Jan 302013


Since we had the Congressional hearings today with the incredible testimony of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, it’s worthwhile looking at a map of gun violence in United States cities compared to the rates in other countries. I am a realist here – I don’t see a reason for high capacity clips and assault rifles but the data is clear that most gun violence is due to handguns. NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelley was on CNN tonight and admitted as much – shootings here would drop less than 3% with a ban on assault rifles as it’s concealed handguns that are the weapon of choice. But tracking sales and background checks would help – as would addressing mental health issues. Ultimately, there is no single answer here.

The sports announcer Bob Costas was on The Daily Show January 28th and said in response to the recent controversy he stirred up: it is the culture of violence and permissiveness that needs to change. Smoking has gone from being cool to seriously not cool and we’ve managed to limit verbal bullying of people without taking away the First Amendment. But in too many subcultures in the U.S. it’s cool or hip to have a gun . . . and in some cases to use it (or at least threaten to). This is what has to change dramatically.

The map on gun violence in American cities published in the Atlantic comes from a number of sources – data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with work done by Zara Matheson of the Martin Prosperity Institute using additional data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and collated by The GuardianOf course, the map is comparing urban areas to entire countries but it still reveals the staggering level of gun violence there is in some cities. I’m sure many residents would be fearful of traveling to some of the countries they are in line with even though, paradoxically, they have the same average number of deaths within their own cities.

New Orleans, sadly, takes the top honors for having the highest gun homicide rate, the same as Honduras:

Gun Violence Map of United States Cities

Gun Violence Map of United States Cities

A few more details from the article by Richard Florida:

The pattern is staggering. A number of U.S. cities have gun homicide rates in line with the most deadly nations in the world.

  • If it were a country, New Orleans (with a rate 62.1 gun murders per 100,000 people) would rank second in the world.
  • Detroit’s gun homicide rate (35.9) is just a bit less than El Salvador (39.9).
  • Baltimore’s rate (29.7) is not too far off that of Guatemala (34.8).
  • Gun murder in Newark (25.4) and Miami (23.7) is comparable to Colombia (27.1).
  • Washington D.C. (19) has a higher rate of gun homicide than Brazil (18.1).
  • Atlanta’s rate (17.2) is about the same as South Africa (17).

This level of violence should has no place in the United States. But like the issue of smoking, laws and restrictions are only part of a much larger, and much needed, cultural change.

Jan 132013

Yes, I understand the hectic pace of life in NYC. New York is a crazy place with seven million hyperactive people packed together in too little space with too much to do and not enough time. And yes, I understand that in this setting people can easily lose site of what’s going on around them – like the people who left their cars in underground garages a block from the Hudson River when Hurricane Sandy rolled ashore with a 13 foot storm surge the other month.

On the other hand, with Sandy people were at least reacting to a prediction of a storm that the City had not experienced in literally decades. What’s harder to fathom is when the circumstances are in your face and you still persist in the task at hand.

So yesterday, there is a fire in Whole Foods down by Houston and Bowery. Not a major blaze. No billowing smoke or flames shooting out the windows. No one screaming to be rescued by a hook and ladder ruck as they dangled from a windowsill six floors up. No, this wasn’t a huge deal as far as urban fires go. But when the fire alarms go off in a building and the fire sprinklers start spraying water from the ceiling, it’s probably time to get out to the street – quickly.

Seriously – the people at the bottom of the screen are standing in line, unfazed by the equivalent of a light rain and the smell of smoke, hoping to still check out before they are forced to leave. Yes, I could have shot some video, but honestly, I think I’ll watch my fires from the sidewalk. Video via The Gothamist.

Nov 082012
Christophe Jarcot photograph of New York City during the Blackout Created by Hurricane Sandy

Christophe Jarcot photograph of New York City during the Blackout from Hurricane Sandy

There was a haunting beauty to New York during the loss of power from Hurricane Sandy, a way of seeing the City in a different light. Yes, it was frustrating and by the end of the week, I felt like I would lose my mind if not for the realization that there were so many people in much, much more dire circumstances than I ever experienced. I didn’t have the presence of mind to take that many photos during the week nor could I have taken any as beautiful as the ones by Christophe Jarcot.

