You Kent Go Home Again.

So the bucolic artist colony that is Williamsburg is under assault by the forces of… grain? Can that be right? Apparently. Lots of paranoid theorizing is going on, of the kind that you might expect of people who think parties where attendees dress up like Jesus in blackface is a cultural zeitgeist that sufficiently inherits the mantle of ‘artists community.’ Oddly, though, this time real artists are involved. This is useful, because the pull quote from the lawyers and bankers who ‘moved in last year’ is not going to generate the crocodile tears necessary to gird this story.

You can be forgiven if this elliptical opening generated a ‘hunh?’ response (less so if you just got all up in your drawers about my lack of love for the fixie-set). The back story is last week the FDNY got wind of an illegal conversion — one so underground everyone I know has attended at least one party there and even has its own name — and, like any actual exercise of bureaucratic authority, managed to remedy the situation in a way that pleased pleased no one: namely, evicting residents on one of the coldest nights this year with scant notice.

The building is question is 475 Kent Avenue, just south of the Williamsburg Bridge. The reasons for the evacuation were the usual litany of code violations associated with illegal conversion and the bonus of the storage of highly flammable raw materials for an illegal commercial bakery in the basement. Not since Witness has flour been so sexy. That apparently was the source of the urgency, not a rumored court case that would garner the tenants some legal foothold.

Now, to be clear, the city was in the right. Legally the tenants have little standing, and everyone living there knew that (I can say that since anyone who didn’t also doesn’t apparently have access to the Internet, so they can’t read this either). And I only have a limited amount of sympathy for anyone who willingly signs a lease they know to be nearly worthless — a fact compounded by the fact that anyone signing in the past five years not only had to contend with the usual uncertainty, but had to be aware that the rapidly increasing property values in the area made their situation even more tenuous.

On the other side, we have the vigilant tag team of the DOB and FDNY, who have such a finely-grained inspection sense that they managed to pinpoint, perhaps down to the minute, when the over 100 violations racked up in the past ten years came to a head, requiring immediate and unrelenting action on a Sunday night — with an outside temperature of less than 20 degrees.

As a consequence, most everyone involved doesn’t look all that upstanding, save those benighted artists. And the funny thing is, even though the ‘save the artists’ rallying cry seems like it is on everyone’s speed dial, there are at least a handful of real artists among the 200-odd residents. This in and of itself isn’t reason to rewrite commercial zoning regulations, but it is interesting some part of the retread script we’ve been seeing is authentic for once.

What rings hollow is the posturing that clutters up the discussion. The “Williamsburg is under attack” quotes must feel tired even to the most indignant arriviste. Most of the leases coming up for renewal date to 1997. If the golden years of Williamsburg are 1997, then I’m Picasso.

There have been established paths to legal conversion. They are time consuming, expensive (though that’s an exceedingly relative term), but mostly they are highly variable. Making the decision to commit can provide enviable real estate and a chance to either pursue one’s dreams (artistic or otherwise) or save a good deal of money. And if that fails, it can result in losing your home and possibly a large part of your personal possessions. That’s the sort of gamble that seems to be intrinsic to great New York stories – ones that can leave many of us who missed the boat seething with envy.

It can also lead to an artificial stasis in those lucky few: freedom from want (rent-wise) doesn’t always impel the artistically inclined to new heights. And it is these landed artisans that generates such revulsion at the concept — if this largess is wasted, why should it be restricted to the creative classes? Every frustrated writer, accountant or plumber might also believe a cheap loft is the only thing keeping them from complete self-actualization.

I haven’t delved into the message board (of course they have a message board), but I suspect at least some of the residents had started down the tortured path to legality. I lived for a while with a friend who was at the tail-end of a 20-year journey: boxes of litigation dating to the seventies, tales of phone and electrical lines cut by the owner, and a full-time attorney, and they were still living with a TCO (that’s a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy). It’s not a process for the faint-hearted, and bleating about saving artists is not germane, it just happens to be what you hear from the less considered willy-come-latelys every time a building is demolished so Karl Fischer can make us hate him more (if it helps, young’uns, the scourge of McCarron Park has found his way to my block).

Is there a way out of this mess? In a general sense, no. The Loft Law, which is what governs a lot of these situations, is a defunct mechanism (very few buildings left in the city qualify, and it is at the behest of the owners, not tenants) in practice, even though that was the model of occupancy for dozens of buildings in Williamsburg. Everyone has turned a blind eye to this: the city because it is the city, the owners because they are happy to collect rent with next to no investment until it is convenient to have your building evacuated, and tenants, well, because more and more of our ‘artists’ are the self-involved progeny of the affluent who fully expect a purchased apartment courtesy the ‘rents when they decide pushing out a couple kids and drinking at Union Hall instead of Union Pool is a better existence than Rubulad pot lucks.

In the specific sense, well, the people at 475 Kent aren’t acquitting themselves very well. Check out this thread. One person seems to have their head around the unfortunately unpleasant reality, and they were asked to stop posting.

There isn’t going to be a legislative solution anytime soon, and not just because of the convoluted city/state division in housing law and massive amount of influence exercised by REBNY and the four, five or whatever families who control so much of our real estate (not sure if we can still count Macklowe — ha ha!), because absent blanket rent regulation, we are talking about valuing residents in preference of property rights. The sounds pretty socialist (fine by me), upends the bedrock of American tax economics (ditto) but also gets into a murky pseudo-Malthusian process that, given how we run everything else, would devolve from meritocracy into the usual nepotistic favoritism in no time (not fine).

How’s that? Well, we keep hearing about how saving artists are necessary to keep a community vibrant, or something. But to riff on an very old Doonesbury comic about gentrification, what about the poor people who get displaced by the artists? If they weren’t devaluing the neighborhood to begin with, the ‘authentic’ grit and low rents wouldn’t inspire hordes of RISD and Brown grads to surrender their birthright to entirely unexceptional Midwest existences and decide that the world needs another DJ or performance artist in the first place. Circle of life indeed.

