Don’t even think of progress here.

The mayor really is an all kinds of smoke out of doors kind of guy. The man who has sold the idea that the Republican model of ‘smaller government’ is best expressed by telling you not to eat at Dunkin’ Donuts. Of course, everyone one loves to tout the sheep in wolf’s clothing argument. If that is the case, then kudos to Mike’s clever interpretation of the liberal model of progressive taxation is renters subsidize homeowners.

But I digress. Why mention Mike when we should really be talking about Uncle Joe Bruno? Just because it’s congestion week, and Ken Livingston has the biggest cojones in congestion pricing these days, don’t expect diminutive Mike Bloomberg to throw down. This is, after all, a man who won’t fly commercial to his Caribbean hideway. But before you get all exercised thinking our mayor wouldn’t take on a limey, remember, he’s not afraid of the serious opponents. Like the Chinese. Particularly those selling Chow Fun.

Since Streetsblog has written all you need to know about congestion pricing, and I don’t care how expensive they make it to drive into Manhattan — except to note, whatever it is, it ain’t enough, since all of New Jersey parks on my block on the weekend — I decided take a skeptic’s position, but not because I enjoy being a jerk (a pleasure I pursue for its own rewards), but to try to establish some possible remedies that we can do without resorting to the sort of utopian bitterness that pervades so many car-free tracts.

First, a very provocative observation: Manhattan isn’t that congested. It’s true. For all the complaints about subsidized on street parking, and productivity lost, you can still travel a large percentage (if not majority) of the streets of Manhattan most of the day with about the same ease of any large metropolitan area, and find about as much parking.

“You obviously never take a cab up 6th Avenue at 5PM,” you shout over the blare of honking horns. True, I do not. “And you never try to park downtown,” you also counter. Also true: I don’t work for the city, so parking on sidewalks all over downtown is a perk unknown to me.

But the salient point here is that destination based driving (I want to go shop in SoHo! I need to drive to work so I can pick my kids from soccer on the way home!) is the source of most of our car-based congestion. It mirrors a set of behaviors learned in the suburbs: that cars are the best way to get somewhere, and, once there, parking must be absurdly proximate to the final destination. How many people think they can actually park within a block of the Apple Store in SoHo? I don’t want to know.

New Yorkers don’t drive much for a couple reasons: we live here, we know driving isn’t typically the fastest way to get somewhere, and we don’t own cars. Oh, and driving is fucking expensive. So charging people 10 bucks to drive to SoHo on a Saturday (even the most expensive congestion pricing in London tops out at $15) isn’t much of a deterrent, particularly when it costs $6 for the tunnel and $20 to park for an hour.

True deterrence would require managing all Manhattan entries south of the GWB, and treating everything south of 185th Street as a congestion zone, because there are strange race/class components to this — though much of northern Manhattan is more easily traversed by car, there are plenty of bottleneck points up there. Do you want to explain why time and money is invested in making Houston Street passable on a Saturday night, but not 125th Street on a Saturday afternoon (and more practically, to deal with the overflow of people going up perimeter avenues to avoid the FDR). To say nothing of outer borough boulevards.

And that isn’t possible. Not because it isn’t a good idea, but because of Uncle Joe. Even with Spitzer looking to be a somewhat rational — sorry, we’re comparing him to Pataki: make that sentient — human being, the two-headed devil of Silver/Bruno, coupled with the yokel upstate attitude evidenced by the state DOT (which controls most our street/traffic management) create the pitch perfect ode to shitty governing.

So we aren’t going to get congestion based tolls, or fares for entering zones (and I don’t know that such an idea even can be worked out). And we still have the prospect of nodal congestion issues (commuting, tunnel approaches, and some destination based driving — Times Square, the EV weekend, etc.). So what can we do with the tools we have? My skeptic’s approach sees three options: cops, cops and parking meters:

First, cops: stop them from parking all over downtown. Well, not just them. Everyone. No more parking exemptions for city employees. No more lax enforcement of the above (mini-congestion management, since it would reduce a large number of river crossings daily).

Second, cops: let’s enforce the laws we have. Getting in and out of Manhattan at rush hour sucks. We can always make it worse by aggressively enforcing the laws we already have. Double parking, intersection blocking, multiple turning cars, speeding. All these things add to congestion and danger. If we can’t make it more expensive in money to get into the city, we can make it more time consumptive. It might not be so pleasant for those living on Hudson Street in the short term, but eventually it might improve. And if it doesn’t, DeNiro can buy them all dinner, since he probably suckered them into moving there in the first place. And, most crucially, start ticketing assholes who use the horn. It’s on the books, it’s a healthy fine, and it would make such a quality of life difference for residents.

Third, parking meters: Get rid of them. There’s no way you can make it practical to have meters reflect the value of parking. Are you going to put 24 quarters in a meter for 30 minutes? Who uses those meters anyway? Um, people driving into Manhattan, right? Anyone living here certainly won’t be giving up a street spot to drive across town.