Jarcot was first working in the film industry, but returned to photography, his true passion. He started off photographing rain and his work is fascinating. But I find these images of New York especially compelling. The full set is available on his website at Christophe Jarcot and there is information about his work at Artemiss:

“I had an order for a travel book about Paris, and sun was a pre-requisite for all the photos! But the weather was desperately rotten, and that is how I had the idea of starting the Paris in the rain series. It was a sort of contradiction…”

After realizing “Paris Under the Rain”, Christophe was looking for a very different city to shoot, but also very urban. Hong Kong quickly become his number one choice because of its raining season and its crazy urban life. New York, London and many others followed quickly after ! He is fascinated by the confrontation between two massive forces: weather and towns. 

This is by no means to minimize the horrible conditions that people endure every night both in NYC and in New Jersey as we now move through the second week after Hurricane Sandy. Even worse that we now have a covering of snow on the ground.

I have power, heat and Internet again so I am very fortunate. But we still have a flooded building where we used to have a campus and many of our students still lack power. Outside my office door are piles of clothes, food and supplies collected and on their way to the Rockaways tomorrow. Across the street, the endless hum of generators as most of the neighborhood around the college still lacks electricity.

The City and surrounding area are still reeling from the devastating blow of a freakish storm.

Nov 032012
Hudson River Flooding - Water Coming into the West VIllage

Hurricane Sandy: Hudson River Flooding – Water Pouring into the West Village

I’m finally resurfacing after dealing with Hurricane Sandy over the past week. My apartment is okay but it was a wild ride – water coming up the streets of the West Village, four days with no power, heat or Internet access. On the other hand, these are hardly serious issues compared to what people on Staten Island, parts of Brooklyn and the New Jersey Shore are going through. People have been generous in helping those deeply affected by the storm but so much more help is needed.

Five observations on Hurricane Sandy and it’s aftermath:

  • Of all the blackouts I’ve been through, this was the most well-handled. Traffic cops on nearly every corner, police everywhere; Lower Manhattan seemed to function as best it could under the circumstances.
  • Clearly our subway system is not designed to handle floods and heavy rains. Not sure what can be done, but there must be ways to mitigate some of the damage from storms. Densely populated areas like NYC need reliable public transportation (many of us are still having to walk downtown).
  • Some New Yorkers are entirely oblivious to nature. I was struck by the number of people I saw on late Tuesday and Wednesday trying to go to their gym. If you don’t have power, do you really think your neighborhood health club will be open? This is topped only by the people that left their cars in underground garages one block from the river when there was a predicted 8-11 foot storm surge (it was actually 13.88 feet). Just where did they think all that water was going when it got to the Hudson?
  • Internet access is as important as power these days. No doubt there will be hearings on Con Edison and the loss of power in NYC and the surrounding areas. But there will be no hearings on how Verizon and AT&T handled the storm. They didn’t do well at all.
  • A note to future restaurant designers and owners: please put a power outlet near every table. However much you’re a food service establishment, there may come a day when you’re also – literally – a refuge from the storm. And providing people with electrical power lets them stay connected with friends, relatives and the news. A restaurant is not just about food, but ambiance and setting. It may also be a place to maintain connections – in a digital world, you may not just be talking to the person sitting across the table from you.

Photos and more to follow . . .

Sep 112012

NYC Subway accidentThis morning, at the NYC subway 14th Street station, a woman died.

I missed seeing it directly as I was a few seconds too early and further along the platform. But close enough, and too close for the aftermath – a disfigured, crumpled body underneath one of the subway cars toward the rear of the train.

I stayed for some minutes, pointed out the body to the crew and cops who just arrived. I realized – curiously they did not – that it would be easier to find by crossing over to the downtown platform where it was easily visible. The crowds came. I called work to say I needed some time, went for a walk through Chelsea and finally up to Grand Central for my usual commute.

Within minutes of the accident, the smartphones came out but now that I think about it, I was there first and didn’t take a photo even though I had the clearest view. Eventually I took a couple but I couldn’t focus myself. I turned and walked away. Cameras are easy, feelings a world unto themselves.

I understand the need to record death in Syria and other countries where publicizing it may build support to bring down a tyrannical regime. In parts of the world, ghastly atrocities go undocumented. In some cases, I almost wish for images of death, images that would show the world what some people live through every day of their lives. But I do not understand it here, on a subway platform, when it serves no purpose.

I’ve seen death before, but never so vividly, this close to home. On a route that I’ll use tomorrow and in the days to come. As I walked through the city, the flood of questions, thoughts and emotions was difficult to handle. Did she intentionally kill herself? Was she pushed? Did she stumble? The latest report is that she was despondent. I’m sure we’ll have answer,  though in the end, it only touches the surface.

