Tag Archives: New York City

The Clocks at Grand Central Station Are Permanently Wrong

… and they’re that way on purpose.

The Clocks at Grand Central Station Are Permanently WrongThere is very little to be done about all this when space is limited, crowds are large, and humans always — always — put things off until the last minute. But Grand Central, for years now, has relied on a system meant to mitigate, if not prevent, all the crazy. It is this: The times displayed on Grand Central’s departure boards are wrong — by a full minute. This is permanent. It is also purposeful.

The idea is that passengers rushing to catch trains they’re about to miss can actually be dangerous — to themselves, and to each other. So conductors will pull out of the station exactly one minute after their trains’ posted departure times. That minute of extra time won’t be enough to disconcert passengers too much when they compare it to their own watches or smartphones … but it is enough, the thinking goes, to buy late-running train-catchers just that liiiiiitle bit of extra time that will make them calm down a bit. Fast clocks make for slower passengers. “Instead of yelling for customers to hurry up,” the Epoch Times notes, “the conductors instead tell everyone to slow down.” 

You might call this time-hacking; you might call it behavioral engineering; you might call it comical. Regardless, it seems to be working. Grand Central boasts the fewest slips, trips, and falls of any station in the country — quite a feat given how many of its floors are made of marble. And given how many of the passengers treading those floors are, despite their grace period, cutting it this close to missing their trains.

Urban Giants

Between 1928 and 1932, Western Union and AT&T Long Lines built two of the most advanced telecommunications buildings in the world, at 60 Hudson Street and 32 Avenue of the Americas in Lower Manhattan. Nearly a century later, they remain among the world’s finest Art Deco towers—and cornerstones of global communication. “Urban Giants” is an 9-minute filmic portrait of their birth and ongoing life, combining never-before-seen-construction footage, archival photographs and films, interviews with architectural and technology historians, and stunning contemporary cinematography.

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.

A brief, misguided phase in city culture

How New York City is changing from a car driven city to one where the focus is the pedestrian

Walking in New York is one of the great empowering privileges of living here — without money, gear or skill, a New Yorker can still get somewhere, autonomous and unencumbered. But along with that freedom comes inevitable risk. Longo was one of around 12,000 New York City pedestrians who were injured in traffic accidents in 2013, a statistic that has stayed fairly constant over the last five years. In 2014, the first year in which Mayor Bill de Blasio implemented Vision Zero, a plan to reduce pedestrian deaths to zero, 138 pedestrians died in traffic accidents. That was down from a five-­year high of 182 deaths in 2013.

In pursuing Vision Zero, New York is embracing a relatively new approach to cities, one with a focus on walkers over drivers. Most city planners now see the era of the car’s urban supremacy as a brief, misguided phase in city culture. Rather than competing with suburbs, cities are capitalizing on their own traditional strengths, recognizing pedestrians as arguably their most economically invigorating (not to mention energy-efficient) form of traffic. In New York, the city’s Department of Transportation has been re-­examining and redesigning hundreds of intersections like the one where Longo was struck, trying to find the best answers to questions that went unasked for decades: What do pedestrians want? What’s the best way to protect them? And where do they want to go?

For much of the 20th century, when the engineers running urban transit authorities thought about traffic, they thought less about the pedestrian experience and more about saving money, by saving time, by speeding movement, by enabling cars. They analyzed traffic flow, the backup of cars, stoplight times and right- and left-­hand turns, all in an effort to keep vehicles moving freely and quickly through the city. They ran the data through a program that would spit out a rating (A to F) for the “level of service.” An A meant that a street was congestion-free, which gave cars the potential to speed; an F meant that it was too congested to be functional. The grade considered ideal for most streets in New York was a C.

The value of speed, for car commuters, was an easy equation for engineers. “The assumption is that all travel time is a waste of time,” says Zhan Guo, a professor of urban planning and transportation at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service. “But that rationale doesn’t apply to pedestrians.” The worth of the pedestrian experience, so pokey, so subjective, was scarcely considered, partly because it was hard to quantify.

There is no such thing as a skyscraper curse

But just in case, Saskatoon leaves Parcel Y undeveloped

Until recently, however, there had been no formal analysis of the skyscraper curse. A new paper by Mr Barr, Bruce Mizrach and Kusum Mundra (all of Rutgers) investigates Mr Lawrence’s musings in detail. They look at the building of 14 world-record-breaking skyscrapers, from New York’s Pulitzer (which opened in 1890) to the Burj Khalifa, and compare them to American GDP growth (which they see as a decent proxy for the world economy).

