Tag Archives: City Journal

Horray for the High Bridge

I like this article in City Journal about the High Bridge in New York City.

The restored High Bridge, New York City’s oldest standing span, not only has great views and a high-quality path connecting two largely minority neighborhoods, it also serves a social purpose; kids from the Bronx will now have easy access to the High Bridge Pool in Manhattan.

The histories of great cities are replete with stories of Herculean efforts to supply them with clean water. New York is no exception. Originally dependent on surface and groundwater supplies, early New Yorkers dealt with water that was insufficient in quantity and frequently polluted. Diseases were common. An 1832 cholera outbreak, followed by a lack of water to fight the Great Fire of 1835, prompted the city to take action: it built the original Croton Aqueduct system, including the High Bridge, to carry clean water 41 miles into the city.

Completed in 1848 and constructed as a series of masonry arches in the form of a Roman aqueduct, the High Bridge is, in effect, a pre-industrial artifact. While it was in use, water flowed across the bridge not in an open trough, but in twin, three-foot, cast-iron pipes. The top was a pedestrian walkway. After it was decommissioned as an aqueduct in 1917, the city planned to demolish the bridge to improve navigation. Protesters wanted it preserved, so the city replaced the spans over the Harlem River with a steel arch section in 1928. The arch span replacement was built for what was basically an obsolete bridge, making the High Bridge an early historic-preservation success, if only a partial one.

In the mid-twentieth century, the walkway attracted crowds, often just for a see-and-be-seen pleasure stroll. “New Yorkers from either side would put on their Sunday best and parade from one borough to another. It was far more than an aqueduct, it was the center of a social world,” Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver noted at the reopening. But the High Bridge and its social life fell into decline, along with much of New York City, as the century progressed. The structure decayed, and there were reports of people throwing stones at passing ships from the walkway. The Parks Department isn’t sure when it was closed or why, but by 1970 the High Bridge was off-limits to pedestrians.

Over the years, various groups called for the High Bridge’s restoration. In 2006, the Bloomberg administration took up the task in earnest as one of eight major regional parks investments in the PlaNYC initiative. This included a commitment of $50 million in city money toward the $61 million total project cost. While Mayor de Blasio treats his predecessor as He Who Shall Not Be Named—and failed to attend the bridge opening—the High Bridge restoration was in fact a good handoff of the baton.

The restoration—including masonry repairs such as tuckpointing—was complicated by needing to be performed on a bridge spanning two freeways, a river, and an active Metro-North rail line. The faded and peeling lead-based paint had to be removed. While before-and-after photos show a sharp contrast in appearance, the bridge was actually repainted the same color as the original. “We sent the paint chips off to the lab for matching,” says the Parks Department’s Ellen Macnow.

The fiscally conservative City Journal asks if it is worth it?

It’s worth asking whether, with its $61 million price tag, the High Bridge project was really needed. Strictly speaking, the answer is: No. The structure was in no danger of falling down. And, just a half mile to the north, the Washington Bridge provides a functional, if unpleasant, pedestrian crossing over the Harlem River. Yet, the High Bridge is an important part of New York history and deserves its loving restoration. Spending serious money on outlying neighborhoods that are mostly minority and heavily poor to give their residents a humane environment instead of a minimalistic one shows that New York does care about all its citizens. Great cities don’t just do great things in a sanitized downtown Green Zone for visitors. They create greatness in their workaday neighborhoods, too, with projects that speak not merely to the pragmatic, but to the human spirit. The High Bridge restoration again shows what great commercial success allows a city to do for its citizens.

Christmas Gift Ideas for Really Smart People | 2010 Edition

You need a gift for someone smart, someone who wants to know about everything – what happened, how it works, why it all got started. Fortunately, the globally curious have a lot of hobbies which makes them kind of easy to shop for, even if you don’t always remember to sleep and eat.  Below are some ideas for the smart people in your life.  If you are looking for something not so elitist, check out my other Christmas Gift Guides.

Sangean WR-11 AM/FM Table Top Radio :: CBC Radio and NPR sounds so much more profound coming from a wooden radio.  Speaking from personal experience, there is something about sitting around a radio on a hot summer day, sipping iced tea, while reading a good magazine.

Your own personal card cataloging system :: It seems like book thieves are everywhere these days. Even your closest friends will try to keep your rare, out-of-print novels if you don’t keep an eye on them. And no one really wants to pay $60 for another one. Thankfully, there now is a solution to your book-losing woes. The Personal Library Kit provides everything you need for keeping track of books, and an eye on those shameful book thieves.  Of course card cataloging your books is only half the battle, keeping them organized is the second half.  Sure you could use LibraryThing but check out this old school way of keeping your cards organized.

