Monday, December 29, 2008

New York City Development Freeze

There's a really interesting article in Saturday's New York Times, chronicling the freeze on building development in NYC. It mirrors the earlier post I did about hard times coming to New York town in the next few years. The numbers are pretty staggering:

Nearly $5 billion in development projects in New York City have been delayed or canceled because of the economic crisis, an extraordinary body blow to an industry that last year provided 130,000 unionized jobs, according to numbers tracked by a local trade group.

I'm not sure which number is more depressing. That's an enormous amount of well-paying jobs that will be lost in the city, ones that may not be as glamorous or as high-spending as the investment bankers, but just as horrible for the local economy. Like I've been saying for more than a year and a half, this city is in for some tough times, still not sure people have come to accept how bleak the next few years could be and how fundamentally different NYC is going to be.

I am the furthest thing from an optimist, but I do see a real silver lining to this halt. There has been so much shitty development in this city over the past decade, so many pre-fab debacles that were built to capitalize on the market, such a feel of an unstoppable momentum with it all, this marks a moment when the pendulum has to swing back. The insane amounts of capital available are not anymore, which should limit the scope of projects, putting big ones like the Atlantic Yards one on the rocks. This break provides an opportunity for citizen and neighborhood groups to mobilize without that feeling of hopelessness. If I were an optimist, I would hope that local leaders would stand up and take this opportunity to challenge the last three decades of neo-capitalist development and question what it has done for New York City and its residents.

Perhaps more importantly, the real estate bubble bursting and the economy tanking means you will have a lot less speculation and people buying properties purely to flip. Does this mean that the city can once again be a place where you don't have to be super-rich to live here? Will buying prices return to Earth? I can't say that for sure, but it's hard for me to believe that huge hits that the banking and legal industries are taking, along with European and Asian economies, that the money will be thrown around in the same sky's the limit manner.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

New SEPTA Signs


We've been slow to discuss my favorite city and birthland, Philadelphia; I'm looking forward to remedying that over the coming weeks, no better time than now to start.

It's nice to start off discussing some good news, as I caught word that SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority) is introducing new signs around the city to make the transit system easier to navigate. As the ones who run the city's trains, buses and trolleys, this is a long overdue initiative and great news for anyone who has ever been confused as to what lines run out of which stops. Check out some photos from the unveiling ceremony in front of the clothespin building at 15th and Market Streets to get a sense of what you will see around the city in the near future. It's nice to see the Center City District, the city and SEPTA come together to make the city more appealing. Check out the Center City District site for more info and plans on this initiative.

It wouldn't be a SEPTA initiative if there wasn't some criticism. I don't understand why they went with this green T on top instead of going with the regular SEPTA S or even a redesigned version of that logo. It's pretty iconic image for the people of Philadelphia, no reason it needed to be changed so radically.

That's minor quibbling in the scope of things, as any thing that SEPTA does to make Philly's public transit better and more manageable deserves support. Especially nice to see the transit agency come together with other entities to make improvements, as SEPTA needs all the help it can get. I cannot stress enough how vital improvements to the city's transit system are, as it's such a glaring weakness for Philly. As a lifelong resident, it saddens me that I thought of the system as more of a hindrance than anything. It's unpredicatable and antiquated, as customer un-friendly as it could be. Here in NYC, I use the subway and buses everyday, it's an essential part of my day and let's me enjoy more of the city. In Philly, there isn't that same sense of interconnectedness, whole neighbors are cut off and inaccessible by transit. It's so sad, as I feel like it leaves residents more in tune with their neighborhoods than the city as a whole. Without major improvements in the extent and quality of transit offerings, the city will never feel like a great, complete city.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Gateway To Williamsburg

502 Metropolitan

Ugh, this post at Curbed is depressing. Another development in Williamsburg, another hideous structure going up that adds nothing to the neighborhood. This one is being brought to us by the Chetrit Group at the site of the Kellog's Diner on Metropolitan, I mean, there's a part of me that thinks this must be some sort of architecture-related Punk'd show set in New York City for the past decade. I mean, a Duane Reade??? Seriously? If there's a Citibank in the remaining space, I will shoot myself. [For the record, I will not shoot myself and will probably use the ATM there at some point.]