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Ain’t no platform high enough.

I’m glad so much energy is being put into saving the high line. Even though it has little historical relevance to anything currently in the city, it serves as a cosmic thread knitting together the idealized vision of high art, high commerce and really fucking high real estate values. Plus it served briefly as the touchstone for white middle-class photo blogger urban adventuring. I can imagine the likes of Jason Kottke and Jake Dobkin wiping a poignant eye at some future SoHo Apple Store conference as they talk about the good old days. An aspiring media studies NYU student asks one of them about the odd doorway in the corner of one of their photos. “That, oh, that’s the entrance to Comme des Garçons; they opened a couple years before I moved to the city.” So, yeah, I want to get to one of those Highline Ballroom fund raisers toot sweet.

The city, via the MTA, is doing their part, by mandating the recent round of dissimulation on the Hudson Yards try really hard to preserve the last mile, which bends west and then circles around the western edge of the site. That will satisfy the hordes of people who want an uninterrupted — once you get around the movie screen, pool, and leaping clip art figures envisioned by Diller Scofido + The Other Guy — from the Spice Market to, um, the Javits Center (now looking to expand by re-roofing the place for $800 million).

But I didn’t start this post to carp about the facile just-add-water historicism that has pervaded the real estate development that is the High Line. And I didn’t want to spend any time at all on the Hudson Yards submissions because they aren’t legally binding, and I can’t imagine that a single person in Manhattan believes that any portion that even looks remotely interesting will be actually built (if Gary Extell was really cool, instead of sliding in with the high design spoiler option, he should just hire Scarano and Kondylis to do his proposals — a “going to war with the army you have” gambit), or to attack the shortsightedness of the entire conceit, the potential problems with a 7 line extension without other key transit improvements, or the fact that we are saddled with this cluster fuck because Pataki completely de-funded the state’s portion of capital improvements for the MTA, forcing them into hopeless debt and questionable fiscal decisions such as selling assets for one-time gains. No, I’m going to skip all that and talk about flatness.

Unless you run or ride in Manhattan, you can be forgiven for not noticing how drastically elevation changes occur. The reclamation of large areas of land (Turtle and Kips Bay, Alphabet City and Battery Park City) also adds to the myth of flatness. But in areas where natural landscape is reasonably close to its unadorned state, you encounter what might be expected from any pile of rock: the landscape drops steeply and quickly to the water’s edge.

There’s nothing wrong with this: it creates interesting vistas, and, assuming rational zoning, even helps with views and light — though in most cases the 15-20 feet differential isn’t that substantial — except at ground level, where vertical circulation is most evident, and often creates memorable vistas. The slight incline up Broad approaching Wall Street give a subtle monumentality (well, before the guns and fences distracted); as you head uptown, the changes are more drastic, as are the resulting views. Coming upon St John’s from the park side, at night, with looming darkened towers helps one truly understand why Gothic majesty persisted for so long as the go-to style for institutional might.

All this wondrous variation is the enemy of developers everywhere. Flat land is so… efficient. Cheap. Regular. Repetitive. Banal. So every time the city tries to jump start development and hands over the keys to the charlatan cabal that dutifully turns up (Related, Brookfield, Vornado, ad nauseum), the part of the solution that is hardest to parse is what happens on the ground.

There are many reasons for this: developers are trying to minimize promises of urban amenity (read: parks and plazas that must be maintained), while also shading just how much retail and advertising it to come (read: lots). In a couple cases it also helps paper over the difficult gap between concept and execution, often summarized in the distance, top to bottom, from one end of an idea to another.

At the WTC site, it’s about twenty feet east to west. The Hudson Yards gap is even larger, and even if the flat earth crew got creative, there’s only so much to be done, since the first thing they have to do is build a platform. A developer’s dream yes? Sort of; it seems that this might even be a parking lot a developer can’t love. That’s because some estimates put the gap at the west end (the part that is supposed to, you know, connect with that park — or garbage transfer station, if Andrew Berman gets his way) at over thirty feet.

And that’s not just the western edge. That’s a sheer wall that will run along 34th street as well. There is little hope for street level anything, since the other side of this wall will be the rail yard. It will top out higher than much of Javits (some previous plans for expansion included a second floor, but were scrapped for cost reasons). It will isolate the project from just about every direction, and it will look like nothing other than every bad large scale attempt as ‘revitalization’ from Albany to La Defense.
Take a look at this rendering. See that little squib dancing across the gap in the distance? That’s the “High” Line, below the horizon of the public space of the Brookfield proposal. That’s what developers are expected to spend an extra $130 million on: so the High Line can circle a big lawn straddled by even bigger towers festooned with the latest Karim Rashin gimcrackery. So, yeah, the Steven Holll renderings look sorta cool, if I ignore the fact that the massing is on the south side of the site, the most interesting feature, a monolithic low rise, would never get built without retail intrusion, and the entire thing will stand head and shoulders over the west side — in the worst way possible.

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Easy on the lies.

Hey, did the 9/11 fairy leave new renderings under your pillow too? So best. Splashed on the back cover of the Observer is a glorious testimony to the skill of the Dream Team of architects, the indomitable spirit of American can-do, and the awesome hardware capacity of dBox. It is also the first time we’ve seen anything that details the ground level conditions at the World Trade Center site.

Over the past couple months we’ve been seeing more details (albeit in a tertiary way) of what the actual streetscape would be, each seemingly a counter-argument for limitations we haven’t yet seen fully explicated. Just about this time last year (or was it the year before?), the last futile attempt of New York New Visions to impact the planning process made it pretty clear that security considerations were going to keep street life to a series of cordons leading to buildings wrapped in prison quality sheathing at the base. But no one wanted to say for sure. Excuses about ‘too early’ were offset with ‘we really are worried and working’ which no one took as a good sign.