Sure, there will be some fools who think they can commute to Manhattan with free all day parking available, but it will only take about a month for everyone with a car in a garage to get rid of it, take up residency on a curb and never move. Then, after a morning or two of circling for two hours for a spot, they will get the message. Get rid of all curbside parking on avenues and main cross streets (save delivery vehicles), and any meters on side streets (most of them are meter-free anyway).

Will this make Manhattan a pedestrian paradise? Probably not, but I hate most pedestrians too, so whatever. But put up breathalyzer checkpoints at the main exit routes of Manhattan for several consecutive weekends, and you would radically change the driving patterns in Manhattan. What would all this congestion improvement get us anyway? I don’t really care if everyone going home to Jersey suffers every night. And if they actually tore up some streets once we were so deliriously car free, they would only fill them with condos from Scarano and Kondylis.

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Where there’s a Will.

So I fought the man this weekend. Or, at least, I walked in sympathy of those who do. While wandering around, looking for a late lunch (what does one do if they want to eat at 5:PM on a weekend in this town?), I heard sounds of commotion that most certainly weren’t those of a Law & Order shoot (so, you know, this won’t be reported on Gothamist).

Walking down the block, I thought, “oh, it’s just another East Village protest” wondering what sliver of injustice was being contested. But, you know, I’ve lived in the East Village for quite a while, and I really haven’t seen that many protests. When you can you last remember seeing what you might call “an East Village protest” (and if you can’t conjure up what precisely this is, you aren’t eligible for playing; go to the back of the line for brunch at Clinton Street Baking)?

It was the music that drew me in. I suspected it was the Hungry Marching Band. Which was easy, because how many excellent marching bands do you know that show up at protests? There was a single, inexplicable banner on display, and on the other side of the, well, bulky might be the best term, since it wasn’t overwhelming, but enough to clog the streets, crowd was the police presence.
So I didn’t know what was being protested. Which hardly mattered to me. I’m sure I agreed with it in principle, even as I probably found fault with the means proposed, and ended up feeling standoffish, particularly if I actually spoke to any of the leading agents for change.

The crowd was earnest men of indeterminate age, often presenting a confused message, since the details of their carriage and varied accoutrement, fighting medals, as they were, bespoke of a proud history of East Village protest and dirty hippie girl scamming. And, of course, there was the dirty hippie girl contingent, except they were cleaned up. And had kids. Yah, nothing makes you feel middle aged like a protest filled with strollers. But, really, that’s just a change of pace. The history of leftist rabble rousing has always featured children. It was only the export to Midwest college campuses that made them more age exclusive.

So I’m standing there, really enjoying the music, thinking, “I hope this is a protest to protest how fucking dull protests have been for the past ten years”. It’s not a small point.. Red state evangelicals grasped the notion of culture war pretty quickly and successfully, while all us overgrown socialists thought class war was somehow going to stick, even as the majority of our compatriots hailed from families that would have been at the top of our list were we successful. The weird thing is, everyone loves our culture. Really. It might be only a Mardi Gras moment of disgorging repression, but isn’t this, abstractly and literally, the lifestyle people pursue? So why can’t well sell it better (okay, sure, Maureen Dowd notwithstanding — but you know what’s weird, people really like her everywhere else)?

What we probably need to do is send the Hungry Marching Band on a national tour. Aside from the low key and generally positive (free of the fringe punks who run with these crowds just so they can vandalize things or start fights) vibe, the music made all the difference. People joined up for a block or two, and many who were clearly uninterested in the politics of the gathering, danced in communion we passed by. And it turns out the police presence was a single cruiser following behind, as much keeping traffic from overtaking as it was harassing.

What I was thinking was, if we really were that cool, we would have parades every couple weeks, just to jive with the band. Everyone loves a marching band, right? And I thought, if this were Paris or London, they would probably have some sort of arts funding, but since it’s New York, it would have to be the inevitable EV BID (probably started by EU), and the whole fucking thing would be sponsored by UNIQLO. Then I got bitter and gave up, and decided to just walk along side and enjoy the music on what was probably the last great evening of the year.

The odd thing was, I kept to the sidewalk. I think walking in the street is always a good thing. Exciting, liberating, and, unless officially sanctioned, dangerous. But nothing beats slowing cars by dancing down the street. But I didn’t join because I didn’t know enough about what was going on. It’s slicing things a bit thin, but that’s what balkanized leftist politics are all about, baby. Maybe they were pro-vegan, but not anti-fur. Where did they stand on Fair Trade policies? So I did my part for splintering and hung back.

So what was the protest about? Not so much a protest, but a memorial rally march for Brad Will, who was killed last month in Oaxaca while reporting on fighting between paramilitaries and group seeking to oust the governor of the region, whom they claim illegally manipulated an election.

