So, we are in the hunt for South Bronx real estate. And what do you know? An advertisement declaring that the area is one of the most “sort after” in NYC!
NYC stands for “Noo Yawk City,” obviously. Who says the accent is dead?
So, we are in the hunt for South Bronx real estate. And what do you know? An advertisement declaring that the area is one of the most “sort after” in NYC!
NYC stands for “Noo Yawk City,” obviously. Who says the accent is dead?
Senate Bill S5469 has made it out of the legislature in Albany and awaits the Governor’s signature. Hooray!
And what does this bill do? Well, right now, state law prohibits buildings with a floor-area-ratio (FAR) greater than 12 unless they have at least six operating elevators. That makes it really expensive to build anything taller than 12 stories but shorter than a skyscraper. In addition, the law means that if you want to build higher, you need to buy the air rights from an adjoining lot.
(A FAR of 12 means that a building that covers the entire lot cannot rise higher than 12 stories.)
The bill now gives New York City an exception. Since midtown Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn have no city-imposed height limits, it will now be much easier to build tall. And building tall means that affordable-housing requirements will kick in, forcing developers to include 20% affordable housing.
It is not the millenium, but it is a good move.
We have bemoaned the honking around this city here and here. Now comes Dr. Gridlock at the Washington Post with confirmation. A reader writes in with exasperation to tell her fellow DMV residents to “Stop honking, you are not in New York.”
Dr. Gridlock tells her, “I’m from New York City, and had a New York driver’s license for more than a decade. Never heard as much car honking there as I have in the land of Southern hospitality.”
I’m in New York City without my pen-and-paper journal, so I suspect I’ll post some musings about the trip over the next few days. Why not? Reading over this blog, I like some of the early travelogues the best.
But until then, a brief thought about Maryland drivers, courtesy of a senior traffic engineer who worked in both the District and Prince George’s County. His explanation for the disregard given pedestrians is simple: “Maryland has no cities and therefore no municipal laws about pedestrian safety. Therefore, drivers are not sensitized by local regulations.”
It is strange that the urban counties around D.C. have not passed such laws, but they haven’t. The explanation does have the benefit of comparing like-with-like.
There is one other possibility: the District, unlike, say, New York or Chicago, has gone out of its way to suburbanize traffic signals. For example, streets that look just like someplace in downtown Brooklyn will force pedestrians to wait for left turn signals ... even from one-way streets. Cars with D.C. plates (to further cite my traffic engineer friend) are likely driven by relatively upper-income people who also spend much time as pedestrians; they will therefore be more respectful than suburban drivers who (unlike somebody from Long Island driving into Queens) neither spend much time on foot nor have to adopt a different driving style when in the city.
I admit to a preference for non-cultural explanations, because they are falsifiable, so I like this one.
I also asked him about all the honking in the DMV. The difference with New York is striking. For three days I have been driving all over the counties of New York, Kings, Queens, and Nassau, plus the trip here and a long stop in Philly. Since leaving the Beltway the only horn sounds I have heard since then was (a) at a turnpike exit in New Jersey; (b) directed at me; and (c) thoroughly deserved.
So why the honking?
Well, that, he says, is cultural. “That is the District and Virginia too. People scoring self-importance points. Drives everyone nuts.”
Sadly, Die Hipster the blog is no more. But today South Brooklyn scored a victory over the new cool whatever not-Brooklyn Brooklyn with the restoration of express service on the F Train. That hasn’t existed since I was in high school! So, good.
Me, though, I’m more concerned with the Red Line these days. Hopefully, they’ll do the accelerated rebuilding, rip the band-aid off, and give me a subway train that I can use on evenings and weekends. My neighbors, they talk of these mysterious far-off times when you could count on the Metro after 8pm and on weekends, to which I simply marvel.
No points for guessing!
This essay (hat tip: Jon Rabinowitz) is a great read. Yes, the econometrics are pretty basic. Sure, the data is a little less-than-robust. (The guy collected rent data for S.F. back to 1949, but did not adjust for quality.) But the basic conclusion seems pretty good: letting development rip will at best hold back the tide.
I would add two points, however.
First, I worry about the model, simply because San Francisco is part of a metropolitan housing market. It really needs to include suburban development. Of course, the Bay Area has slammed suburban building shut even further than the County of San Francisco, but it is easier to imagine doubling the number of housing units in San Mateo and Alameda than it is to imagine doubling them in S.F. proper. Surely that would have a major effect.
Second, S.F. may be setting itself up for a major recession some day. I suspect not, to be honest: a gilded metro area looks depressingly plausible, particularly for the center of the computer industry. But a combination of a tech boom bust combined with an exhaustion of the supply of skilled people willing to live in the world’s first gilded metro area will kill the place dead.
At that point, New York will get another filip and the people who didn’t buy in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx when it was still relatively cheap will regret it. You know who you are. It isn’t too late.
Hillary as president, big burst of traffic. Mexico shows the amazing advance of solar power, something that may save the planet even if You-Know-Who is elected, meh. Oh, well.
Anyhoo, I just saw this email from Randy McDonald: “I’d be pretty curious to see your reaction to Jacobs on the blog. I know you’re a Moses fan, but that’s it.”
So, at his request, I’ll talk about Jane Jacobs. I did not intend to say anything, because why speak ill of the dead? I’m sure that she was a very nice person.
But my short version is: Death and Life of Great American Cities is bullshit.
Now, bullshit is a technical term. Bullshit is basically truthiness by another name. And Jacobs was truthy. She made claims about social cohesion coming from architecture for which she had no evidence. She refused to acknowledge that the pathologies of American cities in the 1960s were due to racism, not construction. She blasted entirely functional and pleasant “towers in the park” buildings but ignored the way well-intentioned traffic engineers were making suburbs unnecessarily unpleasant.
In fact, you can see how much bullshit she wrote from her defenders. Here is an essay Randy linked to called “Was Jane Jacobs right?” The dude manages to contradict himself. First, he claims that Torontonian neighborhoods have gentrified and become full of retail monocultures because of too much construction. Well, that is the purest form of bullshit: as Randy has documented, rising rents are creating such monocultures in old neighborhoods. Then he confuses typology for hypothesis testing, by showing us that dense districts in Milan are more dense. (No, really. That is what he shows.)
In a normal world, I might like Jane Jacobs. I am by no means ideologically averse to regulations that drive up housing costs. (Frex, requiring first-floor retail on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn.) She was right about highway building. (I like that Moses built stuff; I am less convinced that he built the right stuff, although really do wish the Cross-Brooklyn existed.) She was certainly right about most urban planning of the time, and her arguments apply to modern suburban planning quite well.
But we do not live in a normal world. We live in a world where Jacobite (Jacobin?) ideology means that everyone thinks it is entirely okay that the law protects cute streets like mine from the scourge of high rises. (Calling Eric Moore!) Hell, from the scourge of triple-deckers.
We live in a world where people can pretend that filtering does not exist. (The link goes to a study of the California housing market. Theory here.) And while the worst problems are in fact in the suburbs, where I suspect Jacobs would be fine with replacing quarter-acre plots with “missing middle” construction, the fact that we have decided to preserve our older neighborhoods in amber is creating just as many problems.
In short ... I usually do not buy slippery slope arguments, but it seems to me that the United States slid all the way down the goddamned slope that Jacobs greased back in the 1960s. If we need to bulldoze the West Village to get back to a normal housing market that serves all Americans (while making our cities greener in the process) then so be it.
Jane Jacobs caused none of that, of course. But she was emblematic. Her ideas have enabled much of the horror show that is the current American economy. Ironically, Canadian cities are doing (slightly!) better (in the face of worse pressure) because they are less beholden to her ideas than American ones.
Hasta la vista, cuteness. Bring on more buildings!
I hope that changed your mind, Randy! And even if it didn’t, when are you coming to D.C.?
In an otherwise excellent article, Bronx native Ben Wallace-Wells dents his credibility with the following statement:
As a Bronx native I’ve spent the campaign quietly weighing Donald Trump’s New York accent against that of Bernie Sanders. I can declare a split decision. Trump has the better vowels: His yooge obliterates Sanders’s yooge, the perfect measure of dismissiveness without dwelling on itself. But Sanders has the better consonants: when he says speculation, each syllable is a saliva receptacle. What is especially great about both of these accents is that no New Yorkers speak like that anymore, not even in deepest Canarsie. The city is too diverse; its population changes too constantly. Accents so extreme could only be preserved in environments where their bearers did not regularly interact with other New Yorkers: Burlington, Vermont, in one case, and a quartz penthouse in the other.
What? Dude. First, there is a logical inconsistency: what is so magical about interaction with other New Yorkers as opposed to, you know, the good people for Burlington? Being in Vermont is supposed to make it easier to preserve a Brooklyn accent of the older type?
Second, this young man displays unfortunate historical ignorance. (Actually, I have no idea how old he is. He could be fifty. I know from nothing about that.) What, everyone in Bernie Sanders’ Brooklyn was identical? Come on now. They were mostly white back then, but that category meant people who called each other s____, m____, p______, b______, s_______, g______, not to mention the w____ and all the other now-forgotten slurs that white people older than me used to refer to other white people. So the causal model does not make sense: Bernie’s Brooklyn accent was not the accent of some small isolated homogenous rural tribe.
Finally, there is a new New York accent, as I have pointed out on many occasions, which is very similar to the old but not identical. While New Yorkers of all races do speak it, it is relatively rare among NYC-raised non-Hispanic whites (who have, outside of Staten Island, lost the most distinctive parts of the old accent) and so Mr. Wallace-Wells may not have recognized it. The most prominent politician with the accent is this guy:
Congressman Jeffries does not sound exactly like Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. But he has a New York accent of the modern type, shared by hundreds of thousands of New York-raised people under age 30. C’mon, Ben! Take it back.
Oh, and here is Congressman Jeffries in full Noo Yawk awesome:
Despite the criticism, the New York Times is better than it has ever been. And it is still the best newspaper on the planet in any language that I read. (Which would, if you insist, cover English, Spanish, Portuguese and French. I do not understand spoken French.) But its headline writers have been falling down on the job lately.
First they suggest that Nicaragua is fighting an insurgency. But when you read the article, it becomes immediately clear that is not what’s going on.
Now we learn that “Culture Gap Impedes U.S. Business Efforts for Trade With Cuba.” Fascinating! I would have imagined that the U.S. would have had the smallest possible culture gap in the world with Cuba. After all, we have Florida! And they have baseball. Perhaps they are talking about some Communist mentality? Fascinating! After all, Cuba experienced one the few genuine Communist revolutions not imposed by the Red Army. It might have altered the mindset deeply! In fact, it almost certainly did. So I started to read with fascination.
Only to learn that the problem is that “threading the needle between Cuba’s rigid rules and the restrictions that the United States continues to impose is tricky.” They do toss in one paragraph about Americans baffled by slow Cuban official decision-making.
Uh ... legal problems and a slow bureaucracy do not a culture gap make, fellows.
First, we are sadly unlikely to ever again see New York accents so dominate the nation’s highest court.
Second, I have no idea what impact the vacancy will have on the 2016 general election or on the various Senate races. But I do think that it will help Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. As my friend Doug Hoff said, “I can see Obama playing this one well to HRC’s benefit — anything that takes attention away from Sanders’ pet issues probably helps out Clinton.” Add his point to the fact that a SCOTUS vacancy will raise the salience of concerns about electability and I think this puts some serious weight on the scales for Secretary Clinton over Senator Sanders.