The new renderings from last week, along with Childs’ most recent emanations, tout lots of glass, which is the sign universal symbol of powerful, elegant, affluent modernism. It also enables you to create nighttime renderings that shine like an Aldus lamp.

The most exciting thing I could find is sadly underreported: apparently rebuilding the World Trade Center not only requires moving heaven and earth – it is actually going to happen. With nary a dollar of funding from the state DOT, and defying all altimeters known to science, the new site is so incredibly flat. The sixteen to twenty foot elevation change running from Church to West Street is now a couple delicate steps at the corner of the Liberty and West Streets. See, this is what you get when you hire European architects. They must do their calculations in metric or something.

Lots of other things have gotten flatter as well. Bollards, for instance, are slim, or actually invisible now. As are control gates in the pavement and armed guards. Maybe that’s why everything is so expensive. Though the intersection of Broad and Wall Streets require physical interventions and personnel presence that make the security tighter than a joke about a nun’s sexual habits, the new WTC will be a gracious, flat esplanade that is so dignified that even Roberto Cavalli will only want signage facing Church Street (that’s an obscure one, I know: when doing speculative renderings, you usually get faux retailer logos, but either as a joke or because someone at dBox fancies Cavalli — a clothing line best summed up as ‘where Italian-Americans on gambling junkets in Vegas go with their winnings to upscale their personal appearance’ — it appears prominently in one of the street-level renderings).

So we are faced with one of two unpleasant options: one, the money shot, Numero Uno at Freedom Focus is either two years out of date from the current security technology and it’s too late to revise the designs again, or it is only a short truck (bomb) drive from the most secure office building ever built to three, nearly as large, that are some of the most insecurely designed since the dawn of the Age of Terror. Oh, or the renderings are lying. There’s always that.

It’s not an insignificant point, as always. We went through two rounds of substantial redesign after the NYPD wasn’t seeing turrets and water cannons at the Freedom Tower. Everyone at PANJNY has been as mealy-mouthed as possible about the actual street conditions. At this late stage, we still get delicate renderings of the PATH station resting on the plaza, even though it’s been said more than once that the first ten to twelve feet of the façade will be completely opaque. And what of all that extra ground that Calatrava needed for exhaust stacks and light monitors? It sure looks like it’s gonna be dark in the billion dollar concourse.

There’s no evident security or control at either end of the new Greenwich Street, and no controlled access to the Memorial. Silverstein’s gambit of rebranding the World Trade Center as TriBeCa South (hey! Never forget! Until it means we can get reservations more easily at Nobu, or something) is certainly in line with the new look. But they didn’t need to get all clever about the addresses — they just need to make sure the streets are empty after five and that Law and Order shoots there every other week. And some Maclaren strollers filled with kids named Tristan.

I’m not saying I think we need all that security – or, hell, even the cultural center, which doesn’t clutter up the renderings (if you are keeping score, it’s a net gain in office space from the previous incarnation, with a reduction in open space and no new programmed spaces exclusive of offices; I’m not counting the Memorial Foundation Remembrance Space, because for all we know, Debra Burlingame might not even let us in). And feds seem to foot the bill for a big chunk of the guns and butter showcase, so it’s no skin off our tax bill. But can we the get some realism injected into our planning? Do we need scary looking control gates and overweight, ex-football coach-with-a-chip-on-his-shoulder security guards on every corner that doesn’t have a full-gear guardsman with an assault rifle or not? And if we do, how about we show that while drumming up support for our funding? That two billion dollar overrun could go a long way towards improving airport access.

Now is also about the time we should pause and give a shout out to the sad sacks at Beyer Blinder Belle. Even as the steaming teapot that is Rafael Vinoly continues to opine that he won the design competition, I suspect he will get little support or complaint from the Libeskinds at this point, though he might get a little guff from BBB. Because if anyone wants to dig out those renderings that made the entire city, or at least Michael Sorkin and the people who still return his calls, rise up indignantly and declaim that we couldn’t possibly begin to consider a memorial or rebuilding process, let alone one that seemed to roll over for both the most craven of commercially-driven design and the saddest aspects of no-account cross-border state bureaucracy, well, welcome to 2007, where we aren’t just capable of it, but enthusiastic. Of course, BBB didn’t presage the grandeur that is the PATH terminal, which now is so glorious it costs just a hair more than it would take to rebuild every school in the New York City education system. Oh, and boy, it surely isn’t as soary now that it’s hemmed in by Foster and Rodgers. They even did a special rendering to prove that our billion dollar spines will still be able to open and not hit a Forever 21 (okay, there isn’t a Forever 21 in the rendering; it’s Hot Topic).

Expect to hear muddy praise from what is left of the architectural commentariat, invoking Rockefeller Center and forgetting that the last vestiges of it was the Avenue of the Americas side. Sure, hire four top notch corporate lackeys and they produce top notch corporate lackeydom. After the abortions of Hudson and Atlantic Yards (I’m still crossing my fingers for a collapse in the CMBS market that will submarine this), you would think someone in the shitty New York real estate press would up and say ‘Hey, guys, is there a reason we are trying so hard to emulate Canary Wharf and La Défense? Cause those places, you know, suck.’ But we are New York; we’re going to make sure our Canary Wharf sucks bigger and better, longer and harder, etc.

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So people really like real estate on Central Park. This brilliant insight is courtesy the golden pen of Paul Goldberger, a man who was considered (by Michael Sorkin at least) to be an over-the-hill hack nearly 20 years ago. Things clearly haven’t improved. Everyone — okay, Goldberger and Felix Salmon, a man from whom you will have to pull his CDO’s from his cold, dead fingers — is gaga over the numbers and success of 15 Central Park West. I think it has a fancier name. No matter. You can’t buy an apartment there, and it’s not even done. Whoa! (say that in your best Al Pacino voice). Yeah, apartments facing the park sell well.

