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Sunday, April 30, 2006
High Gas Prices: A Result of High Demand for Gas
The news media is saturated with reports of motorists complaining about high gas prices. It's probably been on every TV newscast and every newspaper recently. (The Sunday N.Y. Times had a detailed look at motorist behavior across the country and the Oil Drum assembled a list of other articles on gas prices.) Meanwhile, the Republican plan to give everyone a hundred smackers for their gasoline has been met with a huge (mostly negative) reaction.

But on an annual basis, the cost of gasoline is nothing compared with the cost of capital depreciation on your car. Here are the numbers from AAA's latest survey of the annual costs of car ownership:

  • $3,392 — depreciation
  • $1,425 — gasoline (@ last year's 2.40 a gallon)
  • $926 — insurance
  • $735 — maintenance
  • $716 — auto loan finance charges
  • $150 — tires
  • $490 — other
  • $7,834 — total
So gasoline accounts for a mere 18% of the annual cost of owning a car. Judging by the public outcry over $3 gasoline, you'd expect that gas prices are 85% or so. So why is everyone so obsessed with gasoline prices? Why doesn't congress propose giving rebates for auto insurance or for auto depreciation?

One reason is that gas prices are in your face. They're printed in huge numbers at every gas station across the country. But more important is that the costs of gas is most important cost that is paid on a per-trip basis, so it is the chief cost that weighs on people when they make the decision to take an individual trip. (The other big ones are tolls and parking fees.) Thus, it is the main cost that can affect someone's decision to go for a drive. The other costs might affect one's choice of what model to purchase, but not whether to drive or not. So high U.S. gas prices, even though they're still among the lowest in the world, are hurting the American right to drive anywhere anytime. Vucan Vuchic explains the importance of fixed versus variable costs of driving in Transportation for Livable Cities, which is a great read for anyone interested in ways to reduce traffic congestion. He writes:
User direct costs for car travel consist mainly of gasoline, parking, and toll expenditures. These costs are somtimes referred to as "out-of-pocket costs." They have by far the strongest impact on user behavior. Most drivers tend to consider these costs carefully while disregarding many costs that are fixed or that depend only indirectly on the amount of travel, despite the fact that they latter costs are often far greater than out-of-pocket costs.
One way to reduce traffic congestion without increasing the annual cost of driving is to increase variable (or per trip) costs of driving while simultaneously reducing fixed costs. A higher gas tax would encourage people to forego individual trips, thereby reducing the price of gas by decreasing demand.

- As Gas Prices Go Up, Impact Trickles Down [NYT]
- Stories from around the country [The Oil Drum]
- Sharp Reaction to G.O.P. Plan on Gas Rebate [NYT]
- AAA Study Finds Average Car Ownership Tops $7,800 Annually [Motortrend]
- Transportation for Livable Cities [Center for Urban Policy Research]
- Posted at 11:14 PM | Permalink | Comments: 5 | Post a Comment |

Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Tips for Saving Energy: Society Edition
For the next three days I'll be attending a conference that will look into the future of the United States energy supply and ways any energy shortfalls could be mitigated. My preferred solution is for people to continue to revitalize and repopulate walkable neighborhoods like those found across the five boroughs and in Jersey City, Newark, Hoboken, Stamford, Bridgeport, New Haven, and the list could go on and on. Basically, any place that developed before the advent of the automobile. I'll let you know if my thoughts change significantly after attending this conference.

I'll be liveblogging the conference at The Oil Drum. The blogosphere's own Aaron Naparstek is moderating a panel called Energy Efficient Transportation. I'm sure that will be a high point. Shortly after Naparstek's panel, we can expect a depressing view from Matt Savinar, publisher of Life After the Oil Crash.

As a prelude to the conference, the editors of The Oil Drum have issued a press release calling attention to the fact that in the future, oil and natural gas may not be as abundant as we have come to expect them to be.

- Local Solutions to the Energy Dilemma
- The Politics of Oil: The Discourse Must Change [The Oil Drum]
- Local Energy Solutions Conference [Naparstek]
- Life After the Oil Crash
- The Oil Drum: New York City
- Posted at 11:18 PM | Permalink | Comments: 1 | Post a Comment |

Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Jane Jacobs, 1916-2006

Jane Jacobs at City College, May 6, 2004

There have been many days when I have traveled through the city, looked at bleak towers-in-the-park(ing lots), or too-wide streets, or empty or forlorn city spaces, and have thought, "Thank God for Jane Jacobs, who put a stop to all this."