The reason for the march through the EV, and the seemingly arbitrary stop on 5th Street (where I first encountered it), was his history in the neighborhood, which, while extensive, is most notable for a standoff (in 1997) at the site of the former squat on 5th Street. Single-handedly forestalling city bulldozers by taking the roof, his act resulted in a settlement with the city that preserved a number of squat sites (though that particular location was destroyed under the cover of night).

See, this is the part where my wanting to stay on the sidewalk comes in. I haven’t liked most of the people I’ve met that were squatters. It’s unfortunate because their attitude about land ownership parallels my own, and many can claim precedent of reclaiming land when the area was legitimately downtrodden. That they did not move to gain control sooner (as there a plenty of former squats in the EV that were successfully converted into owner occupancy building under terms that any housing idealist would approve) speaks to either some ideological purity, or perhaps a failure of will due to general flakiness or the impossibility of existing on the fringe of the fringe. And that’s not the whole story, I know. But it also demeans the precepts of squatting and community ownership, since, as anyone who has travelled in these margins knows that not a small percentage of adherents think “community ownership” means “free shit for me”.

But this is unfair to Brad Will. By all accounts, he was a decent man who worked hard to call attention to the struggle against the unfair application of power, legitimate or not. And though it’s the wonderful people that populate places like Fox News that proclaim otherwise, civilized societies respect the right of the journalist and the doctor, regardless of the source of strife. As he had for most of his career, he was just trying to tell someone else’s story. That we were able to remember this with little interference, and, thanks to the musical accompaniment, some joy at what he had done, showing that in some pockets, we can celebrate our civilization without descending into stereotypes or violence, fittingly for a man who, though he died amidst violence, had never been arrested for a violent crime in his life.


So, did you miss me? I was going to bother writing some clever, pithy (you know, two things I’m usually not) explanation of why things got so slow, or how they were going to change. But y’all are going to read it or you won’t. All I’ll say, as I always do, is that is not an architecture blog (nor has it ever been). I don’t have an better explanation at the moment, so hopefully it will become evident as things evolve once again. Oh, and there’s going to be a new coat of paint, applied in fits and starts. So forgive if it looks a little messy around here.

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Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

So I have a fancy alarm clock that awakens you slowly, by raising the volume of your intended selection (music or radio) slowly. I’ve given up on identifying the ideal song (should it be jarring or soothing? Vintage Sonic Youth or “The Stars of Track and Field”), and now resign myself to Soterios Johnson (and really, did you think he would look like that?) whispering the days events into my ear — commingled with the arch inflection of the BBC; by the time I give up on the snooze button, the conflicting tidbits create a truly twisted idea of the world. See, if comes from somewhere.

So why the long-winded prelude? Well, because this morning Soterios told me something that, in my early morning fog, seemed like news important enough to get up early and research, namely that the LMDC announced it was closing. Just like that. I think it was even the phrase itself that woke me up. Finally! I thought, Kevin Rampe is willing to take his public flogging, or Bloomberg forced his hand enough to admit the entire contraption was flawed as best, criminal at worst, and burned down the whole thing.

But it turns out that they aren’t shuttering the whole affair because they haven’t done a single thing right in the past five years, but because they think their job is done. Not only done, but done well. We could team up, the whole lot of us, dozens of journalists and those who presume to be, hundreds of avidly interested individuals, thousands of residents, who uniformly and to a person seem to think the diametric opposite of this fact. But no amount of fist pounding or yelling ever penetrates the collective ear wax of this exercise in bureaucratic fumbling, so why don’t we allow them to shuffle off in relative peace? Why not? Nothing else has worked.

What’s the real story here? Who fucking knows? But it looks like it can be neatly encapsulated by six letters that strike fear into the heart of any rational observer of the good government stripe: P.A.N.Y.N.J. Thas’ right. You can’t beat a multi-state, quasi governmental organization that can feed itself off of the desire of people to travel to and from this city. Can’t do it.

Dust off those shitty Beyer Blinder Bell site models from back in the day when the Port thought they would be able to pick designers without public input, and railroad development schemes through even if it seemed like none of the proper planning was in place, resulting in a classic bureaucratic clusterfuck that managed to make the creation of the first WTC seem like a act of graceful diplomacy by comparison. The LMDC was formed to… um, avoid things like that.

So here we are, in 2006, where design guidelines aren’t finished (Kevin Rampe is never going to speak to Ric Bell again, this much is sure), but no, really, they will get them done before they fold up, where major elements of the few things that have been designed get undone without any of the public input, programs revisions are carried out under cover of night, oh, and, they are still finding remains on the site. See, things are so different, so better.