Third, the Clean Power Plan just got a lot more likely to survive! An affirmative action case from which Kagan is recused also just got a little more likely to see a liberal decision. But only a little. And the odds that Deferred Action to Parents of Americans will be stopped did not change: if SCOTUS deadlocks 4-4, then the lower court decisions stand and it goes down.
Fourth, it seems to me that the Republicans have little reason to confirm anyone under any Democratic president. 4-4 beats 5-4. Plus, there is always the chance that Justice Ginsberg might pass away, in which case the conservatives would have a 4-3 majority.
Sure, refusing to nominate anyone would be unprecedented. But a lot of unprecedented political things have been happening lately. Why would the inauguration of a new Democratic president in 2017 change the calculus? Is there a reason for the Republicans to confirm any Democratic nominee to replace Scalia?
Finally, if President Obama really wants to troll the Republicans, then he should nominate Richard Posner to the high court. Oh, the Senate will never confirm him. But it would be fun!
Blogging has been light. Blogging here is always light! But it has been light because we have been enjoying Snowzilla.
There is no “Winter Storm Jonas.” That’s a Weather Channel marketing term. The proper term for the recent storm is “storm.” Or Snowzilla!
Anyway, among other things, I just learned that Mike Bloomberg is thinking about running for President. I am sure that many others have pointed out that he can’t win and would likely throw the race to the Republicans.
My question is, why would he bother? What is the raison d’être for his candidacy? Hillary Clinton isn’t friendly enough to Wall Street? Bernie Sanders would insult rich people? Insufficient citizens are frisked by police?
I kid, but the question is serious. What in the name of God could possibly be driving Mr. Bloomberg to even think about such a thing? I don’t understand, and not just because this blog was not a huge fan of his mayoralty. Oh, he wasn’t a terrible mayor. The bureaucracy was efficient. PlaNYC was pretty cool, if a bit overrated.
But what is a Bloomberg presidency supposed to bring to America that a Clinton administration wouldn’t?
I am left with the possibility that he would run solely to spite Bernie Sanders, in the still unlikely event that the Senator from Vermont should get the nomination. That seems ... petty. And it is contradicted by the fact that he really does seem to be thinking about running against Hillary as well.
Help me out here. Why is he even thinking about this? What does he think he brings that she does not?
There is a bit of a controversy over the GOP and immigration reform. Mitt Romney did terribly among Latinos, as do Republican candidates in general. The question is why. Many observers, including many Republicans, ascribe it to Republican immigrant-bashing, also known as racism. “Self-deportation” and all that.
There is a counter-argument, advanced by both liberals and conservatives, that the problem lies in other GOP policies. To get Latinos to vote Republican, either the internal demographics of Latinos would have to change or the GOP would need to alter core political stances other than their incessant dog-whistling to white nationalists. In that view, then, the dog-whistling is a pure plus: it gets white votes that might otherwise go uncast without losing many Latino ones.
I go back-and-forth on this. On the one hand, I know a lot of Latino conservatives who are put off by GOP insanity. On the other hand, I also know a lot of non-Latino conservatives who are put off by GOP insanity.
So ... one test case is New Jersey. There, Governor Christie leads among white voters, but is slightly behind among Latinos, 41-43 against Barbara Buono.
Thing is, Governor Christie has not engaged in any racist dog-whistling. And his persona goes over well with Latinos. This above picture is me in front of Mr. Otero’s house in Queens. Mr. Otero has told me that he likes Governor Christie. But ... I have trouble believing that he would vote for the man. (And no, not just because he does not live in New Jersey.) Why? Well, look at this picture of the house, without me taking up space:
You see a lot of those stickers in Queens.
Immigration reform? A good thing. And probably a net gain for the GOP. But I am not sure that it would drastically change much of anything. The party has other problems.
Department of accents: Cockney is leaving London, replaced by something horribly called “London Multicultural English.” I don’t mean that it sounds horrible: not at all. I mean that the name is horrible. The transition strikes me as much the same as the way that the very misnamed New York Latino English is replacing the old-style New York accent. Misnamed, of course, because the accent is not spoken only by Latinos (in fact, in my experience, New Yorkers of Latin descent are more likely to preserve the old-fashioned accent) but has clear links with the old accent. For good examples of the new New York accent go to this BBC link and scroll down to the second video, labeled “Eyewitness accounts of NY crash.” Or listen to this.
Department of Donald. If you do a third-party run, sir, do it right. Fund people for Senate and Congress. Go on, do it. “You’re a man of vision, Mr. Trump, so I know you won’t be content to preside over a government controlled by your opponents. You’re also a man with vast monetary resources at your command, so I know that you can recruit and fund 469 congressional candidates while running an independent presidential campaign. You probably won’t win them all — you may not win any of them — but you ought to be able to draw enough votes away from the Republican candidates to cost most of them their seats, and that’s what you really want, isn’t it? To make the GOP sorry for how unfair they have been to you. Because that’s the kind of man you are.”
Found scribbled on a notepad in my backpack (at least the parts in quotes):
“I was born in Brooklyn!”
“I was born in Boston and there were monsters in Boston. Mommy and Daddy had to protect me from the monsters in Boston.”
So you must not like Boston.
“I don’t like New Jersey.”
“When I was in Boston I saw a monster coming to eat Tima and me.”
That sounds scary, but I don’t see the connection to New Jersey. Which state is your favorite?
“My favorite states are Trinidad and New York and Aper. Aper is a big city with a lot of people it doesn’t have no train. It has a train track. Trains drive on that train track. And it doesn’t have no station. And it doesn’t have no subway! You can go on the train tracks to New York. It just drives outside.”
Apparently, I did not follow up. Or I ran out of paper. This Aper sounds like an interesting place. (Unless he means Delaware.) And what is wrong with New Jersey? He must have overheard his parents complaining about the endless quality of the eponymous turnpike when we thought he was asleep.
He is completely correct that Trinidad really should be a state.
So Uber and the NYC government have been battling it out. I will admit to having sympathy with the government. Not because I support the taxi monopoly: reader JKR, if he would be so kind, will attest that I railed against it at somewhat annoying length as far back as the 1980s. Rather, it is because of my general fear of a “gig economy” in which social insurance is still tied to employment ... only in which the “gigs” are not counted as employment.
But I come to praise Uber, not to bury it. When I go to New York, I tend to stay either in Midwood, Brooklyn, or more-often in the beyond-the-subway reaches of Queens. LIRR service from Queens Village is usually hourly, so it usually makes more sense to go to the main LIRR station at Jamaica, where trains run at subway frequencies. Except Jamaica is several miles away. Now, the recent creation of the green taxis that do pick-up only in the boroughs means that it is easy to get a cab from Jamaica. But calling a cab to take you to Jamaica (or the airport, for that matter) has always been nearly hopeless. Half-hour waits and disappearing cars were the standard.
But then came Uber! And now, we have never waited more than ten minutes and we have only once had a cab agree to come and then cancel. (Yes, that happens with Uber in Queens. It’s still Queens. We walked down to Jamaica Avenue and caught a dollar cab instead.)
(Parenthetical comment inside a parenthesis: in Queens, the dollar cabs are fixed-route taxis. They ply a major street, picking up and letting off people along the way. They are cars, not vans, and often, but not always, painted black.)
So while not perfect, this Uber-financed study passes the smell test. The service really has improved taxi service in the outer boroughs beyond the subway, even if it costs about the same.
But who the hell knows what Asimov was talking about! He predicts that the corridor will have a population of 40 million by 2014. That is a pretty easy prediction to make, considering as it had a population of 37.2 million in 1960. (It hit 51.8 million in 2010.)
Moreover, the place was already almost an unbroken streak of urban areas, using the standard definition of 1,000 people per square mile. (Definition on page 3.)
The map is from page 6 of Megalopolis, published in 1961. Maybe Asimov meant to predict: “By 2014, there will be a bunch of suburbs built in Harford and Cecil County, MD, central New Jersey, coastal Connecticut and Rhode Island.”
To be frank, I would call this an even bigger fail than Damien did, because it shows that Asimov had basically no clue about geography or demography. This is in fact pretty obvious in Caves of Steel, where a world population of only 8 billion has somehow forced everyone to live in super-dense urban arcologies. Ditto the Foundation novels, where Asimov somehow predicted that a population of 40 billion on an Earth-sized world would require a planet-spanning structures hundreds (or thousands) of feet high. Predicting that an urban area would grow 7½% over 40 years is sort of less than perspicacious ... let alone stating that a 7½% population increase would imply the creation of a single city where one did not yet exist.
A little bit crazy about these things, Asimov was. Anyone know why?
One day, I hope, Brooklyn will no longer stand for anything other than a large urbanized area in the southwestern corner of Long Island, hopefully still with the funny accent. But until that day, I give you Bushwick, 2015.
Brooklyn? Like I tell people, I’m from Fort Lee, New Jersey. Now, what’s the name of the junior high in that town?
My wife and I have relatives in the NYPD. (This should not be a surprise.) So we called a couple to ask about the cops turning their back on Mayor De Blasio during the funeral service. We were told that the protests were unplanned, word just went out in the crowd. We were also told that the police were mad because the mayor “took sides.” We asked what that meant. “He took sides. That was horrible what happened in Staten Island, but a jury found him innocent, but the mayor didn’t accept that.” Our relative went on to say that the mayor would not win re-election with the police against him.
For what it’s worth, since I’m not in NYC, the police seem to have taken leave of their senses. To the point that when I first learned of the statement put out by the retired cops who flew the above banner over the city, I thought it was a satire:
It is our opinion that Mayor deBlasio’s dangerous and irresponsible comments about his and his wife’s concern for their son’s safety at the hands of the NYPD fueled the flames that led to civil unrest, and potentially to the deaths of PO Wenjian Liu and PO Rafael Ramos, as well as the continued threats against NYPD personnel.
My take? Three things. First, I got the impression that the ire against the Mayor, as related by my cousin, comes more from peer pressure than deep-felt grievances. He did not mention the “irresponsible comments” listed in the above statement. I can imagine how hard it would be to not turn your back in a situation like the funeral when all your friends and colleagues are doing so.
Second, it really amazes me how joining an organization can make people have selective memories. Someone ask my cousin about the bicycle-ticket incident with his friends in Queens, over a decade ago. It really is better to be a young white person, even in New York City.
Third, the mayor may lose re-election, but it will not be because of his relationship with the NYPD.
I am glad that I am not Mayor De Blasio, because at this point I would be going to war with the department, and that is certainly not a wise thing to do.
Courtesy of Alex Harrowell, here is an interview Larry Page gave to the Financial Times. The interview is full of a lot of blather and show Page’s resolute determination to avoid thinking about the negative consequences of technological unemployment. Most of the interview should make you a little angry, even if you agree with his contention that there is not enough innovation around making cheaper goods and physical services.
But not all of the interview is content-free. At one point, Mr. Page says: “Even more than technology, he puts this down to policy changes needed to make land more readily available for construction. Rather than exceeding $1m, there’s no reason why the median home in Palo Alto, in the heart of Silicon Valley, shouldn’t cost $50,000, he says.”