Jacobs, who died today at the age of 89, was so right about so much, and in the face of so much "conventional wisdom" of her age, that her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) has to stand as one of the most influential and corageous books of the 20th century. It's author was one of the greatest and most independent thinkers of her time. I am hard pressed to think of another book that had as big an impact on the structure of the bedrock stage upon wich we go about our lives. Her book taught many of us to observe the streets and buildings that surround us in a more thoughtful way.

Her raw intellectual brilliance comes through on every page of The Death and Life, and which eloquently and vividly tore its way through the Robert Moses, slash-and-burn, overly simplistic style of city planning that prevailed in the 1950s and '60s, which would thankfully never again recover. She introduced the conecpt of "eyes on the street" that placed ordinary citizens as the first defense against crime. In describing "the intricate sidewalk ballet" of daily street activity, she called attention to the most minute and seemingly inconsequential events raised awareness of their importance to a healthy city district. She brought to light many other things that nobody had ever bothered to think about, like the need for a mixture of uses in a building or a neighborhood, which is now the conventional wisdom in neighborhood revitalization, or density, or two-way streets, or short blocks. In the process, she made everything that was happening in urban planning appear as it was: utterly wrongheaded. With one forcefully worded but never strident book, she turned the urban planning's conventional wisdom upside down and inside out.

The Death and Life is the kind of book where every time you turn the page you are turned on to something you had never thought of before, and think, "Wow, this matters, and she is so right." Every city in America owes a great deal to Jane Jacobs, but especially New York, where she lived and wrote. The only way to do her book justice is to offer an extended quote. Here, the beginning:
This book is an attack on current city planning and rebuilding. It is also, and mostly, an attempt to introduce new principles of city planning and rebuilding, different and even opposite from those now taught in everything from schools of architecture and planning to the Sunday supplements and women's magazines. My attack is not based on quibbles about rebuilding methods or hair-splitting about fashions in design. It is an attack, rather, on the principles and aims that have shaped modern, orthodox city planning and rebuilding.

In setting forth different principles, I shall mainly be writing about common, ordinary things: for instance, what kinds of city streets are safe and what kinds are not; why some city parks are marvelous and others are vice traps and death traps; why some slums stay slums and other slums regenerate themselves even against financial and official opposition; what makes downtowns shift their centers; what if anything, is a city neighborhood, and what jobs, if any, neighborhoods in great cities do. In short, I shall be writing about how cities work in real life, because this is the only way to learn what principles of planning and what practices in rebuilding can promote social and economic vitality in cities, and what practices and principles will deaden these attributes.

There is a wistful myth that if only we had enough money to spend — the figure is usually put at a hundred billion dollars — we could wipe out all our slums in ten years, reverse decay in the great, dull, gray belts that were yesterday's and day-before-yesterday's suburbs, anchor the wandering middle class and its wandering tax money, and perhaps even solve the traffic problem.

But look what we have built with the first several billions: Low-income projects that become worse centers of delinquency, vandalism and general social hopelessness than the slums they were supposed to replace. Middle-income housing projects which are truly marvels of dullness and regimentation, sealed against any buoyancy or vitality of city life. Luxury housing projects that mitigate their inanity, or try to, with a vapid vulgarity. Cultural centers that are unable to support a good bookstore. Civic centers that are avoided by anyone but bums, who have fewer choices of loitering place than others. Commercial centers that are lack-luster imitations of standardized suburban chain-store shopping. Promenades that go from no place to nowhere and have no promenaders. Expressways that eviscerate great cities. This is not the rebuilding of cities. This is the sacking of cities.
- Posted at 9:43 PM | Permalink | Comments: 0 | Post a Comment |

Monday, April 24, 2006
Housing the Rich and the Poor in New York
Fifty protesters from ACORN crashed an open house at 85 Adams Street (nearing completion today at right) in DUMBO yesterday to protest the city's 421(a) tax abatement program designed to encourage residential construction. That program was started in the 1970s at a time when nobody wanted to build in New York City, the population was plumetting and the Bronx was burning. But now, opponents say it is transferring wealth to already-rich developers who would build in the city anyway, and leading to the creation of a city inhabitable only by the wealthy. Curbed and Brownstoner had interesting debates on the protest. Many of the commenters seemed to disagree with ACORN, including Curbed's 3rd, apostrophe-averse commenter, who wrote:
How come people dont protest the affordability of Beverly Hills or Malibu or Miami Beach or Nob Hill? I mean, I certainly dont like the fact that things are so expensive but at the same time, I dont feel that it is my right to live here. If I can afford it, fine but if i cant, then i look else where.... why do other people feel that this is a right and privildge rather than a sacrifice and financial decision. [Ellipsis in original]
Echoing that sentiment, the 18th commenter wrote:
It's funny how some people want to live in a particular place (in this case, Brooklyn) but pay less than the market price. If they need affordable housing so bad, why not move to North Carolina or Florida or Texas or any other place in this fine country where one can buy a spacious inexpensive house for the price of a small condo in Dumbo?
My initial gut reaction is to agree with these thoughts. For all its riches, New York City, like American cities generally, bears more than its fare share of people who don't earn a lot of money relative to the suburbs. This leads to a decline of city services, not the least of which is public education. Declining city services and attendant rise in local tax levels, lead people of means to flee the city for the suburbs, where they can fund their great schools and roads and live their lives in blissful ignorance that poor people exist. It is a self-perpetuating, vicious cycle.