Amazon Kindle with Wifi | I wasn’t convinced that I needed or wanted an Amazon Kindle until the Kindle 3 came out.  First of all the hardware is amazing; one month of battery life, wifi, built in web browser, support for Instapaper… The other reason is that you don’t even need a Kindle to read Kindle books…Amazon has readers for the iPad, iPhone, Android devices, Blackberry, WinPhone 7, Windows, and OS X.  It has killer multi-platform support.  Since it sync’s up across platforms, I can sneak a couple of pages in while I am work, while waiting at the doctors and resume reading when I get home that night.  The best book is the one that’s always with you While it’s not a iPad, it’s not just a book reader either.  You can also get any number of newspapers on your Kindle, delivered daily…

  1. The New York Times ($19.99/month)
  2. International Herald Tribune ($19.99/month)
  3. The Globe and Mail ($15.99/month)
  4. National Post ($14.99/month)
  5. The Washington Post ($23.99/month)
  6. The StarPhoenix ($13.99/month)
  7. USA Today ($23.99/month)
  8. Slate ($8.99/month)
  9. The Financial Times ($27.99/month)

There is also magazines like Time ($3/month), The Atlantic Monthly ($2.49), Foreign Policy($3.49), among many others.  $139 from Amazon

Parker Sonnet Fountain Pen | Inspired by AKMA’s posts on fountain pens, may I suggest a Parker Sonnet fountain pen as a great gift for that special person.  At $75 it isn’t inexpensive but it won’t break the bank either.   This Sonnet has a stainless steel finish with a mineral metallic luster. The metal has been brushed to create a light texture effect but polished for a smooth touch. It has a 23 carat gold plated body trim and 23 carat gold plated stainless steel nib. The nib is decorated with a lattice work pattern and stamped with the Parker name. Different body finishes and nib sizes available to suit your style. This pen comes with a built-in converter and one black ink cartridge. $75 from Jet Pens

Moleskine Large Notebook | The Moleskine Large Notebook is made with top quality heavy paper and is perfect for on the go notes.  Every Moleskine product is thread bound and has a cardboard bound cover with rounded corners acid free paper a bookmark an elastic closure and an expandable inner pocket that contains the Moleskine history.  It will go perfect with a Parker Sonnet Fountain Pen| $12.21 from Amazon

Olivetti Manual Typewriter | If you want to have an old, classic feel when you are writing, you must check out the Olivetti Manual Typewriter. For fans of the vintage and things with an antique feel, you will definitely like this product. No electricity is needed with this manual typewriter so you can save on electricity costs. This particular style is the last manual typewriter available in the market today. This makes the Olivetti Manual Typewriter a collector’s item already. $105 from Amazon

A subscription to City Journal | City Journal is a quarterly magazine that focuses on urban policy.  Although the magazine is based in New York City, it covers issues of national scope.   It’s has a fiscally conservative point of view but chances are that whoever you are shopping for can figure that out by themselves.  $23 for four issues.

Sergio: One Man’s Fight to Save the World by Samantha Power | This is the best book I read in 2010.  The book is about Sergio Vieira de Mello’s who was a Brazilian United Nations diplomat who worked for the UN for more than 34 years, earning respect and praise around the world for his efforts in the humanitarian and political programs of the UN.  He was killed in the Canal Hotel Bombing in Iraq along with 20 other members of his staff on 19 August 2003 while working as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq.  While the book was quite compelling, it has also been made into a HBO movie.  The book is $5.17 on Amazon.com and the DVD is available for $19.98 (in DVD-R format)

Homicide: A Year in the Killing Streets by David Simon | Another one of my favourite books of 2010.  David Simon, who was a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, spent four years on the police beat before taking a leave of absence to write this book. He had persuaded the Baltimore police department to allow him unlimited access to the city’s homicide unit for calendar year 1988, and throughout that year he shadowed one shift of detectives as they traveled from interrogations to autopsies, from crime scenes to hospital emergency rooms. Baltimore recorded 234 murders during the year Simon spent with the homicide unit. During the two years he spent writing Homicide, an additional 567 murders occurred.

Kodak Zi8 Video Camera | In case they are more interested creating content rather than just watching it, look at getting them a Kodak Zi8 camera.  It has a microphone jack which means that you can easily add an external 1/8 microphone for even better sound.    It allows you to record High Definition video (1080p at 30 fps with 16:9 aspect ratio) and comes with some half-decent editing software. Zi8 is $119 from Amazon.