If, as the skyscraper curse suggests, the decision to build the biggest towers happens near the peak of the business cycle, then you could use record-breaking projects to predict the future path of GDP. However, the range of months between the announcement of the towers and the business-cycle peak is large, varying from zero to 45 months. And only seven of the 14 opened during a downward phase of the business cycle (see chart). In other words, you cannot accurately forecast a recession or financial panic by looking at either the announcement or the completion of the world’s tallest building.

With such a small sample, it is tricky to draw firm conclusions. But the paper expands the sample to 311 by looking at the tallest building completed each year in four countries (America, Canada, China and Hong Kong). The authors then compare building height to GDP per person. They find that in all countries GDP per person and skyscraper height are “cointegrated”, a fancy way of saying that the two things track each other. In other words, developers tend to be profit-maximisers, responding rationally to rising incomes (and thus increased demand for office space) by making buildings bigger. While ego and hubris afflict the skyscraper market, the authors argue, its foundations appear sound.

The Enemy of New York’s Sewers? The Wet Wipe

Maybe we shouldn’t be flushing these things

With its sewer system under siege, tallying millions of dollars in equipment damage across its underground maze, New York City is confronting a menace that has gummed the gears of plumbing networks around the world: the common wet wipe.

In recent years, the intersection of evolving hygienic sensibilities and aggressive industry marketing has fueled the product’s rise. Wet wipes, long used for baby care, have grown popular with adults.
Some of the products are branded as “flushable” — a characterization contested by wastewater officials and plaintiffs bringing class-action lawsuits against wipes manufacturers for upending their plumbing.

Often, the wipes combine with other materials, like congealed grease, to create a sort of superknot. “They’re really indestructible,” said Vincent Sapienza, a deputy commissioner for the city’s Department of Environmental Protection. “I guess that’s the purpose.”

The city has spent more than $18 million in the past five years on wipe-related equipment problems, officials said. The volume of materials extracted from screening machines at the city’s wastewater treatment plants has more than doubled since 2008, an increase attributed largely to the wipes.

Even as Many Eyes Watch, Brutality at Rikers Island Persists

From the New York Times

On Sept. 2, four correction officers pulled Jose Guadalupe, an inmate classified in medical records as seriously mentally ill, into his solitary-confinement cell at Rikers Island and beat him unconscious.

A little over two months later, three guards wrestled another inmate, Tracy Johnson, to the floor, pepper-sprayed him in the face and broke a bone in his eye socket. Then, on Dec. 9, yet another group of officers beat Ambiorix Celedonio, an inmate with an I.Q. of 65, so badly that, as surveillance footage later showed, he had bruises and scratches on his face and blood coming from his mouth.

The brutal confrontations were among 62 cases identified by The New York Times in which inmates were seriously injured by correction officers between last August and January, a period when city and federal officials had become increasingly focused on reining in violence at Rikers.

It was in August that the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan issued a damning report about brutality at the jail complex and threatened to sue the city unless conditions there improved. And in November, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared that ending pervasive violence at Rikers had become a top priority for his administration.

But The Times’s examination makes clear that the violence has continued largely unabated, despite extraordinary levels of outside scrutiny, a substantial commitment of resources by Mr. de Blasio and a new team of high-ranking managers installed by the correction commissioner, Joseph Ponte, who took over the job in April.

This reminds me of the many conversations I had about jail with former inmates.  The stories are not all that dissimilar.  

Also: Some architects are wondering if the design of prisons themselves make them more violent.

Today, prison design is a civic cause for some architects who specialize in criminal justice and care about humane design. There is a lot of research documenting how the right kinds of design reduce violence inside prisons and even recidivism. Architects can help ensure that prisons don’t succumb to our worst instincts — that they are not about spending the least amount of money to create the most horrendous places possible, in the name of vengeance — but promote rehabilitation and peace.

The Top 10 Secrets of Grand Central Station

From Untapped Cities

Like the rest of Grand Central, the Campbell Apartment serves as a testament to the grandiosity of another era. But this testament is one that can be imbibed. If appropriately attired, enter a room resplendent from paraphernalia of the past and sip on cocktails from the fin de siècle in this virtual museum to the opulence of New York’s high society of the past.