Expensive apartment towers are merely a symptom of the problem. The real enemy of affordable housing is downzoning.
From that perspective, I would rather see housing advocates go out to Greenwich, Conn., or Scarsdale or Locust Valley and protest the suburban towns across the country that practice the type of exclusionary zoning that keeps building too expensive to allow for affordable housing. As a result of the Mount Laurel decisions, New Jersey is the only state in the nation that requires that each municipality take on its fair share of affordable housing, which helps to alleviate underclass ghettos in cities like Newark and Camden. That was an enormous victory for the affordable or inclusionary housing movement. Let's not forget that Brooklyn is still home to East New York and Bushwick and NYCHA-owned housing projects from Williamsburg to Sheepshead Bay. That's where you're going to protest lack of affordable housing?

But on the other hand, I wouldn't want to live here if everyone but the affluent moved to North Carolina or Florida or Texas. Beverly Hills and Nob Hill and Greenwich, despite their splendor, are pretty dull places to live. A place where everyone has the same income tends toward sterility and social alienation. Segregation by income, after all, is one of the top knocks against the suburbs. But the focus of housing advocates ought to be opening up the suburbs and exurbs to affordable housing, not on prohibiting cities from developing housing for the wealthy.

Income inequality is the scourge of capitalism and indeed if it gets wide enough, a threat to society. But as long as we must accept it as an unfortunate given, a city that embraces people at all levels will exert an energy and attraction not found elsewhere. There is a scene in Oliver Stone's 1987 movie Wall Street where Master of the Universe Gordon Gekko and his protege Bud Fox are sharing a limo ride on Park Avenue. Gekko points through the rain-streaked window to a guy in a suit and a guy sifting through garbage (pictured), and asks what separates one from the other. The answer looks to be about four feet of sidewalk. That scene, two guys at opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum sharing the same space, could be set in this country just about nowhere except New York. The city remains such a magnet for people around the world in part because it is home to rich and poor alike, and in fiction and in reality, they rub shoulders on a daily basis. There is a kind of subtle creative energy that pulsates through the city because of that. It's not just the rich and poor comingling here. Heightening that is the fact that people here tend to be from every race, ethnicity, national origin, religion and sexual orientation that exists. David Brooks thinks you can find that kind of diversity in exurbia. But you can't, except perhaps in the most cursory, drive-by-and-gawk-at-the-immigrants-through-the-windshield kind of way.

The city needs the rich and the poor if it is to continue as a unique place in America, and it needs housing for them all — rich and poor and everyone in between. Startsandfits.com supports every effort to build housing (and create jobs) for anybody and everybody in New York City. If the developers are going to build in the city anyway, the 421a program should be scrapped and the money saved spent on improved city services, better education and low-income housing. But if there are marginal projects where developers decide to build only because of the tax abatement, maybe it should be kept. In any event the real problem is income inequality that creates a class of super-rich who can parachute in anywhere and price-out everyone else no matter what the supply of housing looks like. Housing advocates would do better to support whatever public policy stimulates housing construction at every level, bringing down the prices for everyone. The most effective way to do this in New York City is to rally against the downzonings that are cementing low-density development patterns in neighborhoods across the outer boroughs.

Curbed's 16th commenter summarized a lot of my thoughts nicely:
People forget that less than 10 years ago, nobody was building any market rate housing in Dumbo, Williamsburg, or anywhere in Brooklyn, really. These tax abatements last about 10 years. That isn't terribly long. Why kill the goose that's laying golden eggs? Brooklyn is, in the long term, being helped by all this new housing. … the solution to that is to actually build MORE housing, not to stifle it, by removing tax breaks, extreme downzoning, NIMBY-ism etc. [Ellipsis added.]
Postscript: I admit that when I went to Downtown Brooklyn last month and got all excited about the vitality and new building going on there, one of the construction images I had in my mind was the above-pictured 85 Adams. Upon visiting DUMBO this afternoon I was excited to see other new construction. A block away is this building rising at Jay and York Streets.


