Thursday, April 30, 2009

Harvard Man

Harvard Design School

The Trays!

Ugh, I've been gone so long, I need to explain. I've spent the last few weeks traveling the East Coast, attending open houses and generally obsessing about which city planning program I will attend this Fall. It was a difficult decision, but I decided to take a chance and become a Harvard man. Yes, that's right, Ha-vahd. It's heartbreaking to not be going to Philly (Penn) or staying in Brooklyn (Pratt), but this felt like a good time to take on the biggest challenges possible - a new city, a new career, new skills. I'm getting psyched for Cambridge, classes, new people, new places to get drunk, intellectual stimulation, hitting on undergrads, bitching that the bars close at 1am, being in over my head, everything.

So, if you read this and you will be attending the Harvard Design School or currently attend, get in touch! The Street Ballet/Pound for Pound takeover begins in 4 months, making moves already though.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fight Back Against The MTA Cuts! Write Albany! Demand A Fairly and Fully Funded MTA!


Okay, time to focus the anger we are all feeling and direct it toward the people who can make an actual difference on this MTA issue - the Governor and the state legislature. Everyone needs to take a few minutes and fill out this petition calling on Albany to fully and fairly fund the MTA immediately. Once you've done that, spread the word by emailing 10 people. Sounds pretty simple, right?

Let's Keep New York Moving! Let's do this people! Let's fight for a better, fairer NYC!

MTA Doomsday Is Here

NYC Subway Map

I am back and I am filled with anger, which seems like the only reasonable response to the news yesterday here in New York City. Yesterday, the board of the Metropolitan Transit Authority voted 12-1 in favor of fare hikes and service cuts. This means the base subway/bus fare goes from $2 to $2.50, while the monthly pass goes from $81 to $102. 35 bus routes and both the Z and W lines will end, while weekend service will be reduced on all lines.

For those who haven't been paying attention, this was the Doomsday scenario laid out by the MTA months ago, as the authority has fallen deeper into the red and needs a huge infusion of money to keep the status quo. Albany has known and even commission a blue-ribbon panel to come up with the solution; that came in the form of the Ravitch plan, which would have raised the necessary, consistent funding via new payroll taxes and tolls on the East River and Harlem River Bridges. Those tolls are unacceptable to a few State Senators, who have held up passing the bill, instead offering a laughingly inferior that wouldn't come close to making up the shortfall in the MTA budget.

Yes, you read that right. A handful of Democratic State Senators and the entire Republican bloc are willing to screw the citizens of New York citizens to spare suburbanites any hardship. It amazes me that we still can't acknowledge the costs of driving and automobiles, that we continue to allow them a free ride. As Baratunde Thurston writes:

Part of the hangup was due to a few Democrats who didn't want tolls imposed on the Harlem and East River bridges. Their logic: "it's not fair to tax drivers to subsidize public transit."

Wrong. You SHOULD tax drivers precisely to subsidize public transit. That's how it works. You tax the bad, evil, planet-melting crap to encourage a less apocalypse-inducing lifestyle.

Instead, we are going to take it out on the poorest and most needy residents of the city. It will now cost every person more than $1200 a year to get around the city, to their jobs, their daycare, their lives. $1200+ a year!

I've written a lot about the future of New York City, in light of the economic troubles that have hit this country. I have hoped that these dark times might allow the city to rethink the past 25 years of neoliberal policies and emphasis on the rich and richer. This news is devastating blow to those hopes, a clear sign that the state will hamper any efforts to rethink who this city is for. When you start seeing references to the 1970s fiscal crisis, you know that trouble is on the way.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Housing Rally! Wednesday! March 10! 11AM! City Hall Steps!

Not a whole lot left to add on this post after the title, but yeah, tomorrow morning at 11am, everyone should head to the steps of City Hall to join in on a rally for affordable housing. This one features City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and is a mobilization before some big votes coming up in Albany on the city's rent laws. I have attached the email with all of the details below, hope that NYC people can make it out even if just for a few minutes.

We will rally on the steps of City Hall with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn:

Wednesday, March 11

11:00 am

City Hall – on the Steps

Lower Manhattan

The New York City Council must vote to renew the city rent control law and city rent stabilization law before they expire at the end of the month. The Council will also introduce home rule messages calling on the State Legislature to repeal vacancy decontrol, and to repeal the Urstadt Law, which since 1971 has prevented the Council from exercising any real control over our own local rent and eviction protection laws.