This one encapsulates an entire decade of NYC residential development: hideous design, major corporate chain that already has a million stores in the city as anchor, height that does not fit the neighborhood. But, on the other hand, this one seems like the a perfect gateway for those who want to see what New York looks like today - monontous, phallic and ugly. Come and see what decades of pro-developer policies have given us. I am thinking of starting a tour to bring it all together, show the half-built crap in Williamsburg, the hideous pre-fabs in Park Slope. Next stop: the blue building on Norfolk Street!

P.S. The comments for the post are hilarious. Nothing funnier than anonymous posters fighting over how real Brooklyn they are.

Thanks to RM for the link and the info about the sample sales blog! We love links!

Monday, December 22, 2008

City Pride

parking meter 1

I mentioned parking before, so it seems like a good time to discuss the issue more. Matt Yglesias has been hammering at the decision by Washington D.C. to offer free parking every Saturday afternoon and for the inauguration. He does an excellent job exposing the irrationality behind this system, which only increases traffic while simultaneously not achieving its goal, increasing shopping.

It gives me a chance to stress one of my core tenets - cities need to be proud and confident; they aren't suburbs, so don't try to emulate them. It's sickening to me to see ideas like free parking, parking lots, driveways, big box stores catch on in urban centers. Cities can't compete with the suburbs on these concepts; you can't plunk down these massive malls and parking lot islands into the city without killing everything that makes cities perfect. These things destroy walkability, they destroy small stores and economic diversity and lead to the homogenization that makes every suburb look the like every other one.

Cities need to go the opposite direction and stress the things that make them unique. Density! Pedestrians! Bike paths! Public transportation! Sidewalks! I think after decades of disinvestment and flight, cities developed a shook personality, like a great fighter who's taken a few bad beatings in a row and he's lost all confidence and sense of what made him successful. No one knew how to stop the decline nor stop the suburban ascension, so many people assumed, if we can't beat them, let's join them. This mentality is a disaster, at best bringing in people who don't really appreciate urban living, at worst destroying the fabric of the city.

Cities are great and need to believe that finally, especially as the flaws of suburbia become more and more obvious (and these communities begin to adopt more urban planning strategies). The time for acting apologetic about our cities and what they bring are past; those days were for our parent's generation, the ones who ran, this is a new day. I hope that we can be a leading voice on this front, as I have no intention of apologizing. Let's do this city people!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Adolfo Carrion

adolfo carrion

It appears that Barack Obama has finally chosen someone to head the White Office of Urban Policy. That someone is Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, who had been mentioned as a potential head of HUD. Here's some pros and cons to the decision:


1) has promoted and advocated for green building in cities, especially for lower income housing as a means of saving money on bills. He has deftly connected environmentalism with affordability to allow these ideas to gain traction in lower income neighborhoods who have traditionally not taken much interest in these issues. Check out Dayo Olapade's New Republic piece on Carrion's green ideas, including an interview with the man himself.

2) acted as the liason between the community and developers with regards to the Melrose Court complex, bringing the project down in scale and winning community approval.

3) supports congestion pricing.


1) the Melrose Court development notwithstanding, he has not been one to take the community's considerations into account. Read Streetsblog and Dana Goldstein discussing the ridiculous parking lot and traffic situation at the new Yankees stadium.

2) he was one of the key players in getting the Yankees stadium built!!! Ugh. As I've written, this is a ridiculous expenditure of city money and shame on Carrion for not only allowing it to happen but fostering the deal with little info about the costs.

3) when the community voted against using park land to build the stadium, Carrion fired or demoted the dissenting voices, allowing the plan to go through.

3) he is a developer's best friend, taking nearly two-thirds of his campaign funds from the real estate industry.

4) a big fan of big box buildings, which led to him championing a mini-mall to take the place of the Bronx Fish Market.

Tom Robbins has 5 sarcastic reasons why Carrion would make an excellent HUD Secretary. They seem to apply easily to him running the Office of Urban Policy. Brooklyn Boy at dailykos is even more disparaging, suggesting that even a 10 foot pole wouldn't make this a good pick.

All in all, it's a disappointing pick. Carrion clearly has some excellent ideas on the green front, but beyond that, he doesn't really seem to offer much beyond the typical city pol obsessed with development, development, development at any cost. He hasn't enjoyed a whole lot of love in the Bronx, as people haven't seen him standing up for the community over the interests of big money. He hasn't been at the forefront of public transportation. Maybe I'm missing something, but I expected a lot more.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Beauty In Blight

abandoned detroit 2

This one's a follow-up to the Detroit post, as I really wanted to touch on the aspect of urban decay and blight. Take a look at this photo from the amazing site Motorless City, which chronicles via photographs the physical decay of the city. How beautiful this house must have been back in the day, a stately mansion that probably had some rich family living it in, raising their children. Now, it is broken down version, surrounded by an open field and an another architectural skeleton. Perversely, I find the current image more appealing. In fact, I've always found these one of the most enticing aspects of urban space. I know, I know, what kind of an urbanist am I?

