Rain-Soaked, But Still Fearless

On this dank Friday morning in lower Manhattan, I endured the raindrops for a few blocks for a brief morning walk.  When I’m on the road I like to check out the environs and see if there is anything interesting.  This morning, my goal was Fearless Girl — the sculpture positioned directly opposite the iconic charging bull down by Wall Street.

“Fearless” is a good description of the young girl, but “defiant” or “resolute” might be even better.  She stands fists on hips and legs firmly anchored, chin raised and ponytail fluttering in the breeze, but her face is very placid, without a trace of emotion except, perhaps, a slight smile.  Fearless Girl is ready for anything.

Fearless Girl apparently has become something of a tourist attraction — although nobody else was around on this rainy Friday morning — but some people question what message is intended by her placement across from a bull ready to charge.  The naysayers wonder is the juxtaposition is supposed to convey that women oppose rising stock values, or that Wall Street is anti-woman, or some other quasi-political/economic message.  I don’t know about the intended message, but I did like the portrayal of a girl calmly facing down a dangerous bull that seems to be made wary of by her very presence and determination.  It makes for a very cool picture.

Advertisements

Advantage, Columbus

Look, I’m a big fan of the Big Apple.  New York City offers so much, and is one of the handful of special American cities that has a unique feel and spirit all its own.  Normally, I wouldn’t even compare Columbus to Gotham, because it’s just not fair.

But now I’ve finally found something where Columbus has the advantage:  Columbus is not steeling itself for the “Summer of Agony” in 2017.  New York City, in contrast, is.

03amtrak-master768It’s supposed to be the “Summer of Agony” in Manhattan because there’s going to be a partial shutdown of Penn Station, one of the principal transportation hubs for NYC commuters, to allow for repairs because the station’s tracks are falling apart.  (In fact, two recent Amtrak derailments are blamed on the crappy quality of the Penn Station tracks.)  The partial closure of Penn Station means that thousands of people who get to their jobs via rail to Penn Station are going to have to ditch their long-standing commuting patterns and find an alternative way to get to work.  And in New York City, there just aren’t that many other options that aren’t already operating at peak, or close to peak, capacity.

So what are people who commute from Connecticut or New Jersey or Westchester County into the City supposed to do in the meantime?  Some people are trying to get temporary housing in Manhattan, and some employers are offering work-at-home options.  But here’s an idea — why not forget the New York City scene altogether and move to Columbus?  It’s cheap, it’s friendly . . . and you’re not going to find much agony here.  In fact, if you shop around, you might just find a place that allows you to take a brisk, refreshing, stress-free 20-minute walk to work.

Sure, Gothamites might scoff at the idea of leaving their land of towering skyscrapers and 24-hour delis for a place out here in “flyover country.”  That’s fine and perfectly understandable . . . for now.  Let’s see how they feel about it after living through the “Summer of Agony.”  A few months of soul-rending, teeth-grinding stress during a two-hour commute might just change a few minds.

The Technology Of Fighting Terrorism

Officials say that Ahmad Khan Rahami, the suspect in the New York City dumpster bombing that occurred on Saturday night, was captured in part because of an array of security cameras.  Several cameras took footage of Rahami lurking near the site of the bombings, and the photos and a license plate reader allowed officials to track and eventually apprehend Rahami.  As part of the process, authorities also sent out an alert to NYC cell phone users identifying Rahami as the suspect and asking for help in finding and capturing him.

57e06ccb130000930639d159The security cameras that took pictures of Rahami are part of a system of 8,000 cameras in Manhattan.  Officials call it the “Ring of Steel.”  Footage from the cameras, which are both government and private owned, is fed into the Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center, where it is monitored by police.  And the camera system apparently will only grow more extensive — New York is considering installing cameras in every street light, too.  There also are more than 200 license plate readers in New York City that can triangulate information with GPS systems to allow help officials track and capture suspect vehicles.

Other technology weapons deployed in the fight against terrorism in NYC include biological, chemical, and radiation sensors, “shot monitors” that detect gunfire, a system that collects alerts on suspicious packages or persons, and computer systems that analyze and organize the mass of information being received.