Somewhere, in some public-private fortress star chamber, not really evil because it would give them character guys are laughing the dry, awkward laugh of high school losers who became engineers and then devoted their lives to technocratic, short-sighted and big budgeted albatrosses that require acres of impenetrable forms, contracts and regulations. I try really hard not to pay too close attention. I used to wonder why people railed against the communist experiment in eastern Europe (aside from, you know, the Gulag). It’s that the slow, banal strangulation by small-minded people who have fallen into situations where their ability to exploit a limited amount of power is just enough to make the day a little more unpleasant, but not enough to induce the masses to rise up in anger. It’s everywhere, and the template applies to far too many things. Everyone worries about Nietzsche, but there’s little chance of Übermensch arising from this pool of mediocrity. No, our fate is much worse: Kafka and a certainly sinister but always unassailable bureaucracy is our lot.

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New York Times, meet developer’s pocket; developer’s pocket, meet NYT.

I was hoping to find the time to craft some long-winded ire, but the real world conspires against me. That, and the panoply of horrendous journalism churned out in the course of a single afternoon from the House of Ratner (okay, okay, Neighbors of the House of Ratner) make it a little unfair that I gird these pages with 3,000 words explicating the missteps and oversights. So, quickly:

$120 million is all it takes to land a tenant at 7WTC? Hell, I need some space too. So Larry found hisself some medium time tenants huh? 600,000 sq ft, over 20 years, proof positive that downtown real estate is en fuego! Let’s look closely at the numbers, shall we? The Times estimates that a raft of tax breaks, gee gaws and other sordid do dads are taking $10 a foot off the lease number (which is already lower than Midtown, but isn’t a subsidy a sure sign of economic health? It sure is for every trust funded boutique in the LES). Over twenty years, that’s, um, $120 million of subsidy — but Bagli doesn’t have access to a calculator, so they leave it up to me to figure that out.. If that’s the cure, you sure don’t want to know the disease. Oh, other fun number: net gain in commercially leased space downtown: d’oh-nut! If Moody’s current space becomes ‘luxury housing’ well, then we will see a small uptick (did I get that from the Times, or did I have to figure it out — you get one guess). But that’s what we call a technicality. In a nutshell: Why did the Moody’s cross the road? $120 really big ones.

Somewhere in there is a train station, if you can find it admist all the developer slash and burn. Back in midtown, where the market is so hot the Dolans will move a block if they get a free arena and an extension on their tax break (which makes you wonder how this will end up being a bad deal — after all, when is the last time you saw the Dolan family make a smart decision?), we get the most confused shilling possible. It seems that everyone in midtown loves the idea that Penn Station will be transformed from a cramped ancillary space under the current MSG into a cramped ancillary space adjacent to a new MSG, except they can’t find anyone to quote, save for the developers taking what was a good idea and shitting all over it. A diagram of how a reduced allocation of space and removal of an intermodal hall will be an improvement (to say nothing about the sticky issues of development fees, the inevitable request for PILOTs, and whatever else flimflammery Roth/ss can come up with) would have been helpful. The slug here is that this plan is actually better than the one carefully crafted over the past ten year because “the current plan won’t relocate 80% of the passenger traffic”? Huh? Did the Times do this analysis? Or, um, maybe the developers? Hard to say, hard to say.

If anyone remembers, the big problem was that no one could get Amtrak to move (because the Feds are suffocating them slowly), making the whole intermodal dream a little ricketly. It couldn’t be that the developers have convinced themselves that Amtrak will fall all over this idea and climb on board, thus resulting in a more efficient plan? And how about selling the Farley air rights and development rights for $318 million? Aren’t air rights going in some neighborhoods for $400/sf in this overheated market? All interesting questions, and more challenges for that lost calculator. But don’t ask the Times. They are still hoping everyone forgets the shenanigans that resulted in their PILOT deal (if you recall, they were stumping for Liberty Bonds at one point).

Don’t get me started on the Memorial. Take a look at this rendering. So, um, now we are going to argue about who gets their relative’s name close enough to be acutally legible? And those ramps cost $160 million? Wow. Recall how much of the New York article was devoted to Arad arguing for his ramps. Payback is a bitch, honey. What’s the over/under on the number of days before he sends out a press release asking that the media no longer refer to him as the designer of the Memorial? If he really had the cojones everyone says he does, it’d be before this gets posted. But Gary Handel won’t let him do that, because that might make for some bad press and undermine efforts to build 13 versions of the same bland glass box over there in Hudson Square.

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Where is Landmarks West when you need them?

I would have opened with the “first they came for the Jews” reference, but that would be as tacky as my friend who always laments having to make a tough decision playing cards as similar to Sophie’s Choice. So I’m not that tasteless and overly melodramatic in the face of what is nonetheless a tragic loss to my manufactured sense of identity and personal history.

The Gas Station became a Duane Reade. Save the Robots became a series of depressingly obvious clubs (I don’t even know what the latest incarnation is). The lot on Attorney Street, where you would watch two dozen frozen ice vendors cleaning out their cars with water pilfered from a fire hydrant has become, well, it became a NYCHA facility, which isn’t so bad. Eric, the quintessential EV bartender, has been demoted to working tables at a restaurant.