Not only that, but they are “instant classics”. The mysterious prewar formula has been unearthed by the imagineers at Bob Stern’s office. I can imagine some dusky eve, fog spilling through the candle-lit offices as a hooded figure marched a book with vaguely demonic figures on the cover up to Bob’s desk, planted it with a thud and opened to a page that revealed… an entrance gallery with an eleven foot ceiling. Whoa! (you know what to do).

I never finished architecture school. So maybe I missed the crucial studio, “Designing apartments with 11’0″ ceilings” and was consequently barred from the star chamber where they hid that book (have you ever seen the News Radio episode where Jimmy James reveals the Secret to Business? I digress. Whoa!). Paul hasn’t either, and has to resort to invoking the names of a couple architects you, I and just about anyone who didn’t furtively sneak a look at the index of 740 Park to see if they were included haven’t heard of. Because they were mediocre hacks in service of a generation of arrivistes that have aged enough to aquire the gilt of institution. And thus their dwellings, at the time attempting to expropriate the grandeur of, say, Kesington, are now being photocopied for the latest generation of people who need the scrim of Anglophile identity to buttress their mania that amassing seven figure fortunes isn’t an adequate accomplishment in a meaningless world, nor apparently a mandate to help the less privileged.

Apparently in the intervening sixty years architects forgot how to design. It’s an old canard, and if you perambulate Manhattan, you would have plenty of evidence to this fact, or at least the continuation of a myth perpetuated by misguided cranks (hello!) and a gullible and uncritical press, namely that architects have much to do at all with the quality of plans in apartments in this city. Sure, some GSD student spent a bunch of time picking this light fixture over that, or argued at length with the sales agents about whether or not luxury could be adequately communicated by Viking, or perhaps the more esoteric Wolf was called for, but otherwise, the failure of new housing to evoke the grandeur of a 30-foot long sitting room isn’t really about limestone sheathing or how big the windows are: it’s about whether or not your sitting room is 30 fucking feet long. And it isn’t.

Maybe that knowledge is lost in the sands of time (except for that paragraph, right there, above), or in that mysterious book Bob won’t lend to anyone, or, hey maybe it’s that people who seek outsize returns in property development are short-sighted, greedy and completely oblivious to the idea they exist in both a community and culture and have a duty to sustain it, rather than just skim the rewards off the top. No, it can’t be that. Otherwise we would be awash in town filled with buildings designed by Costas Kondylis and Richard Scarano (you know, I long for the days of the mid-90’s when you had to be a total development wonk to even know who Kondylis was). Of course, a 30-foot living room isn’t necessarily giving back to the community but I think you can see where I’m going here.

Felix brings up the A.A. Gill article from Vanity Fair about the successes and failures of floor-to-ceiling glass and what kind of role that plays in the perception of a ‘comfy’ room. I’m surprised that he buys it uncritically. Might it not be a more complex issue that the modernist ‘ideal’ is yes, a bit nihilistic, but that’s not a romanticized fetish but perhaps only a rueful conclusion about meaning and life? Nah. It’s about cushions. The overstuffed cushions and Victorian details of a classic six spin a yarn that we may have attacked and devalued pretty thoroughly in philosophical circles, but when it comes time to shuffle off this mortal coil, staring down a stark, empty hallway isn’t the last image we want. A lie about continuity and generations and return and afterlife is far more comforting, regardless of ceiling height

Because we can find us some 11-foot ceilings downtown, and some pretty sumptuous luxury on the part of 40 Bond, which has been the desperate hope of all us avant gardists that hiring the right guy(s) really could forestall the march of places such like the Sculpture for Living. Competing on a per square foot price point, and featuring windows that, frankly, are so big they scare me, everyone probably did the same awkward double take when the images were first leaked. Herzog & de Meuron, who walk an incredibly fine line of material mastery, formal innovations, and finding elegant and clever solutions to age old programs, all without like seeming to be the houseboys for the ultra rich and tasteful, were finally going to kick the legs from underneath this pastiche, be it Gluckman on Kenmare, or Stern on CPW.

Except they don’t seem to have. Sure, those windows are big. But all they are is big windows, with odd and not very interesting extrusions clipped to them. On the upper floors, the plans actually establish a degree of parti rigor rarely seen, but, wow, how about those townhouses? That is the hell you get when developer mandates rule. The renderings actually demonstrate some saving grace, but there is no escaping the fact that the plans are sliver better than something you would see Scarano dump on Berry Street.

Everyone is waiting for the big reveal on those cast aluminum gates, but the whole shebang is going nowhere fast. And that’s sad, since rumors are it’s selling slower than hoped (plenty of units left), and the success of Stern’s project is going to grind down the chance of something interesting. Of course, when that interesting is the sort of tripe we get from Asymptote or Winka Dubbeldam, well, no one really has anywhere to turn. I guess we all have to put our money on Norten.

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Precipitation flows into holes artificially bored in earth: a city recoils in horror.

I know that hed, or some version of it, has been written at least three or four times in the past two days. And it is certainly not to diminish the ill effects felt by the people that got hit by an actual weather “disaster”. Even so, that one photo of the black sedan with a branch on its roof seems be the sole signifier of ‘tornado’ we could muster.

I was reading one of those ‘what will happen to Manhattan in various catastrophes’ pieces (global warming, terrorist attack, one day closure of Magnolia, that sort of thing), and read this fascinating fact: aside from its inability to deal with a hard rain, the subway is incredibly porous — probably something about people needing oxygen — and the only thing stopping if from being completely inundated by the water that enrobes (makes it sound like a delicious éclair, no?) it are massive, continuous operating pumps. Not every tunnel, I’m sure, but if we lost power for an extended period of time (say, six to eight days), and diesel was hard to come by, most of our subway system would return to the water table from whence it was carved. This may be all hearsay, but isn’t it fascinating? They say the average American is two paychecks away from homelessness, but the MTA couldn’t even make it with a payday loan. The doom sayers then went on to say foundations would be undermined and buildings could collapse. Even I’m not that gullible. That would take a couple weeks or more.