And beyond that, a rooftop addition is being built atop some older urban fabric.


How cool.

- 85 Adams Makes Everyone's Brains Explode [Curbed]
- ACORN Protesters Storm The Beacon Tower [Brownstoner]
- Activists: 'We can't live in New York City' [Metro]
- Report says luxury developers benefit from tax program [Downtown Express]
- Cooperative and Condominium Abatement [NYC.gov]
- ACORN
- Mount Laurel Doctrine [Wikipedia]
- REVIEW: David Brooks, On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense [TNAC]
- Downtown Brooklyn's Pedestrian-Only Corner [S&F]
- Posted at 8:32 PM | Permalink | Comments: 8 | Post a Comment |

Sunday, April 23, 2006
A Sunday in Pictures: Accidents Happen
I walked up to 14th Street and Eighth Avenue today because I was excited to bring you the first look at the brand new buffered bike lane that Transportation Alternatives announced last week. (Aaron Naparstek isn't celebrating.) When I got there, I discovered that the bike lane doesn't quite exist yet, as you can see.

After inspecting the pavement for signs of a future bike lane, I looked up to see that construction is well underway for Renzo Piano's New York Times headquarters at 40th and Eighth. Things seem to be moving along quite nicely there.

Next I caught the crosstown bus to head over to the East Side. The M14D creeped along with about half the seats filled until we got to Union Square. We waited at Fourth Avenue for longer than usual, and a bus supervisor got on and started speaking with the driver. Then the driver gets on the P.A. and says "Everyone has to get off. Someone hit the bus." So we all filed off and looked at the accident's aftermath, if you can call it that.

Ouch. Fortunately, nobody seemed to be injured. In fact, nobody on the bus even seemed to be aware that we'd been hit. A cursory inspection of the bus revealed no sign of damage. Another bus was already waiting, and everyone started piling in there.

I decided to carry forward on foot. As I was leaving, a woman standing at the vehicle was talking on her cellphone. I took her to be the minivan's driver. She asked some people nearby: "What street is this?"

- Big Win! Here Comes the 8th Avenue Bike Lane [TransAlt]
- She Deserves a Vacation, Chuck [Naparstek]
- Posted at 8:53 PM | Permalink | Comments: 5 | Post a Comment |

Thursday, April 20, 2006
The Bronx's Green Housing Boom
Photo courtesy of Larry Raccioppo/HPD

When President Jimmy Carter famously visited the Bronx in October 1977, the Times began its coverage this way:
President Carter, in New York on United Nations affairs, made a sudden and dramatic trip yesteray morning to the South Bronx, where he viewed some of the country's worst urban blight. The Presidential motorcade passed block after block of burned-out and abandoned buildings, rubble-strewn lots and open fire hydrants, and people shouting "Give us money!" and "We want jobs!"
He visited Charlotte Street, where he praised those trying to build Charlotte Gardens, one of the earliest redevelopment ideas for the Bronx still being ravaged by arson and the RAND Corporations's "planned shrinkage" scheme to reduce city services in the neighborhoods that needed them most.

A half a block away and four years later, Daniel Petrie filmed a memorable scene from Fort Apache, the Bronx, in which a prostitue, Charlotte, played by Pam Grier, approaches and kills two police officers on a grim stretch of asphalt and decrepit buildings.

The Bronx is now emerging from the era of disinvestment in a big way. As The Times reported on plans to build a seven-story mixed-use building with ground floor retail space and 174 apartments reserved for low-income families. There was a groundbreaking ceremony yesterday. Every other month, the New York City Housing Development Corporation announces financing for multiple buildings of about that size on empty lots in the Bronx. (Most recently it announced financing on two 111-unit apartments buildings, one at Intervale and Westchester, and one at Villa Avenue and 204th Street.) The Bronx is undergoing a big housing construction boom, largely off the radar screens unless you live there.

Urban Horizons II will be at Intervale Avenue and Louis Nine Boulevard. It's future site is pictured below.
This building is particularly exciting because it will have a "green roof," which every building in New York should have. Topsoil and vegitation on the roof will help reduce summertime temperatures in the city, and will absorb particulate matter in a neighborhood suffering from disproportionately high asthma rates, will drink up stormwater runoff that inundates sewers that overflow with foul water into the Bronx River, and will also strengthen the roof and reduce long-term maintenance costs. Reflecting its nonprofit developers belief that Internet access should be provided to all families regardless of income, in the way that the government provides electricity or water, all the apartments will have high-speed Internet access. It is also respectful of the neighborhood's mid-rise housing history, incorporating a red brick facade and decorative cornice and window lintels — a place that people will be proud to call home.