I don't have a great explanation, as my head knows that these foreboding conditions are what provide fodder for the haters and keep people from moving to them. But, having grown up in Philly in the 80s, it was a big part of my visual language. Burnt-out houses on Green Street and all over North Philly. Tags everywhere. Weeded lots. There was something beautiful in it, that ugliness held a power that a manicured lawn and flower bed never could. It has extended to my artistic aesthetics as well, fueling my love for film noir, Mean Streets, Hubert Selby Jr.'s books, Mobb Deep's The Infamous, graffiti, etc.

I've tried to think about why and think I've come up with some thoughts. For me, this ominous look provides the grit and ugliness that I associate with the urban; it's the complete opposite of the sanitized, "pretty" surburban look and in some ways I always define the urban as anti-suburban. In fact, I would suggest that our entire pop culture is obsessed with perfection, ashamed of anything that doesn't fit this norm. That attitude definitely explains why the cities are looked at with hostility in this country, as you can't hide from poverty, violence and blight within those limits. In the land of studio pop stars, Dr. 90210 and US Weekly, it's a radical choice to exalt decaying buildings.

Or perhaps it's that sense that in a city, nothing remains dead for long. There is always a chance for rebirth, there's always a chance to re-use or restore an old building, as evidenced by the many people living in former factory buildings. Even in a decrepit house like the above, there's still a hopefulness to me, a sense that someday that place could be restored to its former grandeur or it could become a boutique hotel or a community center or who knows what.

All of which leads to my greater point which is that there is a real urban aesthetic, a way of seeing the world differently. I hope to pursue this more and more as I write here, but this seemed like a good chance to establish these ideas. These buildings serve as a sort of shibboleth for me, a test of whether or not you really feel comfortable in this world, whether you can see the hope in a rundown house or the conversation behind the scrawlings on walls.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Shaun Donavan at HUD

shaun donovan

Okay, let's start this week off with some good news. Last week, in one of the few appointments that hasn't been the topic of endless speculation and media attention, Barack Obama selected Shaun Donovan to be the next Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Why is this such good news? Because Donavan currently is the New York City Housing Commissioner and has used that position to advocate for and experiment with ways of building affordable housing. This New York Times profile gives a good sense of Donovan's history in the housing world, including his recent accomplishments:

Under Mr. Donovan, the Bloomberg administration has promoted “inclusionary zoning” that allows developers to build multifamily structures of more density — that is, more units for the space — in return for setting aside a portion of their projects for lower-income residents.

He helped to create a $200 million fund with contributions from the city, seven major foundations and financial institutions, to help nonprofit housing groups and small developers compete for private land sales. Working more closely with HUD than local officials have in the past, he has encouraged the department to help nonprofit groups or tenants take over HUD-assisted apartment buildings that are in foreclosure; typically, the federal government put such properties up for bids.

This doesn't even include his and Bloomberg's biggest plan, the $7.5 billion New Housing Marketplace Plan to build 165,000 units for low-to-moderate income by 2o13. He's well-respected in NYC housing and academic circles as innovator, which will be essential as we head to one of the worst housing crises ever. It'll be nice to have someone who has cut his teeth in New York City, the craziest real estate market in the country where affordability has been an issue for eternity. He will also bring a decidedly urban perspective on housing, understanding that white picket fences are not the end-all-be-all. Most of all, as Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings notes, it'll be nice to have someone who has worked at HUD leading that department, someone who believes in its mission and the power of the government to enact meaningful change.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Requiem for Detroit

abandoned detroit 1

The arcade of the abandoned Central Michigan Depot, with a view of the ticket counters in the background

I hate to continue on the sad notes today, but I had to discuss this article in Bloomberg News about the city of Detroit and its continuing decay. The city is back in the public eye with the auto industry bailout talks and it isn't a pretty sight. Jobs, people and hope are disappearing and it's having a staggering toll on the urban landscape there.