Chris Quinn has been an exceptional advocate for our cause. She began her professional career as a housing rights organizer, and has always been right there for us in our fight to protect tenants and preserve affordable housing. Last year she led a tenant delegation to Albany to lobby the State Legislature for stronger rent laws.

We need YOU – and your friends, neighbors and members – to show up tomorrow at 11:00 am to help us send a loud and clear message to Albany:


Bring posters. Bring your organizations banner.

Public Transit Ridership Is The New Black

MTA bus

Some good news finally on the public transit front, as this Washington Post article makes crystal clear in its headline: "Public Transit Ridership Rises To Highest Level in 52 Years". 10.4 billion transit trips, according to a survey by the American Public Transportation Association! 52 years! Take that cars and trucks!

It's definitely a bit of a surprise, since the cost of a gallon of a gas is so low right now ($1.61 at year's end). What makes the stats so impressive is that a lot of the gains came in unexpected places, like Salt Lake City, Dallas and towns with less than 100,000 people. Perhaps there was a fundamental shift during those months of high gas prices, as people realized that commuting via transit saves money and means you don't have to spend hours stuck in your tiny car which is stuck in traffic? As the article says:

"People who were used to driving did the math and figured they could buy a monthly pass [$50] for less than a tank of gas," said Morgan Lyons, a spokesman for the Dallas Area Rapid Transit. As gasoline prices fell, other benefits became more apparent, he said. Instead of traffic-clogged drives that could take up to an hour, riders could be on the train for 35 to 40 minutes and do work or relax. "When you have to start making decisions about all the little things, other little things become equally important," he said.

Where do we go from here? As the article makes clear, the transit agencies need to show that they are using the first stimulus funds to create jobs and better the system for riders. Knowing the level of disrepair for most systems and the number of projects already on to-do lists, this should not be too difficult. Beyond that, this news couldn't have come at a better time, as there's some major legislative pieces coming up that could bring in much more funding for public transit around the country. There's lots of talk about a second stimulus bill coming up, as (not surprisingly) the first one was too paltry and focused too much on tax cuts. Now, big cities, transit authorities, mayors, industry people and citizens can come to the table with real proof that transit is a viable option for providing jobs and making life more affordable for the average citizen. There's also the upcoming federal transportation bill, which comes up every 6 years and allocates billions of dollars for transportation projects around the country. Now is a good time to contact your senators and representatives and stress the importance of public transit for yourself. I also recommend signing the petition that Transportation for America has written, a call for a 21st transit system and major investment in such a system in the federal transportation bill.

Let's keep up the good news!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Guide To Fishtown, Philadelphia, U.S.A.

Fishtown 2

I'm gonna try to keep the good and bad alternating here, don't want to get everyone depressed about the Depression 2.0 or our shitty transit funding. I also want to keep up the Philly good vibes, since it is my favorite city on Earth and may once again be my home.

I was sent the link to this post by Nick Schonberger at A Continuous Lean by my lovely fellow Brooklynite, former Philadelphian and friend KM and it immediately blew my mind. Similar surname to me? Check. An in-depth look at one of the Philadelphia's amazing neighborhoods? Check. Great accompanying photos? Check. A profound love and urban perspective? Check. I mean, this one is just made for Street Ballet and provides a real inspiration for future posts here. I cannot recommend A Guide To Fishtown more highly, a great look at a classic urban neighborhood, one that "straddles the fine line between vibrancy and decaying urban America." The photos by Ryan Miller are especially amazing, capturing the beauty of urban decay (additional photos here). That border existence fascinates me, how a place can be simultaneously reaching for a future while surrounded by the relics of its past.

It's interesting to me, as someone who actually lived in the city way before the notion of gentrification came up. If you had told me 15, 20 years ago that Fishtown would be a cool spot where artists and bars and restaurants would make their home, I would have laughed. Hell, if you told me that the neighborhood I grew up in would become a real estate hot spot with nearly million dollar homes being sold, I would have asked you if you had bought your drugs in Fishtown or closer to my house. It amazes me to consider the changes that have occurred in Philly over the years, considering that I grew up during the nadir of the 1980s (crack, MOVE, near-bankruptcy). I always loved the fact that the city, any city really, can contain so much; even during those dark days of the 80s, I still was able to play on my street and play baseball in Fairmount Park and be infinitely happy. There was always hope, in spite of what the news and the suburbs thought. It is that multitude, that ability to hold the past, the present and the future, hope and neglect, good and bad, gentrification and poverty that seems to interest Nick as well. It is kinda the heart of this whole blog, trying to capture those contradictions, to exalt them, to keep them alive for the future, to shut down those who want to turn the cities into nothing more than suburban, tourist playgrounds.