The image at the top of this post shows the site as it stood this morning. Below is an architectural rendering of the building.

And here is another view.


Despite the wonderful and extremely important feature of the green roof, the building's greenest features are, to paraphrase the New Yorker's David Owen, that it is big, and that it is in the Bronx. A large apartment building has much less surface area than the number of detached single family homes that would house an equivalent number of people. This means it requires less energy to heat in the winter and cool in the summer (and even less energy to cool because of green roof). And the building's location next to the subway (it's half a block away from the 2 an the 5) will encourage its residents to ride the subway instead of drive.

When you compare this building with its green roof, its retail space and its 174 wired apartments with the Charlotte Gardens up the street, the improvement the city is witnessing in affordable housing supply is stark. Begun the year after Fort Apache came out, Charlotte Gardens consists of 89 houses on 10 blocks of detached, single-family homes amid the charred rubble of a former dense neighborhood of five-story apartment buildings adjacent to Crotona Park. This suburanization of the city, in my mind, always represented the epitome of "planned shrinkage" in that it wastes 10 blocks to house the same number of people who could easily fit in one modest apartment building. The following image shows the footprint of the neighborhood circa 1965, before the arson and abandonment, and a site plan for the Charlotte Gardens.

And the following image shows a bird's eye photograph from local.live.com of Charlotte Gardens as it appears now.

Is that the Bronx? It looks more like Long Island. As Richard Plunz wrote in A History of Housing in New York City:
At Charlotte Gardens the houses stand in surreal contrast ot the burned-out shells of apartment buildings nearby. … [A]t the very end of the era of postwar suburbanization, the suburban single-family house has finally been attained by a few urban low-income families, albeit in minuscule numbers, and in the South Bronx rather than in Hempstead. … The density of 6.2 dwellings per acre is the lowest of any social housing ever constructed in New York City.
Today, the Bronx remains as desperate for housing as ever. The decision to use 10 blocks to house 89 homes at Charlotte Gardens seems like an inefficient use of space. In any event, the Bronx has come a long way from the days of Carter's visit and its portrayal in Fort Apache.

- The Greening of a Landmark of Urban Blight [NYT]
- Housing and Economic Development Group Pioneers New "Green" & "Wired" Affordable Housing in the South Bronx [Whedco]
- Planned Shrinkage [Everything2]
- A History of Housing in New York City [B&N]
- Fort Apache, the Bronx [IMDB]
- Posted at 1:56 AM | Permalink | Comments: 3 | Post a Comment |

Sunday, April 16, 2006
Starts & Fits Goes Corporate
Folks, I'm going to experiment with some ads on this site. They'll be text-only and will appear on the main page and in the archives. I think they will be different for different users as well. Hopefully they'll be able to help pay for the costs of running the site.
- Posted at 11:02 PM | Permalink | Comments: 1 | Post a Comment |

Friday, April 14, 2006
See Ya!
The New York Sun had an interesting story yesterday about gas stations that are closing on the West Side, in part because of the Department of City Planning's recent upzoning of West Chelsea. The article mentions four* gas stations that have closed recently, and included in its print edition a photograph of a fifth, all shown in red on the clickable map at right. The article notes:
The far West Side has more gas stations than most parts of Manhattan, but the neighborhood's ongoing transformation into an upscale residential enclave is in part possible because gas stations — with their unused air space, relatively large square footage, and prime locations — are seen increasingly as weak business enterprises.
Here's the list of closed stations from north to south: Whenever neighborhood change is afoot, people familiar with the existing environment will be saddened to some degree about the loss of what exists, even if its the lowly gas station. As the Sun article made its way through the blogosphere yesterday, it called forth a touch of what is probably equal parts mock angst and real wistfulness about the loss of the gas stations. Gawker noted:
OK, it's not the disappearance of gas stations that bothers us, per se. (As long as the cabbies know where to find it, we're good.) But it's the general, wanton, Curbed-y condo-ification of Manhattan that's really starting to get to us. Isn’t part of the whole point of living here that there's a bodega on the corner where you can get a quart of milk and a ham-and-egg sandwich at 3 in the morning? Seven different dry cleaners to chose from within a few blocks? A quick subway ride to mini-storage warehouses and parking lots-cum-sprawling flea markets? And, yeah, a place to buy gas?
And Curbed seemed to agree with Gawker's "sad tune."