8,000 cameras already, and more on the way.  Real-time video feeds.  License plate readers.  Cell phone alerts.  Countless monitors.  GPS systems.  Vast computer data storage and analytic programs.  It’s the 21st century, folks, and we’ve got the high-tech law enforcement technology to prove it.  And don’t forget, too, that everyone you encounter on the streets has a device in their purse or pocket that will allow them to take a picture or video of anything interesting, too.

New York City must be the most photographed, monitored, analyzed place on Earth.  People who are concerned about the erosion of privacy — like me — can bemoan a future where innocent people are being routinely photographed, videotaped, and monitored by law enforcement as they go about their affairs, but whether we like it or not it’s the reality of the modern, terrorist-fighting world.  This time, the systems worked.

Lilliputian Lodging

We all know that New York City housing prices are absurd and out of control — so much so that city officials subsidize the housing needs of people who are making six-figure incomes.  Now there’s a new potential solution to the Big Apple’s housing problems.  It’s called micro-living.

The idea is simple: make apartment units that are smaller than standard New York City apartments.  Much, much smaller, in fact.   The apartment units at Carmel Place range from 265 square feet to 360 square feet, which required a waiver of the NYC minimum-size requirement of 400 square feet.  The units feature kitchenettes and space-saving devices, like a desk that folds into a table and a bed that retracts from the wall, as well as a small balcony.

cramped-spaceTo get a sense of how small these apartments are, consider that the standard size of a two-car garage is 24 x 24, which equals 576 square feet, or more than twice the size of the smallest micro-apartment.  The largest micro-apartment is less than two-thirds that size.  But the market price tags for the micro-units aren’t small — at least not by Midwestern standards.  The market-rents for the micro-units range from $2,650 a month to $3,150 a month.  (New York City being what it is, 40 percent of the units have rates set by affordable housing programs that top out at $1,500 per month, which still seems like a lot for the privilege of living in the rough equivalent of a one-car garage.)

I’m all for living in smaller spaces and making more efficient use of space; it’s one of the reasons we moved from the ‘burbs to our current home.  265 square feet, however, seems way too tiny for comfort — even if only one person lives there.  Maybe New Yorkers are conditioned to being crowded and cramped and jammed cheek to jowl into subway cars, but I think I’d end up climbing the walls of my little shoebox after sitting at my little desk and staring at the wall a few feet in front of my face and venturing out onto a dinky balcony.  For the mental health of the micro-inhabitants, I hope there’s a nice park or spacious coffee house nearby.

Subsidies For Us All

The Wall Street Journal reports that, in certain cities, rents are so high, and “middle-class” housing is so scarce, that cities are providing assistance to middle-class families looking for affordable housing.

In New York City, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and San Francisco, among others, high constructions costs have caused developers to focus on providing more profitable, luxury accommodations for the wealthy, creating a shortage of middle-class housing that has caused rental prices to surge — and cities are responding by requiring developers to contribute to funds to build new middle-class housing, or set aside certain units for middle-class citizens, or hold lotteries to allow qualified individuals and families to obtain lower-cost, below-market-rent apartments.

shutterstock_131458289The city programs are specifically geared toward people who are middle-class — or even more so — by any measure.  The article reports that, in Cambridge, the city recently held a lottery for 15 units in which a family of four earning as much as $118,000 could qualify.  In New York City, a bank employee who earns “well over” than the NYC median income of $53,000 and who formerly lived in a “cramped, outdated” but “rent-stabilized” walk-up in Manhattan, won a housing lottery to get a brand-new apartment in Queens with a nice waterfront view of Manhattan where the rent is “roughly the same” as his former “rent-stabilized” place.  Elsewhere in the Big Apple, New York City officials agreed to contribute $225 million to preserve 4,500 housing units that will be available for families of four making as much as $142,000.