The more things change — maybe not. Anyway, do you know this car? Well, you think you did. The two guys who came by every couple months to beat back the truly impressive weed festival that took place there got ambitious late last week, and as a result, the lot is picked clean, two clear scrape marks testifying to the battle this last real East Village landmark (oh, okay, it was an LES landmark, but having lived ten feet north and south of the putative border, I have to tell you, the difference is imperceptible, at least these days) put up before surrendering to a certain future of overstated luxury and long lines at Clinton Baking.

Where was the Hungry Marching Band? The flyers posted from some hastily formed neighborhood association? The outrage at the injustice? No, this last stand took place in silence and anonymity, and the best we can hope for is that is was given a proper burial, at the Sixth Street Garden (which, I hear, is going to become a Chipotle).

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Meet Frank Sciame, architect of the WTC Memorial.

The Downtown Express is reporting that Frank’s red-lining of the Memorial plans is, frankly, quite a hatchet job (okay, that’s my take — they are a little more even-handed). He’s talking about eliminating the waterfalls — and not just for winter, but altogether — and moving the victims names from below ground.

And here I was thinking that it was only trees above ground. Where are they going to put the names? On slips of paper? The grove, by the way, is not up for consideration as an expendable item. It’s not clear whether or not it was because removing the trees wouldn’t save much money, or if the new designer just thinks they are really cool. Score one for the conciliatory Peter Walker and score none to everyone’s favorite prune, Michael Arad!

Bloomberg’s off-the-cuff recommendation, moving the Memorial Museum (which has had a checkered history, coming later into the program, and then switching up with the Freedom Center in terms of prominence and programming, and then moving front and center of the entire affair after that nefarious hub of subversion, the Drawing Center was sent packing back to that land of commie rabble rousing, SoHo) to the Freedom Tower, which seemed very sensible to me, is a no go. Why it remains firmly nestled in the subterranean space is unclear, except when you consider the other changes — eliminating the waterfalls, moving the names, and reducing the slurry wall exposure — you may find yourself asking, well, what’s going to be down there (aside from Debra Burlingame in the super-secret family bunker)? Well, there you go: the Museum, the Museum, and the Museum, which may or may not be free, and sure to be a site of unending meddling about exhibition content.

One reason cited by Sciame for removing the falls was noise (also why he recommends keeping the trees). This is an interesting wrinkle, since everyone probably assumed that they would be the understated whisper of water slipping over concrete, not unlike the urinals at the Royalton, but apparently they are rated at 80db, which is the equivalent of an electric razor or lawnmower (they have awfully powerful razors over there in Cape Town). So much for quiet reflection.

So this is a good thing, discussion-wise. No one wants have their solemn observation besieged by overbearing white noise. Unless, of course, you are trying to drown out the inane observations of tourists, the braying of tour guides, and the far off sounds of people hawking 9/11 toilet paper.

Of course, that is playing kind of fast-and-loose with notions such as ‘discussion’ and ‘process’. In reality, it is exactly what it looks like: the latest in a series of putative decision makers, people accustomed to conniving and obstruction to get their way when not in charge and who then morph into tinpot dictators when they are (because, like, they are so much more talented the those other pretenders) but fail miserably because everyone else is being as obstructionist and conniving as they can be, in hopes that they are given a shot to be the biggest idiot in the room.

Since having other people do your job for your is the new black, I invite everyone to take this, or any other WTC posts (hell, grab some from other sites too!), and rearrange everything, mad libs-style, and wait for the real world to catch up.

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Maybe Hevesi didn’t have a bad idea after all.

Either our off-the-cuff challenged comptroller is pyschic, or the Rovian practice of payback really is a bitch, cause last week the Department of Homeland Security — an organization that has already presided over the destruction of one American city without major changes to its management — determined that just about everywhere in America is in more danger from terrorists than us. You know, all the people who were never attacked.

In case you’ve been hiding in a bomb shelter (not a bad idea, since the Federal government has no interest in protecting you), the DHS massively scaled back New York City’s allotment of security monies for the coming year — a number that was rather unimpressive on a per capita basis to begin with.

Apparently the dog ate our homework: there were two reasons cited for the ‘adjustment’: one, a lack of landmarks, and two, we didn’t submit the paperwork properly. There’s an argument about how it was supposed to be received: they said we were supposed to email it, and we supposedly faxed it; maybe we did email it, but it’s on a laptop in some bureaucrat’s den waiting to be stolen. And yes, while your safety is being imperiled, we are witnessing an argument about how to file fucking paperwork.

In what seems like an almost hysterical response, a postcard campaign has been launched. Yeah, that’s right: postcards. You are supposed to go buy postcards of some of our not-landmarks and write things like “NY to DHS: Um, we’re not dead, except for the 2,800 murdered by terrorists.” or “Now I know what it feels like to be NOLA” (oh, wait, that’s Reed’s card) and send them to the small-time Bush crony who cut our budget while sending money to fucking Missouri, a place so backwoods that not only can’t American students find it on a map, but even terrorists would miss it.