Some recommended accessories for the Zi8

A Kiva Gift Card | Kiva empowers individuals to lend to an entrepreneur across the globe. By combining microfinance with the internet, Kiva is creating a global community of people connected through lending.  You can help someone get started by sending them a Kiva gift card ($25 minimum) which will allow them to get started and then make microloans to any project that they want to get behind.  Not only are you giving a unique gift this Christmas but you are helping change the life of numerous other people (as the loan is paid back, it can be lent out again and again).  They won’t be alone.  As of November 2009, Kiva has facilitated over $100 million in loans.

Final Draft 8 | If the person you are buying for is looking at creating a movie script or a screenplay, this software allows you to focus their creative energy to focus on the content; let Final Draft take care of the style. Final Draft is the number-one selling application specifically designed for writing movie scripts, television episodics and stage plays.  It combines powerful word processing with professional script formatting in one self-contained, easy-to-use package. There is no need to learn about script formatting rules–Final Draft automatically paginates and formats your script to industry standards as you write.  Calling it “a solid sequel to what has become the industry-standard screenwriting application,” Macworld magazine gives Final Draft 8 a rating of 4.5 mice out of 5. $149 from Amazon

If they are writing the great American novel and don’t seem too keen on using the Olivetti Manual Typewriter, check out WriteNow 4.  The software is compatible with Windows Mac OSX. With abundant personalized options, WriteItNow has perfected the art of allowing the writer to customize the interface to fit his or her writing needs. You can: (1) Drag scenes, chapters, events, and ideas to new locations; (2) View character relationships in web diagrams; (3) View story events in a sleek timeline; (4) Visualize layout with a flexible Story Board; and (5) Keep track of manuscript submissions. $69 via Amazon

If you can find what you are looking for, make sure you check out one of the other 2010 Christmas Gift Guides

In case you are looking, here are the 2009 Gift Guides

Christmas Gift Ideas and Gift GuidesIf I missed anything or if my suggestion made you think I was absolutely crazy, let me know in the comments. You can access the current edition and previous years list of Christmas gift guides here.

The future of Detroit

City Journal has a good article on the problems and future of Detroit.

The new mayor’s boldest argument may be that Detroit needs to shrink to revive. Detroit has contracted from 2 million residents to about 900,000; whole areas of the city have virtually emptied. As many as 70,000 homes stand abandoned. On some blocks, many homes have gone unoccupied and untended for so long that summer vegetation completely engulfs them; only the outline of the house suggests something man-made. Detroiters refer to certain city districts as “feral”—that is, having reverted to nature. Yet the city must still provide services to these areas’ few remaining occupants, at great cost.

Bing hopes to raze entire underpopulated neighborhoods and relocate their few residents to more viable areas of the city. Perhaps as much as one-quarter of Detroit would revert to unoccupied parkland and woods under Bing’s plan. The controversial initiative is a necessary step, the mayor believes, in reducing the size of government and hence regaining control of finances, out of balance after years of mismanagement. The city has an accumulated deficit of $300 million. Even though Bing has already cut about 1,000 positions, the city still employs some 13,000 workers to serve its fewer than 900,000 residents, yielding one of the highest ratios of workers to population among major American cities.

As I posted earlier today, the school system is still in shambles

Detroit’s school system is in even worse shape than Newark’s, if that’s possible. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently called it “a national disgrace.” The problems are both financial and academic. Because the political class in Detroit has long viewed the schools as patronage mills, the system didn’t shrink as enrollment fell by half over the last decade. A state-appointed monitor has uncovered approximately 500 employees on the payroll in positions that aren’t budgeted. He’s requiring workers in the system to show up to collect their checks in person because of widespread concerns about “ghost” employees ripping off taxpayers. Detroit also suffers from astonishingly poor academic standards. In last year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, Detroit’s students registered the lowest score of any school system in the history of the test, with 69 percent of fourth-graders and 77 percent of eighth-graders scoring below the basic level in math.

There is some hope

As for Detroit, it remains a gateway to Canada and the Great Lakes region, and its airport is one of the nation’s busiest. Despite the years of decline, the city boasts what development experts call a “meds and eds” economy—that is, major health-care and research institutions like Henry Ford Hospital and important universities like Wayne State. Detroit also has a rich infrastructure and architectural legacy from its glory days, including numerous art-deco commercial towers. Many of them were abandoned over the years but still stand, such as the hauntingly beautiful old Michigan Central Station and the Book Tower.

And the upside of the city’s population decline is that affordable office space and homes are plentiful, even in well-occupied portions of the city. “Detroit has the opportunity to make itself attractive to young professionals who work at its universities and are drawn to urban living, and to immigrants, who now make up just 5 percent of the population,” says Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future, Inc., an economic development group. “Mayor Bing can make a difference by making government more business-friendly.”