The point being that ‘advanced’ culture, like the human body, is resilient yet terrifyingly delicate. Read the piece in this week’s New Yorker about how one wrong snippet of DNA (out of three billion) will make you chew off your fingers while yelling “No! Stop!” at yourself in horror if you want a more detailed explication on this point. The other problem is that Americans cling to a lottery/instant gratification culture. We invented it. As a consequence we think most everything can be fixed by an “all-nighter” montage accompanied by soft rock and interspersed with moments of levity though non-fatal accidents and the blossoming of at least one romance. Really, sneak in the EPA sometime. I bet John Hughes wrote our plan for global warming.

So people are bandying about ‘infrastructure’ a lot this week, and not just because it’s probably the biggest word they’ll use. And surely enough, the nominal powers-that-be — the ones, you know, who let things degrade into such a shoddy state — have demanded all nighters from the MTA and DOT’s nationwide. On the latter point, ours was refreshing direct and to the point: the Brooklyn Bridge rates very low on the extant safety scale. Sally forth tourists! Just don’t do anything terrorist-like. Given the recent pronouncements, this is likely to be expanded to include walking. Good times.

The MTA, a fascinating body at the center of two massive land use schemes that are going to forever blight big sections of our town, and likely to enshrine the name Peter Kalikow as the only New Yorker who manages to make Robert Moses look enlightened, was called on the carpet — an awfully damp one this week. Turns out the problems that befell the subway this week are exactly the same as the last “big” rain. Which was, um, three years ago. What happened in the interval? Well, they MTA didn’t upgrade their security, they didn’t develop a workable strategy for providing communications for rescue workers in the tunnels. Oh, and they didn’t get much money from anyone.

In the same vein as our get quick rich inanity, we Americans love to subscribe to lots of other contradictory and illogical myths: that we are a meritocracy, that we really can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, that governmental control over essential services is bad, and oh, that New York isn’t the center of our culture, economy and net benefit to the region, state and feds. The upshot of all this is that while massive subsidies are afforded to every jerk who moves to Westchester or Montclair or Litchfield Country (in the form of highway bills, artificially low gas taxes, regional transit subsidies and exemption from city income tax), no one thinks that state or fed should fund our transit system — the circulatory system of an economy that keeps Joe Bruno from having to work at 7-Eleven. We’re talking billions of dollars in tax revenues lost to people who keep lecturing us on how we can’t run our city. When is the last time that Rochester was a profitable enterprise?

So the MTA has been forced to issuing crippling debt obligations to pay for maintenance that was deferred for decades, leaving it in no position to upgrade the system (though the city shrank for a short while after the 70’s debacle, unlike all other large American cities, has grown non-stop since its founding), let alone address the systemic problems that result in fiascoes like this week. Paris and London have added lines at least once a decade, and are still expanding. Britain and France recognize the cultural and economic rewards of continuing to provide services to their most crucial metropolitan areas.

Now, the MTA doesn’t do much to create sympathy for itself. Water inundating the system (did you know that when a tunnel gets flooded, they dry off the third rail by hand? Aside from the lunacy of that as a system, imagine that being your job: “Is it off? Are you sure?”) is certainly a decent excuse for shutting down lines, but a web site? Yeah, the web site goes down when it rains. I mean, they aren’t hiring taxi drivers to develop buildings for them anymore, but the same stench that pervades the air of New York whenever Giuliani claims he saved us from WWIII is kicked up when someone is forced to type “MTA Chair Peter Kalikow”. Really, just as a matter of symbolic form that guy has to go. Given that there is no future in private funding the subway, why not put someone everyone already suspects is a socialist in charge? It’s time to ask Gene Russianoff to put his money where is mouth is. What’s the worst that can happen — he will run the MTA with his special interest in mind? A special interest that is, um, the riders. Now that there is a crazy idea. One a New York politician could never understand.

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I’m thinking of a number.

With the dog days upon us and the first legitimate heat wave about to break, that means it’s time for everyone’s favorite season: September 11th Memorialization Contrempts! This year’s model doesn’t break much new ground, the singular complaint being the decision to move the ceremony from Ground Zero proper to A Park Across the Street. It has a proper name, but I think they write it on a chalkboard (I swear it’s been named five things in the past decade), and it is mostly paved. You know the space — the long swath of concrete that dips down from Broadway to Liberty and mostly looks like a really wide street with poor markings.

The relocation has to do with the fact that Ground Zero, at long last, is a construction site. A group that purports to represent the interest of the Families is opposed to moving the ceremony, and applied for a permit for another ceremony, presumably on Ground Zero — it’s interesting such formal language was used here. Does the PANYNJ have an actual, pre-existing form for this? Did they use the new parade permits?

The Port of course rejected the request, but agreed to stop construction for the day. An unacceptable compromise, I’m sure the families will say. I guess in the interest of sensitivity, no one asked the obvious question: okay, so maybe it’s fair to complain this year, when the actual construction work is focused on the tower portion of the site, even though to anyone involved in the building trades, the notion that only a corner of the site is ‘under construction’ is absurd. But what are they going to say when the actual Memorial construction is underway? Every square foot of dirt is sacred and all, but they did agree to and support the memorial design, and eventually some concrete is getting poured there. Are they really expecting to engineer the construction plan so that it will be practical and possible to have people clambering all over a live construction site to hold the memorial?

As of late this afternoon, the latest word is that the planned memorial will be moved closer to Ground Zero — ‘within sight’ of it, though Zuccotti Not-Park is about as close as one can get. Expect more posturing over the next couple weeks.

Also recently noted was a subtle, unannounced renaming of the Freedom Tower. The Port Authority has taken to calling it “1 World Trade Center, the Freedom Tower” (which rolls off the tongue about as elegantly as “Frederick P. Rose Hall Home of Jazz at Lincoln Center” — located in the Time Warner Center). It is admirable we have begun to jettison the sad spectacle of forced symbolism, though I suspect this might also cause issues with the families. The September 11th attacks destroyed all of the World Trade Center (Buildings 1-7), though anyone who visited it regularly could only readily identify 1WTC and 2WTC (the Twin Towers), and 7WTC (just because it was tall), and even though most people didn’t know which was 1WTC or 2WTC. Buildings 3-6, I doubt even people who worked in them could keep them straight. Naming the new tower ‘1’ again does two things: presumes to replace the lost tower, and ignores the other.