Though it did have a kitchen and butler, this was once the office, not apartment, of tycoon John C. Campbell. President of the Credit Clearing House, Campbell rented the space to be closer to the hub of the New York Central Railroad (Cornelius Vanderbilt’s train empire), of which he was a major stockholder. Rumor has it that he used to sit behind the massive desk (that to this day takes up much of one side of the gorgeous 25 by 60 foot room) half nude, as he detested wrinkles in his trousers. The Campbell Apartment deteriorated drastically after its namesake vacated it in the ‘50s, and like everything else in the terminal, it fell on hard times. Metro North claimed the space as first a signalmen’s headquarters and later a police station, temporarily detaining criminals in what was once Campell’s wine cellar and storing their firearms in his curio cabinet. It was restored to its original glory in the late ‘90s, and is an excellent place to get a real taste of the decadence of Grand Central’s past.

Grand Central Station also holds a tennis court, a top secret room, and a secret railway line that is only used when the President is in town. 

Resolved, 2015

Hi 2015, it’s nice to meet you.  Since our relationship is rather new and still optimistic, I thought I would make some goals before I kick you to the curb a year from now.

Hike to Grey Owl’s Cabin

As Wendy noted, we have never done our expedition to Grey Owl’s cabin.  It’s a two day walk into the backwoods of Prince Albert National Park.  It should be a lot of fun.

Explore & photograph some great urban locations

I hate to think of Moose Jaw as a great urban location but it does have some great architecture as does Calgary and Winnipeg.  My camera and I need to do some some travelling and exploring.  Let’s not take too long to reflect on the fact that Moose Jaw has some of the best architecture in Saskatchewan.

It's Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

So the plan is to spend a day photographing and exploring Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, and hopefully a couple of days in Calgary.

Make progress on my book

Last year I was sitting in a Saskatoon City Council meeting listening to our finest elected leaders talk about residential snow clearing and then voting on cleaning some of our streets.  At the same time I was following Calgary City Council make plans for taking over the world.

Saskatoon City Council chambers

Since then I have read more about the formation of cities than I care to think of.  Why do some cities turn into Calgary or New York City while others turn into Cleveland, Detroit or Regina?  Why does it feel like we are wasting the boom?  Why do some cities like Saskatoon allow themselves to be defined by low taxes while other cities defined by the quality of life?

Integrate Evernote into my workflow

I have some big plans for Evernote in 2015 but the biggest is incorporating it into my workflow for columns, roundtables, and this blog.

Evernote

I use it right now and find it invaluable but I know I can more with it in the future.

Enjoy 2015 more than 2014

2014 was okay but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to.  Here is to more coffees on patios, more late nights on decks, and more fires in the backyard.

Starbucks Patio

Mark posted his New Year’s resolutions here while Wendy posted her’s over on her weblog.

Teen crews linked to 40 percent of NYC shootings

This is a staggering statistic

 There are more than 300 of them in New York — violent crews of dozens of 12- to 20-year-olds with names such as Very Crispy Gangsters, True Money Gang and Cash Bama Bullies.

Police say these groups, clustered around a particular block or housing project, are responsible for about 40 percent of the city’s shootings, with most of that violence stemming from the smallest of disses on the street, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

“It’s like belonging to an evil fraternity,” said Inspector Kevin Catalina, commander of the New York Police Department’s gang division. “A lot of it is driven by nothing: A dispute over a girl or a wrong look or a perceived slight.”

The trend of smaller, younger crews has also been seen in Chicago and Northeast cities over the last few years as police have cracked down on bigger, more traditional gangs, experts said. While the Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings still exist, operating such money-making schemes as drug dealing, their members are usually older and understand the timeworn mantra of organized crime: violence is bad for business.

Not so for the crews, whose recklessness prompted former Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly in 2012 to launch an initiative to confront the crews dubbed Operation Crew Cut.
Investigators now focus on gathering intelligence about specific crews — understanding their activities, allegiances and feuds, which they glean through traditional street policing and trolling of social media sites, cellphone photos and even recorded jailhouse calls.

Police have also stepped up arrests of the most active crew members. In Manhattan, prosecutors set up an internal email alert system that notifies them when crew member are arrested, even on minor charges, and provides beyond-the-rap-sheet details for bail arguments. The prosecutor might mention that the person was a suspect in another crime or had made threats on Facebook, for instance.

