New Post

January 12, 2008

UPDATE! www.slackonomics.com is live!

I’ve been woefully negligent here on Polis. But UnBeige, a design-oriented blog on MediaBistro, has an update about what’s been happening in my life… To see the original post (with the weirdly distorted picture below), click here. I probably won’t revive Polis anytime soon, as I’ll be concentrating on developing a website for my book Slackonomics.

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A New Era of Civic Virtue?

September 7, 2007

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The Chief Urban Designer for New York City, Alexandros Washburn, has a piece on Metropolis.com arguing that in previous centuries, civic virtue was expressed through architecture, from the Pantheon in Rome to the Farley building in New York. But the current era of civic virtue requires us to better manage the environment.

Nature is the new civic ideal. To invent the urban design language that will express this is a vital part of the mayor’s challenge. It may happen in surprisingly low-tech ways or it may take advantage of our most advanced science. It may build incrementally on tradition or it may seek entirely new forms. The only certainty is that change is in the air, from planting in our parking lots to rediscovering our waterfronts.

Chicago is, of course, way ahead of all other American cities in this regard, but the above picture is a good example of the issues we face here in New York. The largest green roof in the city is on top of Silvercup Studios in Long Island City, which benefited from some government support, but also required considerable private sector investment, most notably by Silvercup and the landscape architecture firm which designed the green roof, Balmori Associates. The firm recently won a design competition to do the landscaping around Gehry’s Bilboa Museum, and in fact, much of Balmori’s work — which is right in keeping with this new era of civic virtue — is not being done in New York City, where the firm is based, but in other international cities where there is a much greater commitment of resources to better managing the urban environment.

Herein lies the rub. A new era of civic virtue of environmental stewardship in cities across the United States (beyond Chicago) will require a serious commitment of government resources on the local, state and national levels. The modern interpretation of civic virtue on the scale of a Pantheon or Farely building requires nothing less.

Read the whole Metropolis article here.

For a Metropolis piece I wrote about Chicago in 2004, click here (PDF): metropolis-final.pdf


US Open

September 5, 2007

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I’ve been going to the US Open since 1990, the year Pete Sampras exploded onto the scene, beating Andre Agassi in what was supposed to be Agassi’s first grand slam title. This was also when Louis Armstrong Stadium was center court, before the monstrous Arthur Ashe stadium opened in 1997. I’ve only ever had seats in the nosebleed section of Ashe, which often provides better views of the Manhattan skyline than the tennis match. So take it from me, you haven’t seen tennis at Ashe until you’ve watched it from a luxury box, which I did last night until about 2:30 in the morning when David Ferrer beat Rafael Nadal. The velocity generated by the power-hitting of these two players just cannot be appreciated until you’ve seen it in person. Ferrer’s unbelievable defense is what ultimately won him the match. The pic above was taken just prior to the opening night matches, which started with Justine Henin and Serena Williams. (I gained a whole new appreciation for Henin’s game last night, who matched Serena’s power shot for shot, in addition to having more variety. Serena mistakenly seemed to think she could just muscle her way through, and ultimately failed because she never constructed points.) Alas, I’ll be back in the nosebleed section on Thursday.


Picnick

September 3, 2007

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The new food kiosk, Picknick, in Battery Park opened today, a beautiful day for a debut in Lower Manhattan. This eco-friendly food station (the seemingly plastic cups are made of cornstarch, among other recyclable items) is complimented by uncrowded tables, providing a great spot to see the harbor, Red Hook,  and the Statue of Liberty.

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Floating City

September 2, 2007

I’m back in New York and I have a little story to share.

While I was in Mesilla, NM (see below), I was of course missing New York, but then not really — the beautiful adobe house I was staying in was huge and lovely, rundown in a charming kind of way, and ever so cheap (you see my point). So every morning, I biked a short distance to a coffee place, The Bean, and one day I noticed a book on one of the side tables, a slim little paperback titled, “Floating City,” which piqued my interest. It turned out to be a book of poems by a woman who had won the Walt Whitman award for new poets. Now, keep in mind I hardly ever read poetry, but I started reading this collection by Anne Pierson Wiese. Turns out she lives in Brooklyn and her poetry so absolutely captures the essence of life in the city — the small moments of beauty and tragedy, how the natural and the built environments can combine to create magic. So I kept this book with me (stole it from The Bean, I must admit), carrying it around in my bag for weeks, pulling it out at times to read a poem and just revel in this woman’s ability to remind me why I love New York so much. Here is one of my favorites:

Composed upon Brooklyn Bridge, July 6, 2003

How the city’s infinite motions seem stilled

in the sun’s horizontal blue gaze–her tips

and contraptions, her manifold upright lips’

lisp of steel and breath on sky, her curved sill

of shoreline, bridged and built as if the mills

of God have been replaced by quicker equipment,

her people heading home; now, before the dip

of the sun spills red, how this equal light wills

me to see the whole as one. For an instant,

her interlocking parts of bedrock and air,

asphalt and wind, metal and flesh, infant

cries of traffic and windows’ crowded state–

all these seem to pause and fuse, a jubilant

pair of mighty lungs with breath upheld in prayer.


Chelsea Hotel

July 29, 2007

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I’m still in Mesilla, NM (see below, or click here to go to a flickr page with photos of this historic southwestern town), but since I wrote an article for the Times about how the long-time managers of the Chelsea Hotel were ousted, and all the coverage this has received around the world, I thought I would repost the story I wrote more than a year ago about Living With Legends, the unofficial Chelsea Hotel blog (which has been covering the hell out of this ongoing tragedy). Below are links to two of the stories I’ve written for the Times about the Chelsea (both PDF files), and a photo essay I shot at the Living With Legends blog party that took place on April 28, 2006 in a room where Thomas Wolfe wrote, appropriately for a residential hotel, You Can’t Go Home Again.

A Year in the Life (Chelsea PDF)

Changes at the Chelsea, Shelter of the Arts (chelseafinal.pdf)

Living With Legends Blog Party (photo essay on flickr).


JJ in Memoriam II

April 3, 2007

Shin-pei Tsay and I are organizing the second annual Jane Jacobs memorial at the White Horse Tavern. Basic details: April 25, 6 PM. Darren Walker, VP of the Rockefeller Foundation (which will be awarding the first annual Jane Jacobs medals this June) will speak for a few minutes. Alex Washburn, the first ever Chief of Urban Design for the City of New York, will also talk for a few minutes about his new job and the challenges of urban design in 21st century New York. But needless to say, this will be an unscripted event in honor of a writer and activist who knew when to don the white gloves, when to get arrested and when to unwind at the local pub. All are welcome and no RSVP required. Send me an email if you didn’t receive a notice already but want updates about the event.


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