Of course, this isn't a new story, as Detroit has always been held up as the horror story for older American cities. Growing up in Philly, Detroit was the warning word that we were on our way into oblivion. However, the article makes me think that this period might be much worse that anything that came before. The auto industry may go bankrupt, the unemployment rate is at 10.1% already and rising, and the city leads the nation in foreclosure and poverty rates. There's already enough abandoned lots throughout the city to fill the city of San Francisco and the worst is yet to come. I mean, whoa. That's about as bad as it can get; the city's gonna become the ultimate urban nightmare scenario - shrinking, older, poorer, without enough tax receipts to provide the services for the population.

There's obviously a lot of implications for designers, as the city is going to need to be completely rethought and redesigned for the future. It's nice (and shocking) to hear people talking about making the city less-auto dependent. The urban farm idea also has potential, as both a means to beautify and provide food for local residents in the short term. Whenever things are this bad, there's an openness to experiment, which should allow for a greater emphasis on issues of affordability, different forms of transportation, more public space, more green space, etc. However, in Philly, there was a similar policy to acquire large parcels around the city to entice developers (Neighborhood Transformation Initiative). Most of the time developers had no interest in taking a gamble in these neighborhoods; when they did, they built hideous surburban-style developments (see the Westrum development on Girard Ave in Brewerytown) It's going to take a much more concerted effort by all of the local stakeholders to come together and map out a city-wide future.

I want to believe that it all comes down in the long run is people. How many are willing to stay and fight for the city they love? I imagine that if you went back in time and read the newspapers in NYC during the 70s or Philly during the 80s, there would have been a similar sense of doom. But, both of those cities survived because enough people came together and fought, forming neighborhood groups, homesteads, squats, whatever it took to stabilize their neighborhood.

But, I'm not sure that will be enough with the forces at work in this case, with the trouble of the auto industry, the national economy and the failure of corrupt local leadership. Detroit has been struggling before this and decades of down times are hard to overcome. And that's the only certainty in all of this; the plight of Detroit is a tragedy and a sad indictment of America's view of its cities. We are willing to watch a great ones struggle and fall to its knees, the city that gave us the automobile, Motown and Joe Louis. For that, we should be ashamed.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Housing Chants!

One really fun part about the Repeal Vacancy Decontrol rally was that I picked up a sheet listing the various chants that were used all night and that are part of the tenant activist history here in NYC. I thought it would be cool to give everyone a look at these great little chants, a look at the culture of housing protest here.



1) Que Queremos? Rentas justas
Y cuando? Ahora!
Y como? Luchando
Creando poder popular!

2) La renta sube, sube
El pueblo sufre, sufre

3) Inquilinos unidos
jamás serán vencidos

4) Se ve, se siente,
inquilinos estan presentes!

5) Aquí estamos y
aquí nos quedamos!

6) Que es lo que queremos?
Protección legal

7) Unidos para vencer!!!!!!


8) Fight, fight, fight;
Housing is a right!

9) Tenants are under attack
what do we do? rise up, fight back!

10) Put on the heat Out on the street
Tenant power can never be beat!

11) What do we want? Fair rents!
When do we want it? Now!

12) Ain't no power
Like the power of the tenants
Cause the power
Of the tenants don't stop
Say what...

13) Once I pay my rent; all my money spent

14) Get up! (Get up) Get down! (Get down)
There is a housing crisis in this town!

Not included on the sheet, but my favorite of the night was short and sweet. "They say get back, we say fight back! Get back! Fight back!" over and over, energy building with each line. I felt like I was back in an old union hall with the chants and fiery speeches and whatnot, great to see solidarity, music, fun and passion coming together in these times.

Notes on the Rally

I made it out to the Repeal Vacancy Decontrol rally last night at the Society For Ethical Culture. I'm not normally much of a fan for big political rallies, always get a little bit of a weird vibe from the large crowds getting angry and chanting thing, but overall this was an inspirational time. Very cool to see so many people come out to fight for an important cause, see real diversity and get a feel for that legendary NYC radicalism.

I arrived around 6:50 on w. 64th, signed in, then took a place in the balcony, which was relatively empty. The main area, however, was packed, overflowing with people and bands and banners. I missed the opening song and chants thing, came in for the roll call of who was involved. This was not the best choreographed part, as no one really knew what to do and sort of fizzled out. It was impressive to see the list of groups participating, it's awe-inspiring to see how many community groups NYC has who fight the good fight and have organized to fight much more powerful interestsw. The remainder of the night featured speeches from the main groups involved - It ended with brief speeches and a signing of a pledge by various State Assemblyman and Senators promising that they would make repeal of Vacancy Decontrol the #1 priority of the upcoming session in Albany. By the end of the night, the balcony was nearly completely full too, meaning that close to 800 people came through on a Tuesday night. Encouraging stuff.