Since we aren’t replicating the Towers, enumeration is an interesting problem of signification. One approach would be 3WTC, which would acknowledge the absence of first two, a fact affirmed by the voids in the memorial. Since 7WTC is already complete, it’s perhaps awkward. And there is the fact that there was a 3WTC. So 8WTC is not so elegant (lesser than 7WTC in name, and by all this logic 7WTC should be renamed).

Clearly, there is some real estate marketing at work as well. Even with thousands of government employees being volunteered to patriotically work in the Building That is Still Being Named, there are concerns about it’s commercial viability. And the machinations developers go through to prefix their projects with a one make Chinese number superstitions seem quaint. You don’t think it’s effective? Just look at One Hudson Square. If, you know, you can find it.

And if the ‘It’s Number One!’ doesn’t sway you, this sexy, sexy rendering certainly will. Released just today, it is intended to assuage fears that the base will be 15 stories of opaque, security fetishized Logan’s Runchitecture. Turns out we are all just being nattering nabobs, because the main entrance is going to be a ‘celebrated’ 60 feet of glass that looks down on the memorial plaza. Take that! And take a bombproof wall that is, um, 55 or so feet tall, and put it, well, four feet inside of that glorious expanse of glass. There will be slits to admit light (David, call them oculi — it will sound better when presenting it to credulous undergrads) and illuminate the opaque wall above security. Classy. Maybe they can paint a big ‘1’ there.

I didn’t really end up on a number that made sense, given all these variables. You could simply call it “The World Trade Center”. Because if you want to come up with something to replace the ‘Freedom Tower’ is needs to be easy to say. No one is going to say 1WTC when they can say ‘Freedom Tower’. Maybe they can just point.

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Kiss the ring, bitch.

Secret note to Senate Democrats: we were talking about congestion pricing this week — apparently they didn’t get the memo. That was the excuse we heard from a bunch of flunkies who haven’t had to do anything beside say ‘Joe Bruno’ in response to every question asked them since Tammany Hall days: the reason congestion pricing ground to a halt was the Bloomberg didn’t answer their queries in a way that pleased them. Apparently when they asked him questions the average third grader could answer about the plan that everyone has be debating, praising or ignoring for months, hizzoner got testy and said something like, did you read the report? They were all like ‘No he din’t’ or some other bad SNL sketch involving to ethnic women arguing. Because, that’s right, the Senate Democrats apparently hadn’t heard about this congestion pricing thingamabob.

It is quaint that they act like him kissing Politburo ass would have made a difference. Word coming out of Albany — yeah, I got a line out of Albany now: ain’t that some shit? — was that it was deader than something really dead well in advance of the theatrics this Monday. But that’s not much of an inside line. Things are either dead or not, and for all intents and purposes you might as well flip a coin on whether other not Silver likes any particular bill. But I do admire the pluck of any politician who seems bent on proving you can govern worse the President Bush.

A diagram of New York State politics is like that tired, but always effective film image: three men in a triangle, pointing guns at the one to their right. The only thing different this week is they were just pointing at the sap in the middle. You would think that was Bloomberg, but instead it was the residents of the city, dolled up like some old whore upstate pols keep pumping for cash. Or, if this was a family blog, like the stump at the end of ‘The Giving Tree‘. Here, Shelly, let me shape up my stump to prop up your self-involved, useless old ass for another two years. Prick.

Other notable failures — well, non failures, since of course nothing actually happened — were retooling a financing mechanism juggernaut that apparently mandates debt raising procedures for everyone from SUNY to the Naked Cowboy, a boondoggle revamp of 421-a regulations, a bunch of other traffic reforms and the disposition of our solid waste plan, which, if you recall, was announced, oh, two years ago.

I don’t know about you, but I shit marshmallows and cotton candy, so I don’t contribute to solid waste issues in New York. Apparently this is true of you too, if live near the Gansevoort Peninsula, 59th Street or the Upper East Side, so sayeth just about any politician capable of lying. Which is all of them. Silver had the most galling response. It wasn’t some pathetic NIMBY move, it was a ‘WIMBY’ — a not so clever version of his ‘I’m working, but I’m not working for you‘ defense on congestion pricing. So we will have a waste transfer stations, someday, and somewhere, just not in any of the places the Sanitation department think will work well (which included Bloomberg putting his own neighborhood on the block first).

His alternate? A transfer station that replaces the impound lot, or trash on rails at 30th Street. The first makes some sense, since it’s behind Javits Center. It also doesn’t make so much sense because that area isn’t exactly desolate. I heard there was some RFP thingy going on that was about to turn that neighborhood into a bunch of cantilevered Chase behemoths. And it would cost an extra $300 million. Since Silver just turn up his nose at $500 million from the Feds, apparently he’s got a loose billion sloshing around in his pocket, just itching to make Manhattan a better place. And he sure does. Just check your wallet. A couple hundred million times.

There is no doubt that a waste transfer station is not a pretty thing. But since we are trying to wrap Manhattan in a ribbon a green, a lovely and laudable goal, there will be inevitable battles about any dissenting uses. And this is not a town that has ever had anything even remotely like a realistic waste disposal plan. The peninsula has a couple things going for it: it will be vacated soon (though, of course, no one wants to accept a new truck garage), it already has some of the facilities needed, and the Meatpacking District already transfers all that trash in town on weekends.

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Chase: the right relationship is staring down at you, balefully.