Gawker's point is well taken. The new buildings evoke a different city with a different feel from the run-down West Side that almost became known as TunJav. But the sterile, you-might-as-well-be-in-Tyson's Corner minimarts associated with gas stations compete with the best New York bodegas, which tend to be in the ground floors of hundred-year-old brick walkups. As for being able to buy gas, there are still plenty of places for that. The gas stations still in business along Tenth and Eleventh Avenues from 23rd to 53rd Streets are mapped in green above (click to enlarge). Here's the list, from north to south, with Thursday evening prices of regular unleaded noted:
  • Mobil - 51st & Eleventh ($2.979)
  • Sunoco - 47th & Eleventh ($2.979)
  • Hess - 44th/45th & Tenth ($2.939)
  • BP - 36th & Tenth ($2.939)
  • Mobil - 30th & Eleventh ($2.999)
  • Lukoil - 24th & Tenth ($2.939) (pictured below)
Lukoil at 24th and Tenth, with an office tower under construction beyond.
I guess it's safe to say that if there's one business enterprise that Starts & Fits doesn't mind seeing forced out of the city, it's gas stations. In fact, I'm downright psyched about the trend. First, you take your life in your hands walking past one of those things. If you're not run down by a driver, you've still got to wend your way around cars waiting in the sidewalk for an entry into traffic. The fumes are pretty noxious, too. But the most important aspect of these property sales is the effect the land use transformation might have on how people choose to move through the city and enjoy its public spaces. At base, gas stations attract cars, and apartment building attract people, who (even if they're rich yuppies) enliven a neighborhood with the kind of world famous level of activity that makes New York New York. By living in the city they will automatically drive less than they would if they lived out in the suburbs, which will take a tiny incremental step toward saving humanity from more greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

Congestion pricing seems to be at least a few years away, despite its obvious enormous benefit to the city. New York City is already known as a hard place to buy gas, but if an even greater lack of gas stations helps discourage people from driving in the city and creating congestion, we'll have less pollution and aggravation and a healthier mass transit system (and healthier people too as people choose to walk and bicycle more).

For two years I lived on 36th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues. The neighborhood was and is a patchwork of low-rise offices and warehouses, auto service shops, horse stables, Lincoln Tunnel approach ramps, parking lots, and the remaining hardy tenements that survived the 20th century's demolition derby. These tenements have become desirable places to live again for many people find charm in them. Now they're called prewar walkups.

Shuttered Gulf station, Tenth Avenue between 27th and 28th Streets.
When I lived among them, these gas stations and parking lots always evoked a sad local history. A century ago and more, when the fastest thing New Yorkers had going was the horse-and-carriage, real estate developers filled the West Side with tenements. Then along came the automobile, which promised an exodus from the city but also demanded a lot of space. In service of the auto, the Lincoln Tunnel and its spaghetti of approach ramps were rammed into the neighborhood. Property values tumbled and tenements lost their value. In place, the best thing to put in there was a parking lot or a gas station to serve those cars the tunnel brought in and out.

Were it not for a number of lucky factors including New York's great mass transit system, Manhattan's island geography and a world economy that chose New York as a global command center for directing the flow of capital, the exodus may have continued. If you replace enough apartment buildings with parking lots, your "city" has been replaced by suburbia. That happened to cities all across the northeast United States where buildings became less valuable than parking spaces and downtowns were gutted as sururbs grew. A lot of once bustling cities are lucky now even to have gas stations. It is a sign of New York's continued magnetism that land is more valuable here for housing. Real estate developers, if you're out there, get rid of these gas stations and build the neighborhood back!

*Note: One of the four "gas stations" was one listed at 53rd and Tenth. As far as I can remember, and looking at a bird's eye view image on local.live.com, that was not a place to buy gas, but a place to have your car fixed. I've included it in my map anyway.

- Gasoline Stations Are Disappearing From Manhattan Landscape [NY Sun 4/13/06]
- West Chelsea Zoning Proposal - Approved [NYC Dept. of City Planning]
- The Decline of Manhattan: Wherein Gas Stations Make Us Sad [Gawker 4/13/06]
- Curbed Trendwatch Update: More Gas to Go [Curbed 4/13/06]
- Development Du Matin: The Atelier [Curbed 4/13/06]
- West Chelsea Exxon Station XX'd Out [Curbed 9/6/05]
- Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880-1950 [B&N]
- The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo [B&N]
- Posted at 12:46 AM | Permalink | Comments: 10 | Post a Comment |

Tuesday, April 11, 2006
RV Reaches Peak
The following is a guest post from Starts & Fits's resident image critic and bubble watcher, Futurebird.