Nick has a blog, Fire Walk With Me (Twins Peaks reference? I'm in love!) and has collaborated on the rad 21st Century Abe project. Definitely someone to look out for. Of course, everyone needs to check out Fishtown and Philly ASAP.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

America's Emptiest Cities


I have an insane backlog of stuff I want to talk about, so forgive me for posting some older news items over the next few days. This recent Forbes article about America's Emptiest Cities obviously caught my eye and it contains some fascinating data. Check out this Yahoo article summary, if you don't feel like going through the annoying slideshow. Looking at apartment and home vacancy rates, it details the cities that are being hit the hardest by the real estate bubble bursting and subsequent economic depression.

What interests me is what the type of cities that seem to be suffering the most, especially the new, Western/Southwester/Southern cities that everyone saw as the future. Cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix have been annexing land and adding people at a prodigious rate and it was assumed that they were the future great cities. Not so fast, it would seem. I've been talking a lot about how different I think New York City will be in 5 years, as we go through this economic depression. But, the effect on these boom cities might be even more interesting and pronounced, as they were built so much on the real estate bubble that it's hard to tell just how many people the cities will lose. We are no where near the bottom of this real estate market, I think there is far more pain ahead. Does Las Vegas have much else going for it? What happens when the casinos start suffering because of the lack of discretionary income for most people? Does the city have any real support systems for those people, like older, East Coast cities have built up over the decades? For that matter, do all of these newcomers to these Sun Belt and Southern cities have any real connection to their new homes? Will they stick around? For all of the talk about Philly's decline, it has held steady over the past decade, despite being considered a relic for years.

It'll be interesting to see the Census list that comes out in a few years and who stands in the top 5 when all is said and done. Always bet on the tortoise.

Penn Planning

UPenn School of Design

Well, I left you on a good note (Legos!) and I return on another nice note. I found out a few days ago that I was accepted into the University of Pennsylvania's City Planning Department for the Fall of 2009! Yeah! Nothing quite like checking your inbox expecting another stupid Facebook event invite to learn that you have taken a new path in your life. I am ecstatic right now, really excited to get down to real work to make cities more fair, more diverse and more rad. Yeah!

I want to take the time to thank a few people who helped me get through the whole application torture. JH-B, AB and TA all took a look at my personal statement, gave me great criticism and grammar corrections and helped me write a damn fine essay, if I do say so myself. Each of those three, plus my girl MR, more importantly inspired me with their own grad school work and hard work getting in, inspiring me with their committments to make real change, see the world and get involved in the battle over ideas. Oh, and all three are brilliant, amazing women (confirming the Grateful Dead song, "Man Smart, Woman Smarter"), who if we're lucky, we just might get to check in here at Street Ballet.

Okay, we're back for good now. Expect regular posting and lots of angry missives about the suburbs, lack of transit funding, parking lots and whatever I can think of, plus lots of other good stuff. So focused, so focused.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I Lego N.Y.

Christoph Niemann - I LEGO N.Y.

I do plan to do more with this blog than rant about the lack of funding for public transit in the stimulus bill. One aspect of cities that is very dear to my heart is their inspirational status for art. It amazes me how much my favorite works - whether The Third Man, early hip-hop or Edward Hopper's paintings - take the city as its subject and source of inspiration. The city, with all of its grit, colors, people, sounds and life,

All of this is a way too wordy intro to this amazing little post by Christopher Niemann at his Abstract City blog on the New York Times site. I won't say too much, other than that it is one of the coolest things I've seen in awhile, so creative, imaginative, hilarious and simple. Two things I especially love about this. One, here is a work about a city that is whimsical and fun. So much of the great art about urban life is dark as hell. The sadness of Hopper's characters, film noir's world of danger and paranoia, Richard Price's world of crime and poverty, the list is long and distinguished. I'm the most guilty of loving this type of stuff, but as someone who has lived in a city his entire life, these works are so unreflective of city life, it's sad. When I think of a city, I immediately think of its beauty, its great buildings, the characters that you encounter, the excitement of being in such an ALIVE place. Those feelings are rarely conveyed in the art about city life and that's a shame and has helped allow people to stereotype and denigrate those who live in the "urban jungle."

