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.