The Sublet Experiment

November 30, 2006


Here’s a totally cool concept: A play that moves from apartment to apartment, neighborhood to neighborhood (thanks to Craigslist) rather than being staged in a traditional theater. The Sublet Experiment is described thusly: “A serial sublettor, a reality show reject and the worst bank robbers in history collide. It is a comic thriller about love, identity and identity theft as two young people try to find themselves but end up finding each other.” The play started in Washington Heights on Nov. 13, and moves to the West Village tonight (which is sold out), before moving on to Chelsea and Astoria. You can get on their email list to be alerted for new neighborhood shows.

The playwright, Ethan Youngerman, told Gothamist: “New Yorkers are so obsessed with real estate because where you live has a huge effect on how you live.”

Trash and Fashion

November 29, 2006


Fashion shoot, St. Marks style: Yes, the guy with smudges all over his face is part of the shoot, not a random street urchin crashing the scene (photographed this afternoon between 2nd and 3rd Aves).

Ghost Bikes

November 26, 2006

An activist group has erected memorials to bicyclists who have been felled in traffic accidents. The project is called Ghost Bikes. The above pic was taken by NYT photog Fred R. Conrad of a memorial at Lafayette and Houston for 12 dead cyclists (an intersection I must admit to riding through with little regard for traffic). Click to see NYT slideshow.

The Green Apple

November 22, 2006

ny_pie.jpgThe Architect’s Newspaper has a series of articles about New York, all trying to answer the question, How Green is The Big Apple? Given the density and the most heavily used public transportation system in the country, NYC consistently ranks high on “sustainability” lists. But for anyone who lives here, this hardly feels like “green” living.

The Architect’s Newspaper offers some pretty comprehensive coverage (some are clickable, others are not):

There’s also really great thumbnail graphs that tell the quick and dirty story (no pun intended), such as how many green buildings New York has compared to other cities (Atlanta was high on the list, a surprise to me), open space, and other “green” criteria. This is a must-read.


November 21, 2006


The Times has yet another piece about Columbia University’s plans to expand its campus in West Harlem in an area otherwise known as Manhattanville. The struggle to develop a massive 17-acre campus, designed by Renzo Piano, promises to become another Atlantic Yards shootout, or perhaps even worse, given the long standing antipathy between Columbia and Harlem.

It’s safe to say that Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger could open up his own veins and bleed on the streets, and it wouldn’t be enough for some residents of Harlem. Every time Columbia sneezes, people drag out the protest signs dating from 1968 and threaten self-immolation. This fight is so tedious, you can’t help but root against both sides. (Click to enlarge map.)


And frankly, the Times article does little to sort it out by allowing residents of Harlem to level charges without examining them — something about a science and technology-oriented high school that Columbia vowed to build for the neighborhood, but the residents don’t like the temporary location? It’s ridiculous.

And what’s even more amazing to me is the complaint that the people of Harlem won’t benefit because they aren’t qualified to work in high-tech or health science jobs that will be created at the new campus, so they have to settle for the janitorial jobs. Say what? It’s somehow Columbia’s fault that people aren’t qualified for the good jobs, so screw you and the “bad” jobs? That is just crazytalk, especially considering that people have been complaining since 1971 about the disappearance of well-paid jobs that DON’T require a lot of skills and degrees. And that’s exactly what a “bad” job at Columbia is, a well-paid, low-skill job with a great benefits package.

The Times quotes the current largest property owner in the area, whom I’m sure is providing tons and tons of well-paying, secure jobs with a great benefits package:

Nicholas Sprayregen, president of Tuck-It-Away Self-Storage, is the largest property owner in the area with five buildings and almost 300,000 square feet of space. He said he has spent several hundred thousand dollars fighting Columbia and is willing to spend more.

He has a right to defend his property, even if it is a losing battle, but it’s no wonder that Columbia refuses to give up the eminent domain threat. Given the hardened position of the opposition, only a fool would.

Of course, residents of Harlem should demand and fight for what is best for the neighborhood — including saving more than just three buildings that are currently on the site. But for activists to say in one breath that Columbia has done a lot to make up for past mistakes and yet still has less than zero credibility is to be a bad negotiating partner, period.

Photo by Tyler Hicks.

Arch Rags on the Skids

November 16, 2006

Slate has a good piece about why architecture magazines have hit the skids, with only Architectural Record surviving into the 21st century.

You are more likely to find tough architectural criticism in the New York Review of Books, the New Republic, and The New Yorker than in any of the major architecture magazines.

The public’s growing fascination with architecture over the last two decades might have saved architecture magazines, except that they were read only by practitioners. It wasn’t always so. … If architecture magazines had maintained their coverage of housing and planning, they might have found more important social roles—and more readers. Instead, they became cheerleaders for an increasingly marginalized profession. …


Slate points to a promising new pub, Architect, which seems to be signaling a different direction from glossy photos of starchitect buildings by — gasp — putting a human being on the cover, and a not-famous one at that. I haven’t had the opportunity to check it out yet, but a letter from the editor certainly sounds promising:

The old-school method of architectural journalism is all about the building review, a story type with a fixed kit of parts: 1,000 words or so of muted criticism, a few presentation drawings, and a suite of photographs taken at sunrise or sunset, with no people in the way. …

Architectural journalism can serve the profession better by voicing the complexities, values, and concerns of the discipline itself. … ARCHITECT will portray architecture from multiple perspectives, not just as a succession of high-profile projects, glowingly photographed and critiqued, but as a technical and creative process, and as a community.

Sign me up.

Stuy Town Sale Going South?

November 16, 2006

stuyvesant.jpgCrain’s is reporting that the largest real estate deal in American history is headed for an iceberg. Last month MetLife agreed to sell Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village to the highest bidder, Tishman Speyer, for $5.4 billion. It was supposed to close this week. The 110 building complex on First Ave. between 14th and 23rd Streets, was built by MetLife for returning veterans from World War II. Since then, generations of middle class and working people have lived and raised families there, as the rents are significantly below market rate as a result of stabilization laws.

Now Crain’s is reporting on a long-forgotten agreement dating back to 1942 between the City of New York and MetLife that the company would not make more than a 6 percent annual profit on the development in exchange for a 25 year tax break. Presumably this referred to the rent collected from tenants, but a lawyer representing the tenants, who only recently discovered this agreement, is making the argument that it applies to the sale of the property as well, and that all profits above 6 percent from the sale should go to the city. Needless to say, Tishman Speyer probably wouldn’t be down with that.

Is this a last minute “desperate” effort to derail the deal? Of course! Is it also a legitimate claim based on a binding legal agreement? Depends on the judge. And you can take it to the bank that a judge will be getting involved.