Secondly, I love love love the fact that there is another generation of kids growing up with Legos, the greatest toys EVER! There's something wonderful about being to create these little cities when you are a little kid, it probably had some impact on me wanting to go into the planning field. Not that I will ever find anyone who wants to give birth to my children, but if I did, I would really want my kids to get into Legos and avoid the whole video game pit.

Thanks to both TE and JH-B for pointing me to this link. As two of the coolest people around, I knew it must be good if they both were hyping the post.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


railroad tracks

Okay, I might have a problem, as no one should have this much to say about transportation funding in the stimulus bill who isn't getting paid. Honestly, that's one of the main obstacles to fighting for increased funding for public transportation and rail. There's no distinct lobbying group that represents all of the interests of the many people who could gain from this new money: straphangers, big cities, Amtrak, rail companies, unions, to name a few.

Well, it looks like this is changing, as a new group called OneRail is forming to make sure that rail gets a voice in the debate unfolding now. It's especially nice to see disparate groups, like the National Resources Defense Council and the Association of American Railroads, coming together for a good, green, productive goal. This is a big step, not just for this stimulus bill, but also the upcoming transportation bill that will happen later this year. More rail, less roads! Let's do this! OneRail!

What Do We Want? Infrastructure Investment! When Do We Want It? Now!

power grid

It's all stimulus bill all the time right now here at Street Ballet. I wanted to highlight two recent polls that just came out, one from Gallup and one from noted right wing pollster and Fox News contributor Frank Luntz, showing Americans overwhelmingly support infrastructure investment as a key component of the stimulus bill Congress is trying to pass. Hell, according to Gallup, 78% Americans consider it the most popular option for the stimulus! Now, take those polls and add this brand new report from the American Society of Civil Engineers that gives our nation's infrastructure a D and you can't help but wondering what the hell is going with the Obama administration and Democratic leadership that has them in a mood to cut and bargain and dilute.

As Steve Benen of The Washington Monthly and Jed L at Daily Kos both note, this is good policy that is immensely popular. As Jed says, "it's not only good economics to fund every single "shovel-ready" (or nearly ready) reinvestment project in America through this stimulus plan, it is also great politics."

Now, if only someone in the administration or Congress would take note of these developments. You've made the bi-partisan gestures, everyone knows that the Republicans have no interest in making a good bill; they simply want to scuttle this one and water it down as much as possible. I mean, as Josh Marshall writes, Boehner and McConnell are basically offering a plan modeled on the Bush one that got us in this f&*#@^ mess to begin with. Enough is enough. The polls are in your favor, the people overwhelmingly went Democratic in the last election, write the best possible bill and be rewarded down the road when it brings us back from the economic abyss. Fund public transit fully, thyink big (light rail!), lose the tax cuts, end the neglect of the building blocks of our society, change the pattern of development. In short, show some courage.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Declaration of Independence From Casinos! Philadelphia!

Declaration of Independence from Casinos

I had to mention today's event in Philadelphia, the Declaration of Independence From Casinos, a cause near and dear to my heart. Pleae head out to the Independence National Historical Park (5th and Market) today at noon for a rally to continue the good fight to keep casinos out of the city of Philadelphia. I'll let the great folks at Casino-Free Philadelphia explain the purpose of today's event:

Join us as we Declare Our Independence from Casinos. Join us to learn about our search for an elected official who will stand with us. Join us as we draft our manifesto against casinos in our City. Join us as we set out to organize citizens from all across Philadelphia.

There comes a time when it is necessary for the people of a city to stand up and say "This is our city; this is our home, and it is time for those who represent us to stand with us or get out of our way." That time is now.

On Tuesday, January 27th, we — the people of Philadelphia — will declare our independence from casinos.

You can join us outside Independence Hall at noon where our declaration will be read and everyone will be invited to add their signature. This will be the kick-off of our Declaration of Independence from Casinos campaign that will run until July 4th of this year. We are starting by signing a pledge to oppose casinos anywhere in Philadelphia, and we will be working between now and July to add at least one signature of a Philadelphia elected official to this declaration.