I was jogging down Delancey Street this evening when I saw this poster near a parking garage. I stopped and stared at it for a long moment mesmerized by this enormous, presumably expensive, yet childish house-car perched impossibly on a mountain peak. Trapped with no safe way to back out or drive forward. Would it fall forward or slide back? Could it snap in two? I imagined the image idling under a clear blue sky and found more horror than comedy in the thought of people moving frantically inside. Somehow this image resonated deep deep in my subconscious. That's good advertising. The appeal or power of an image is dependent on the image's ability to resonate—not only on the literal level, I have described, but at a deeper level where our greatest desires and fear reside.

Then I read the text. Robin Williams in a film about an RV? Hell no. That sounds like a tramatic movigoing expereince. Another bad "family movie" about what we've been taught to picture as the typical American family. Love will save the day. Love is all you need. Not gas. Or, god forbid money and an economy that actually manufactures something besides bad movies.

Nonetheless as I ran home I contemplated the image further. I had seen that image some place before. …

Yes here!


Graph of Japan land values bears no relation whatsoever to the United States housing market. None at all. Source is Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis. Hat tip to The Oil Drum.

Ah— So perhaps this poster is a metaphor for the American Empire, for the real esate bubble and it's inevitable collapse—for the present precarious state of our luxurious gas guzzling civilization.

I used to think that the jet plane was the ideal symbol of the American Empire— (a fragile egg supported by air carrying immense wealth powered by the most energy packed fuel ever burned) but now I feel that the RV is the real symbol. As both a gas guzzler and a home, it encapsulates the highway-focused way of life and the real estate economy in one delicious icon. It also captures the domesticity—perhaps the inhabitants of this home with wheels are not panicked at all. Perhaps they are seated at a little table serving pancakes from a hot griddle, watching television, oblivious to the danger and natural beauty around them. Yes! This is America.

The only question that remains is if the creators of the movie's ad campaign consciously picked an image with such a dark subtext for what presumably is a comedy.

Or of this is just a coincidence?

- US vs. Japan Land Prices Pictorial Update [Mish]
- Housing Market Again [The Oil Drum]
- Posted at 11:04 PM | Permalink | Comments: 2 | Post a Comment |

Saturday, April 08, 2006
Why Are We Building a New Yankee Stadium?
A plan for a new Yankee Stadium that includes a new Metro-North station is better than a plan for a new stadium that relies on constructing new parking facilities, which, unbelievably, is exacly what Charles Gargano was talking about doing. But that doesn't mean that the plan for a new stadium is worth pursuing. In the bedrock underlying this whole issue is a question, Why do we need a new stadium?

One would think that baseball fans would be the ones cheering as the Yankees pursued a new stadium. But they're among those in the forefront of the criticism. Why? Three letters to the editor of The New York Times today give three compelling reasons.

Corey M. Goodman of Manhattan draws a parallel to Penn Station's destruction, and notes that he prefers attending games in the House that Ruth Built:
Just stepping inside always sends shivers down my spine, evoking thoughts of the countless events, names and faces that have thrilled millions of people for the past 80 years. Not to mention the overwhelming sense that I, too, am part of that story just by being there.
Talk about steeped in history! Ballparks.com explains:
For forty years, Yankee Stadium was home to a steady stream of championship teams. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig passed on their legacy to Joe DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto, who then passed it on to Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. So mighty were the Yankees, and such a draw was the team and its stadium, that by 1958 the the Giants and Dodgers, New York's other Major League Baseball teams, had moved to California. For four years, from 1958 through 1961, there was only one place to go to watch Major League Baseball in New York City.
The second letter, from Doron Steger, notes that that the new stadium would actually be smaller than the current stadium!
The Yankees are building a stadium that will seat up to 4,000 fewer fans than the current stadium. This would not be a problem if the current stadium were underused, but it's quite the opposite. Most Yankee home games last year were sellouts or near sellouts. In effect, the Yankees will be denying entry to the new stadium to some 4,000 people each game.
You have a team with the highest attendance in the nation and you build a new stadium to restrict attendance? It would seem this whole thing is just a ploy to decrease seat supply and jack up ticket prices. Screw that! I'll become a Mets fan.