Alex asks, “Does anyone know what Larry Page means by this?” In comments, Alex adds, rightly, “He’s [Larry Page] confusing incremental and order-of-magnitude changes, which is actually a very un-codery thing to do.”
That’s true, but Page isn’t being crazy. He’s off-base, likely by a factor of two, but acceptably so for an offhand comment in a general interview. Consider:
Imagine the city allowed as-right floor-area-ratios above ten for the whole city, with no setbacks other than the sidewalk right-of-way and no parking requirements. Multifamily 4-7 story housing in the less-regulated parts of the Sunbelt costs about $150 per square foot. In suburban Miami, basic modular construction (no frills, but in code) can go as low as $100. The reason construction costs are higher in California is not fully understood but much is due to the cost of planning delays — you need to line up financing in order to get a building permit. The more uncertain the planning, the higher the costs. So also imagine that the planning delays were gone.
In Brooklyn in the 1980s the Nehemiah Housing fund put up 1150-square-foot rowhouse for a cost (in 2013 dollars adjusted using the average wage index) of $93,100 ... that’s about $81 per square-foot for a block-long row of small homes. That gets you a small apartment for $50,000; one upstairs and one downstairs. Later houses went up in Brooklyn for about $110 which is the ballpark for the $133 all-in unsubsidized cost for housing that went up in East New York in 2009.
Assuming a cost of $150 gets you a 300-square-foot efficiency for $50,000. (At $81 you get 625.) You could push the cost down to $80 by building to five stories and eliminating elevator requirements. For example, I was a teenager in a 670-square-foot three-bedroom one-bath apartment in a Manhattan walkup. You could build a similar unit pretty cheaply today. It would just happen to be illegal.
Land costs are an issue for Palo Alto and there are overhead costs. Land runs north of $3.9 million per acre, or $90 per square foot. Google bought land for $75 per square foot. At a floor-area-ratio of five (e.g., five-story buildings covering the entire lot) that’s about $18 per square foot of interior space. And then there’s financing, sales cost, and profit … that will boost costs by 24% above development costs.
The total comes to $80 (construction) + $18 (land) + $23 (overhead) = $119 … or one small 420 square foot efficiency for $50,000. Assumes external staircases and corridors. Not a pretty building, no, but remotely possible.
Now, I doubt that there’s enough demand to cover downtown Palo Alto with cheap five-story modular walk-ups filled with tiny efficiency apartments. So the claim that average costs in Palo Alto should be $50,000 is silly. But the claim that you should be able to buy an efficiency for $50,000 within a short commute is not. And you could cover Palo Alto with East New York-style rowhouses at a cost of $264,000 per unit for two 800-square foot units, including land. ($207,000 for the 2,321 square-foot lots; $133 per square foot construction for 1,640 square feet of building; 24% overhead.) Not bad. Hell, not bad at double that cost and maybe even doable for $202,000 at $80 construction cost and half the profit margin.
Eventually you can build this:
Which would look like this as you sped past on Highway 101 in your robocar:
That is completely awesome! I would live a couple blocks from that. Wait, I live Friendship Heights in D.C. near the city line with a certain part of Bethesda ... I do live a couple blocks from that! Too bad the local governments keep the development bottled up even where I live.
Am I wrong? Did I make a math mistake? If not, a cheap Bay Area is possible! Hell, it’s easy. $50,000 efficiencies, here we come!
But I am a pessimist and doubt that it will ever happen. No two-story rowhouses, no five-story buildings. Be prepared for America’s first gilded metro area!
So I have a cousin, married with children, a professional who lives near the Queens-Nassau border. (Which side and which profession are being kept secret at the request of his wife.) He grew this long beard, which had relatives telling him to shave it off. “You looking like the effing Taliban,” said one.
“Or a Red Sox fan, which is worse,” I added.
Results to follow.
Louis C.K. put up some tweets blasting the math homework that his third-grade girls need to do in the New York public schools. You can find a list of them here.
He is an awesome comedian, a brilliant man, but this I just do not understand. The pictograph question was weird, but it seemed that some key words had been cut off. The other math problems seemed entirely reasonable for the third grade. What am I missing?
I will not curse on this blog, but I would not be unhappy to discover that seven of the ten places listed at the below link had been burned down in the night by angry employees.
The exceptions? First, the place in Russia. That is where ukelele-playing belongs. AFAICT they make no claims to Brooklyn; it’s a bad sign about America that the blog-writers somehow pinned faux-nostalgia-ukelele music as having something to do with the county of Kings.
Second, the Brooklyn Cafe in Glasgow. “What??” you ask? Well, consider. They serve a Brooklyn Cheese Steak. Which I can only call an honest — and completely hilarious — mistake. Props.
Finally, the bagel place in Australia. Yes, it sounds terrible. But unlike the rest, it actually has some connection to the culture of the borough as it existed before the emergence of this weird new “brand.”
The rest of the list use the Brooklyn name but have nothing to do with the uneasy mess of Italian, Jewish, Puerto Rican, African-American and West Indian laid over a Protestant substrate that actually, you know, made Brooklyn into Brooklyn from pretty much the moment that the eponymous bridge was built until, I dunno, sometime around 2005.
This would not have happened if you coulda just built big ugly buildings instead of pricing everyone normal out of the place.
Anyway, I know a good red sauce place in Fort Lee, my new pretend home town. Above is the view from my aunt’s living room in 2005. That is a real New York ambience for you.
For those of you who don’t know, Junior’s is a bakery near the Fulton Mall in downtown Brooklyn. My relatives swear by it, although I don’t quite grok their enthusiasm. Still, it’s pretty good.
And it’s closing, but not for good. Rather, they’re going to build a tall residential building! Yes, it will be a luxury development, but that’s all right: rich people will live there instead of bidding up lower-quality but well-located existing housing. Then the restaurant will reopen on the ground floor.
All good! Well, there’s a fly in the ointment, which is that the city, idiotically, puts in an as-right height cap in that area of 20 stories. Fortunately, in New York nearby properties can sell their unused air rights to allow for buildings to exceed the cap. J.P. Morgan owns a two-story landmarked building nearby and is willing to sell its rights. The end result? The building could go up to 50 floors, which is around the point where high-rises stop being economical and become pure prestige projects.
Only not to these pendejos, who are bad for Brooklyn and bad for America. Brooklyn Magazine is bad.
Gah. Don’t ask me, I tell people I’m from New Jersey these days.
Honestly, though, it isn’t the hipsters. It’s everyone. In 2005, Bloomberg downzoned the part of Brooklyn that Tony Manero would still find familiar. And that came after a 1978 downzoning that already made no sense, insuring only that “white flight” from the declining parts of the city would wind up in the suburbs. It is true that he allowed residential development in industrial areas, but his mayoralty can be blamed for allowing the current housing crisis to develop. Details here.
Still, the mayor was not approving changes in a vacuum. Consider my cousin Ray, who lives in Brooklyn and is not remotely hipsterish. He opposes tall buildings that you can’t possibly see from Midwood, let alone ones in Midwood.
And the madness continues.
I am beginning to think that the United States is facing a terrible housing crisis. The fact that we are is pathetic. We know how to build high-density housing in inexpensive ways. But we do not allow it. So places that boom in the northeast and California see little housing growth. But they see price explosions.
We are moving to Washington this summer. Our rent on a two-bedroom apartment (big enough for two adults and two small children) is $2525. When we moved in back in 2009 it was $2300. That is an increase of only 1.9% per year. In real terms, no change.
But the owners want to charge the new tenants $3200 for the same unit. That is an increase of 6.8% per year: well over inflation and a clear indication that something is off the rails in the Boston housing market.
The ultimate problem, of course, is that you simply can’t knock down the short buildings on this block and build more high-rises like the one in the background. It’s ridiculous. We are less than a quarter-mile from a T station; residential buildings here should reach 20, 30, 40 stories. But you can’t build them because, uh, Franklin Street is just so pretty as-is.
WTF? What in the name of God is wrong with Brooklyn? Build Brooklyn here! And for those of you in Brooklyn, go build Manhattan over there. Manhattan is great!
Here is my proposal for a tough tight restrictive zoning code.
And we’re done! No parking requirements, no height restrictions, nada. Just the above. And truth be told, I would prefer to replace clause (2) with a tax on luxury units. Calling Bill de Blasio! (Or Muriel Bowser.)
Note that this is an incredibly restrictive code. Just less so than the bullshit we currently have. Historical preservation is stupid, un-American, and contributes to income inequality.
Massively. How much of the increase in income inequality is due to changes in housing costs? I suspect it is large; someone should do the decomposition.
The traditional New York-New Jersey accent seems to be fading. (Do not be fooled; they are the same!) Then again, it seems to have been fading for a long time. Governor Al Smith was reknowned at the time for his accent; some even said it contributed to his loss in the 1928 presidential election.
Except, well, all the audio of him seems to show somebody with a barely-discernable accent. Compared to the parade of New Jersey accents appearing on MSNBC these days, Al Smith sounds like he is from Ohio. In the below clip I guess there is a little bit of an accent buried in there somewhere, but not really. He sounds like a deeper-pitched Matt Yglesias.
Smith did have an accent that emerged on occasion. The above clip is from 1933. In this 1928 clip, though, you can hear a very faint “ey” sound instead of “er.” That’s an iconic but archaic marker of NYNJ speech. The archaic accent, however, makes the modern content of the speech rather ironic: consider the studious avoidance of sexism at the end. (Also note the pretense at very high ethical standards. Do not be fooled into thinking that closing bridge lanes would not have sunk a candidate back in 1928.)
Back to the point: the markers of NYNJ speech do not depend on the now-defunct “ey” sound or the rarely-heard “youse.” I took the dialect quiz at the New York Times four times, and each time it pegged me as being from New York, Jersey City, or Yonkers. This despite giving honest answers about my use of “catty-corner” (a phrase I distinctly remember learning in California) and “you all” or “y’all” rather than “youse.”
The accuracy was slightly spooky, in fact. Is this just a New York phenomenon, or can such a short quiz really peg all Americans with such precision?
I probably shouldn’t write this down, but I’ve already copped to the fact that I’m reading Slate on this sunny morning in Queens instead of working on how to solve Albania’s energy problems. So why not?
There is a story in Slate by a self-described childless woman suggesting that the current trend of parents making parenting seem bloody awful just might have gone to far. She turns serious on page 2, pointing out how American culture has become less tolerant of true bad parenting (perhaps to dysfunctional extremes) while celebrating upper-class “bad” parents whom are actually quite good at it.
So let me say that I am really enjoying fatherhood. Now, there is a caveat: being married to a wonderful woman and able to afford good day care enables me to enjoy fatherhood: depending on the week, I get three to five days in which to sit at my computer and Get Stuff Done. (Well, get a little bit done, anyway.) And it really helps to live so close to the Island of Long where there really is a village.
Finally, I have to add that our apartment building in Cambridge has (out of 30 units) about 12 with families, so a “play date” means having Caesar from down the hall bang on the door or going down to the first floor to horse around with Mafalda.
And maybe we just have a great toddler.
Most of his shenanigans just reduce us to helpless laughter. Maybe that will change when his sister comes along. But thus far, with day care and have a partner I love, I haven’t come across any reasons not to have kids. And those aforementioned life-changes? They consist mostly of not getting drunk very often and no more cigars on the balcony. Both of those are good changes.