I will have much much more to say about this campaign and fight, but for now, head over to Independence Park and join with other Philadelphians to fight for the city's future. You'll also want to read the declaration (pdf file), a manifesto outlining the reasons for this fight and the goals that have been set. Once you've done that, become a supporter and get connected to one of the most important fights and best community groups around. I love you Philly, let's do this.

Friday, January 23, 2009

High Speed Rails

Eurostar train

Okay, needed to take a little break to finish up my personal statements for grad school, needed to keep all of my great prose that you expect here (don't laugh!) to that task alone. Street Ballet is now back though and we're so excited for 2009 and doing what we can to help shape cities.

One of the main reasons most people are excited for 2009 is the ascendancy of Barack Obama to the Presidency (and the departure of the worst President the nation has ever had). It was such a beautiful day yesterday with the inauguration that I hate to already start in with criticisms. But, hey, President Obama said it was time to get to work and so get to work for our cities we must.

We've been discussing the special moment that the economic crisis has opened up for a committed investment in our nation's infrastructure from the beginning here. We've already had everyone head over and recommend light rail be a priority in this spending bill. It is a unique moment where the country can radically redefine its development trends, where it can foster a cleaner, greener economy and help us out of one of the worst recessions in a century. Sadly, it appears that Obama is going to let this moment pass and continue us along the path of car-centric, anti-green development. Light rail projects and transit projects are being rumored to get short shrift in the budget proposal and that's a damn shame.

Check out John Judis' article, "Not Doing Enough," on the perception that Obama and his administration don't understand the severity of this recession. He sees light rail and mass transit as the missing component, an investment that not only would update our infrastructure but also revive domestic manufacturing, make the country more energy efficient and add jobs. As he notes, "unlike tax cuts--the benefits of which can be siphoned off in the purchase of imported goods--the money spent would go directly to reviving American industry and improving the country's trade balance." Especially intriguing is his notion that the struggling carmakers could become trainmakers in the future. How wonderful would it be if the very industry that helped destroy cities in the middle of the last century became the same one to lead to their rebirth in the new one. Read the whole article, as Judis also takes a look at the need for structural changes to the global economy to truly bring us back from the scary precipice we stand at now.

Obama and Dems Screw Transit

Trying to play catch up here, but following up on the last post, news came out late this week that indeed, light rail and mass transit would take a backseat in the upcoming stimulus package. What, you ask, is deemed important? Taxes! Yes, indeed, it's like the Bush years will never end. Economic problems? Tax cuts! Economy booming? Tax cuts.

Elana Schor of Talking Points Memo caught the admission from Rep. Jim Oberstar (MN-D) in his speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "The reason for the reduction in overall funding...was the tax cut initiative that had to be paid for in some way by keeping the entire package in the range of $850 billion." I don't even know where to begin with this ridiculousness. Is it counting pennies on an $800 billion bill? Or slashing the transit side and leaving the money for road building intact, thereby making the climate change and end to foreign oil dependance initiatives more difficult? These are such stupid, shortsighted concessions to make at a time when even conservative economists are calling for massive public expenditures and large deficits.

Matt Yglesias nails this one, noting that these concessions have amazingly not placated the Republican opposition, who are now demanding more tax cuts. Obama and the Dems need to write the best bill possible and get it passed, end of story. They'll never make enough concessions for the right wingers and the more watered down the bill gets, the less effective it will be.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Vote For Light Rail At Change.Gov

High speed rail

Ugh, I have been gone for way too long, trying to put together applications for grad school has left me a little worried about using any excess brilliance on the Internets. We're coming up on the finish line, so posting will pick up in a big way shortly.

In the meantime, I wanted to check in quickly and recommend that all readers of this site head over to the site that the Obama people set up,, and vote on the Bullet Trains and Light Rail proposal being pushed as a priority for the new administration. It amazingly appears to be the leading vote-getter right now. While I have no idea if the Obama people will even take a second look at these results, it really can't hurt to show deep support for light rail in the US and a different approach to the infrastructure plans (more money for transit projects, less for roads and cars!) It really gets me dreaming about the US suddenly becoming like Europe, with all of the major US cities linked by light rail lines, making it possible to zip down to Miami or over to San Fran for a reasonable price. Death to the interstate highway system! Supertrains!

Search around the site, as there's lots of similar ideas floating around (like this and this) It takes a few minutes to register and get started, so there's really no excuse not to do this.