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Preview: Culture of Congestion

Culture of Congestion

Last Build Date: Mon, 29 Sep 2008 12:57:09 -0400

Copyright: Copyright 2008 The New York Sun

The City by the Palisades

Mon, 29 Sep 2008 12:57:09 EST

Once before, I blogged a passage from Mark Helprin, one of my favorite novelists. Here's another one, this time from his "Winter's Tale": A great city is nothing more than a portrait of itself, and yet when all is said and done, its arsenals of scenes and images are part of a deeply moving plan. As a book in which to read this plan, New York is unsurpassed. For the whole world has poured its heart into the city by the Palisades, and made it far better than it ever had any right to be. The story

How Government Has Spoiled My Local Dining

Mon, 29 Sep 2008 12:44:00 EST

There's one thing I've been wanting to blog about since I began Culture of Congestion. It's why there's a paucity of very good restaurants in my neighborhood. I have a theory. To some of you who have read between the lines and figured out that I live in Brooklyn Heights, New York City's First Suburb, with a median comparable to Greenwich Village, this may come as a surprise (unless of course you live here, too). Part of the problem may be that the Heights is so darn convenient to Manhattan. The

The New Versus Old WTC and Revisiting BPC

Fri, 26 Sep 2008 08:52:56 EST

In response to my post "The Dark Side of Metropolis," my very loyal reader Benjamin Hemric writes in reference to the original versus the current plan for Ground Zero: The old plan, with just a few minor corrections, was actually more conducive to public interaction and "the culture of congestion" than the current one, in my opinion. And I say this as someone who's lived nearby since before the WTC was finished and as someone who was thoroughly familiar with the site. (Plus it should be noted

Naming Hell's Kitchen

Fri, 19 Sep 2008 12:26:00 EST

Last evening at a dinner party someone asked about the origin of the name "Hell's Kitchen." That's the neighborhood on the west side of Manhattan just north of Chelsea and south of 57th street, which realtors for some time now have been trying to rename "Clinton" (after the former New York governor, not the current senator). It was the perfect opportunity to consult a book I just bought at the Brooklyn Book Festival called "Naming New York: Manhattan Places & How They Got Their Names" by

The Dark Side of Metropolis

Mon, 15 Sep 2008 13:16:19 EST

In "Delirious New York," Rem Koolhaas defines …the dark side of Metropolis as an astronomical increase in the potential for disaster only just exceeded by an equally astronomical increase in the ability to avert it. Manhattan is the outcome of that perpetual neck-and-neck race. It's hard to blame anyone for thinking that the forces that converged on the World Trade Center on and since September 11, 2001, have deeply challenged this dynamic. After seven years and a great deal of activity later

E.B. White on NYC

Tue, 9 Sep 2008 19:38:00 EST

Astroland is closing. The world-famous Cyclone roller coaster will stay open thanks to landmarking (more effective for individual structures than for neighborhoods), but Coney Island's days as a working-class amusement park may finally be over. Sad. Rem Koolhaas characterized Coney Island as "a fetal Manhattan," both because of its smaller but similar dimensions but more importantly because he saw many of the various amusements created there as experiments in urban fantasy. Now, Crain's New

Bogart on the Anachronistic City and Transitional Sprawl

Mon, 8 Sep 2008 13:49:00 EST

In my post on Robert Bruegmann's book "Sprawl," I quoted him as saying that contemporary urbanists' (mostly negative) judgments on sprawl "were still based on assumptions codified in the late 1960s when American suburbs were booming and city centers seemed to be in grave danger of collapsing." William T. Bogart's "Don't Call It Sprawl," which I've been reading, makes a similar point: What has been described as urban sprawl is perhaps best understood as a time of transition from the monocentric

More Kindred Spirits: Mitchell Moss and "Market Urbanism" Blog

Mon, 1 Sep 2008 18:33:05 EST

I had the pleasure last week of meeting Mitchell L. Moss, Henry Hart Rice Professor of Urban Policy and Planning at New York University's Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. He's taught at NYU since the 1970s and has the air of an old-time New Yorker, but one who's very much engaged in current policies and politics. And he's a fan of Culture of Congestion. Here is his website. We had lunch at a charming little Brazilian restaurant (sorry, can't remember the name) on East Houston Street

'Save Willets Point'

Wed, 27 Aug 2008 18:09:01 EST

So read a large banner I noticed strung across a building when I drove past Shea Stadium last evening. In a Crain's New York Business article, "City Quiets a Loud Willets Point Critic," Daniel Massey seems to suggest that that cause has just suffered a body blow. (Hat tip again to JW.) One of the most vocal critics of the proposed Willets Point redevelopment says he has inked a deal to sell his land to the city. Jerry Antonacci, owner of Crown Container, says he reached an agreement earlier

Walking the 'Summer Streets'

Tue, 26 Aug 2008 16:48:00 EST

Got back from Hawaii in time to participate in the third and last Saturday of "Summer Streets," in which Mayor Bloomberg closed Park Avenue and connecting streets from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park. Still jet-lagged (it's about 11 hours from Honolulu to New York), I got a bit of a late start, but did manage the mile-and-a-half or so from the Bridge to Union Square. The first thing I noticed were the large number of cyclists (i.e., bicyclists, skateboarders, Razors, et al.) in proportion

Are Internet Communities Cities?