Standing there a few hours ago, it was hard to think that someone woke up this morning, did whatever they do to be part of the world that day, and ended the morning as a bloody heap of flesh and bone underneath a subway car.

It also makes you think about the ebb and flow of life in a densely populated urban environment. How close one can be to death and completely miss it. By seconds, literally. And the crowd that quickly formed . . . . some visibly shaken and others pushing just to get a look. The frustration of people outside the station, and up and down the Seventh Ave. line. No trains, disrupted schedules and plans that are all important.  Until it is someone they know.

And then you wonder about the other lives affected. How her friends and family are dealing with the loss.

It makes you cherish the moments we take for granted, moments of just being alive. As I walked through the city, I was struck by the warmth of the sun, the cool breeze of an almost fall morning, even the firmness of the concrete under my feet. This began as a difficult day, listening to the names being read on the radio for the 9/11 memorial service as I got ready for work. It got worse once I left the house.

I know it will be better.

Volcanoes Poking Through (Borobudur temple with Merapi volcano in the background, Java, Indonesia. Photo by Trey Ratcliff

Volcanoes Poking Through (Borobudur temple with Merapi volcano in the background, Java, Indonesia. Photo by Trey Ratcliff

Sep 052012

Here’s a novel way to get up close to Newtown Creek, the notoriously polluted body of water in NYC (Queens) that is now a superfund site. While there are finally plans for a clean-up, authorities still have to work out who is paying the cost, so don’t expect any major changes soon. But with a nature walk on the banks and a new art project, you can see all you’ll ever want to see of the water itself with the Newtown Creek Armada. Brooklyn artists Laura Chipley, Nathan Kensinger, and Sarah Nelson Wright have put together a novel flotilla of small boats and cameras with some simple technology, giving you the chance to see the creek through a new perspective. The small-boat Armada sets sail Saturday, September 8th and then continues on September 9th, 15th, 22nd, 29th and 30th.

It’s a cool idea, and worth seeing. Superfund have a way of being abstract until you get up close and personal to them. Just don’t watch the video while eating lunch.

Aug 242012
NYC Shooting - NYT Front Page Image

NYC Shooting – NYT Front Page Image

The tragic NYC shooting at the Empire State Building – perhaps the paramount icon of the City – had the press once again up against the unedited stream of information from the Web. A shooting on the sidewalk in broad daylight in the heart of mid-town results in hundreds of photos and videos from bystanders through their cell phones. The Web is quickly awash in graphic photos of the event and traditional media is left with the dilemma of what images to use. Given the vast range of images available online, the decision on what photos to use is almost a lose-lose decision.

Pick something that is too subdued and readers will just go elsewhere to see what they want to see (thus, the dilemma of the UK press with the naked images of Prince Harry all over the Web). Select images that are too graphic and the media looks like it’s being sensationalist and is probably alienating the older more traditional segment of their market.

So what did they do? Reuters went with a somewhat blurry photo that focused on the police activity while the NY Daily News showed the bodies but pixelated their faces. At first The New York Times used a subdued shot from above, but then changed it to include the blood on the sidewalk. No matter what they did, of course, the Web streamed whatever graphic images people wanted to see.

At it’s best, the press can (for now) quickly pull together resources that bystanders do not have the means to create; thus, the Times graphic of the shooting and interviews with witnesses offer insights to understanding the event. It’s the kind of work the press excels at (when they don’t self-destruct by firing their newsroom staff), but at one time, they also provided the primary source of images. Now it’s a bifurcated world for traditional media where they can at best offer analysis and readers will find their images with whatever degree of graphic content they want online. Perhaps this will continue for a few more years, but the ease with which bystanders can take and upload images and video is nothing now compared to what it will be in another decade. And if at some point in the future witnesses have the ability to instantly create resources like the Times graphic through some mobile crowd source platform, I’m not sure how the traditional press will survive.


