When a neighborhood becomes popular

There is the story of gentrification in New York, increasingly complicated by many factors. I'll give the back of the cereal box version: the intensifying dirth of affordable housing for a larger swathe of people, not just for low-income households; immigration patterns, which of late show that new immigrants who traditionally moved out of the city once they got a foothold are now staying in the city to take advantage of its services and amenities provided by either the city or de facto by communities; and shifting local economic development patterns.

Our neighborhoods are changing - quickly and for everybody.

And community organizing reflects this change. Where once upon a time it was the old school community organizers that tried to either shut out the "artist", "hipster," you-name-the-trendy-group, we're witnessing newer groups adopting the same goals but in a very different way.

Take Williamsburg, for example. I don't know why the Village Voice's article "Discovering Williamsburg" is news, since the community has been collaborating since at least 1990 to stem the tide of gentrification that came with their success in turning back the tides of disinvestment from the 1970's, and people on the Southside have been worried for decades. Now, in addition to the traditional community organizing groups, St. Nicholas Neighborhood Preservation Corporation, Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning, the Southside Mission, the People's Firehouse, the North Brooklyn Alliance, among many many others, there's the Williamsburg Warriors taking charge of a very different form of community organizing. (Is that why it's news?)

I don't know the Lower East Side as well, but in addition to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, the LES BID, the Lower East Side People's Federal Credit Union, among many, many others, there is now LOCO.

These groups - Williamsburg Warriers, LOCO - are onto something I really really like. They have to take the history and traditions of community organizing that probably came out of the 1970s movements and couple them with the new - ways of accounting for new people, of growing local businesses, of dealing with new symptons of success, such as movie shoots. They're new resources for these neighborhoods which have been a little stuck. They can sometimes come up with innovative ways of dealing with standard problems (check out the YIMBY post from yesterday).

I wonder how much of the older organizers efforts affected the formation of the new, though I very much hope that the new groups share the limelight with other like-minded organizations in their neighborhood.



= YES in my backyard.

The Park Slope Neighbors group negotiates with Commerce Bank to change its design. Back in December, the group found the original proposed design horrible and unacceptable for the neighborhood (very Micky D's). At first, it seemed like it would be a case of NIMBY, but since then, the group decided to go with a more positive approach: it said that it would embrace the bank's presence if it changed its design to be less strip mall and more in context with the Park Slope neighborhood. Yeah for YIMBY.

The bank agreed. A new design was released. Great press was generated. Park Slope Neighbors transferred its account to the Commerce Bank!!


Endpaper: The design is still bank-y, but at least the entrance and overall structure are more transparent and geared towards pedestrians, a vast improvement over the original fast food drive-thru model. Customer parking is in the back, instead of the front.

Undulating curves in Astor Place

under construction, via wirednewyork.com

Gawker is the snarkiest one of them all, and that's why its take on the Astor Place sculpture-architecture is so indulgently enjoyable.

Paul Goldberger mentions how the building would meet the street:

"where the squat limestone base tries too hard to fit into the surrounding streets"
but I wish he would fill out the thought some more, even a paragraph more. His comments about the structure feel right though, as I look at the cheesy reflective glass everytime I walk through Astor Place.


Conventions, arenas, you name it

An article on sports arenas and a round-up of some of the newest developments around the country. For a good analysis on New York City region arenas, check out Miss Representation's version.

And for those who want a little bit more substance, a City Journal article on the economics of convention centers. Bottom line? Convention centers do not improve local economies.

...and why parts of Brooklyn are just terrible

from the Greensward Foundation

On one of the past few beautiful Sunday's, we made our way to Prospect Park. The walk from the Q train up Flatbush Avenue was pleasant enough, (though we did not even think about crossing the street as Flatbush was rather daunting, with its racing traffic, inconvenient crosswalks and multiple lanes of two way traffic) but when we got to Grand Army Plaza, "the grandest of park entryways in New York City's answer to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris," we became muddled and then very annoyed.

The park entrance is within sight - the most obvious thing is to walk directly through the roundabout where the Arch is. Yet that was impossible - there was no facilitation (crosswalks, pedestrian signals) to do so. To get to the park entrance, the crosswalks told us to walk all the way around the archway and cross five wide streets. The "grand" archway is not an entrance - it's an obstacle!

Whatever happened to Grand Army Plaza? Some old photographs show that it was always paved (initially with cobblestones?) and with cars on it too, but perhaps for much slower moving carriages. What has happened, it seems, is that this beautiful entrance has been totally given over to facilitating thru-traffic, without any consideration for other types of traffic - pedestrians and bikers, other than keeping them away from cars. Whoever made the decision didn't seem to notice the Brooklyn Public Library at the corner, or the Prospect Park's main entranceway, both of which don't allow cars inside. From what I remember, Paris' Arc de Triomphe was similarly addled. That's why you enjoy it from a distance.

I'm sure this issue been played out over and over again - and people living near Prospect Park learn to put up with it because the Park itself is so lovely, and well worth the trip. I know people not living in Manhattan drive more, and are underserved by public transit. Still, that's no reason to continue to give drivers complete right-of-way and not look out for bikers and pedestrians, especially at such critical pedestrian destinations.


Why we love Brooklyn

Walker Evans, FORTUNE, November 1960

Because it isn't Manhattan! New York Metro's cover story on new development in Brooklyn is dead on:

"It shouldn’t take towers along the waterfront to recenter our mental maps of New York on the East River, not at Central Park. Brooklyn is already different, inextricably linked, but equal. It shouldn’t be back-office territory, but front-office space for smaller businesses."

