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.

Vertical Farm

April 2, 2007


I have a piece in this week’s New York Magazine about vertical farming, a concept developed by a professor of environmental health at Columbia University. The idea is to bring crop cultivation into skyscrapers in urban areas and allow farmland to be reforested. Why? Many reasons, but the main one is to stabilize weather patterns and climate change. Since the dawn of agricultural practices 11,000 years ago, the earth has lost about half of its forests.

The illustration above is the top of the vertical farm building with an urban windmill, a concept developed by Cleveland State University Professor Majid Rashid. Conventional windmills are too big to be incorporated into the urban landscape, so the idea here is for a screw to turn, bringing wind to the smaller blades, rather than giagantic blades reaching out to capture the wind.

Go to the New York Mag piece here and click through all the cool illustrations before reading the Q&A below with Prof. Dickson Despommier (special thanks to Chris Jacobs of United Future for all your hard work on this project!).


How did this idea come about?

DICKSON DESPOMMIER: In 2000, in my medical ecology class, the students conducted research about how much food could be grown on rooftops in Manhattan. They discovered there’s only about 13 acres of farmable rooftops in the city. That’s not very much. So at the end of the class, I threw out the idea of farming indoors and called it “vertical farming.”

Next year’s class was given a project to find out what is being raised inside. They uncovered a NASA website about growing plants indoors because on Mars, there’s no take-out.
Read the rest of this entry »

Back in NYC

March 1, 2007

I’m back in New York City … alas, I’m super busy right now and am having a hard time posting regularly on the blog. So I’m going to take a break from Polis, and in the meantime, work on a redesign and announce a relaunch in the not too distant future.

I will continue to update the NYT Articles page. If you’re new to Polis, please read about the Book I’m writing (the main reason Polis is going on hiatus). If you would like to know more about me, click About at the top of the website. I have some new photo essays, click here to view them on flickr.

White Sands

February 26, 2007


White Sands National Monument, west of Alamagordo, NM, is one of the most stunning places I’ve ever seen. Here are the world’s largest fields of gypsum sand (many dunes rising over 60 feet), which cover an area of nearly 230 square miles. These photos simply cannot do it justice. I’m told that the numerous pools of standing water are very unusual, which added a wonderful dimension to the desert landscape. Hopefully I’ll have better photos once I get a roll of film developed (yes, I’m still using a film camera, a Nikon N80 to be precise), but in the meantime, click these to enlarge.


I’ll be flying back to NYC tomorrow.

The New Economy 2.0

February 14, 2007


Every now and then you just have to stop and contemplate the radical transformation of the world we live in. I’m hardly pointing out anything new, yet it’s still mind-boggling. This is Cafe Marco on Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood. Every single person here is working on their laptops (I counted 12, almost half of them Macs), taking calls on cell phones and presumably earning a living while sipping soy lattes. These are not kids, they’re professionals. What everyone does, I have no idea, but they’re probably free agents doing an LA version of what I’m doing here (i.e. something related to “the industry”), which is working on three projects at once: a book, a real estate article, and posting blog items about New York even though I’m not even there (see below). I can work from a cafe in LA rather than at the home office in New York for a number of reasons, the obvious one is technology, but also cheap airfare and a widely dispersed network of friends who, even though they don’t live in the same city as me, account for a significant portion of my social life because we get around so much and communicate effortlessly. It’s a truly astonishing change that has become almost like the air; it’s all around us yet goes virtually unnoticed.

For-Profit Parks

February 11, 2007


The Los Angeles Times has a good piece about the privatization of public parks, focusing on Bryant Park in Manhattan. But buried in this excellent article is this shocker of an item:

On Wednesday, [New York] city officials are expected to vote on a plan to give 20 of Manhattan’s wealthiest private schools exclusive after-school access to dozens of public ball fields, rather than allow them to be used by nearby public schools in East Harlem and South Bronx. The private schools would pay more than $2 million a year to use the 63 fields for 20 years.

I don’t know if this has been covered in the New York media (since I’ve been on the opposite coast, see below), but if not, someone needs to get on it.

Across the U.S., Public Parks Are Landing Private Operators [LA Times, reg. req.]

For a slideshow of Bryant Park Ice Pond I took last year, click here (including the above photo).

Breathtaking Inanity: iPod Illegal on City Streets?

February 7, 2007

I’ve only been gone a day and it seems a bout of inanity has erupted in New York. According to Computer World, it could soon be illegal to listen to an iPod while walking in New York. Because of a couple recent deaths of people hit by cars, State Senator Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) is going to introduce a bill that would ban people from listening to “music players or using electronic devices that would hamper their awareness of their surroundings while crossing the street.” If passed into law, violators could be fined $100.

Check back soon for some posts about LA … where Gov. Schwarzenegger will soon make it illegal to fiddle with the radio while driving.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

January 29, 2007

sullivan450.jpgThe Times has an op-ed today titled, “The City That Never Walks” about how New York is “falling behind” other American cities when it comes to, what, exactly? “Pedestrian issues,” the author writes, whatever that means. But the writer couldn’t possibly be talking about the actual number of steps a New Yorker takes every day compared to all other city residents in the nation. Nor could the writer be talking about the car ownership rate either, which is far lower in New York than any other city. Even though I am in agreement with the sentiment of this op-ed — that walking and biking are better modes of transportation on many levels, and cities should design streets and sidewalks to facilitate those alternatives — this piece is not at all convincing in its main assertion, that New York is “falling behind” other American cities when it comes walkability.