Aug 142012

NYC Domain Awareness System
I understand the threat of terrorism – god knows, I live in Manhattan. But the announcement that the NYC Police Department has gone live with their Domain Awareness System still sends chills down my spine. Basically, the system collates 3,000 live camera feeds with license plate scanners, arrest records and other data. Facial recognition technology will be incorporated in the near future. From Gothamist:

This afternoon the NYPD debuted their “all-seeing” Domain Awareness System, which syncs the city’s 3,000 closed circuit camera feeds in Lower Manhattan, Midtown, and near bridges and tunnels with arrest records, 911 calls, license plate recognition technology, and even radiation detectors. Mayor Bloomberg dismissed concerns that this represented the most glaring example of Big Brother-style policing. “What you’re seeing is what the private sector has used for a long time,” Bloomberg said. “If you walk around with a cell phone, the cell phone company knows where you are…We’re not your mom and pop’s police department anymore.

The system, which was designed by Microsoft and the NYPD, cost $30 – $40 million to develop and will be sold to other cities and countries – for its part, NYC will be getting a 30% cut of the profits. The argument that this is what the private sector has been doing all along isn’t a particularly compelling reason to accept this. Except of course that this seems to be our only role model for how to run government these days – oh, and I forgot, corporations are people, too!

And I suspect that even if the prevention of terrorism is the stated goal, we’ll soon see the system used again Occupy Wall Street protesters or other groups. Once you’re in the candy shop with your hand in the jar, I just don’t see the police department not walking away with the goodies. In the end, it seems we’ll all be under the same system of surveillance no mater what country we are in. Welcome to the future but you may want to bring a hoodie.

Aug 142012
Construction Netting Designed by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama at 345 14th Street

Construction Netting Designed by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama

A new if temporary addition to West Village / Meatpacking area in NYC is a condo construction site covered with netting by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. The site at 345 West 14th Street, which will be known as 345 Meatpacking, has become a temporary art project through the Whitney Museum (soon to be located in the area over by the High Line) and DDG Partners, the site developer. Yayoi Kusama currently has an exhibition at the Whitney uptown through September 30th and the building covering is replica of her black and yellow painting, “Yellow Trees”.

Of course, the building is playing off its proximity to the Meatpacking area which gone from a no-man’s a few decades back (except for my once favorite restaurant - Florent – that beloved hangout that was an oasis in the middle of the junkies and refrigerated trucks) to the hip place to be on a summer evening. Once you stepped over drunks and ducked under hanging carcasses of meat; now you get jostled by the crowds rushing to the newest bar.

It was a bit of a surprise tonight to stumble across this since I am out of town most summer weekends, leaving little time to keep up with the neighborhood. Photo is from an iPhone 4 and taken at dusk so not the best quality (somewhat salvaged by using the Camera+ App). You can catch a better image and a few more details over at Curbed.com.

Aug 042012

Amazing short video (28 sec.) posted on Mashable of the Statue of Liberty in the NYC harbor appearing to melt under the summer heatwave. The video is by German artist Vincent Ullmann shows the statue liquefying like an ice cream cone in a microwave. Well, it may not be that hot, but the combination of heat and humidity has made the summer unbearable, especially in the subway (I’ve reached the point where I dread going downstairs into the station in the morning).

I’m on the boat tonight, out on the water in Mystic, CT. and visually, it’s a beautiful evening. The moon-rise was stunning and a huge shooting star – almost a fireball – tore across the sky a few hours ago. But even with open hatches and fans running, you wish there was an air-conditioner. The light breeze is just bringing waves of humidity across the water. Fog is predicted for the morning which means . . . yet more humidity.

Jul 192012

NYC LightningThe storm that passed through NYC late this afternoon brought back visions of Colorado, the Plains and the Rockies from my trip a few weeks back. We got everything but a tornado and at the worst possible time – evening rush hour. The City’s antiquated drainage and sewer systems simply cannot handle large volumes of water so it went everywhere but it was supposed to go.

One might think that for all our technology . . . we could do better, but nature will have its own say in this. Much of the subway system is below the waterline of the NY Harbor and East River which means that NYC pumps out some 13 million gallons of water a day from the underground tunnels (of course, it doesn’t help that they basically built the # 2 and # 3 lines in Harlem right through a river bed). That’s 13 million gallons when nothing is falling out of the sky – and when it does, the water just has no place to go. Sometimes we get waterfalls in the subway stations, and other times, geysers shoot up from who knows what subterranean spaces that lurk below the platforms.

It was probably fun for some of the tourists but for the rest of us, it was a horrifying commute. So crowded that I couldn’t even take a few photos in the Times Square station. So photo and video (of the Penn Station 34th St subway platform) are from the Gothamist.

