings that qualify, they post the addresses online to urge neglectful owners to either use the buildings or sell them. Since 2000, the number of abandoned buildings in the city has dropped by 43 percent.

Of course, that drop also coincided with the real estate boom, so it's not necessarily a causal relationship, but shaming neglectful property owners is never a bad thing.

The Cube Defaced

Hey! Some piece of sh*t defaced The Cube! No self-respecting urban artist would do that to The Cube. The hack who did this (and I highly doubt it's the guy pictured here, much too unmotivated to lift a can of spray paint) better hope s/he doesn't get caught. This warrants vigilante justice.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

99 Degrees of Stink

According to an article in today's Times, City Council is about to vote on Bloomberg's long-standing plan to deal with the 50,000 tons of trash generated in New York City every day. So now that the macro-trash plan is about to pass, can we talk about the micro-trash issue?

One of the first posts I had on Polis was about a demonstration project last summer in Queens, where solar powered trash compactors were installed on street corners, which simultaneously prevents the above from happening and contains the smell (and on a day when it is going to be 99 degrees, this is no small matter). Just as Giuliani took on the squeegie men as his "quality of life" issue, Bloomberg should take on street trash and make that his signature quality of life issue, especially now that we've figured out where all that trash is going to be hauled off to. Solar powered trash compactors on every corner.

I took the above photo this morning at the corner of 2nd Ave. and St. Marks Place in front of Gem Spa, birthplace of New York's first "egg cream," which is neither eggy nor creamy. But I digress.

Update: Better late than never, City Council did finally pass Bloomberg's trash plan, with this little piece of stupidity attached: according to Gotham Gazette, "
The plan also includes ... a new office for recycling outreach." Little old Chinese ladies who scour the streets every night for bottles and cans will be thrilled to know there's now a recycling outreach office. It's enough to bring out the libertarian in me.

Advertecture Invades the E.Vil.

I'm getting in on the advertecture game a little late; Curbed and the Municipal Art Society held a contest for the most offensive/illegal advertecture and picked a winner and runners-up some time ago. But I spotted this monstrosity just yesterday at the corner of Avenue A and E. 9th St. -- the first advertecture I've seen in the E.Vil. And as far as I can tell, a banner on a residential building in a residential neighborhood is illegal, much like the winner of the "Shoot It Down" contest.

I checked out the Helio website -- "Hi. We're a new mobile brand created to give young, passionate consumers (like us) the type of wireless experience we've all been waiting for." Yes, haven't we just been dying for a mobile device that comes equipped with MySpace? Fun Box, rockin those young, passionate consumers.

Friday, July 14, 2006

From the Dept. of Who Knew?

I happened upon a skate contest in Tompkins Square Park today sponsored by two companies I've never heard of (this is getting to be a theme -- perhaps I'm in the wrong demographic): Boost Mobile and éS, which produces the "éS Game of SKATE," based on the basketball game "HORSE." The first skater performs a trick, and if completed, the skater she is playing has to do that trick. If she does not complete the established trick, she receives a letter. The first letter is "S," the second letter is "K", and so on, until "S-K-A-T-E" is spelled out and that person is out of the game. Anyhoo, it turns out Boost Mobile is owned by Nextel and éS is a footwear brand. Who knew. (Or more importantly, who cares? I just like the photo. Click to enlarge.)

Take the Shortcake

All the little worlds that exist out there, totally unbeknownst to 99 percent of the rest of humanity ... I had seen posts on Curbed about a couple of enterprising people selling Strawberry Shortcake on the boardwalk at Coney Island. Seemed cute enough to ignore. That is, until this morning when I looked at their blog a little more closely, and -- seeing the pure joy captured on their customers' faces, a small bit of loveliness at a time when we seem to be on the verge of WWIII -- I got curious. Who are these dispenders of joy, figurative and virtual, via Strawberry Shortcake and the Internet? I'm still not entirely sure, but according to their website, they are street artists operating under the moniker Thundercut as well as publishers of the zine Sherbert (nominated by Utne Reader for an Independent Press Award, their latest issue is fresh off the presses). Never heard of them (but perhaps that's not saying much). Ah well, nevermind. Just enjoy the Shortcake.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

I'm Shouting Into the Gaping Void

I've been a big fan of Gapingvoid for a long time now, and in fact I've tried several times to make contact with Hugh about using his cartoons in my book (he keeps ignoring me! wassup?). So here's my shameless attempt at getting his attention: a big fat shout out.