My only regret? That I didn’t find somebody as marvelous as my wife and who was willing and able to be a mother with me 15 years ago. And maybe that I have had to buy a whole new cheap wardrobe, considering all the gunk I get all over myself and the fact that the half-life of unripped knees is down to sixteen weeks. But while I miss wearing fancy creased pants and nice jackets every day, I very much like getting stuff all over and ripping the knees of my new ever-changing cheaper wardrobe.
Traveling for work is no longer as much fun, since I miss el Boy. I will likely never take another year to go to a combat zone, like Afghanistan, and will only go to non-combat-zones if my family is able and willing to come.
But that is a loss because I do not want to travel, not because I cannot travel. With the day care my wife is perfectly happy to have me take off for a few days. Maybe too happy ...
Seriously, go for it! Being a parent has been, for me, much better than not being a parent.
Somebody who should know tells me that the Sembrado taco place on 432 East 13th Street is very good. And like the ones in Mexico. The menu looks good: at least it has cebollitas and gringas. It has to be better than the NYC taquería mentioned here and which is now closed. But I am picky about these things and I have my doubts about anyplace in Manhattan or hipster-Brooklyn these days.
OK, the holidays are over. Actually, they have been for a while: my recent sojourn to Houston was not a vacation. But the vacation that we did have was very very nice.
We did not go to the isle of Long. (Rather, we visited the island of Trinidad.)
But we have been to three of the elongated island’s four counties quite a lot over the past year! It gave the boy a chance to meet many of his cousins on all sides of his multidimensional family.
And it let me imagine life in the promised land! If only I had a job that would let us live in Queens or Nassau.
The above pictures are from a more temperate time, but the boy has been living in Boston, and cold weather does not phase him. But this block of not-quite-ice that blew in from somewhere (ah, the Island of Long) was quite confusing:
Note the damage from Hurricane Sandy in the background, most obvious behind him to the viewer’s left. There used to be a lot more trees. Of course, me being me, I think their disappearance (or loss of branches) is an improvement. Why would you want to live beneath a dark and depressing green canopy?
If anyone out there has fond or less-than-fond memories of trips-to/living-in/passing-through the Great Stretched Out Insular Territory, you know, the one south of Connecticut that goes from the Not-Island of Coney though the Counts’ Fiefdoms of Male and Female Monarchs all the way out to the Sub-Island of Shelter, I would be absolutely delighted to hear about it.
There was a terrifying article in the New York Times the other day. It appears that Professor Noriko Arai is trying to program a computer to pass the Tokyo University admissions exam.
If she succeeds, it would be a very big deal. Right now, the computer is stumped by natural language questions and historical context. But those might be automatable. If they are, then the implication is that huge swathes of human activity will lose their market value.
The corollary would seem to be that if a computer can pass the Tokyo University entrance exam, then that exam is no longer a useful measure of human merit.
Admission to New York City’s specialized high school is based on the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test. You can find a description and sample exam at this link. To this lay reader, the scrambled paragraphs and reading sections seem like they would be very hard to program, the math seems trivially easy to computerize (even with natural language questions), and the logical reasoning somewhere in between.
But I do not know! How long do we have before Watson’s progenitors can ace the exam? (I would hope that the answer is “never.” I do not think that it is.)
And in a slightly-less science-fictional vein, how good does the test appear as a metric of a student’s ability-to-benefit from a specialized high school? One problem is that the scoring is bizarrely non-linear: it would be better to do very high in one section and poorly in another than to do well in both. In practice, that weighs the math section over the verbal ones.
The article about the test at the link quotes experts as unanimously warning against the use of only a test in admissions. Boston Latin, for example, does not rely only on a test; nor do any elite universities. I am still unclear as to why so many of my high school compatriots argued that admissions requirements could not be changed.
One of the reasons I shut down my Facebook page was a ridiculous argument among my peers about the fact that Stuyvesant High School admits almost no black or Latino students. Many of my fellow graduates believed that the admissions test was a perfect and obvious metric of merit that could not be bettered. They also believed that Stuyvesant saved their lives; there was no way they would have turned out as well as they did had they gone elsewhere.
Me, I dunno. I had a lot of friends from George Washington High School; they went on to become Boeing executives, Marine officers, professors of psychology and sanitation workers. I would not have gone to G.W.; I would have likely gone to Manhattan Center or Murry Bergtraum. Would I have turned out differently? I doubt it. Things were violent then: take this story from 1986, featuring a Bergtraum student who was shot dead on Halloween, one of four in the city. One of the other three, however, went to Stuyvesant.
In other words, I am not convinced that my high school did much for me in particular. I had a few good teachers (thank you, Mrs. Ferrara!) but one incredibly awful guidance counselor, who tried to steer me to midlevel universities, you know, places a “street kid” [his words] could handle. Kind of a wash, although I made many good friends when I was there; it was great to catch up with some of them at the 2008 reunion.
Given that, you should not be surprised that I believed that it was a bad thing that Stuyvesant was down to nine black students and it would be a good thing to alter the admission criterion. (There was, in fact, a contradiction in my position. None of them pointed it out, however. I will explain on request.)
My fellow graduates got really mad at me for believing that Stuyvesant should change its admissions criteria, even if it meant that we would not have gotten in. It got kind of ugly, in a mildly ridiculous way. It was not the reason that I shut down the Facebook page; it wasn’t even the silliest or ugliest argument there. But it was the last one.
And now New York Magazine is on the case! In a great article about helping to make New York City affordable again, the magazine included a portion about improving the public schools. In it, they suggested: “We could abolish the specialized high schools — like Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech — and distribute those talented kids back into the general population (studies show selective schools have little effect on achievement).”
Is that true? They provided no links. I immediately thought that there would be an easy way to test the hypothesis: look at students right around the test cutoff. With that idea in mind, I started to see if I could get a fellow academic interested in doing that study ... and whaddaya know! It turned out that Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer have done the work.
This paper uses data from three prominent exam high schools in New York City to estimate the impact of attending a school with high-achieving peers on college enrollment and graduation. Our identification strategy exploits sharp discontinuities in the admissions process. Applicants just eligible for an exam school have peers that score 0.17 to 0.36 standard deviations higher on eighth grade state tests and that are 6.4 to 9.5 percentage points less likely to be black or Hispanic. However, exposure to these higher-achieving and more homogeneous peers has little impact on college enrollment, college graduation, or college quality.
But there’s more! Page 2: “The impact of exam school eligibility on college enrollment or graduation is, if anything, negative. Students just eligible for Brooklyn Tech are 2.3 percentage points (approximately 3.0 percent) less likely to graduate from a four-year college. Students eligible for Bronx Science and Stuyvesant are neither more or less likely to graduate — the 95 percent confidence interval rules out impacts larger than 2.8 percentage points (approximately 3.4 percent) for Bronx Science and 2.5 percentage points (approximately 3.0 percent) for Stuyvesant. The results are nearly identical when examining college enrollment, enrollment in more selective institutions, or enrollment in a post-baccalaureate program.”
Now, there are two lacunae in their study. First, as they admit, they are looking at the marginal admit: there may be big effects on high-flying test scorers. (They try to adjust for this, it is not convincing, and I am a sympathetic reader!) Second, they do not break out effects by race: it is quite plausible to me that marginal black students might benefit more from the change in peer effects than marginal white or Asian students. (My wife never ceases to tell me that I would have made a terrible black man, by which she means that a black teenager with my idiot bravado winds up in quite a bit more trouble and with rather less salubrious teenage friends.)
If either of those hypotheses are true, then we should keep Stuyvesant and the like around. (New York has expanded the number of elite schools from three to six, and I should admit that I like the ideas behind two of the new specialized schools: Brooklyn Latin and American Studies.)
But we should also then change the admission criteria.
And if neither is true, well, pfffft.
I was watching Boardwalk Empire, and I idly wondered to myself if the Prohibition era was really all that violent. So I dug up a paper by Leigh Bienen and Brandon Rottinghaus on homicide in Chicago. (We all know that the Atlantic City of the series is fictionalized, so I didn’t bother.)
Answer: a first amateur glance the data says maybe.
Chicago was violent even by modern American standards. The below chart shows homicide rates for the whole city hitting 20 per 100,000 by 1928. That is high. For context, homicide peaked in Chicago in 1991 around 32 per 100,000, declined to around 16 by 2011 and jumped back to 20 last year.
If you look at the red line (for total homicides) it seems to have increased a bit faster after Prohibition starts in 1920 than it had been earlier. But the jump is not that dramatic.
Except it is! Just not for the population as a whole. The blue line shows the homicide rate per 100,000 for white victims only. It continues to increase, but at the same rate as before Prohibition.
The implication is that the victimization rate for non-white Chicagoans must have skyrocketed.
And it did. Right after Prohibition.
In short, violence rose under Prohibition. But it rose more and more-suddenly among a racially marginalized population than in the city as a whole.
What about New York? Homicide rates were generally lower than in Chicago. They were also, unlike Chicago, generally stable in the decades before Prohibition. Homicide rates rise after Prohibition, but later than in Chicago: non-white victimization rates do not jump until rather late in the decade.
I would not ascribe causality; this is all amateur hour.
But there is a sad familiarity to this story, much the same our modern prohibition has destabilized black communities much more than white ones.
So, a bunch of twee little selfish nits has decided that Greenpoint does not need new buildings, because you know, they got theirs. In order to make their point, they redid the picture on the right to look like the picture on the left. In their words, “Ours was to express the brutality.”
Well, in my wife’s favorite expression, sheee-it. The whole thing still looks awesome, even with the rotting-meat color. And Greenpoint, I will point out, is ugly. Greenpoint has always been ugly. JKR and I used to marvel at its ugliness, wondering why it survived when intrinsically beautiful neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights were full of bombed-out buildings. (This was back when you could use “Brooklyn” and “Cleveland” in the same sentence with no sense of irony.)
The old Brooklyn would be happy to tear all that ugly vinyl-covered crap down. Manhattan on the other side of the East River? Hell, yeah! But this new weird place? Meh. Yeah, it is nice that the “grey zones” full of abandoned buildings that used to separate neighborhoods are gone. It is excellent that white mobs don’t kill black people any more. And Barclays Center shows some byootiful bad taste!
I was just with my wife and boy in a part of Brooklyn (Vanderbilt Avenue, if you must know) where I have not been for about two decades. I was stunned at the changes: back in the day, I remember someone describing Vanderbilt as “seedy.” And it was! Some abandoned buildings, some bodegas that were fronts for drug sales. (See the picture to the right.) It is much nicer now.
But even the nicer Vanderbilt Avenue manages to be nicer in an irritating where the hell am I kind of way, albeit thankfully not yet up where it hits Atlantic Avenue.
Ever since the place turned into a brand I have not got a whole lot to like about the borough. Gimme Queens any day. Heck, gimme New Jersey. Go Hackensack! Rock on, Union City! Artisanal pickles and European tourists whatever. Nobody takes a tour bus to Union City, even though it is a perfectly nice place.
GET OFF MY LAWN!! Damn kids.
This just in: Edward Snowden finds the perfect place of asylum!
No matter where I move on this great globe, I will be a Jets fan until the very end. And do not be thinking that I might give up the Yankees! Not within the American League at least. That is all.
Ridgewood, Queens, is a place I was going to blog about until I suddenly realized that I was confusing it with Woodhaven. I went to Woodhaven all the time in the 1980s. The reason was a girl. It was, I think, the first time I was called “Tony Manero” and the only place I think it was meant as an insult.