The next big step in this battle will come in early January, when the new session opens. I will try to keep you posted on any developments, as things should heat up quickly. I highly recommend that people join up with one of the groups who have made this a priority right now like Tenants and Neighbors or Metropolitan Housing Council or Housing Here And Now, as they can use all of the help and support possible.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Great Stadium Boondoggle

yankee stadium

Oh cities, when will you stop giving money to professional sports teams to build stadiums for the rich suburbanites?!? One of the biggest travesties of the last decade has been the endless race to provide hundreds of millions of dollars to sports franchises to help them replace their older stadiums with new, modern ones.

News today out of New York City only confirmed this ridiculousness, as the estimates for the costs to the city's taxpayers to build these palaces for overpaid athletes continue to go up. As the Times reports, the Bloomberg administration has increased the estimates for the costs of aquiring necessary land, lighting and utility work. Both the Mets and Yankees are returning to the city with their hands out begging for more money in the form of tax-exempt bonds to complete the building of the new Yankees Stadium and Citi Field. Those'll total $341.2 million. Add that onto the $660 million in capital improvements and $500 million on previous tax breaks and you are looking at $1.5 billion thrown at a project that will benefit a very small select of people - the owners, those who can afford tickets to the games and the mostly suburban construction workers. Thankfully, New York City is pretty set in terms of public transportation, schools, job training, etc. Err, nevermind.

Eric at No Land Grab also highlights the fact that this is another case of Bloomberg fudging the cost analysis of a project and also asks a good question. For those looking for the economic destruction of the pro-stadium arguments, check out this devastating article by Andrew Zimbalist and Roger G. Noll which should make you want to scream. Ugh, what a ridiculous boondoggle, hopefully this will be the last money the city has to sink into this project.

Monday, December 8, 2008

MTA Rescue Plan

MTA map

There was big news out of Albany last Friday, as the Commission on Metropolitan Transportation Authority Financing came forward with its plan to rescue the Metropolitan Transit Authority and close its $1.2 billion budget gap for the next fiscal year. If the plan can pass, it will mean that proposed 27% fare and toll increases and service cuts will be lessened. The Ravitch Plan advocates for tolls on the Harlem and East River Bridges, plus a payroll tax on all the counties that utilize MTA. The good folks at Streetsblog have come up with a great summary of the important points here and here.

Not surprisingly, most of the politicans from the boroughs have already declared the tolls a non-starter. Even more not surprisingly, I think that this is the essential element of the plan. Let me just stress one point about all of this: how could the state reps. from Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx are fighting against this proposal? "“It’d be an extreme hardship to have to pay a toll every time,” said Assemblywoman Helene E. Weinstein, a Democrat from Brooklyn. “We’re talking about people going to work, people going to doctor’s appointments, elderly people.”"

Huh? Isn't it a much greater hardship for people to keep a car in NYC, from the cost of buying the car to paying for upkeep, insurance and gas? YES, IT IS! Here's a chance to fully fund the transit system, which is disprortionately used by the working classes, keep the cost stable and allow for future improvements. Yes, some areas are undeserved by public transit, but the solution would seem to be to fight for the increased bus service and special bus lanes that are part of the plan. I don't know if this plan is the solution to NYC's transit problems, but it would be nice to see more NYC-area politicians standing up for the transit system and alternatives to cars.

Read the Ravitch report for the details. Streetsblog has a nice roundup of the post-Ravitch reactions, including the New York Times endorsement. I'll have more on this as Governor Patterson and the Assembly take up an actual bill.

Transit Ridership Up Up Up

mass transit

Big news today, as the Washington Post reports that mass transit ridership broke national records in September, as people continue to flock to the buses and trains despite the decreasing cost of gasoline. Transit agencies experienced a 6.5% increase in riders over the same quarter last year, the largest percentage increase in 25 years! Not only that, but people drove 4.4% less than they did in September of the previous year, which may signal some real behavioral changes for people.

The key graf shows how this might be a generation-changing moment:

The trends are likely to boost support for more transit funds in the economic stimulus package that Congress will send to President-elect Barack Obama. With the economy in a recession, Obama pledged Saturday to create the largest public works construction program since the building of the federal interstate highway system in the 1950s.