As much as this seems like pouring a bucket of water on a wildfire, I can’t think of much of a response, except “What the fuck?” And given that this is more evidence that the stupidest people since Wrong Way Corrigan (well, actually, far worse) have wrested control of the entire government, perhaps anything more complex than a postcard will cause their brains to implode.

There was some talk that the problem rested on a simple misunderstanding. Apparently our submission consisted, in its entirety, of an image of the World Trade Center. When the DHS received it, their research indicated that the WTC no longer exists, and thus was not legitimately a landmark requiring protection funding.

Now, I just made that up, but doesn’t it seem more plausible than the truth? That regardless of the paperwork snafu, when the short bus committee at the DHS was going over the paperwork, nobody thought it was odd that NYC wasn’t listed as having any landmarks? That the location of the event that was the impetus for their fucking jobs was coming up with no targets of significance?

Maybe it’s all an outsourcing thing. In order to save money to fund another tax break, Bush has simply authorized turning over all those recorded phone conversation to terrorists, so they can have better information on where to attack next. Really, since every single news story about the DHS over the past two years indicates they couldn’t protect a hooker in a roomful of eunuchs, why waste all this money on anti-terrorism? Hell, maybe the DHS should just start killing people themselves, and save everyone the trouble. After all, a plurality as large as the one(s) that elected [sic] Dubya already think this is true.

But it’s not all bad: you can still move to Alaska. They got a big increase, and pot smoking is still legal there.

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Too bad it wasn’t one of the “fucking the wife” sculptures.

The rebirth is double-plus officially underway! You know the world is safe for capitalism when long in the tooth ‘avant garde’ artists, in case, Jeff Koons and Jenny Holzer (though it turns out she wasn’t long in the tooth enough, and surrendered veto power to some Silverman lackey), have been asked to gild the tomb that is 7WTC. The whole shebang was dedicated with a klezmer band a couple days ago with Fitterman Hall staring barefully down.

The building itself actually isn’t that bad, even with its stainless prophylactic base. That is mostly because the Bank of NY trust facility and RR Donnelly, two of the best examples of Tysons Corner-quality architecture in the city, are the immediate context. Every once in a while I want to feel the strange mixture of dystopian social evolution and sexual awakening that was Logan’s Run, and now I have a place to go (though, unfortunately, Jenny Argutter won’t turn up in a pelt).

So how about that thingamabob from Koons! It’s no big puppy, that’s for sure. The word (in my head) that there was a discussion of having Barney slather the security sheathing in petroleum jelly (well, actually K-Y, for maintenance reasons) while Bjork stood in the parklet and yelped turned out only be to an outtake from Cremaster 9.

Early reports indicate 25% occupancy, an impressive number, even if you net out the space that the guys just hired by Silverstein to build the next towers agreed to rent. Oh, and the chunk that the city and state bent over backwards to get the Commies to rent (didn’t they get the top 5? Wasn’t that where Giuliani’s bunker was? Is that some kind of irony? Little Red Bunker, maybe?). And Silverstein’s office (the must need a lot of space to fit those big development fee checks). That leaves, um, the science guys, right? Anyway, onwards and upwards. Or overwords, or something.

Overwords at the sacredness proper, it’s a total clusterfuck. Not a total clusterfuck like last year, when no one knew what the Memorial would look like, or even what the final program was; when the deconstruction of 130 Liberty was marred by poor oversight and flawed planning; when no one could shoot straight at the LMDC; when no progress was being made on the Freedom Tower; when Pataki was a bumbling idiot who couldn’t marshal the forces of the PANYNJ to finalize any site planning; when no one knew how anything was being paid for, but that all the money was definitely running out.

No, now it’s a new kind of clusterfuck, one that — I was going to cut and paste the above paragraph, for dramatic effect, but even that isn’t worth it. Can we agree once again how unfathomable it is that these people can speak without shame in public? If this were medival Japan (or at least my James Clavell induced version of it), wouldn’t they all have committed ritual suicide by now for their failings?

It’s cheap to say that I’ve been so aghast at recent developments that I’ve been reduced to silence, instead of laziness. I did think about bothering, but how many ways can I say it? And I’m the kind of person who repeats the same stories and complaints again and again for years. When someone as unoriginal as I get tired at repetition, it is a sad state indeed.

The last couple weeks have been, I dunno, comically horrific, horrifically comic, new levels of abasement, pick one:

Michael Arad decided pouting in private was useless in the face of a faceless bureaucracy, and hung it out for all to see (the choice pull quote? it’s all about the stupid), inducing in many of us an embarrassing flashback to what we were like as first year studio scrubs. And he manages to look like the good guy. Ugh.