Anyway, it turns out that some young fool blogger who never knew Brooklyn when he would be scared to wander around at night now says that the hipster thing is bleeding into Ridgewood. I read that as Woodhaven and had a WTF moment. A long blog post composed itself in my head ... but then I realized my mistake.
I dunno if I have ever even been to Ridgewood. (I used to go to a diner in Maspeth with JKR, but that might as well be Rhode Island.) So hipsters, whatever.
Back around, oh, 1992, I said to a friend, “I’m a child of the seventies.” I don’t remember the context, but she replied with a laugh, “No, you’re a child of the forties.”
And in some ways she’s right! And so, a great great video from what was not the New York City of my young adulthood, but which very many people think should have been. (Me, I am kinda happy to avoid racism and polio, although I am fond of newspapers and the draft.)
You are probably aware that a woman in Miami named Filomena Tobias flipped off Joakim Noah after last night’s game against Chicago. Ah, Miami. You may not, however, be aware that ... oh, just click the link. It’s fun, trust me.
In other news, the NYPD arrested a man in Astoria, Queens, for firing a plastic pellet gun and then handing it off to his kids.
The law against realistic toy guns is a good one and it should be enforced. When I was a boy, we would shoot BB guns down by what is now called Dumbo or across the bridge on Wards Island. We would also sometimes take them into buildings or on city streets in Brooklyn or, even more stupidly, Stanley Isaacs and 1199 Plaza in Manhattan. In 1994, that very game resulted in death when a police officer shot a boy holding a toy gun.
I strongly support the law banning realistic toy guns.
And I double-support keeping BB guns out of parks: they can hurt people! This guy was letting his three year son and five-year-old daughter point a loaded pellet gun at other people. That is a recipe to blind somebody. (I have every intention of going target shooting with my boy and letting him learn all about firearms. I have no intention of letting him fire even low-velocity projectiles in crowded areas.) I am glad that other parents stopped this moron before anyone got hurt.
There is, however, something confusing. The story says that the other parents quickly realized that it was a toy. One went up to the guy and told him to stop. According to the news, he did so and left the park.
Why then did they call the police? Or did somebody else call the police?
Anyway, this guy was pretty damn stupid. I will cut 10-year-olds in 1980 some slack. A 54-year-old in 2013, not so much.
... it could stop things like Sandy from happening again.
The Dutch company that came up with this proposal (presumably there would be another smaller seawall around Arthur Kill between Staten Island and New Jersey) estimated that it would cost $6.5 billion. Double that price, heck, triple it, and you have not spent a lot of money relative to the benefit.
There are problems, of course. There are environmental issues. (Although stupid ones, in my opinion. This, for example, should have been built.*) There are political issues: the gates would leave Staten Island, Long Island and the Jersey Shore unprotected. And there are engineering issues: could a storm surge still come up through Long Island Sound? How high does the seawall need to be?
And there are smaller things. For example, burying power lines. Of course, that will be expensive. And as Manhattan shows, it is not a panacea. But it works to prevent outtages in outlyings areas. How expensive would that be? Well, in 1990 the city of Anaheim, California, decided to bury its lines. The cost? A four-percent surcharge on electric bills. That is high ... but as an insurance premium, not so much.
Infrastructure like the above needs to be built. The question is whether New York State (perhaps with New Jersey) can break through the sclerosis that afflicts American megaprojects and get it done. Or at least get it done before the third or fourth or fifth superstorm wreaks havoc.
I am not optimistic. I hope that I am wrong.
* The judge who killed Westway turns out to be same Thomas Griesa who has made all the rulings in the Argentine default cases.
UPDATE: Via Matt Yglesias (and a few intermediate links) you can find more detailed proposals from a 2009 conference.
Lots of pundits say that people vote for candidates with whom they identify. They vote by tribal markers, in other words.
That is wrong. If it were right, I would support Chris Christie. Because, hey, the accent, the attitude, the body language, I love that guy. I don’t want him anywhere near public office, but I love that guy. He is bad for New Jersey, but still. I don’t have to vote for the dude.
Tribal. Even if he is from Jersey. And says weird stuff about polls. I mean, you can dislike President Obama for all sorts of reasons, but the man doesn’t suffer from tacking too close to the polls.
Then again, Christie sometimes pronounces “all” in some sort of weird generic not-Jersey way, so maybe I don’t love him as much as I thought. Ni modo. Make up your mind, Chris! Oll or awl?
I just got back to civilization. I was in Queens. And I was in Queens without the Internet! OK, I occasionally checked email, but that was it. I suspect that such a vacation will be impossible within not too many years. (Click the link for knowledge about the horrifying future to which information technology is inevitably bringing us.)
But this post is not about Queens. It is about sports. I spent much of today watching some awesome Olympic soccer matches. Mexico-Senegal had me biting my nails ... and almost (but not quite) feeling sorry for the way Senegal botched it up in overtime. Then there was that foul-fest between Brazil and Honduras. I am still sad that the little Hondureño underdog lost. And the tight U.K.-ROK game: I admit it, I was rooting for the home team. In between all that, I hoped to see Lithuania beat the U.S. of A. in basketball.
I am currently watching the Czechs defeat poor Brazil in beach volleyball. That is a great sport. One of the people below is of Brazilian descent: my heart goes out to you. The Czechs stole it.
What is it about international basketball? In every other sport, I root for the U.S. of A. above all. But there are exceptions: at the World Baseball Classic, I root for the crazy underdog teams: Australia and the Netherlands and the like. In basketball, the United States is not merely dominant; it is ridiculously dominant. Ludicrously dominant. Stupidly dominant. Yeah, there is 2004 and FIBA, but in both cases we didn’t send our best players. So I get happy when somebody gives the U.S. a run for its money. (I am not a hypocrite: we dominate beach volleyball too, but that is all about Kerri and Misty.)
Which, finally, brings us to the Knicks. I always used to say that the minute the Nets move to Brooklyn, then I switch loyalties. And I am still tempted! But ... well, “Brooklyn” no longer means what it used to mean. I no longer feel it. I mean, dude, if you had proposed Atlantic Yards in 1985 nobody but nobody woulda opposed it! I feel much more at home in Queens, which outside a few parts of LIC and Astoria is still not cool. Although Sunnyside is becoming suspiciously nice.
So I am thinking that I will stay with the Knicks. But I am unsure. After all, there is that wide swath of Kings County, from Bay Ridge to Canarsie to East New York, that is AFAICT pretty much ungentrified and uphip and old-school.
And, well, even the annoying full-of-hipsters and morons-who-hate-new-buildings part of Brooklyn has its charms. Although it would be more charming if there was a 40-story tower on top.
And since the Nets arena is smack in the middle of Atlantic Yards, then rooting for the Nets would be sticking it to the people who don’t like tall buildings! Or it would, if I had the same sorts of emotions that motivated Sarah Palin supporters. Which I just might, at least where Brooklyn is concerned.
Plus, the Knicks let Lin go to Houston. I mean, WTF?
So, Nets or Knicks? Advice wanted.
Imagine the following. You are sitting at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. While you are there, you see someone get punched in the face a few feet away. The victim staggers and collapses, bleeding, in front of you. Do you:
All three reactions would be honorable. A fourth would be a completely understandable variant on (1): move away and call 911 on your cellphone (within seconds, obviously) without memorizing any identifiable characteristics of the perpetrator.
What you do not do is what Christine Quinter and her father did, and then bragged about doing in a letter to the New York Times Metropolitan Diary column. I reproduce the letter for you below.
My father and I recently spent a lovely day in Manhattan. We saw a matinee performance by the New York City Ballet and met good friends for an early dinner on the Upper West Side.
While passing the time before our bus came in the Port Authority’s Deli Plus, we witnessed a fight. One of the young men was punched in the face and collapsed on the floor just a few feet away from us.
I think my father and I handled the situation like true New Yorkers. We didn’t panic or run for safety. We merely moved our $22 bag of cupcakes from the Magnolia Bakery out of the way to avoid having it splattered with blood and went on with our conversation.
Sweet Mary mother of God. Somebody please tell me that this letter is fake, or otherwise lacking in context, because the above is just unforgiveable.
I don’t think a whole lot about our time at East 71st Street, even though it lasted through most of my high school years. There were three reasons for that. The first was that I hated the neighborhood. The building was great — I made lots of friends, not counting the Irish heroin addict from the sixth floor who burglarized our apartment and received a ... well, in these more enlightened times I shouldn’t say ... in return. But by the late 1980s the East Side south of 86th and east of Lexington was going on its third decade of what would today be called gentrification, and while I greatly appreciated the fact that I could space out on the walk from the subway station with no fear of getting mugged, I hated the neighborhood’s wealth with a deeply-burning passion impossible to describe. The second reason for my lack of nostalgia or good-feeling to the area was that most of my good friends lived elsewhere. I spent much more waking time in Stuyvesant Town and Loisaida and Washington Heights ... and I probably spent more nights at my friend Guy’s house in Queens — also the borough from which I drew most of my friends. (My wife is from there!) Which brings us the third reason. Life inside the apartment was not particularly salubrious. Not that I’m complaining! It just wasn’t a great time, so while I have heavy nostalgia for the late 1980s in Rego Park and Stuy Town and Washington Heights and Harlem (East and otherwise) and Loisaida, not so much for East 71st Street.
I’ll digitize some photos at some point, but as of right now I don’t have any. Which says something about my feelings towards the address, despite the fact that the neighborhood was much nicer than 115, 93, 77, or anywhere in Brooklyn, Bayville, or North Miami Beach. So here I give you a picture from 1986, when I lived on East 71. Dinner for the first person to ID the 16-year-old me.
Forty-four years earlier, the East Side was significantly different from 1985-88. 416 East 71st, however, was remarkably similar. The difference is that in 1940 the building was representative of the census tract, whereas by late 1980s it was an outlier. It still had plenty of children, the sons and daughters of older folk who remained due to rent control rather than moving to the suburbs. Their kids were not in elite schools, and it was not easy to earn their toleration. It helped that I joined next-door Sokol Hall for gymnastics and tae kwon do. In short, the building was a little retro pocket of old-line white ethnics, in an neighborhood that had turned into a suburban-like mush of affluence. At the time it was not enough to compensate for my extreme antipathy to the rest of the neighborhood ... and to be honest, it is not enough now 24 years later. Maybe by the time my son turns 18.
In 1940, the entire neighborhood was Czech and Slovak. It wasn’t quite as Slavic as East Harlem was Italian, but it came close. Co-blogger Doug Muir had family who lived six blocks north at the time, and reports something similar.
The 1940 census counted 21 households at 416 East 71st Street. Of those, eleven had the head of household (or both, if a married couple) born in “Czechoslovakia,” “Slovakia,” or in one case, “Bohemia.” The twelfth reported that the head of household — a 66-year-old widower named Tilly Dran — had a birthplace in “Austria.” Tilly lived with a single daughter aged 39, a married daughter (age 48), her 52-year-old husband (Harry Ledak), and their 20-year-old granddaughter. The older daughter and Tilly’s son-in-law had also been born in “Austria.” It isn’t unreasonable to assume that “Austria” probably meant Czechoslovakia, considering as he had emigrated before 1901.
