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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

The Grand Cavern and the Back Corner

I got around to visiting the new Gilder Center by Studio Gang at the American Museum of Natural History last weekend, and it's visually stunning. It's a grand cavern, with stairs and stadium seating at the focal point. It's breathtaking. It's also a little heartbreaking.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Street Corner Campaign Stop

A campaign stop on a street corner is a politician's opportunity to connect with voters by speaking directly to them. When you draw a crowd, people walking by tend to stop to see what is happening. It is also an opportunity to produce images for campaign material, so the backdrop can make a difference in choosing the right corner.

In the Norwood neighborhood in The Bronx, one street corner stands out after a couple campaign stops:

The mural creates a distinctive, identifiable place, while its bright colors lend positive energy to the scene. The wall without building entrances, combined with a relatively wide sidewalk, make it function well for drawing in a crowd to listen without blocking anyone.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Sitting on Public Stairs

They are a place to rest, to wait for someone you're meeting, to relax and watch the world go by. On a thriving city street, large public stairs are naturally filled with sitting people.

Steps at the New York Public Library https://maps.app.goo.gl/2mDZYiMqBh4AhmRH9

Steps at the Metropolitan Museum of Art https://maps.app.goo.gl/AUwfbgf6ENYpHErr5 

So when I see an image of a large staircase on a busy street with nobody sitting on it, something is wrong with the picture:

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Narrow Channel

This is the sort of project that makes people resentful of cyclists.

A bike channel along the side of a newly reconstructed step street

The bike channels installed on newly reconstructed step streets like this look like a useful upgrade to help cyclists who may have difficulty going around to power up the steep hills. A different design, however, could have been useful for more people, namely pedestrians with carts. 

People struggling to return home with their shopping can easily look at the money the City spent to rebuild their step street, consider the attention given to the needs of other people (the people with bicycles), and easily conclude that nobody cared about their ability to lug their basic necessities home. And they wouldn't really be wrong.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

The Path of Restoration

Abandoned places in New York City are becoming increasingly rare. On a recent excursion with my son, I intended to go explore an abandoned place I hadn't visited for a few years. When we got there, I discovered that it had been reactivated.

The staircase down from the street had previously been walled off, but now the wall and the fence on top of it had been altered to reopen the stairs onto the sidewalk. The path that wraps around under the railroad tracks to the train station has been cleared and repaved. The vines that had covered the carved stone on the wall have been cleared off. A new fence closes off the train tracks, replacing the ruins of the old iron fence that had been broken and partially consumed by decades of tree growth. Construction debris that had previously been dumped in this area was gone and the place looks remarkably clean. We saw a couple people stroll or jog through enjoying the path and stairs while we were there.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Bad Markings

This shared-use path becomes precariously narrow on the bridge over the Bronx River. It is barely wide enough to comfortably ride; forget trying to pass anybody else. The thing is, there is some residual roadway space that could be repurposed to fix this problem.

The path drops from a full 14-feet-wide shared-use path
right at the bridge

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Policing Graffiti

When the police remove graffiti, it is not about beautifying the neighborhood. It is not even really about crime, either. It is about control.

It is remarkable how often the NYPD publicizes its graffiti cleanups, and troubling how disappointingly ugly the results often turn out. My first reaction is to feel like that is a petty complaint. They are volunteering their time, after all, to do something for the community, right? The thing is, what they are doing is trying to maintain their control over the neighborhood.

Graffiti is a crime and removing the traces of crime makes the neighborhood feel more safe, so the story goes. Often they will throw in the fear of gangs, too. Yet when they remove the graffiti, they often do not actually remove the traces of "crime."

Consider these photos recently tweeted by the NYPD:

Crudely covering over the tags leaves the walls with a mangy appearance. It is still "unsightly," and anybody who glances at it can plainly see that somebody's tags have been covered over. There is a two-part dynamic in these unsightly displays: it symbolically demonstrates the power of the police to remove competing claims to public space, and it preserves a sense of disorder that justifies the need for strong policing. Ugliness is a tool to produce fear, and the police use it to foster a sense of dependence on them for protection.

If there is any doubt that the effect is to exercise control, rather than to create an environment that communicates respect for the law, consider this tweet:
In both sets of photos, there were illegally parked NYPD vehicles blocking the fire hydrant and the crosswalk. What these images show is that they have little concern about the actual safety or appearance of the law. Instead, they just show that they removed a challenge to their power.

The NYPD has even gone as far as removing a legal mural when they did not like the way they were being portrayed. They called that censorship "broken windows policing," too.

So it really is not surprising that the "Blue Lives Matter" teenager who traveled across state lines to confront protesters, and murdered two of them, was out removing anti-police graffiti before he went on his killing spree.