I like that reference to the building of the interstate highway system in the 50s, as it's hard to underestimate how important that moment was to the decline of cities. They enabled people to move further and further away from the city, they lead to disastrous design choices where highways were built through the hearts of neighborhoods and planning focused on making life for cars easiest. Now, with Obama's plan to invest at least $500 billion on infrastructure, we may be seeing the pendulum swing back to the right side, as cars continue their decline and cities rise again in the popular imagination.

Housing Here and Now Rally Tuesday! 6:30 PM! Affordable Housing!

Housing Rally

Ugh, so much to get to and yet I get to nothing. Lots to say about Obama's infrastructure plan and so much more, but there's nothing more important than the battle for affordable housing. For those in New York City, head out tomorrow night for the Housing Here And Now rally at the Society For Ethical Control (2 West 64th Street at Central Park West) This protest is aimed at ending the vacancy decontrol loophole, whereby an owner can take a vacant apartment out of rent control once the rent reaches $2000. Enacted by the state in 1997, it is the worst of all worlds, guaranteeing the end of rent controlled apartments in the city, driving out the remaining poor, working class and young people in the city, the very people who have held these neighborhoods together through the decades. Check out the Housing Here and Now website for more info and their blog, New York Is Our Home, for the most up-to-the-date protest info.

Let's do this people! Let's make New York City a place where everyone can live regardless of their bank accounts. Let's make a fairer, better NYC! New York is our home! If you don't speak up now, your neighborhood will be next.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Transportation For America Petition


G-d, so much to write about, hope to have a chance to catch up this weekend. Here's something quick that continues our focus on the federal level. Transportation For America has started a petition to make transportation a focus of Barack Obama's first 100 days. As they say:

Smart transportation infrastructure investment will strengthen our economy, create jobs, reduce our dependence on oil, and make it easier for Americans to find the money to meet their growing transportation needs. But we need President-elect Obama to make building that 21st Century transportation system a priority in his first 100 days.

Go here and sign, as we are at epochal moment where our country needs and appears ready to invest in itself. This is the opening for a new vision of transportation in the US. Make sure to check out the Transportation For American website, a phenomenal group leading the way on these issues.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

White House Office of Urban Policy

white house picture

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this excellent article by Dana Goldstein for The American Prospect, "Advocating for Urbanism." It takes a look at Barack Obama's intention to create an White House Office of Urban Policy and what that would office would potentially look like. Goldstein envisions an urban czar who would "champion policies that address, in one fell swoop, multiple challenges facing metropolitan regions."

I understand the criticism of Ezra Klein about the vagueness of the concept, but not sure why that leads to such pessimism toward the idea. Any new office is going to take awhile to get a focus and may get into some turf wars, but so what? We'll have someone fighting for cities and urbanism!

I, for one, am excited by the idea of an office dedicated to pursuing ideas that will foster better transportation, smarter development and more density. I'm picturing it as an almost idea incubator for these brilliant people thinking about these ideas, working together with a federal mandate and federal money. Perhaps most importantly, these ideas will become much more of a focal point, not just for blogs and academics. You'll have an entire office dedicated to doing research, talking with the media, funding projects, which should lead to good things down the road. I mean, after 2 centuries of this country ignoring and hating on cities, it seems odd to attack this monumental shift in emphasis.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Change We Can Believe In - Obama and Cities


Okay, I totally didn't want to start on such a bummer of a note here. Yes, we're heading into a New Great Depression and Bush is still President for another month and it's winter and it's cold and the Eagles are weak. However, there has been one amazingly bright spot in the past few months (besides the Phillies winning the World Series): Barack Obama is our President-elect! Yeah! Yes, we can! Even now, memories of the crowds on Rivington and Ludlow cheering and hugging give me chills.

Not surprisingly, my first thoughts about his victory (and main reason I was an ardent supporter) focused on the potential impact for the cities of this country. And it seems possible that this could be a huge moment for American cities, where they finally get the attention they so desperately need and deserve. This is the moment when the country gets beyond its antiquated notion that we are a rural country and that real Americans can only be found in Iowa and Wyoming. We not only have a new President who has lived and worked in a big city, but someone who is, as Peter Brown wrote, "a city guy." I mean, if you had told me a year ago that we would have a President who spent a few years as a community organizer in Chicago, I would have laughed in your face.