I suppose someday this will all seem so quaint and hilarious - like dodging horses and buggies in the 19th century. But it will take a lot to fund the infrastructure improvements that would make a real change  . . . so for now, nature will have its way and the City will temporarily grind to halt.

Jul 192012

Admiral’s Row, the exquisite row of deteriorating houses by the Brooklyn Navy Yard, will be torn down at some point (it was supposed to happen last January). Somehow, they hold on, their decay feeding upon itself as yet another railing or wall or floor caves in. There’s been a long and seemingly fruitless campaign to restore them – but sadly, it seems that all but two of the structures will be destroyed, replaced by a supermarket and heaven knows what else.

For now, enjoy the journey inside, appropriately set to a soundtrack using Radiohead’s “Separator”. More photos by the artist Max Touhey are available if you want to see it in photographs.

Jul 122012
Shark for sale on the subway

Shark for sale on the subway

It seems like you see everything in NYC, but this is bizarre and – from the standpoint of the shark, incredibly sad. According to a report and photos in Gothamist, someone was trying to sell a live baby shark at 1:00am on the subway, saying he had caught it in Coney Island and that it had bitten him in the ass – this was on the J train to be precise. The article goes on to say:

This looks like a baby sand shark, which have been spotted in Coney Island a lot. The guy was asking $100 for it, but no straphangers took the bait (at least when our tipster was on board—he boarded at Essex Street and was headed towards Brooklyn).

We’ve reached out to PETA and the Humane Society of the U.S. for comment.

UPDATE: PETA has sent us their official statement, saying, “This guy may get bitten in the ass again after PETA reports to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) that he is illegally selling a shark on the New York subway.”

And Patrick Kwan, the NY State Director of the HSUS, tells us, “the shark appears to be a young smooth dogfish shark,” and adds, “This is not only cruel and inhumane; peddling animals on the subways is alsoagainst the law. Anyone who witnesses such behavior should alert a police officer, train operator, or other MTA personnel.” 

Hard enough for the natural world to survive in the City, but this is going too far.

Jun 072012

A great video (check out the views in the background) on the return of Peregrine Falcons to New York City. Though it has been an excruciatingly long process that began in 1983 – there are now 20 pairs residing in the City – the engendered falcons have slowly returned through the collaborative efforts of a number of City and State agencies.

The falcons have taken to the City as the tall buildings and bridge towers mimic the the mountainside cliffs that the birds would reside in naturally. And there is an abundance of food here (particularly pigeons) that they love. I almost witnessed an attack on my rear fire escape by the kitchen window one day last year: pigeons had been hanging out behind my building and suddenly I heard the beating of wings, thumps on my window and the excruciating cries of a pigeon fighting for it’s life. By the time I got to the kitchen (it’s a long, narrow apartment), there were only a feathers floating in the air and a distant glimpse of a falcon carrying off its prey. Not the usual experience living in a densely populated urban area.

In the video, they are banding the young chicks (worried parents flying in the background). The scared young birds make a fuss (the process is harmless) but it helps agencies track and monitor the birds. Young falcons have a 60% and higher mortality rate – more information about their lives and the project at the NYC Dept of Environmental Protection.

Peregrine falcons are some of the fastest creatures on the planet. Flying horizontally at 60 mph they’ve been clocked diving out of the sky at over 230 mph (370 km/h). They will often perch motionless on a building ledge or glide silently overhead, waiting for the right moment. Like so many in the city, they’ve carved out a niche in an exceedingly difficult environment, holding on precariously, striking quickly when opportunity arises.

Not all that different from the hundreds of technology startups here. At a meeting with some of Mayor’s Bloomberg’s staff and VC’s the other morning and startups need the same conditions. A safe place to incubate, a helping hand from the City (and business community), and time to mature while opportunities arise. Interestingly enough – since the downturn in 2008, NYC is the only place where technology startups have actually grown in number.

Peregrine falcons and tech start-ups. Not all that different after all.

May 302012
People standing in the middle of an NYC street to view Manhattanhenge.

Photo: aonghais's flickr

UPDATE: When the sun doesn’t shine, Manhattanhenge is a bit of bust. Well, it’s twice a year so everyone will have another shot later this summer. I was going to try a shot through the windows from the inside of Grand Central on the balcony of the Apple store (as the station is aligned with the street grid) but didn’t wait around with the cloud cover. 