Pataki has descended to such a level of self parody that I imagine he’s taken to baroque Catch-22-esque behaviors, like demanding his wife call him Mr. President around the house. But he can’t even delude a constituency of one; the real story is probably that he has the presidential seal embroidered on his underwear, and she laughs at his executive manhood ambitions when he crawls into bed each night.

In response to the complete stasis found far and wide, the imbecile committee running the show took everyone’s name and put them in a hat, instead of the trash, and picked. So Kevin Rampe, who couldn’t run the LMDC the first time, nor raise any money for the memorial, gets another shot. Frank Sciame, who has managed to build like, three row houses in the South Street Seaport, is going to get the budget under control. And Silverstein is now saying his agreement to cede control was only an agreement to agree (oh, and the insurance company is going to welsh on the payments if he does agree to the agreement).

And then there are the little things, like the transit authority saying their glass hat over at Fulton Street was never that important (after a slew of businesses, some of which were there for decades, and stuck it out after the attacks, were evicted). Now we get the news that there is yet another committee being formed to come up with alternates to the design. And after all this, so little of the information is available in an easily of comestible way. We’re talking billions of dollars here, piles of which will come from tax receipts or private donations. After watching these people twist for five years now, arguing that the more public involvement would slow down the process rings a little hollow. Hell, picking five names at random in the phone book would probably produce more results. What is certainly clear is that relying on long time fixers from downtown (Wiesbrod, Whitehead, Sciame, et al), justified initially because of their commitment and expertise, has resulted in an empty hole that isn’t even filled with all the money they’ve squandered to date.

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There will be no Prague Spring in the East Village if residents of East 4th Street have their way. Pulling every string and trick in the CB playbook, they are waging quite a campaign to prevent the success of block newcomer EU, an oddly named (given the graphics and logo imply the name is “Soviet Bloc”) eatery being billed as a “gastropub” — which I take to mean “a place the serves food and alcohol”. And they say the East Village has lost its edge. Initially, the arrayed forces hoped to stop them cold, but have had to settle for what is being touted by the proprietors as a temporary ban on alcohol sales, making it, for the time being, a “gastro”.

The residents have good cause to be suspicious. Both Le Souk and No.1 Chinese, just around the corner on Avenue B, started life as restaurants, and still serve food (which, based on my experience tops out at mediocre), before morphing into whatever it is they are now. I can’t claim to know precisely, not having been in either in some time, but I do know that they both draw crowds, hordes even, of loud, drunk and endlessly obnoxious patrons. You know the type — being screechy and sloppy seems to be the only validation they have that socializing has occurred.

The is nothing about situation that is charming or cool or interesting; the entire scene is redolent of what are the worst elements of nightlife here: honking cabs, people imported from other areas, states or countries, who seem to think their embarrassing behavior provides us with the necessary local color.

Unlike a place like il Bagatto, around the corner on 2nd Street, they cannot claim to have been any sort of neighborhood fixture or transformative business, ushering in a new era of safety or conviviality. If anything, the preceding five years on Avenue B were safer, quieter and more interesting.

The advent of EU, brought to the world by AvroKO, which fancies itself a category-busting high-concept outfit (think The Apartment, but with less pink), is not likely as crass an effort as the angry locals are painting it. But even if they aren’t seeking to fill another 50 feet of East Village sidewalk with velvet rope and kids from Metuchen that doesn’t mean there isn’t a credible point about noise and crowd control.

The Frank empire outpost that directly preceded No. 1 Chinese was Supper, just down the block from il Bagatto. Supper has excellent food, but the scene there in warmer months is pretty officious, the sidewalk packed with people drinking and smoking, waiting for poorly scheduled reservations, or suckers for the ’15 minutes’ scam that induces the drinking of pricey house wine.

I’m a fan of al fresco dining (and drinking, even more) as much as the next person, but side street sidewalk seating or waiting simply shouldn’t be allowed in many areas. Or, at least, there should be a reasonable minimum required of sidewalk space. Struggling to get past early evening revelers waving wine glasses and cigarettes while humping home bags of groceries meant more than once throwing a shoulder to the rude and oblivious in front of Supper. The folks are 4th Street fear more of the same.

Why does this tiff look so petty and ridiculous? Any time you introduce the words ‘neighborhood activist’ you induce some eye rolling. Mix that with mealy-mouthed club owners who claim it isn’t their fault the people they just spent all night selling alcohol decide to shriek at cabs and each other on the way out, and blend it all with a confused hierarchy of licensing (the Community Boards get to recommend, but the state has the final say), and the result is the foolish spectacle of the police being called into police the dream of high quality BYOB food in the EV rather than addressing the persistent offense drunks only a block away.