In a recent case in Harlem, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. says a 2009 killing kindled years of vendetta attacks, including three killings and 30 shootings. Sixty-three people were rounded up, and at least 62 entered guilty pleas, including crew members so young that one told another to “mob up” after school.

“The evidence was very powerful,” said Robert Anesi, who represented a 19-year-old who pleaded guilty to attempted murder and conspiracy charges in the case last week. “They had such access to social media and they knew who the players were.”

NYPD statistics show gang arrests are up citywide nearly 14 percent from 2013 — and more than 28 percent from two years ago. Shooting incidents citywide are about the same as they were last year, with 282 recorded so far, and are down by nearly 23 percent from two years ago.

Still, crew-related violence persists despite record dips in overall crime in New York City over the last few years. The most notable recent case came in March when investigators say a 14-year-old member of the Stack Money Goons shot a .357 revolver at a rival member of the Twan Family on a crowded bus in Brooklyn. The bullet instead killed an immigrant father who was working two jobs to support his family.

“When you ask young adults, ‘Why? Why did you shoot that young man?’ Probably 80 percent of the time the answer is: He disrespected me,” said Kai Smith, an ex-con-turned-businessman who runs a gang-diversion program in city high schools.

Column: Making Winters Work

My column in today’s The StarPhoenix

A well-travelled friend once told me that Saskatoon and northern Saskatchewan were the greatest places on Earth to be in the summer and the world’s worst places to live in the winter.

How much I agree with him depends on the wind chill.

Winters here are long and dreary, and they last from October until May some years. Not only does the snow linger, for many of us, the winter mindset dominates our thinking on all sorts of policies and decisions even during the heat of summer.

We argue about new ideas for the city all of the time. “We can’t have bike lanes because it snows half the year.” “The winter is too long to waste money on a pedestrian bridge.” “Money on parks is wasted because they never get used in the winter.”

There is much we don’t do because of this white stuff – even when we are complaining about the heat in the summer.

Other cities aren’t held captive to winter in the same way.

Many Nordic cities with far worse winters than ours have excellent bike infrastructure and keep the trails cleared year-round.

Edmonton struck a committee last year to help manage winters better.

I am not sure if I agree with the approach that Winnipeg and Calgary have taken with elevated walkways, but I was able to walk all over Winnipeg in -40 C temperatures with only a light jacket.

A report prepared for the Minneapolis-St. Paul region mentioned that nine of the 10 happiest American states are ones that feature cold winters, and listed examples of cities that do winter really well.

In Germany, Austria, and France, people look forward to outdoor holiday markets where they can find a festive atmosphere along with holiday decorations, seasonal gifts, and warm food and drink.

New York City has imported the idea and has set up massive outdoor markets across Manhattan. Before you scoff at the idea, look at the large crowds that come out in any weather to Wintershines. People will come if you give them reason to do so.

December is easy, but we have to make February tolerable. Winnipeg is doing an excellent job. The city pays a lot more for winter snow and not only can you drive around, the sidewalks are cleared. Imagine being able to drive and get around on foot. It can happen.

Winnipeg has also installed heated bus shelters at a growing number of stops. Even in -40 C with a brutal wind, I was able to take off my tuque, gloves, and unzip my jacket while waiting for a bus.

The city has slowly added winter warming shacks as attractions along its rivers. It started as a local idea, and now gets international attention from architects and designers. Those shacks get you out of the wind and give you an excuse to brave the elements.

No matter the weather, thousands of people are having fun all winter long.

Adding a few warming huts each year would make a cold and windy Saskatoon riverfront a lot more tolerable. It would also help connect the different business districts which are spread out because of our river.

Holiday seasonal markets would also be perfect in the Saskatoon Farmers Market. Who knows? It could even one day expand into something other than a weekend destination.

The first step is not warming huts or outdoor markets, however – it is to convince council to get serious about residential snow removal. And our business improvement districts must get serious about keeping sidewalks clear.

Then it relies on everyone figuring out ways to make winters more enjoyable.

Maybe it’s a restaurant opening its deck on milder days, or community associations holding outdoor parties in the winter, like they do in the summer.

It requires the city looking at ways of making our parks winter-friendly, perhaps with more fire pits, or ensuring bike lanes are cleared all season long.

It’s bus shelters that actually do keep us warm. Once we figure out how to shed the shackles of a cold winter and enjoy it, we will find out that even our summer months can get better.

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