It’s that time of the year again when NYC has it’s own encounter with the path of the sun aligning with the east-west street grid in Manhattan - Manhattanhenge - a term coined by the astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium, Neil deGrasse Tyson. Manhattanhenge – our own little Manhattan Solstice – is a semiannual occurrence named after Stonehenge, where the sun aligns with the stones twice a year on the solstices.

The light is beautiful during Manhattanhenge as we get some incredible sunsets in Manhattan (though I’ve always suspected that is due to the chemicals in the air on the New Jersey side of the river). But since Tyson named it, it’s become something like a community event.

What’s most peculiar of course is that the alignment has been here ever since the street grid was laid out in the early 1800′s. No doubt the view is more remarkable due to the development of high-rise buildings in the 1920′s and later. But honestly, when I first came to Manhattan in the 1980′s, it was not something anyone made a big deal about. I suppose we noticed it off and on, but conceptualizing it in the press and giving it a name transforms its significance. Of course, this is not just true of astronomical events as naming helps any phenomena rise to the surface of our cultural consciousness.

Not to quickly change the topic (but I will as – sorry – it’s bothering me ), sometimes one feels that the events in Syria require a new name since we’re dealing with something uniquely horrifying. It’s not ethnic-cleansing nor is it simply genocide – though that may be the closest term we have. It’s large-scale state-sponsored slaughter in response to peaceful revolt and we lack a term for a government that practices this with apparent impunity. Especially when they have the backing of one of the major members of the UN – Russia. Last night CNN was referring to Russia as Syria’s “lawyer”. Surely we can come up with a better term than that. Defender? Not strong enough. Enabler? Closer, but we use this for individual psychological issues. Naming it won’t stop the violence, but it might help impress upon us the urgency of the situation. There has to be a better term here. More on that later.

Back to the sun and Manhattan. If you’re in NYC this evening, take a look toward the west a few minutes before 8:16pm. But a word of caution applies – it’s not wise to stand in the middle of a Manhattan street. Trust me on this one. More details on this evening’s Manhattanhenge at the Gothamist.

Manhattanhenge - Sun setting in alignment with Manhattan street grid.

Manhattanhenge - Sun setting in alignment with Manhattan street grid. Photo via michaelnyc's flickr

May 022012

I’ve been meaning to write about the recent release of 870,000 digitized photos from the New York City Municipal Archives database of over 2.2 million images of New York in the 20th century but the NYC website has been overwhelmed with visitors. The images cover a vast range of everyday life in New York, from early technology and scenes on the streets to aerial photographs and will be an incredible resource for faculty and students and anyone with a curiosity about the City or American life during this period.

I’ll come back to it later when the access improves but for now, two of my favorite photos reproduced in The Atlantic where you can see a few more. The first is painters on the Brooklyn Bridge and the second, the Fire Department showing off its “new” steam-powered pumper – a behemoth of technology, recently converted (1912!) from horse-drawn. Ah, the wonders of modern technology!

Painters suspended on cables of the the Brooklyn Bridge, on October 7, 1914. (Eugene de Salignac/Courtesy NYC Municipal Archives)

Painters suspended on cables of the the Brooklyn Bridge, on October 7, 1914. (Eugene de Salignac/Courtesy NYC Municipal Archives)


New York Fire Department demonstration of a steam pumper converted from horse-drawn to motor-driven, at 12th Avenue and 56th Street. (Courtesy NYC Municipal Archives)

New York Fire Department demonstration of a steam pumper converted from horse-drawn to motor-driven, at 12th Avenue and 56th Street. (Courtesy NYC Municipal Archives)


Apr 252012
Burning Food Cart - NYC

Burning Food Cart - NYC

Well, just one yesterday, but anything can happen in New York. Generally, speaking the food cart /  food truck situation has gotten much better over the past few years – they’re cleaner, safer, and there’s much more variety (including a lobster truck that took to the streets recently).  Photo and details from the Gothamist.

There was a much more serious accident last year when a “Frites and Meats” truck got into an accident on the West Side Highway. That resulted in a propane explosion and sent two people to the hospital.

This particular food cart – Rafiqi’s Delicious Food – gets mostly all good reviews over on Yelp for it’s Middle Eastern dishes. It’s a tough town. Hopefully they’ll be back soon.

Apr 102012

UPDATE (04/10/2012): The garbage dump fire was finally brought under control on Tuesday afternoon. It wasn’t strictly just trash that was burning as it appears the fire began in a mulch pile that underwent spontaneous combustion. Seems to be something that happens fairly often – but this one got out of control due to the wind.