In addition to those 12, the Viddetzk (sp) family was born in New York (Joseph in 1905, Anna in 1914, and daughter Dorothy in 1934) but was likely of Czechoslovak origin. Similarly, up on the upper floors, Edward Holut (born in New York in 1894) lived with his “Austrian” mother. Meanwhile John Panelka of Ohio (33-years-old) lived with his 31-year-old wife from “Austria-Hungary” … who had been born in 1909, when there really was such a place. (They had two children, Eleanor aged 4, and Alfred aged 1.) Having moved into the building 44 years later, I am having trouble believing that John’s wife wasn’t actually from what would today be the Czech Republic or Slovakia.
That’s 15 households with origins inside the 1918-93 boundaries of Czechoslovakia. But there’s more! Sam and Anna Graycon (born in 1885 and 1884 respectively; she was in fact a year older than he was) reported having been born in Hungary. In 1885, Hungary included modern Slovakia. (Their 22-year-old daughter was born in New York.) The Slawinskis (born in 1875 and 1887 respectively) listed their birthplace as Poland at a time when there was no Poland. It is likely that they were Polish, but I am also sure that they felt comfortable around their fellow Slavs. (They lived with their four children, aged between 16 and 23.) In addition, the Hrabie family was born in New York and lived with their two children … along with the father’s mother, who had been born in Czechoslovakia.
At that point you’ve got 18 out of 21 households being some sort of Slavic — you can dig into the most West Indian parts of Brooklyn and Queens today and find less homogeneity. Who was left? Walter Thiele had been born in Germany in 1895, and his wife Olympia had been born in Russia in 1904. It’s possible that they weren’t Jewish, but that isn’t how I would bet. They lived their children, 18-year-old Rita and 13-year-old Ralph, both in school, and a lodger, Edward Parfer, who worked in a hospital laundry for $1500 per year. The family paid $32 per month in rent; nothing was reported from Mr. Parfer. For what it is worth, Edward had been born in New York in 1890.
The Cuthberts, aged 46 and 37, had both been born in Scotland. Their six-year-old son Robert was born in Short Hills, New Jersey, where they had been living in 1935. Cuthbert pere was a porter at a bank for $1352 a year. Their previous address implies serious downward mobility.
There was also Leo (age 37) and Georgette (age 33) Larkin and their 4-year-old son, John. Leo was from Pennsylvania and Georgette from New York. Leo was an unemployed dockworker who had earned $830 in the previous year; Georgette didn’t work. They paid $23 a month in rent: $276 per year. Admittedly, the area was crappy back then, but imagine somebody making $13,300 a year living there now. My mother did it … but that was (a) almost three decades ago; and (b) involved judicious use of the rent control laws and (c) a significant other.
The building hangs on around high-rise redevelopment that has utterly changed the character of the neighborhood. That is a good thing. I have moved left on most things over the years, but when it comes to land-use planning and historic preservation, I am of the libertarian “tear it down and build bigger” school. (I can accept that owners should have a property right to sunlight. But that is it.) I will survive if the charming brownstones of the Upper West Side are ripped down and replaced with 50-story towers ... and America will be better off. No need to mention the crappy little tenements around Pleasant Avenue. More towers, please, just like the ones on 93rd Street..
Before we end, I want to mention the Novak family. The widowed head of the family, Anna, had been born in Czechoslovakia in 1882. She lived with her three New York-born children, Emily (age 27), George (age 26), and Gerald (age 24.) The three children had eighth-grade educations. Emily worked as a bookkeeper for $1040 per year, and George worked as a delivery man for $680. Gerald was unemployed, but had previously worked as a machinist for $916.
Why do I report this? Because I knew George Novak, the bow-legged old man who ruled the building. He gave me fatherly advice on more than one occasion during the not-very-nice years of 1985-88. He was in his seventies, he had fought in World War Two, and he was a very good man. He deserves props, and I hope he is remembered.
I believe that this story was because of him. It does, in fact, date back to 1987. God bless you, Mr. Novak.
The Upper West Side of Manhattan, like East Harlem (and the upper reaches of what used to be called Yorkville) had become a slum by the 1970s. It never reached the abandoned gang-ridden depths of East Harlem, and parts remained nice … but in general it was crappy. The San Juan Hill area was cleared for Lincoln Center and the Amsterdam Houses. During the 1977 blackout, looting hit the entire area, but it was especially bad in Manhattan Valley and the side streets off Amsterdam Avenue in the eighties and nineties. Broadway in the seventies wasn’t burnt-out terrible, but it was far from today’s disneyground. Needle Park on 72nd Street was so named because of the used heroin needles that littered it, not its shape.
The area’s decline set in before World War Two, and that shows up in the census data. Two other things also show up. First, East Harlem’s fertility really was strange. Second, the rise of Adolf Hitler to power had a profound effect on this part of New York.
The first family listed at 317 West 77th are the Landers. Herman and Eve (49 and 35 years old) were both born in Russia. They both graduated high school. Herman’s profession is unclear — it’s listed as “propietor, furnished apartments,” with no wage income listed. He doesn’t own the building, though: the census has him down as a renter for $50 per month. (That’s $802 in 2011 dollars — half the market rate in the same building today, and for a place that was probably four times the size.) They lived with their daughters, Joy and Helene, 14 and 9 years old. They employed a live-in maid, Jennie Richardson, 20, a black woman born in New Jersey. Jennie had been living there for over five years, meaning that she worked for them as a teenager. Jennie didn’t graduate high school, but she is listed as having had three years. She earned $360 per year — $5,770 in 2011 dollars — for a 60-hour week. Room was probably worth another $420, judging from what lodgers in the building paid, but that’s still a remarkably low wage by modern standards.
The next family was a young couple, almost certainly refugees from the Nazis. Samuel and Mary Hirschaut were born in Germany and Russia, respectively, in 1914 and 1916. In 1935, Samuel lived in Germany and Mary was in Switzerland. Both graduated from high school; Samuel worked as a leather dealer on his own account — no wages were reported, but he is listed as having earned income from other sources. His wife modelled dresses for about $100 per year. Neither were working when the census was taken: Mary checked “yes” to seeking work, Samuel said “no” on account that he said “yes” to the question: “If not seeking work, did he have a job, business, etc.?”
The third couple are also German refugees: Solomon Frohwirth, aged 28, was born in Poland. His wife Lottie was born in Germany, and had the same age. Both had been living in Germany five years previously. Solomon was a fur dealer. Solomon had only a ninth-grade education, but his wife reported one year of college. Both the Frohwirths and the Hirschauts paid $35 a month in rent.
Next up were the Pustay brothers: Walter and Fred, aged 20 and 17, both from Connecticut by way of Hackensack, New Jersey. They worked as clerks, Walter for an oil company, Fred in “exporting,” for $910 and $256 per year. (In 2011 dollars, that’s a combined income of $18,700.) They supplemented their income by taking in three boarders. And by now the pattern in the building should be obvious: at least two of the boarders were refugees from Hitler. Max Weingarten, age 26, had one year of postgraduate education—it doesn’t say in what, but he worked as a motion picture importer. Max had been born in Poland ... but listed Austria as his place of residence in 1935. It isn’t hard to connect the dots. Ditto for the second housemate: Deron Wachenhum, a 48-year-old German man who had been living in France five years previously. He worked as a magazine reviewer for only $948 per year. (He was listed as having two years of college.) The odd-woman-out was Florence Black, a married 29-year-old Romanian woman who made hats for $1462 per year. She had been living in Manhattan in 1935, and so was not likely a refugee. There was no sign of her husband.
The Pustay brothers did pretty well off the lodging. Their rent was $45 per month, but each boarder paid $35 — a nice annual increment of $720. ($11,500 in 2011 dollars.) Plus ça change and all that.
Finally, we have the Gerschel family. Stanley (age 40) was from New Jersey and his wife Alice (age 31) came from Pennsylvania. Their monthly rent was $38. The couple had probably experienced recent downward-mobility: in 1935, they had lived in Baldwin, Long Island. Baldwin had experienced explosive suburban growth in the 1920s, going from 5,000 to 12,000 over the decade. (That’s a lot: the town covers less than three square miles.) It seems likely that they had been a suburban couple in 1935, and lost their home in the 1937 recession. (Conversely, many families lost title during the 1929-33 collapse, but weren’t forced to leave for some time thereafter: the Gerschels might have also fallen into that category.) Stanley sold dresses for $2,000 per year. His wife was listed as a dental assistant and did not say that she was unemployed, but reported no income. I’m not sure what to make of that: volunteer work? (She had one year of college, and so some training.) Pride? They lived with their 8-year-old daughter, Patricia, and a lodger.
Nicholas Vasilieff was not a refugee from Hitler. (By this point, I was surprised to realize that.) He had been born in Russia in 1906, but listed San Francisco as his place of residence in 1935. He had been unemployed for 26 weeks as of the census (March 24-30), but listed his occupation as dancer and claimed to have worked for 30 weeks in the past year — the math does not quite add up — for $1200 in wages. The Gerschels charged him no rent, so I suspect that he was a family friend or a distant relative.
It turns out that Vasilieff actually was a dancer. He performed in Laugh, Town, Laugh! in 1942. (Were dancers exempt from the draft?) He then moved back West to Portland, where he helped found first a dance school, and then in 1954 the Portland Ballet Society. He died in Portland in 1976. His son Nick Vasilieff currently lives in that city, as does his grandaughter Nikole.
When my father moved into 317 West 77th in 1982, it was divided into nine apartments: one on the first floor, and two on the four upper floors. In 1940 it only had five apartments: likely one on each floor. That would explain the boarders: the tiny one-bedrooms into which they been divided by 1982 could not have held five people in anything less than barracks-like conditions, which would not be consistent with charging $35 per month for the privilege, not given what you could rent for that money. (Rent control did not yet exist in New York City.)
The neighboring building to the east, 315 West 77th, had already been subdivided into 16 apartments. In some ways, it was more interesting than 317 West 77th. In fact, in some ways it seems like it could have been transported out of the 21st Century, except for the rents. The average rent was $28.16 — a astonishingly low $451 in today’s money, with none under $400 or over $584. (From here on, all figures will be in 2011 dollars — the 1940 number multiplied by 16.) The reason for the low rents, of course, was twofold: low incomes and few zoning restrictions.
First, it had no children in it. None at all. That shouldn’t be surprising. You wouldn’t be surprised at a Manhattan apartment building with no children in it today, when 18% of New York City’s population is under age 15. Well, in 1940 only 20% of the City’s population was under 15; not that different — and the birth rate today is higher.
Second, three units were occupied by divorced women. The first was Vada (sp?) Littlepage, a 35-year-old professional photographer from Forth Worth, Texas. The second was Ida Howe, a 48-year old nurse from England. The third unit was occupied by a mother-daughter team, both from Mexico, both divorced. The daughter worked as a manicurist for $260 per year — her mother was out of the labor force, but reported having nonlabor income. Mom was named Rebeca Sanders, while the daughter was named Amelia García, the implication being that mom had married an American, split from him, and then brought Amelia up when she split from her husband. Amelia, it should be noted, was 36, and both reported living in New York five years previously.