Unconventionality becomes cliche

Roger K. Lewis takes on form freaks.

I don't know about the actual discussion about triangular geometry and all of that, but it does seem that when trendiness takes over, the idea can only die out all the more quickly. That is the nature of trends (think about last season's ubiquitous poncho!). But a building sticks around for a long long time...


Flag Wars

PBS's "Flag Wars," a movie about the gentrification of Olde Towne East (I think) in Columbus, Ohio, sounds fascinating, and unfortunately, I missed it. Please air again!

This USA Today article has some nice comments from people on the street...but what's up with that last factor about religion?

Space Available

The Brookings Institute takes on conventional wisdom about convention centers.

Sports stadiums hopefully up next?


Morning coffee creating extra congestion

Coffee shop at train station in Taipei

The Washington Post reports on a new study by the FHWA on how extra trips to the coffee shop before going to work has increased traffic congestion. The study gives examples of how businesses choose to locate depending on commuter vehicular traffic flow and more men, instead of women, are making daily short trips for a single purpose - like getting a cup of coffee.

What isn't discussed is that perhaps people are going out of their way to seek places to gather and simply BE before having to go to the office or work and becoming a worker. Case in point: I just moved closer to my office, and can now walk to work, but I still cherish my morning coffee from the corner coffee stand, not because of his coffee per se (I actually prefer my own at home) but because it's nice to start the day with a friendly exchange and to see some of my fellow pedestrians on the way. I hate to admit it, but Starbucks has brought the pleasure of drinking coffee and sitting in a cafe back to the mainstream.

This is not just about transportation, it's also a community development issue. I think this is more like a Third Place syndrome, and as access to Third Places diminish (e.g., coffee shops, the local pub, the park bench, etc) or just require more travel, this study shows that people will make the trip to fulfill a social craving.

For other cities, how about locating cafes and newspaper stands in public transit hubs? There aren't nearly enough of those amenities at bus and train stations, and both things, while small, make the trip so much more pleasant.


Flatiron ad comes down!

the ultimate scoop courtesy of Curbed.

Public transit accounting

To P.J. O'Rourke's claim that the Minneapolis light rail system was too expensive with its $700 million price tag, and that every citizen might as well lease a BMW SUV for the same price, an industrious ground logistics military officer offers this analysis, which ultimately shows that while public transit would cost taxpayers $17 million per year, BMWs with all its associated costs of ownership and service (parking spaces, highways and roads to drive on, gas, and more...) would cost taxpayers $166 million per year.

via Civic Strategies

More thorough story on Flatiron Building and H&M ad

Preservation Magazine gets the details.

More from New York Times and the NY Daily News.

High cost of parking

Donald Shoup has loads of statistics to share in his recent book, the "High Cost of Free Parking," all of which are surprisingly interesting to read. For drivers everywhere, parking is a paramount issue, and municipalities have tried to accommodate drivers to instituting policies that require parking spaces per something built.

We've been bantering around some much less scientifically founded statistics recently, just based on presentations we've seen or what we heard talking to transportation engineers. For example:

the number of parking spaces per car in Seattle - 8
the percent of land in average size cities paved by asphalt - 50%
the subsidy per parking space in Midtown Manhattan - $18
(feel free to dispute these claims)

There are working alternatives to providing parking and braving the anger of irate drivers. Missoula, Montana has a terrific parking management program. Instead of subsidizing parking (which they've calculated to cost the city $20,000 per space), they poured their resources into transit incentives, employee transit card subsidies, even picking up the cab fare if you're stuck somewhere and transit doesn't get you back to where you want to go. It's called Missoula in Motion, and I love it.


Find yourself a cup o' joe

To help you fend off the convenience of that Starbucks coffee around the corner, the Delocator finds independent coffee shops close by, based on your zip code. While it remains a mystery how the listings are organized (certainly not by distance, at any rate) this is a handy little tool to help you stay local.

Google satellite and Craig

We spent hours looking at old addresses, childhood homes, and neighborhoods of farflung family members on Google Maps last week, but this combination of Craigslist apartment postings and Google maps turns it a critical application.

Wow. I always felt Google and Craigslist were kickass. Thanks be to the hacker that figured out to combine the two.


RVs getting around affordable housing

Unable to afford to buy a home close to their jobs, people in the Washington DC area are now sinking money into a RV and paying monthly rent on space in a RV park.

If that's not depressing enough, there is a recent report that homebuyer's investment for the future could be less an investment than they thought. It shows how escalating real estate prices have spawned appraisal and re-financing fraud, putting homeowners at risk. Is this a bubble, or are all the real estate service companies collaborating (even indirectly) to make money off of hopeful home owners?


City Countil threatens to block Williamsburg-Greenpoint rezoning proposal

...and THAT's is why I love the Williamsburg-Greenpoint community. The community will not go down without a serious fight, and they're organized.

The comprehensive plan completed through 10 years of collaboration with community stakeholders and city government was scraped for this recent Department of City Planning proposal. I have yet to see a reason why the community's plan was originally rejected. Or why the Department took it upon themselves to come up with a plan on their own. How about involving the community, tweaking the plan they've already invested in, if economic pressures indeed have changed? This process doesn't have to be as painful as it has become.

Moved in

On the homefront, we traded a beautiful place in a great neighborhood, though somewhat remote, for a smaller though nice place in a much more central location. Actually, the new location is where we always wished we could live, but now that we're here, it's interesting what we miss. This coming year is going to be a big experiment.


Moving today

...enough said.

For some serious news, visit Planetizen or read this posting on Megachurches at theboxtank.

For some fun, check out Faking Places from Project for Phony Spaces.

Back on Monday!