New Yorkers don’t think a great deal about their garbage. We produce enough of it – almost 13,000 tons of residential trash but closer to 32,000 tons when you add the commercial and construction trash every day. If you live in New York City, you become accustomed to the sound of commercial garbage trucks making their rounds late at night. In fact, sleeping for a night in the quiet suburbs is almost scary – there is no noise, no sound of life as there is in Manhattan.

For a long time we did worry about our trash, mostly because we were in the process of building the highest mountain on the East Coast – a towering mound of trash known as the Staten Island Dump. But the dump was closed during the last decade and a comprehensive waste management program put in place – garbage would be compacted or incinerated and hauled out of NYC by rail and truck. Part of that is happening, but much of the plan is tied up in litigation. No one wants a transfer station in their neighborhood and the poorer areas of the City have finally said “Enough!” when it comes to hosting the entire City’s sewer and trash infrastructure projects. In the meantime, we continue to recycle little, toss a great deal, and hope the problem goes away.

No surprise, it doesn’t.

But in the midst of all this, we forgot about all the decades of trash still on Staten Island in a dump now renamed Fresh Kills. With an environment cleanup and new soil on top, it’s become something of a stopover for birds. However, underneath, there’s still trash and on Monday it started burning. As of 5:00pm, it was a 5-alarm fire with 200 firemen on duty and with the winds, there is little prospect of it going out by morning.

I know this hardly looks like a picture of NYC, much less a garbage dump, but indeed it is. It will be a bad commute for many and for those of us in Manhattan, a reminder that the garbage problem is alive and well. You can smell it in the air.

Fresh Kills Trash Fire in Staten Island

Fresh Kills Trash Fire in Staten Island

Apr 022012
Alexander Wang 2012

Poor working conditions exist around the world but you may not need to leave New York City to find them. According to Good, the well-known fashion designer Alexander Wang is the target of a $50 million lawsuit:

Fashion darling Alexander Wang was served this month with a $50 million lawsuit from a man who used to sew his clothes. Wenyu Lu describes having worked 25 hours continuously without break or overtime pay in an unventilated, windowless part of Wang’s New York City design firm, and claims he was ultimately fired after voicing his complaints to management and filing for worker’s compensation. He sued, and dozens of his fellow employees signed on. The headlines that have rocked the fashion world put a name to Lu’s allegation: Wang ran a “sweatshop” in the United States of America.

A tee-shirt by Wang can run upwards of $200, and the rest of the 2012 collection doesn’t come cheap. The clothing in the photo on the right is referred to here as “athletic elegance” since it is meant to work both in the gym and in the club – though it’s a little hard to imagine working out and then heading to a club in the same fabrics – especially these.

I often wonder as I walk the streets of Manhattan and look up at some of the buildings in Chinatown and other areas. Steam flows out from pipes like it was the early half of the 20th century and through the slightly cracked windows you hear the sounds of machinery. It’s too many floors up to be heavy metal work and one has the sense (though it’s never seen) that tailoring and fabric worker is taking place. You wonder how different the conditions are from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory where a 146 garment workers perished in a tragic fire in 1911. Sometimes you wonder if it can happen again.

Outside of some factories where hidden cameras have been smuggled in, this is a tightly controlled arena where social media has done little to foster the flow of information. Occasionally word leaks out, but one suspects there is much more going on behind the closed doors. Wenyu Lu’s lawsuit may pry them open just a little more.

Mar 292012

The popular Poetry in Motion series ran for 15 years on the NYC Subways, only to be replaced for two years by a “Train of Thought” series and then, well, nothing. Careening underground in our relatively new subways cars on a system built over a 100 years ago, the Poetry in Motion project was always a moment of lightness, a reason to smile in the noise and chaos underground. Especially so when you were packed so tightly in a car that you couldn’t even get to your phone to read your mail.

According to the Gothamist, The plan is to have two new poems a quarter, eight a year, on subways, kiosks and some MetroCards. The series begins with “Graduation,” by Dorothea Tanning:

Poetry in Motion

Poetry in Motion Series returns to NYC Subways


Feb 292012


Old technology often fades away, simply becoming an underused and eventually unused part of the urban landscape. Take for example, abandoned streetcar tracks or overgrown sidewalks. But occasionally someone has a moment of inspiration and the neglected object gets repurposed for another function.