These are just superficial things, as even Richard Nixon spent some time living in New York City. The actually exciting news is that we elected a President who actually ran his campaign with a clear urban policy agenda! I mean, dude talked about smart development, affordable housing, public transportation and sustainability when he didn't have to. Bestill my heart. Pols in Philadelphia have a similar level excitement; they unsurprisingly highlight his goal of providing money for cash-strapped cities and states. I highly recommend reading his list of policy proposals, but just wanted to inject some optimism into the mix in these dark times. Get excited!

Street Art, Street Life

jamel shabazz

There's a really cool event tonight at the New School called Street Art, Street Life. It's a panel discussion featuring artists Barbara Moore, Martha Rosler and Jamel Shabazz, moderated by Bronx Museum of the Arts curator Whitney Rugg. They will be discussing "the complex social, political, and economic conditions of globalization in the context of contemporary photography and the street as a venue and source of inspiration for artists from the 1950s through today." Sounds so rad. More info here and here. See you there!

When: December 3, 2008 7:00 pm
Where: Tishman Auditorium, Alvin Johnson/J. M. Kaplan Hall, 66 West 12th Street
Cost: Free

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hard Times in New York Town

NYC Bread Line

A bread line in 1932 at 42nd Street and 6th Avenue

"Just a little glimpse of a story I'll tell
Bout an East Coast city that you all know well.
It's hard times in the city,
Livin' down in New York town."

- Bob Dylan

One of the major themes that I will discuss here at the blog is the future of New York City, the city I live in and love. The city has always held a mythical place for me, as you can see at my other blog, where I constantly talk about the days of disco and no wave and downtown jazz and post-punk and that period in the late 70s and early 80s when the city was being abandoned and burned. It's ironic that I moved here at a time of peak decadence, when the city was flush with money and the bankers and lawyers ran the daylife and nightlife here.

Well, times are a-changing fast, as this recent report by New York State Comptroller Thomas Napoli clearly shows. The city and state could lose up to 225,000 Wall Street jobs and 6.8 billion in tax revenue, staggering figures that will change the face of this city in the next few years. These fears were validated today, as Bank of America announced it would be cutting 10,000 investment banking jobs. All of the clubs and restaurants and condos that have taken over Manhattan (and parts of Brooklyn and Queens) were fueled by the bonuses of these workers. All of the development that has boomed over the past decade would not have been possible without this booming Wall Street. I can't help but think that we are now at the end of this most recent Gilded Age, as those obscene bonuses go along with thousands of jobs, and are heading into an unknown period here that will alter the city and its outlook. It's frightening, as many of the people who need the city just to get by are going to be hurt the worst.

The silver lining is chance for a reevaluation of what the city should look like and who it should look out for. What will things look like? What should they look like? I don't know, but I plan to use this space to figure those questions out. Hopefully, anyone reading will chime in with their predictions, hopes and fears.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Street Ballet


Let's go!

I've had this blog in mind for what seems like years now. I didn't want to start it until I felt like I could do it right, hopefully I have given it the right amount of time to bloom. Street Ballet is a blog about cities, about how they are designed, how they work, how great they are, their histories, their rhythms, their peoples. It's me thinking aloud, or perhaps to reflect the photo, my tags and scribblings on the city surface. For those who knew me through Pound for Pound, hopefully you will give this a chance too, as I am even more passionate about these subjects than I am with disco and dance and house.

The title comes from a term coined by one of my heroes and inspirations for this blog, Jane Jacobs. This site is dedicated to her memory and her writings, which have had the most profound influence on me. It's also dedicated to all of the other people who have thought and written about cities and urban life - Walter Benjamin, Henri Lefevbre, David Harvey, Luc Sante, Lewis Mumford, Michael Sorkin, Mitchell Duneier, Dalton Conley, Mike Davis, Edward Soja, Rebecca Solnit and many others. To the artists and filmakers and novelists as well - John Dos Passos, Richard Price, Jules Dassin, David Goodis, Raymond Chandler, Martin Scorcese and many more.

It's dedicated to anyone and everyone who currently lives in a city, whether it's Philadelphia, New York, San Fran, Sao Paolo, Budapest or Bombay, who loves their city and strives to make those places a little better each day. It's dedicated to the people who didn't run in the 60s and 70s, who stayed and survived and kept our US cities alive. Most of all, it's dedicated to my parents, who gave me the greatest gift by raising me in Philadelphia and making me a city kid.