Yes, other cities are improving mass transit and creating walkable downtowns. Great. This is hardly a zero-sum game. I’m also 100 percent supportive of the grassroots efforts here in New York to calm traffic and improve pedestrian life that the author mentions (Gansevoort Plaza for one, which I’ve posted about here). But to say that New York is “falling behind” other American cities without saying what is being measured is rather sloppy, and provides the libertarian crowd ammunition to dismiss planners and planner-friendly advocates as silly. Here’s another bit of silliness:

Boston’s mayor has endorsed converting Hanover Street in the city’s North End into a car-free pedestrian mall. Why don’t we do the same in part or even all of SoHo?

This has been tried before and has failed spectacularly. Car-free, pedestrian-only “malls” were a fad in the 1970s and almost every single street that banned traffic has since been converted back after the pedestrian-only zone not only failed to revitalize street life, but in fact killed what was left of the street-level retail.

First rule of thumb: diversity. Cars don’t have to rule the road, but eliminating any form of transportation to promote another is the surest way to dampen activity and life. The fact is, on a weekend in Soho, when every inch of sidewalk is clogged with shoppers — who often spill onto the cobblestone streets, knocking people over with 7 shopping bags — cars are not the problem. Making life easier for shoppers in Soho would be about the last thing that needs to happen there.

(Not to mention the title, “A City That NEVER Walks?” I won’t get on the author of this article for the headline, because it probably wasn’t his doing; a headline writer on the op-ed desk most likely scanned the article and, not taking it very seriously, reformulated the first cliche that came to mind and stuck it at the top.)

New York ABSOLUTELY needs to re-prioritize away from auto-driven transportation and toward pedestrians, bikers, scooters, etc. Alas, this op-ed does not advance that argument very much. (Illustration by Harry Campbell).

Running of the Bulls

January 29, 2007


Gothamist reports on the annual Idiotarod, a satirical race based on the Iditarod in Alaska (the 1000 mile dog sled race), except this one is run by teams of people dressed in costume who tie themselves to a shopping cart and run through the streets of New York (this year from Greenpoint to Long Island City). The event originated in San Francisco (if I remember correctly) and has spread to other cities, but has not been warmly embraced here by the authorities, as Jake Dobkins reports:

… police were swarming … They actually called in air support– I’ve never seen a police chopper that close before. Before the race began, the Captain at the local precinct read a statement saying that the event didn’t have a permit, so if anyone blocked traffic, they’d immediately be arrested…

Happily, it seems no one got jacked by the cops and fun was had by all. More photos and video on Gothamist.

Light Criticism

January 26, 2007


What is this? Check it out, the Anti-Advertising Agency via LVHRD.

I Am Legend

January 25, 2007


Will Smith is filming I Am Legend, an action/sci-fi thriller, on the East River near the Brooklyn Bridge. The shoot requires a thousand extras, blackhawk helicopters and cargo tanker. New York City photogs have gone berserk. See lots of photos on flickr via Gowanus Lounge (click to enlarge above pic by BlueJoel).

Global Warming: The Final Verdict

January 25, 2007

From an article on the Guardian‘s website:

Global warming is destined to have a far more destructive and earlier impact than previously estimated, the most authoritative report yet produced on climate change will warn next week.

A draft copy of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, obtained by The Observer, shows the frequency of devastating storms … will increase dramatically. Sea levels will rise over the century by around half a metre; snow will disappear from all but the highest mountains; deserts will spread; oceans become acidic, leading to the destruction of coral reefs and atolls; and deadly heatwaves will become more prevalent.

The impact will be catastrophic, forcing hundreds of millions of people to flee their devastated homelands, particularly in tropical, low-lying areas, while creating waves of immigrants whose movements will strain the economies of even the most affluent countries.

Read the entire article here, if you can stomach it.

To learn about the carbon tax idea, click here.

Ads of the Times

January 24, 2007


A blogger recently attempted to photograph every ad in Times Square and post them all in one place. I will say this, the real advertecture has far more impact than the virtual ads (advertual?). The above pic is just a sampling. To see every single ad (give or take a few), click here.

Second Coming of Moses

January 24, 2007


Befitting uber New York builder Robert Moses and his unparalleled impact on the built environment, no less than three retrospective shows about his career are opening next month, reports the Times. You can read the piece for yourself, but here’s the money quote from deputy mayor Daniel Doctoroff:

“Can there be another time when you can get big projects done all over the city?” Mr. Doctoroff said. “I think the answer is yes, and we’re in one now. Could you ever have one person who with imperiousness, with concentrated power, with lack of community input, could get things done? The answer is no.”

A lesson Mr. Doctoroff learned firsthand, no doubt (ahem…westside stadium…cough cough).

When Jane Jacobs passed away last year, I noted here on Polis that it has become the contrarian fashion to say that Robert Moses wasn’t so bad after all. Now it seems we’ll have three exhibits to assess that viewpoint.

Click here for a slideshow (including the above pic of Astoria pool).

Welcome New Readers!

January 23, 2007


I hardly ever check my blog stats because frankly, I don’t want to know how many people are actually reading Polis, but holy cow, it seems that New York, 2106 has gotten some major play due to links from Curbed, UnBeige and another well-read blog that I was previously unfamiliar with, kottke (written by Jason Kottke, a fellow New Yorker transplanted from the Midwest who also once lived in San Francisco). As a result, Polis was listed as a top blog on WordPress.

So, welcome new readers! And please, feel free to roam around the site, check out my photo essays, see what I’ve been up to lately on Xlist (Now Playing…), and read about the book I’m (ostensibly) writing. Speaking of book, here is one amusing entry from kottke:

  • Jargon watch: “book” as a synonym for “cool”. Sample usage: “That YouTube video is so book.” As books are decidedly uncool, you might wonder how this usage came about. Book is a T9onym of cool…both words require pressing 2665 on the keypad of a mobile phone but book comes up before cool in the T9 dictionary, leading to inadvertent uses of the former for the latter.

I stuck a gapingvoid blogcard at the top just for fun, only tangentially related to this post.