Here is an art and urban redesign project by a Columbia graduate who takes old pay phones and turns them into free libraries on the streets of New York City. John Locke has done only a few so far but more are on the way. A few details:

The concept, sponsored by Locke’s imaginary Department of Urban Betterment, is that New Yorkers will pick up unfamiliar titles while running their errands and then, perhaps, replace them the next day with favorite books of their own. That’s in an ideal world. Of the two guerrilla libraries that the artist has fashioned, one has been used properly while the other has had its entire collection repeatedly ganked by sticky-fingered pedestrians. Its shelves were also stolen.

But Locke has many more libraries planned. With plywood consoles that slip over payphones as neatly as aprons, these sidewalk objets are endlessly replicable. (No doubt they’ll feature in his 2012 Columbia course, “Hacking the Urban Experience.”)

Whether intended or not, the project is juxtaposing two disappearing technologies – the pay phone and the printed book. Both are transitioning to new platforms, the “pay” phone now a device in my pocket and the book distributed to my iPad or Kindle in my bag. Both are still essential, but less so in their original form. It’s almost comical to think of standing in line to make a call, but you did, particularly in a high traffic area like Grand Central in New York where an essential urban survival skill was sizing up who would end their conversation first at a crowded bank of pay phones.

Locke’s project is fun, provocative, idealistic and perhaps a little crazy, but it’s things like this that make New York endlessly fascinating. For more, including an interview with the artist, see the Atlantic.

Nov 212011

Okay, this is insane but these guys are insanely good. And to think I got pulled over and ticketed once for just passing between cars on a non-moving Shuttle train under Times Square. At least being on wheels would have given me a little pleasure for the $75 it ultimately cost. No doubt the MTA is dissecting this right now to prevent more of the same.

A few minutes of delight in an otherwise gloomy day – both news (globally) and weather (at least in the northeast) – and some good camera work. Via Daily Dish and originally (where there’s much more) at Mandible Claw:

Nov 172011

​The Verizon Building near the Brooklyn Bridge finally has a purpose – as a projection screen for the Occupy Wall Street march. As members of the Communications Workers of America, Verizon employees have been without a contract for some time. Now at least the building – and an ugly one at that – has a purpose for tonight’s protest on the streets below. Via The Village Voice.

In a word: breathtaking.

Projection on Verizon Building - November 17, 2011

Projection on Verizon Building - November 17, 2011

Nov 062011
Apple Store Site at Grand Central

New Apple Store Site at Grand Central

I pass through Grand Central every evening and there’s been no visible change in Apple’s upcoming store site. A black curtain conceals everything (no, you can’t even peak through corners while going up the escalator - I’ve tried) and the only activity seems to be a security guard or two standing quietly at the top of the stairs.  Honestly, you would never know something is going on unless you knew otherwise – just the way that Apple likes it.

But late last night, late train back into the City, 11:00pm arrival (long day, don’t ask) and, surprise as I walked into the main concourse. At last, that Apple curtain of secrecy was completely pulled back on one side. Finally, a chance to catch a glimpse of  . . . well . . . actually, nothing.

Just an empty space.

But you know there’s more. The workers (they’re right behind the balcony railing in the middle of the image) are finally making some noise – even that has been missing from this construction site – and resurfacing the terrazzo floors which I’m sure have been channeled for utility cables. No doubt the Apple Store display tables will come once the floors are done. But for now, it’s an empty space with everything neatly hiden away. Again, just the way Apple likes it.

Only inside shots of the space that I’ve seen is a few images from the walkways (taken by an MTA employee) that run along the windows behind the space. By the way, those walkways that extend from one side of the concourse to the other are one of the most amazing spaces in NYC (they were relatively accessible until 9-11). A few more images are posted on 9to5Mac.

Grand Central Apple Store from Walkway above Concourse

Grand Central Apple Store from Walkway above Concourse


Other Apple stores in the city are also undergoing renovation, with an upgrade of the Soho location and major work at the 5th Avenue store that replaced the iconic glass cube entrance with a new one that only uses 15 panes of glass (instead of the 90 of the original). That store reopened this past Friday.

Apple 5th Ave. Store with New Cube

Apple 5th Ave. Store with New Cube

Remains to be seen how they will do the lighting at the Grand Central Terminal store since the interior space is landmarked. But given Apple’s penchant for simplicity,I’m sure they’ve worked out a unique solution. Will keep you posted if there’s something more to see before opening day around Black Friday.