It's possible the Yankees have too much money at their disposal to use weilding influence on projects like this. Mitch, in a comment on an earlier post, draws our attention to an NPR interview with a man who, as Mitch notes,
grew up near Yankee Stadium in the early 40s told how he used to collect Yankee autographs: he waited by the subway entrance and caught the players as they came to work.
Now the Yankees drive their Hummers to the games, as far removed from the fans as they can be. Wow, how times have changed. The very thought of a Yankee taking the D train up to the stadium is absolutely unthinkable. So, apparently, is the idea of the wealthiest team in baseball being happy with the storied stadium it already has.

The third letter is from Jeremy Colangelo-Bryan, an urban planner, who notes,
The highways around the stadium are severely congested, and local development projects will generate more traffic. The transportation component adds parking and lacks committed public transportation improvements.
He goes on to suggest something that seems to have been not considered in this plan (which Mr. Goodman from above and others would probably object to for historical reasons):
The stadium should be constructed on the current stadium site, while the Yankees play home games elsewhere for one season.
Gasp! How could he even suggest that? Well, it's precedented. As we learn from Ballparks.org, "During the 1974 and 1975 seasons, the Yankees played at Shea Stadium while the city made major renovations to Yankee Stadium." That two-year exile doesn't seem to have diminished their standing in the major leagues. Mr. Colangelo-Bryan also points out the somewhat relevant fact that
Extensive research has found uniformly that new sports facilities create no positive local economic impacts.
That is true even when one is building a new stadium, not simply replacing one that already exists. And in this case, since they're decreasing the number of fans who can attend games, they're probably decreasing the "multiplier effect" economic spillovers to the local community. We're spending taxpayer dollars to reduce patronage at local businesses?

Why on earth are we doing this again? The conclusion to draw from this is that the government is using taxpayer dollars to build an expensive, smaller, unnecesary new stadium that the community opposes and the fans don't want, and parking lots that would generate more traffic. If you must build a new stadium, build it bigger than the original so more people can enjoy the games, build it on the site of the existing stadium to avoid taking parkland, and do everything you can to reduce traffic by encouraging people to take mass transit, which is the best way to get to or from a large sporting event. But the best course of action would be to save the public money for the worthy places where it is needed. Build the new Metro-North station next to the existing stadium (which is closer to the rail line anyway), and stop trying to fix what isn't broken with a solution that's worse than the original.

- A Yankee Victory, a Loss for the Fans [NYT]
- Yankee Stadium Rail Station 'Not in the Cards' [S&F]
- 'Hey Mister': A Boy's Pride for the '43 Yankees [NPR]
- Yankee Stadium [Ballparks.com]
- Save Our Parks!
- Projects Moving Forward [S&F]
- The Transportation/Winning Connection [S&F]
- Posted at 12:44 PM | Permalink | Comments: 3 | Post a Comment |

Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Projects Moving Forward
Today there is good news on two fronts and ominous news on a third.

First, the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine is proceeding with plans to allow construction on its large underused grounds. A new apartment building, as I've written before, would enliven a dreary corner (pictured), bring patrons to local businesses and finance the preservation of a beautiful Gothic marvel. Years of deferred maintenance have quite obviously taken their toll on the unfinished cathedral, and here is a win-win-win remedy.

Second, the mayor and governor announced that the city and state (supported by about a gazillion politicians) will include a Metro-North station at the new Yankee Stadium! This is a complete about-face from just a couple of weeks ago. The sheer logic of the need for a rail station there, and all the blogging, must have changed people's minds.

Third, Atlantic Yards. My general inclination is to support projects that create housing, office or recreation space near mass transit, which is exactly what Bruce Ratner wants to put atop the subway hub and LIRR terminal at Flatbush and Atlantic. But Aaron Naparstek raises a number of reasons not to support the Atlantic Yards development. In what is probably very analogous to what was proposed for Yankee Stadium, this project seems to be taking on a number of automobile-oriented, traffic-generating characteristics. Talk of squandering such a one-in-a-million opportunity is enough to make one cringe. You should have a look at Aaron's thoughtful observations.

- Deal Close on Apartments Near Cathedral [NYT]
- Preserving Parking Lots as a Cathedral Decays [S&F]
- Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki Announce Support for New Yankee Stadium Multimodal Transportation Center [NYC.gov]
- Yankee Stadium Rail Station 'Not in the Cards' [S&F]
- Yankee Stadium Plan Mapped [OnNYTurf]
- Yankees Bomb South Bronx With Traffic, Pollution [The Oil Drum]
- Make It Permanent! [Save Our Parks]
- The Bad News Nets [Naparstek]
- Posted at 9:34 PM | Permalink | Comments: 4 | Post a Comment |


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