Gapingvoid, in case you've been under a cartoon/blog/creative rock, started when Hugh MacLeod began drawing "weedoodles" on the back of his business cards when he handed them out. Now he draws blog cards and posts them on his endlessly entertaining website. He then wrote a creative manifesto ("How To Be More Creative" which spread like wildfire on the internet). In his own words, How To Be More Creative "was ... a series of meditations on the lessons I had learned the hard way over the years, as I tried to bridge the nearly impossible gap of making an OK living without letting my soul die from the inside out." This is an ESSENTIAL component of the book I'm currently contracted to write for Carroll & Graf (click here for more about that).

So Hugh, wassup?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Gov's Island: Vote Early and Often

The Governor's Island Alliance has released guidelines to redevelop perhaps the most important piece of undeveloped land in the Northern hemisphere, and there are three illustrated alternatives that can be voted on by going here:

There's the harbor park (park that faces the Statue of Liberty), channel park (facing Brooklyn) and the prow park (at the southern most tip of the island). Pictured above: channel park. Can't say I have an immediate opinion except, let's get it on, already. For some thoughts about what the hold up is, read post below.

Gondolas to Gov's Island [Polis]

Monday, July 10, 2006

Five Pointz

When I was in LIC (see below), I came across something that I'm probably the last person to know about... Five Pointz, a building in Long Island City that got tagged with graffiti so often, the owner of the building decided like ten years ago to sanction the urban artists and let them do their thing. Now it's probably the most important collection of urban art in New York (and hence, the world). An artist who was about to go up in the lift to do a piece said that there's going to be -- get this -- a coffee table book about all the artists and the work on the building.

Update: My dear friend Michael writes from South Africa to tell me that: "yeah, you are the last to know about it. which sort of makes you cutting-edge! ;-)". Apparently, one of Michael's ex-roommates, Kezam, did a lot of the work on this building, and Kezam is now finishishing his sociology disertation on NYC graffiti. Here's his flickr page:

Silvercup Sprouts

A year ago, I reported on the largest green roof in New York City being installed on top of Silvercup Studios in Long Island City near the Queensboro Bridge. (Silvercup is the largest film and television studio in New York, where Sex and the City was filmed and the Sopranos still is. If you don't have Times Select, email me and I'll send a PDF of the Silvercup greenroof story for the Times.)

I was out there this afternoon and snapped a couple of pics. While green roofs are big in Chicago, they are pretty rare in New York and most other American cities. This one is 35,000 square feet (it's actually three green roofs spread out over the Silvercup site, one of which is literally on top of Tony Soprano's house). The pic below is of a monitoring system that is collecting data in order to show how much less storm water runoff there is as a result of the succulent plants absorbing rain, as well as temperature fluctuations and air quality measurements.
Silvercup Sunset [Polis]

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Idling At Zero 2.0

While we're on the topic of irony too rich to require comment (see below), Gawker made a time-lapse video out of photos taken of the World Trade Center site over the past 101 days so we can watch absolutely nothing happen. It's a much more concise way of conveying what took me 2500 words in a piece I wrote for the July issue of Planning magazine entitled, Idling At Zero (which is not available online to non-members, so email me if you'd like to read it ... for the two Polis readers who are American Planning Association members, click here.).

Become Your Dream... Or Not

The irony of the above pic (snapped on Avenue A this afternoon) requires no further comment, but perhaps a little context. DeLaVega, whom I've posted about on Polis a few times, is an East Harlem artist who has a gallery/shop on St. Marks Place where he sells his original artwork as well as t-shirts and such. He's known for writing aphorisms on the sidewalk in chalk, such as, "I just bought real estate in your mind," and "Sometimes the king is a woman." He's probably best known, however, for this one: "Become Your Dream."

P.S. Note the graffiti on the right (click to enlarge photo). I love this nabe.

Previous Polis posts:

De La Vega Takes the E.Vil.

DeLaVega, an East Harlem artists who opened a shop...

E.Vil.: Too Sexy for National Retailers

Monday, July 03, 2006

Robert Moses Gave Me a Sunburn

Alright, alright. Robert Moses wasn't all bad. I admit it.

Pic taken July 1 at Robert Moses State Park on Long Island where I went with my friend Alex Bandon, she of The Shelter Life. It was the perfect beach day: not too hot, slight breeze, room to breath and take in an expansive view. I did get a sunburn, though, which is surely the wrath of Moses.