These cities, and their citizens, don’t seem to recognize they are in a spiral that is not going to stop until some form of economic rationality returns.  Why are construction costs in these particular cities so high that building housing affordable for people earning six-figure incomes — which private developers are perfectly happy to do in cities like Columbus — must be specifically subsidized or otherwise required by city officials?  What special costs, or taxes, or fees, or regulatory burdens have those cities imposed that have hampered housing construction?  And has the city done anything to make management of affordable housing once it has been built so unprofitable that there is no long-term incentive to construct such units?   The New York City bank employee, for example, formerly lived in a “rent-stabilized” apartment before luckily getting a brand new unit that costs about the same as the crappy “rent-stabilized” place.  Let’s see . . . could the existence of rent stabilization ordinances and requirements have distorted the marketplace, causing landlords to spend less on upkeep of existing housing stock and discouraging the creation of new units?

Rather than shelling out millions of tax dollars to subsidize construction, or imposing new requirements on developers that inevitably are going to have other economic impacts, the cities with a middle-class housing problem should take a fresh, ground-up look at their regulatory structure, their tax structure, their housing cost laws, and their wage regulations and get rid of the regulations that are causing the economic distortions they are experiencing.  Subsidies and set-asides obviously aren’t a solution.

There’s a bigger issue lurking here, too.  Everyone wants to help the “truly needy” get back on their feet, but when you are actively subsidizing families earning more than $100,000 you have gone beyond the point of rationality.  Our federal, state, and local governments have created so many “assistance” programs that virtually everyone receives some form of governmental benefit, whether it is in the form of a tax loophole available only to the very wealthy or special programs for housing for middle-class families.  Providing benefits to everyone obviously is not sustainable.  Is it any wonder that, at the federal level, we have built-in, assumed annual budget deficits of hundreds of billions of dollars stretching as far into the future as the eyes can see?

I’ve got a message for those middle-class folks in New York City, Cambridge, and the other towns:  move to places like Columbus, or Louisville, or San Antonio, or countless other towns where economic and governmental rationality still prevails. You’ll be able to find a nice, affordable place to live, without having to be on the subsidy rolls.

The Honk And No-Honk Zones

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia:  the same brands of cars, equipped in precisely the same way, are sold in both the Midwest and New York City.  Even more surprising, there is no difference whatsoever in the configuration, design, or volume of horns in the cars sold in those two areas of the United States.

This seems impossible to believe, given the difference in honking practices between those two areas.  In Columbus, Ohio, you almost never hear a car horn.  Even in the face of the most egregious, selfish driving maneuvers imaginable — such as making a tardy left turn, blocking an intersection in heavy traffic, and stopping all movement on the crossing street — Columbusites will never, ever hit the horn.  It’s as if some prissy Miss Manners long ago declared that the rules of driving etiquette prohibited honking:  it just isn’t done.  And when Midwesterners, in moments of extreme angst, do lightly tap their horns, they will blush and look around to see if anyone they knew saw them commit such an appalling faux pas.  They obviously feel a deep sense of shame at their lack of personal control, like they just farted in an elevator.

In New York City, on the other hand, it’s as if drivers were actively looking for excuses to honk.  I suspect that Manhattan drivers’ training classes teach you to drive with one hand at 10 o’clock and the other positioned directly over the horn at all times.  In fact, I imagine that one full day of instruction is devoted to understanding the different levels of honking responses.  An NYC honk is never a single beep; the mildest option is a full-throated, goose-like triple honk and the scale ranges up to the ear-crushing continuous blast that can only be produced by an enraged, snarling driver who is leaning his entire body weight into hitting the horn to the maximum extent.  There doesn’t seem to be any relationship between the degree of traffic transgression and the appropriate honking response, either:  it all seems to depend on the stress levels of the driver.  If your day has sucked and you’ve been inhaling exhaust fumes forever in those concrete canyons  without making much progress, you might just welcome a mild violation of road rules that lets you unload some of that stress.

If you don’t believe me, take this test.  Go to the intersection of Broad and High Streets in the center of downtown Columbus and listen for a car horn.  You won’t hear one, even in the distance.  Go to any part of Manhattan and do the same thing and you will realize that the honking is so prevalent that it just blends into the cacophony of background noise.

Do drivers in Manhattan have to take their cars in for servicing on their horns?  When people go to buy a used car in the New York City area, do they always test the horn to make sure that it works?