I was thinking I was going to pen the definitive post on traffic congestion, but you know, that’s one of those topics that I can’t muster the energy needed to make an obvious argument. I think we should put up signs at the border that say “Look, you’re lucky we even let you in” and be done with it. Really, all those ‘ooh, I won’t work there, and business will relocate’ comments? Whatever. Who would have thought that a half million Staten Islanders that wouldn’t lift a finger for rent stabilization would turn into a Fifth Column over toll stabilization?

But since we are talking about rolling over for minority interests, let’s find a useful segue in the form of Shelly ‘The Tinpot Roadblock’ Silver holding a press conference announcing the ‘agreement’ regarding the new JPMorganChase headquarters (currently known as Site 5) at the WTC site. Silver pretty much ignored the big issue overhanging that deal to note that even though the congestion pricing plan is a solution in the form of action, that didn’t mean he wasn’t working on the issue. And to a New York Assembly member, stopping legislation favored by the elected official mandated to provide the best solution for his constituents is most certainly work. Since it looks like the legislation would pass without his interdictory (yeah, I made that up, childishly, because there is a hard sounding dick in the center), it is hard work indeed.

But let’s not leave this BigCorporateMergerBank story, um, yeah, hanging. To quickly recap, Chase agreed to ‘relocate’ downtown, a offer that translates into taking back slightly less space than they had downtown, say, ten years ago, not moving the corporate headquarters from Park Avenue, and demanding a sweeter deal than Goldman got (Goldman, you might recall, has always been headquartered downtown — though they too flirted with moving all the way to Jersey City, but had to more or less abandon an $800 million tower when they found out most of their trader staff flat out refused to take even a company owned ferry across the river) over at at the last site in Battery Park City.

Aside from a pretty generous deal, the larger footprint Goldman has allows for large trading floors. I know, you are asking yourself, ‘weren’t trading floors supposed to disappear five years ago’? You know, back when Grasso was cashing out his $120 million paycheck and threatening to move the NYSE floor to, where was it again? Jersey City, I think. So yeah, something big is popular with the knuckle-dragging (thanks to a brand manager from State Street for that description) set. And Goldman, like every other outsize stat you hear associated with them, has huge — sorry — tracts of trading floor.

Which means everyone needs them. Apparently it takes a lot of guys who look like they’ve never seen American Psycho to take a bath in the CDO market, and they need to be standing in the same place — well, on the same floor, and ideally perched over a church and a park, to best manifest that tired old chestnut, Master of the Universe. One would hope that someone at KPF has a particularly dark sense of humor, and decided to make the most literal expression of how the financial services industries sees itself. But they can’t even do that right. It makes me recall a friend’s comment in response to a crit: “Well, if it was phallic, shouldn’t it have a slight bend to it?”

Even though CAD makes it so a monkey can design a building, it seems that the primate population refuses to take credit for this, finding that being known for throwing one’s own feces is a more respectable characteristic than designing something like this (it would appear that throwing someone else’s shit lacks ingenuity). Stepping down in the evolutionary chain, you are left with assigning responsibility to PANY/NJ officials, which does make some sense. See, they don’t have to follow development rules, zoning rules — hell, when the two governors that supposedly run that damn place recommend changes in how the agency reports to the public it putatively serves, we still have to wait for them to approve the revisions — and since they are awful designers, poor planners (how many times are they going to build that PATH station? Six?), and generally the most outstanding example of bureaucratic myopia and stasis, one would expect the absolute least in effort when it comes to bending over for corporate interests faced with a program problem. And, boy did we get it. Remember, these are the people who hand $230 million to Chase and then claim they got the better end of the deal.

Let me launch my ‘outrage at the WTC redevelopment’ macro for the next couple lines: So, once again we see that the most closely observed development site in the western world manages to set new standards for failure in the form of a proposed design that seems to have been stolen whole hog from a what initially derided as scaremongering rendering intended to whip up opposition. Or perhaps we are supposed to sing praises to such chutzpah. At the very least it will teach the opposition forces to proceed carefully when speculating on how bad things will get (note to DDDB: stop showing those shadow calculations — you may be insuring your own demise).

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See for your yourself: Miss Representation is a dude.

It’s always a joy to have one’s ‘name’ share billing with Michael Sorkin. Below are details of Postopolis, borrowed from the Storefront site. For a full schedule, check out Geoff’s blog. I’ll post some dry and uninteresting recollections of the creaky LISTSERV years of architectural discourse later in the week, and perhaps even some post-postopolis observations on Monday. Oh, what will I be talking about? The usual: commenting that if we were really committed to architectural criticism, the event would have been in DUMBO and we would be taking sledgehammers to Scarano’s servers like the printer smashing scene in Office Space.

at Storefront for Art and Architecture, Tuesday, May 29, to Saturday, June 2, 2007. Featuring BLDGBLOG, City of Sound, Inhabitat, and Subtopia Postopolis! is a five-day event of near-continuous conversation about architecture, urbanism, landscape, and design. Four bloggers, from four different cities, will host a series of live discussions, interviews, slideshows, panels, talks, and other presentations, and fuse the informal energy and interdisciplinary approach of the architectural blogosphere with the immediacy of face to face interaction.

Lebbeus Woods, Mark Wigley, Laura Kurgan, Michael Sorkin & Mitchell Joachim, Stanley Greenberg, Joel Sanders, Susan Szenasy, DJ /rupture, Andrew Blum, Jake Barton, William Drenttel, Tom Vanderbilt, Michael Bierut, Lawrence Weschler, Robert Krulwich, Benjamin Aranda & Chris Lasch, Randi Greenberg, Allan Chochinov, Julia Solis, Ada Tolle & Giuseppe Lignano, Scott Marble, Paul Seletsky, Robert Neuwirth, Wes Janz, James Sanders, David Benjamin & Soo-in Yang, Eric Rodenbeck, Kevin Slavin, Gianluigi Ricuperati, Quilian Riano, Miss Representation, Enrique Gualberto Ramirez, George Agnew, Chad Smith, Abe Burmeister, John Hill and many more.