There were seven single never-married working women in the building. 25-year-old Geraldine Bordeaux, from Quebec (“Canada-French”), lived with her older brother Francino. Both were unemployed “artist models.” Dorothy Donnelly was from “Canada-English,” 26-years-old, and an unemployed saleswoman from a department store. 23-year-old Anne Allen was from New York (although she had been living in the apartment since she turned 18) and worked as a stenographer in a bank for $17,120 in today’s money. 26-year-old Evelyn Griffin from Illinois worked as a receptionist in a department store for $12,480. Nina Echeverría from Uruguay worked as a floorlady in a dress shop for $16,000 and 33-year-old Edna Dolan from Massachusetts — who reported living in Astoria, Queens, five years earlier — made $21,120 working in a key factory. 24-year-old Alice Maher, also from New York, earned $12,480 as a bakers’ assistant … but reported having dropped out of the labor force. I suspect that she had just gotten engaged, since the census-taker had written “M” under marital status before crossing it out and pencilling in “S.”
The four married couples consisted of a native New Yorker married to an Irishwoman (both age 36), two Irish immigrants (aged 41 and 38), a Spanish chef married to a Panamanian stenographer from Los Angeles (aged 37 and 31, and clearly married for less than five years, since they were in different states then), and a 30-year-old unemployed laborer from Massachusetts married to a 29-year woman from New Jersey.
Add in widowed Gertrude Weckler from Germany (a 66-year-old who fit corsets in a department store) and divorced George Pitscharer from Austria (a 50-old bartender) and you have the set of a modern sitcom.
A happier view of 1940 than the one from my building on 115th Street. Moreover, the view from 317 West 77th in 2005 was even more marvellous!
Next up ... well, I am not sure. Maybe the people who lived in the houses that were demolished to make way for 100 Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn?
The United States recently released the 1940 census manuscripts. They are fascinating. I am sad and depressed to realize that right-wing craziness means that our grandchildren in 2080 will not see the like for 2010, where the census was pared down to ten incredibly-boring questions. Hopefully, that will change.
It isn’t that those people (or, God forbid, robots) won’t be able to call up information about their ancestors in 2010. I have no doubt that with a flick of the hand towards some sort of hyper-attuned artificial intelligence agent — or at least a verbal request delivered in natural English — they’ll be able to instantly recall all the information that exists about any one of us. No, it’s that they won’t be able to call up the same sort of information about the people who lived in same place they live in. Because, you see, we don’t record that stuff anymore. And it’s fascinating! Social change made real.
We moved around a lot when I was a kid, albeit always within the counties of New York, Kings, Nassau, and what is today called Miami-Dade. I don’t recall the exact address of the house in North Miami Beach or the one in Bayville or the apt on 93rd; and neither 1780 First Avenue nor 34 Vanderbilt Plaza nor 100 Ocean Parkway existed in 1940. But 414 East 115th Street, 317 West 77th Street, and 416 East 71st Street were there!
East Harlem is today becoming a Mexican neighborhood, filled with young children and struggling parents, with lots of green-white-and-red alongside Old Glory. In 1940, it looked about the same, just without the eagle.
414 East 115th Street then, like now, had five families in it. The first listed is the Squittieri clan. Dominick and Geneviene had been born in Italy in 1888 and 1890 respectively. Dominick ran a grocery store and worked a 60-hour week to earn $1300 per year — $20,800 in 2011 dollars. They rented for $35 a month, or $561 in 2011 dollars. Dominick was listed as having had two years of schooling; his wife had never been to school at all. They lived with their ten children: Carmine, 24; Alphonse, 23; James, 22; Helen, 20; Yolanda, 18; John, 17; Mary, 16; Domenick Jr., 15; Louise, 12; and Gilda, 10.
You can see the lingering effect of the Depression in the statistics. Carmine worked as a painter (a 48-hour work week) for $1190 a year — $19,100 in 2011 dollars. Alphonse was not in the labor force. It isn’t completely clear why: there is a squiggle that is probably an “H,” meaning he was doing “housework.” It could, however, be a “U,” which would indicate “unable,” meaning a disability. He was not a student. His sister, Helen, was also out of the labor force and clearly listed as doing “housework.”
James, Yolanda, and John were unemployed and looking for work. The enumerator put “new worker” as their profession. All three had been unemployed for over a year. Carmine, Alphonse, James, Helen and Yolanda had all dropped out of school in the eighth grade; John had finished one year of high school before dropping out. The four youngest children were all in school.
Of course, it was a different time. I do not know what happened to the Squittieri family, but I bet you they went on to economic success — something that a Mexican-American family with the same statistics today will probably not achieve. But I don’t know: in 2022, it might be possible to try to track them down in the 1950 census.
The Mango family looked a lot like the Squittieris. Anthony had been born in Italy in 1880. His wife Antonette, however, had been born in America in 1887. Still, being born in America hadn’t given her any more opportunities — like Geneviene Squittieri, she was listed as having no education. (Anthony had eight years of schooling.) Anthony worked as a pressman in a junk shop for $926 per year, no vacations, and a 54-hour work week. ($14,800 in today’s money.) They lived with their seven children: John, 27; Louie, 26; Theresa, 22; Josephine, 20; Mary, 18; Emily, 14; and James, 12. None of the adult males made it past the eighth grade; Josephine had one year of high school and Mary had two — Emily and James were in school.
The Mango children did a little better in the labor market. John worked as a “shearer,” which can’t mean what I think it means. (Where the hell would you find sheep in Manhattan?) He cleared $1480 ($23,700 today) working 35 weeks at 40 hours. Louie was a shipping clerk, earning $625 ($10,000 today) on a 40-hour week for a full year. Theresa did something I can’t make out—“Frlnger”?—also for $625 and the same terms. The total household income, therefore, was $58,500 in today’s dollars. Mary was unemployed and looking for work; Josephine was not, helping out around the house instead. They paid only $32 per month in rent, or $513 in today’s money. Still, remember, I lived in those apartments: they were about 600 square feet, plus change, and that rent is actually not that different in real terms from the 1970s and early 1980s. (Our toilet had a cable that you had to full down to flush, something I’m pretty sure had to have been installed before World War Two, so these families enjoyed private bathrooms along with central heat and electricity.)
The other families looked a little more modern. Angelina Lombardo was from Italy, eighty years old, and lived alone. Her rent was $7 per month. No wage income was listed, but average monthly social security benefits for widows in 1940 were $20.36, although the program had only just started and I do not know if she would have qualified. Hopefully, she had some savings or support from children.
The Caldarise family were New York-born, 33 and 32 years, old, with three children (Dorothy, Joseph, and Violet) aged 10, 8, and 6. They had started young, but appeared to have taken control of their fertility: Antonette Caldarise had not had any children since she was 27, as opposed to Antonette Mango, who had her last child at age 41 with no more than a four-year gap between them, let alone Geneviene Squittieri. Joseph Caldarise worked (I think) making chromium plates for $1352 ($21,700) per year and a reasonable 40-hour week. (No vacations, though.) They paid $19 ($305) per month in rent.
Finally, there are the Antonuccis. Michael Antonucci, New York born, was 44-years-old and unemployed. He had, however, only been unemployed for six weeks — he had previously worked as a “buyer” for $1040 per year. His wife was quite a bit younger: Millie Antonucci, also New York-born was only 28. Neither had more than an eighth-grade education. They had only one child, baby Virginia, aged nine months. Rent? Twenty dollars.
Now for something important: language. The census did not ask every person about the language spoken at home. Rather, each census manuscript page asked two randomly-selected people “Language spoken in home in earliest childhood.” On the two pages covered by 414 East 115th, all four people asked happened to have been born in America ... and three of them reported “Italian.” The only one to report English was little Violet Caldarise, who had two young New York-born parents.
For those of you who know the statistics, this is not surprising: Mexican-Americans are learning English (and losing Spanish) quite a bit more rapidly than their Italian predecessors. But it is, I think, worth repeating.
Next up: 317 West 77th Street.
So before I left for Mexico, I was talking with my old friends Guy and Omar and Carlo, and we all agreed that those of us with some connection to the borough of Brooklyn are less likely to bring it up than we used to be. Why? Well, simply put, the hipsters. “Brooklyn” does not mean what it used to. In my case, this is not a bad ting thing, since I have a better claim on Manhattan, including parts that only recently became nice. But for most of us, it kind of sucks. Who are these people? What have they brought, besides the thoroughly awesome Barcade?
Seriously. Go to Barcade. A little while after taking the below photo, I played Asteroids until the muscles on my right hand started to scream. If you are of a certain age, you will be able to find your poison, and without that ever-present fear of violence that hung over actual arcades in the 1980s. Plus, beer!
Upshot: these two videos made me laugh.
and (watch for the hipster bemoaning, even though they have not got to Bay Ridge, AFAIK):
Learn. In the second video, watch the pizza thing at 2:05. That is where I must say that East Harlem beats Brooklyn. (My wife is my witness!) And should you tell me that the whole shit-people-say meme is over, well, then I can respond that the best thing about deactivating my Facebook page is that I do not have to care.
So, I’ve gotten some hyperventilating emails about the fact that Arizona is looking to establish a State Guard independent of the National Guard. “Facism, racism, separatism, end of the Republic, yadda.” Oh, gosh. This is monumentally stupid, what Glen Beck would talk about if he shared my political beliefs. There is absolutely nothing odd or sinister in the Arizona bill.
Back in the day, I (like anyone who was ever in the NYARNG) routinely ran into people from the New York Guard. What’s the New York Guard? It’s a state defense force, authorized by a 1955 act of Congress. State defense force members do not receive federal military training (National Guard members undergo the same training as members of the regular armed services) and therefore cannot be federalized. Back then, their uniforms were almost indistinguishable from regular NYARNG (IIRC); today it seems they wear standard Army ACUs with a funny black cap and brightly-colored state flag.
Establishing a state defense force seems like a silly idea: if New York didn’t have its Guard (which has trouble meeting its 1,700-person authorized strength, what with the low pay and benefits) it isn’t clear why you’d want to invent it. But the Arizona bill isn’t a threat to the Republic, and it pains me when American liberals start to travel down paranoid rabbit holes the way too many of their conservative brethern have recently. In short, calm down, there really is nothing to see here.
When asked why Canadian cities are so built-up compared to American ones, Martin Wisse of the Netherlands suggests, “No white flight.” It’s an appealing answer, given America’s massive urban ghettoes, but it’s almost certainly wrong.
Consider the differences between Seattle and Vancouver. For an American city, Seattle is very white and disproportionately childless. The city, however, splatters across the horizon, with few high-rises outside the central business district, while Vancouver is relatively compact and its proliferating residential towers reach to the sky. All this despite geography in Seattle that should encourage density!
The Seattle-Vancouver comparison alone should make you doubt the validity of the “white flight” hypothesis. There are other reasons, however, to reject it. Until 1990 none of Canada’s metropolitan areas declined in population — the country didn’t see shifts in economic geography like what turned cities like Buffalo, Detroit, New Orleans, Flint, Akron, Pittsburgh, Dayton, and Syracuse into what they are today. (The 1990s recession changed that, but the places that shrank tended to small, and located in Atlantic Canada or northern Ontario and Quebec.)
More importantly, white flight can’t explain why the nonblack sections of American cities look rather different from their Canadian counterparts. Nor can white flight (by itself) explain why American suburbs strongly resist residential high-rises, whereas Canadian ones (Montreal excepted) take to them with relative zeal. For example, Chicago’s North Side does not look like Toronto, save for a belt along the lake. Nor does Boston’s central and northern urban area — Back Bay, South End, North End, Southie, Brookline, Allston, Brighton, Cambridge, Somerville, Chelsea, Watertown, Arlington, Belmont, Charlestown, and East Boston — look much like East York or Scarborough. It is true, of course, that the great American ghetto is an American phenomenon, created by America’s strange racial caste system, but racial tensions don’t explain why Houston looks very different from Calgary.