Wed, 20 Aug 2008 13:59:24 EST

One of the courses I teach is called "Cities, Culture, & Economy." It's one of my favorites although, perhaps for that reason, it's also probably the most demanding for my students as well as for me. The requirements include a midterm, a final, five quizzes, a site study, well over 20 article summaries, and a term paper. And I usually have around 30 students, which means A LOT of grading! But since the subject matter relates directly to my research interests, and to the subject matter of

On Commuter Rail in Honolulu, a State Without Cities & Max Weber

Sat, 16 Aug 2008 01:17:42 EST

I've been vacationing in Hawaii these past several days, spending most of the time in Honolulu. This "city" of about 377,000 is currently debating whether to address its mounting traffic congestion by building a 20-mile elevated commuter rail line that will take a decade and an estimated $5 billion (inflation-adjusted) to complete. Here is a recent story in the Honolulu Advertiser that sets out some of the issues involved. A follow-up article reports that a circuit judge has decided just to put

Traveling with Context

Sat, 16 Aug 2008 01:07:30 EST

A few months ago I happened across the Web site of a company called Context Travel, which advertised "scholar-led walks of the world's greatest cities." Since this sentence had all of the hyphens and apostrophes in the right places I thought maybe they were as scholarly as they said they were. According to the Web site, they have tours of various lengths for small groups (promising no more than six persons) in Paris, Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice, London, and New York "for intellectually

WSJ on (Mostly) Urban Success Stories

Sun, 10 Aug 2008 01:02:00 EST

I'm a little late with this, but last Monday's Wall Street Journal devoted a whole section to success stories of economic redevelopment. You can still read it here. (Thanks again to Peter Gordon for the pointer.) There are seven articles describing (so far) successful re-vitalization attempts, in Kalamazoo, Michigan; El Paso, Texas; Kobe, Japan; Wismar, Germany; Omaha, Nebraska; rural Kentucky, and Colorado Springs, Colorado. Here are some highlights and comments. • Kalamazoo: "Philanthropists

Reason Ranks Chicago Last in Personal Freedom

Fri, 1 Aug 2008 14:20:07 EST

The Chicago Board of Aldermen recently removed its 2006 ban on foie gras on restaurant menus, one of the few victories for liberty in Chicago, which a new Reason magazine report describes as a "wet nurse of a city." Click here to read the report and see how the magazine ranks the other 34 biggest municipalities in the United States. The latest trend in "nanny cities" across the country is permissiveness toward sex and drugs, but intolerance of alcohol, smoking, and fast foods: Two decades of

An Alternative to Monopolistic Public Transport

Wed, 30 Jul 2008 01:06:27 EST

After the MTA's breathtaking proposal last week for not one but two more subway-bus-and-toll fare increases — which would make that three increases in about as many years (read about it here) — it may be time to re-visit the whole issue of municipal (read monopolistic) provision of public transport. In particular, an important 1997 paper by Daniel B. Klein, Adrian T. Moore, and Binyam Reja examines the viability of low-cost private buses and "jitneys," small vehicles that follow more-or-less

And the 22nd Most Expensive City in the World Is…

Sun, 27 Jul 2008 17:32:23 EST

One guess. The only North American city to make the top 50, New York City fell seven spots. ... Read the Crain's New York article here and find out which city is No. 1. Hint: It's also currently the city with the most billionaires. (Hat tip again to JW.) *** Urban planning in the Fillmore District of San Francisco. (Thanks to Peter Gordon for the pointer.)

Robert Bruegmann Writes Sensibly About "Sprawl"

Thu, 24 Jul 2008 19:28:33 EST

According to Robert Bruegmann, after discovering a paucity of non-polemical literature on the history of urban sprawl, he basically went out and wrote one himself. In his 2005 book, "Sprawl: A Compact History," Mr. Bruegmann aims "to look at this issue from a historic perspective and to examine the way the concept of sprawl was invented and how it has been used over time." He defines "sprawl" simply as "low density, scattered, urban development without systematic large-scale or regional public

Rent Regulations Advantage the Well-Connected

Tue, 22 Jul 2008 21:03:00 EST

Basic economics teaches us, and historical evidence demonstrates time and again, that rent control and rent stabilization — regulating what a landlord can charge for a unit — tend to harm the very people they are supposed to benefit. The Swedish economist Assar Lindbeck once said that "Next to bombing, rent control seems to be the most efficient technique so far known for destroying cities" (quoted in William Tucker's "The Excluded Americans," p. 265). Nevertheless, around 200 American cities

Ken-Ichi Sasaki on Urban "Tactility"

Sun, 20 Jul 2008 23:29:16 EST

One of the most striking things about the Tokyo skyline, at least for me, is how striking it isn't. Viewed from afar — e.g., from its very-expensive-to-use elevated expressways (Narita Airport is too far from the city center to afford a decent panorama from the air) — the city, with few exceptions (such as Tokyo Tower), looks boxy and visually uninteresting. This may be partly because much of Tokyo's skyline was rebuilt after a terrible earthquake in 1923 and bombing in World War II. Yet the