There is a good, market driven solution to all this: restrict business types to side streets with minimum sidewalk width. It’s not a logical regulation — a restaurant doesn’t need more sidewalk than a laundry — but most zoning is a retrospectively capricious process. Since most side streets are narrow, it pushes eating and drinking establishments to avenues, and has the attendant effect of driving down rents, preventing owners from squatting on empty space in hopes of gouging a bar. A friend was recently complaining about line of shuttered storefronts on lower Avenue B. I pointed out it was likely that property owners were asking rents that couldn’t be sustained by retail shops, and the alcohol licensing mess made opening a eatery a dicey proposition (something the folks at AvroKO know well now).

But wouldn’t such a regulation eliminate the possibility of such storied EV locations like Le Tableau, il Bagatto, Old Devil Moon, and my long lost favorite, Les Amis et Les Deux Lapins (don’t believe the hype about the new location)? Yes and no. Restrictions on sidewalk seating and wall penetrations (EU has both a street service window and can be fully open air) will condition the restaurant type. After all, no one is complaining about Lavagna.

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This site is mostly referred to as an architecture blog. That’s what I say most of the time as well. Occasionally I will refer people to the tagline that falls at the bottom of the page and maunder for a while about figures like William Whyte or Jimmy Breslin, and here assiduously work to avoid the overuse of terms that run to jargon (though I don’t work as hard as anything resembling concision, even as I am reprimanded time and again).

Anyhoo, this blog is supposed to be about is the intersection of the impermanent (lives and events) and the semi-permanent (buildings and institutions), and how they interrelate, and create meaning through that intersection [insert de Certeau-inflected PoMo cultural studies hoo hah].

The challenge is finding some of that life. Since the worst possible blog post is some variant of why I’ve been not, an excuse or promise to the contrary, the recent dormancy has been a more opaque reflection of a relatively flat existence, impermanance-wise. Usually I can get around this by commenting on something newsworthy and plenty of found or remembered knowledge.

Lately, even that has been rough, and the delimits of a professional services flunky have been driven home by two absurd instances, one personal, the other somewhat wider, of disintermediation.

Disintermediation is a term that means something like the Internet was supposed to make it cheaper and easier for us to buy porn and cheetos in our underwear. And that has certainly worked out. I know I’m misusing the term, but the series of absurd prefixes strung together seems an apropos way to describe some of the stranger effects resulting from the insertion of a screen between us and the world, one that is now almost completely pervasive (phones, handhelds, cars, elevators, etc).

A few weeks back, I was working when the usual cacophony of honking horns, squawking walkie-phones and sirens took on a more urgent note (it’s been rumored that adjacent building has gas supply problems, so I tend to be more vigilant about sirens). I looked around, and it seems the fire trucks were closing in on my block from every direction.

Even this isn’t atypical, but after another dozen minutes of blaring horns and sirens, I looked again. Sure enough, a small but dense cloud of dark smoke was rising what appeared to be about a block away. I went to the roof, saw it was a little further off.

So what did I do? Well, I checked the Internet. Not that I expected NY1 to carry this obviously big story, but given the number of bloggers in the neighborhood, it wouldn’t be unheard of if the fire were being covered real-time. It wasn’t, and I went back to work, craning my neck occasionally to see if anything more exciting happened.

Since it wasn’t in the direction I normally walk, I watched the news for a day or two to see if it was an almost noteworthy event. But here’s the twisted part: I was curious enough about it for two days to check news sites more than once, but never actually walked the two blocks to see where and what it was. Now, there’s no clear evidence of where it was.

Then, last week, there was the sad tale of the Rivington Street synagogue remains. Seems someone tried to cart off a portion that may or may not have been destined for scrap (a stone Star of David inset). Being a sizable object or simply ineffectual thieves, it was dropped a few blocks off. And there it lay. For days. Long enough to get a Flickr pool and two different blogs to start lively comment threads about desecration of religious symbols — including at least one call for someone to rescue this possibly sacred artifact.

Follow me for a second: two blogs, a dozen people calling for protection of the site and its remnants and a series of photos documenting the theft, many of them living within walking distance, and it might still be laying there. It’s not like we’re talking Buddhist monuments in Pakistan. It is sort of the Kitty Genovese of preservation. But I hope somebody does something about it. Or calls someone.

The ur-text of this is a story told by a communications professor about the first video camera he owned. Certain that it would drastically change our perceptions of reality, he lugged around one of those two-component, twenty pound bastards for something like two years, and claimed to have done everything with it. Including driving. And getting in a car accident. The moment when he realized he had fully disintermediated himself was his response to the driver he had just rear-ended: “But I couldn’t have hit you. I zoomed out.”

There is the irony of even bothering to establish a blog about living in the city, since it only serves to diminish the moments left for actually that. I guess my rationalization is if I can’t justify the ten minutes I need to walk three blocks to see if the neighborhood is burning down, I can steal a hair less to say I couldn’t be bothered.

And if you are wondering if this is just the most elaborate post ever crafted to say, um, I’ve been busy, well, that too. I could have simply written a post that said a somewhere a developer was proposing a shitty, overpriced condo and that Ground Zero is a calcified orgy of ineptitude, but that would have been too easy.

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