So if isn’t race, then what is it? Another possible culprit is roads. American cities have a lot more freeway-miles per capita than their Canadian counterparts. The logic is not that freeways destroyed the neighborhoods that they cut through. I’m sorry, but speaking as someone who grew up in neighborhoods that had roads driven through or beside them, that argument is just stupid. (Yes, this applies to Toronto.) The plausible logic, rather, is that inner city neighborhoods were always relatively undesirable, but without subsidized freeways it would have harder to leave them for lower-density suburbs.
I am sympathetic to this argument, but I have some doubts. (Not least that my wife and I prefer dense inner city neighborhoods to the suburbs.) It is almost certainly true that American-style sprawl requires massive investment in freeways. Fewer freeways, more density. More density, more high-rises. The problem? If density the key, why does Los Angeles look so different from Toronto despite being denser? The 11.8 million people who live in Los Angeles’s urbanized area (that is, the area defined by the lights visible from space at night, minus fringe areas with a population density below 1,000 people per mile) are packed in at 7,068 per square mile, whereas their 4.6 million Torontonian counterparts live at 6,835 per square mile. Perhaps it is the freeway net that allows Los Angeles to splatter its density more uniformly than Toronto, but that feels ad hoc as an explanation, especially since Toronto’s suburbs are actually very densely-populated compared to Boston, Chicago, or New York.
The other possible explanation is regulation. In this view, roads may have contributed to American sprawl, but zoning is what really keeps it in place. For this view to be correct, Canadian zoning has to be less strict than American zoning. Are Canadian cities more likely to approve density, allow smaller lots and narrower streets, require fewer parking spaces, and permit higher buildings? This is not hard to believe, considering the far greater control that provincial governments exercise over municipalities in Canada, but I do not know the answer.
In point of fact, the “roads” and “regulations” hypotheses may be hard to disentangle. If a lack of roads drives up land values (by limiting the effective supply of land), then there will be more political pressure to allow dense development. After all, people need places to live. On the other hand, if it is easy to get out to the burbs (via all those freeways) then there will be less political pressure on inner-city areas to permit taller buildings. Cambridge, for example, saw a high-rise boom in the 1970s, which the city deliberately stepped on. As a result, the Central Square subway stop (where we live) is stupidly surrounded by two-story buildings instead of 20-story towers. Our building was built in the early 1990s, and was effectively capped at five floors. Without Boston’s two ring roads (I-95 aka “Route 128” and I-495), the pressure to build up in places like Cambridge would have been harder to resist.
In fact, however, it is possible to disentangle between “roads” and “regulations,” by testing for the effect of zoning changes on land values. Of course, it’s never that easy — endogeneity is always a problem. Ed Glaeser has a paper suggesting that zoning is determinative in shaping American cities in California and the East Coast north of Virginia. He has a particularly-detailed study of Boston that supports the zoning hypothesis: market forces (given the existing road net) would make Greater Boston rather denser were the regulations less restrictive. (Newton would look like Brookline; Brookline would look like Brooklyn; and Boston itself would be filled with high-rise towers.) On the other hand, his same work implies that in most of America it is the road net what produced sprawl, and not race or land-use regulation.
In short, most American cities sprawl because the federal government built roads out to the horizon. The exceptions are along the coasts, where U.S. cities would look more like Canadian ones in the absence of tight zoning laws. The increasing segregation of immigrants appears to be an effect of the above, rather than a cause. Of course, the great American ghetto is a striking and horrible thing, but we would have had them with or without freeways and zoning.
I was in Toronto last week. I’ll discuss the reasons in a later post. My wife and I stayed out in the suburbs. Our hotel was in Scarborough, right north of Highway 401. We spent most of our time (when I wasn’t downtown at the University of Toronto) in the further suburbs of Pickering and Ajax. Most of it could be in the United States.
Downtown Toronto is about as generic as it is possible for a North American downtown to get. This is not news. And some parts of the suburbs, like Ajax (pictured above) look like the more depressing parts of Orange County, California, save for the houses being in a slightly different shade of Caucasian skin tone. But even after saying all that, when my father-in-law said that Toronto really doesn’t feel like America, we knew exactly what he meant.
He meant the high-rises. You see giant towers everywhere, where you wouldn’t expect them to be. We were in a 14-story hotel, for example, across a ten-lane freeway from a sprawling shopping center and not far away from subdivisions like the one above, where every house looked alike. But there were two ginormous 30-plus-story condo towers going up right next door. And there was nothing unique about this. High-rises sprouted in parts of the city where you would be very surprised to see them south of the border. You really need to rent a car and drive around to appreciate the difference; hanging around downtown or taking the subway won’t show it to you.
But I am skeptical of both statistics and personal observation. I won’t relax unless they agree. So I went to the Emporis website, and pulled up statistics on buildings over 35 meters or 12 floors. What do you know?Normalized by population Toronto ranks below the high-rise forests of Honolulu and Vancouver, but looks more like the megalopolis of New York (and the D.C.-Arlington core of Greater Washington) than other mid-sized North American cities. Chicago and Philadelphia don’t come close.
Still, the above chart is misleading, because Toronto proper contains 45% of the metropolitan population. In other cities, like San Francisco or Miami or Seattle, the central city is just a sideshow — an important neighborhood, but not representative of the metropolitan area. Miami-Dade, which I know very very well, has a high-rise core and a couple of clumps elsewhere, but nobody would call the place a high-rise city. Ditto San Francisco — Marin and the East Bay and San Mateo are all low-slung places. So I cut out all the places where the center city holds less than a quarter of the metropolitan population.
The result is even more dramatic. Toronto is up there with NYC as an outlier. In fact, all Canadian cities are outliers, even the ones that look like they aren’t. Why? Well, central Ottawa, Edmonton, and Calgary contain respectively 67%, 63%, and 85% of their metropolitan populations. Chicago, Las Vegas, Philly, Houston, and Los Angeles, on the other hand, only contain respectively 30%, 29%, 26%, 38%, and 30% of their metropolitan populations. Their central municipalities are a big part of the metropolis, but the cities as a whole feel a lot more low-slung than the central city figures indicate. Central Calgary and Edmonton, on the other hand, feel like parts of much bigger metropoli than they are when you visit, because they’ve got these big crowded bustling and disorderly urban cores than you don’t associate with North American cities that have only a million or so people in them.
Canadian cities really are different, and it really is something that you can’t fail to notice without needing to look very hard. The only way you’d fail to notice is if your only exposure to America consisted of Honolulu and New York. Now, that isn’t hard to imagine, but it’s gotta be rare.
But this just raises a question: why do Canadian cities sprout so many more high-rises than their American (or Mexican) counterparts?
ADDENDUM: Another way to slice the data below the fold.
So it’s Elena Kagan. I’m not going to get into the merits; I’m not particularly bothered. I’m much more bothered by the Attorney General’s statement that we need a bill relaxing Miranda rights. That said, there is something very important about the appointment: for the first time, we will have four justices from four boroughs: Elena Kagan (Manhattan), Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Brooklyn), Antonin Scalia (Queens), and Sonia Sotomayor (the Bronx). Not only that, but all four of them have New York accents.
Note the way Ms. Kagan pronounces “thought.” Most excellent. Ms. Kagan grew up on the Upper West Side. Aged 50, she may be the last generation of children from that area to possess a distinctive New York accent of the older type. You can still hear the modern type in and around Manhattan Valley, but even there it is fading out in favor a more generic Northeastern accent.
Yeah, that’s Manhattan Valley in 1899! Somebody needs to add a soundtrack.
“Dewey beats Truman” is an iconic headline. The election was close (arguments otherwise smack of hindsight bias) and could have gone the other way. What if it had?
Since 1932 … the northern Negro has voted Democratic, with the exception of 1946 in New York. A theory … is that the northern Negro voter today holds the balance of power in Presidential elections for the simple arithmetical reason that the Negroes not only vote in a bloc but are geographically concentrated in … New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan.
This explains the assiduous and continuous cultivation of the New York Negro vote by Governor Dewey and his insistence that his controllable legislature pass a state antidiscrimination act.
There are several straws … that the northern Negro is today ready to swing back to his traditional moorings — the Republican Party. Under the tutelage of Walter White, of the NAACP, and other intelligent educated and sophisticated leaders, the Negro voter has become a cynical hardboiled trader. He believes the rising dominance of Southern conservatives in the Democratic councils of Congress and of the Party makes it only too clear that he can go no further by supporting the present Administration.
Republican politicians … make no great secret of their intent to try to pass a FEPC Act and anti-poll tax statute in the next Congress. The Democratic Party can only point to the obvious — that the really great improvement in the economic lot of the Negro of the North has come in the last 16 years only because of the sympathies and policies of a Democratic Administration. The trouble is that this has worn a bit thin with the passage of the years. Unless the Administration makes a determined campaign to help the Negro (and everybody else) on the problems of high prices and housing … the Negro vote is already lost. Unless there are new and real efforts (as distinguished from mere political gestures which are today thoroughly understood and strongly resented by sophisticated Negro leaders) the Negro bloc, which certainly in Illinois and probably in New York and Ohio, does hold the balance of power, will go Republican.
It wasn’t against the Dodgers, so I didn’t spend the bank to get to the Bronx. Instead, I watched the games at the Thirsty Scholar in Somerville, which appears to have (as I’ve mentioned before) become an unofficial Yankees bar. I showed up with my high school buddy Carlo Cerruti; other friends drifted in as the night progressed. Ultimately, there were six of us; but we were there with around fifteen other fans who’d independently discovered that you were unlikely to be assaulted in Yankees regalia at this place. I speak as someone who has been told by one Boston bartender that his cheering was “inappropriate” and by another “I’m going to have to ask you to tone it down, if you’re going to root for them.” And those were in yuppie upscale places that I’d scouted in the Harvard Square area because I thought they’d be more Yankees-friendly. Polite yes, friendly no.
The other good thing about the Scholar is that you can smoke outside in full view of several large vidscreens.
No blow-by-blow of the game. I mean, it was a bar! Nothing interesting, the way there woulda been at an actual game, that you can’t get from the sports pages. There were three Phillies fans in the place, all dressed up with Victorino jerseys and all, but they left in the seventh. What?? The game was by no means over at that point. If they hadn’t dressed for the occasion, okay, but they had. Why put in all that prep work and go to a Yankees-friendly place just to give up and leave before the fat lady has sung?
There was also a bartender from Terry Francona’s favorite bar. He bites his tongue about his true allegiance when on the job. You also had the brother-and-sister team from the Big Apple. I know, the great thing about New York is that nobody looks like they’re from New York. But to this native New Yorker, this pair just looked like they should be from New York. (They were. The Bronx, in fact.)
Bartender gave us victory shots. On top of at least four pints of brown ale and three cigars that proved to be a serious mistake.
Anyway, the Series took my mind off the frightening amount of work I have to do and the depressing sight of the U.S. Senate doing whatever it is that the Senate does. And it brought a ring back to where it belongs. Now all we need to do is repeat the feat in 2010.