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Whenever anyone says ‘Historic Preservation’ I reach for my hoary cliches.

I have immigrant creds. A kind of middling, inconstant cred (did I make that obvious enough?), leaving me at the short end of the stick, regardless of which I grab: on one hand, you have those who draw the line at Mayflower passengers; at the other, you have the expectation of speaking the native language at home and every meal is a Miramax — sorry, Weinstein Company — Lives piece/book/film package waiting to happen.

I now live in the ‘richest’ immigrant neighborhood left in lower Manhattan. You know, the one with Pianos and Clinton Street Baking, those bastions of immigrant experience. Our standard bearer is the Tenement Museum — the Lil’ Museum that Could — could, you know, drop $7 mil on two tenements, and then try to foist on the neighborhood a historic district designation that portends endless committee meetings about the best way to ‘preserve’ low quality construction in the name of authenticity and federal tax breaks. Joy.

I don’t know that a generalized history of immigrants can, or should, be written. The breadth and depth is a fascinating truth to the history of this city. And, like it or not, it is migrating east to places like Jackson Heights. Immigrant tales are nomadic by definition, and immigrants, if my direct experience is accurate in any way, are in a hurry to jettison large swaths of their distant and recent past. Until of course, they can send their kids to good schools, who then grow up wanting to be film students, historic preservationists, and dilettante bloggers.

Though some neighborhoods resist the process, the is path entrenched, if the cultures aren’t: move in, move up, move out. The cycle of alienation and poverty drives aggressive assimilation, and then something I’ll leave to faceless CNN pundits to argue about. The physical remnants are rather arbitrary (marginal, cheap, crowded), and in constant flux: if the population is fixed, improvements follow, if they are transient, then they are displaced by new waves of economic aspirants. The apartments in these ‘authentic’ buildings are unexceptional in every way possible. The only aspect that might truly be informative culturally would be trying to inhabit one with 6 or 10 roommates, and that isn’t an option, no matter how much you are a winsome NYU student with a daddy who has some leftover office space.

I never understood the urge that impelled historic preservationists. They always struck me as less capable archivists (I used to live in one of the preservation capitals). Busybodies, mostly. People who professed a Caleb Carr sensibility. And a good generation or two removed from the economic and social struggles of any immigrant. Even though my maturation — design, academic, life — happened under the guise of a preservation instinct inherited a decidedly more sinister social order, I don’t find the ideological bases to be all that significant. It really is the urge to tell the neighbors how tall their grass should be, or what color to paint the windows that drives all this action, and you can find those folks across the political spectrum.

So the Tenement Museum, spreading like the plague that is any museum, wants to lock down all of of CB3. The local property owners, a considerable number of whom are immigrants and their descendants, raised a collective middle finger. The counter-argument of ‘sensitive redevelopment’ is the Blue Moon Hotel, which, like the other nearby nasty blue project, is a piece of shit standing proudly over Delancy, a series of hopelessly bad design decisions. Which, to some degree, is historically accurate. As true as it is that do gooder preservation regulations will inevitably inhibit what you can do to your hard-won property, it is likewise certain than any immigrant-rich neighborhood will feature truly abominable architectural experiments. That’s irony, I guess.

It’s tiresome to see regional planning wedged under the guise of preservation. Because those preservationists often don’t know or care about the utility — nay, the necessity — of good city planning, they really do end up worried about window detailing. In neighborhoods where some semblance of quality was evident at it’s genesis, this isn’t a bad thing (and, really, anything to stop the profusion of cables that dangle from the front of every apartment building thanks to lazy phone and cable installers is a good idea), but since the only thing worth preserving in the entirety of this neighborhood is the quality of the brick work, the one effect a preservation code is quick to ensure is accelerated gentrification, since no one wants to have to hire a lawyer every time they need to fix a window.

Then again, as long as the Tenement Museum keeps buying up buildings, at least those last few immigrant who get pushed out can at least come back and see the place their landlord didn’t fix the heat for six months while charging usurious rents, all of it carefully shellaced and plaqued.

IT’S NOT ALL wrong to have this conversation because it does underscore the importance to assert that a city government has the duty to establish order and regulation for growth. The canard that undermining the market in the form of regulation is bad for overall economic growth is usually proffered at this point in the argument, though anyone who still falls for it has never been to SoHo. As attractive a template as SoHo is to some, especially now that the decline of the dollar has pretty much affixed a ‘Kick Me’ sign on our collectives backs for every tinpot Euronaire you can find, it is not a template that can be stamped out willy-nilly. Yet, if you look at the map of Manhattan, you will find that mostly this is the plan. And looking both local and further afield, you will see the ancillary effects: Atlantic Yards, waterfront development in LIC and Williamsburg, all if it engineered to benefit most acutely those with the least civic interest: developers and their amoral lackeys: Scarano and Kondylis. Though Scarano, being a clever sot, has evolved (if such a term can be fairly used) himself into the source vector.

Back in the hood, the effects can be readily summarized by the action on the corner of Ludlow and Houston. Head of the nightlife snake no one likes, home to the most storied food establishment in the LES, and now inextricably soiled by an intervention that makes the cheeky irony of Red Square look inspired instead of just craven. ‘The Ludlow’ promises to be the ‘oughts Christodora House, and its presence and success leads inevitably to more dire discussions: last week, it was rumored that the owners of Katz’s are considering cashing in.

And what do you say to them? That their success and commitment to the neighborhood, which extends decades, should justify penalizing them while carpetbaggers are carpet bombing our neighborhood with residential carbuncles of every stripe? There is no way that promises to retain the character of the original, one of the most pleasant dining rooms in the city, of any scale, can be effectively carried out. The only way to truly do this would be to prop up what ever payout mechanism the Katz’s folk pursue (but you can bet it will be shilled as ‘luxury’) on top of jacks while the original Katz’s squats underneath like the Little House. It would be both effective and an honest representation, so you can be sure there’s no chance.

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