Roosevelt Island Jaunt

June 9, 2018

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I took the aerial tram to Roosevelt Island today, the first time I’ve ridden on that thing, and a bad day to do it.  Saturday, good weather, crowds, one car out of service, subway not running…  Once you get there, the views from the island are pretty unusual for New York  City.

QBB1 The romantic one below is looking east to the new apartments in the Long Island City area of Queens.

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Strolling around the island is pleasant once you leave behind the apartments and the new Cornell University hi-tech campus.  The old Renwick shell of a small pox hospital is carefully preserved.

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Something went wrong with my HDR shot here – it would help to use a tripod – so I call it “Good Vibrations.”

Good Vibrations

The southern end of the island is now the finally completed Louis Kahn park dedicated to FDR’s Four Freedoms.  It is shockingly abstract in form – a real jolt to the senses.  That’s saying a lot since it is just a baseball hit away from the dense Manhattan skyline, which isn’t exactly an English garden landscape.  It’s the austerity of the design, I suppose…

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Not sure what he was doing there, but he had a retinue of photo-tech people, so I guess he wasn’t fighting super criminals.

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Rising Tides – Festival of Doom

November 25, 2012

There is a festival of doom in the Sunday New York Times today, with multiple articles on the threat to coastal cities in the USA posed by rising sea levels.  It includes a mournful, fatalistic essay by James Atlas, and a suite of interactive graphics that allow users to see just “what could disappear.”

This quote from one article pretty much sums up the message:

According to Dr. Schaeffer’s study, immediate and extreme pollution cuts — measures well beyond any discussion now under way — could limit sea level rise to five feet over 300 years. If we stay on our current path, the oceans could rise five feet by the first half of next century, then continue rising even faster. If instead we make moderate shifts in energy and industry — using the kinds of targets that nations have contemplated in international talks but have failed to pursue — sea level could still climb past 12 feet just after 2300. It is hard to imagine what measures might allow many of our great coastal cities to survive a 12-foot increase.

A few things to note here:

  • This paragraph assumes that the predictions based on models are all correct, and that the AGW (anthropogenic global warming) hypothesis is proven, “settled science.”  It’s not really that certain.  Or rather, the models themselves display tremendous uncertainty.
  • Also taken pretty much for granted is the fact that humans are not going to give their economy a thoroughgoing overhaul into the world of Green, so we might as well get ready!
  • Unmentioned is the fact that in many places, e.g. NYC, sea level has been rising steadily for centuries.  In NYC, it has been at a rate of about 1-foot per 100 years.
  • The word ‘could’  is used many times:  this paragraph is a worst-case scenario.

I had a professor of Ancient Art once who liked to say, “Civilizations come: Civilizations go…”  In archaeology, ‘civilization’ is synonymous with ‘city’.  Many cities have seen their harbors silt up, their water supplies disappear, their precincts inundated with lava or sea water.  It’s part of history.  Many other cities have survived for millenia by adjusting and changing.  When the writer says “It is hard to imagine what measures might allow many of our great coastal cities to survive a 12-foot increase,”  he is displaying a lack of insight and imagination.  Yes, it would be hard to imagine how our cities could survive direct hits by meteorites either, but that’s not likely to happen.

I would suggest the following scenario as likely:  The climate will change, but most likely not in the drastic way some scientists predict.  Seas will continue to rise where they are rising now, and perhaps in other places as well, perhaps a bit faster, but slowly, over centuries.  Unlike Holland, where inundation brings national catastrophe approaching eradication, most places can adapt slowly, and they will adapt.  People will make decisions, slowly, haltingly, stupidly or with foresight, about when and where it is worth rebuilding.  Change happens even in NYC – most skyscrapers are not built for the ages. Lower floors can be abandoned or ‘repurposed.’  It all takes time, and we have time, plenty of it.  Things will change.  The only impossibility is keeping them just as they are now.

There is a bright side to all of this.  Think of the economic stimulus potential of a huge program to raise local airports and critical infrastructure above the flood level – the greatest ‘shovel-ready‘ public works program in history!


Another Landmark

November 20, 2012

Another downtown favorite, just around the block from the Corbin Building.  This is the Keuffel & Esser Building, built for the firm of K & E, maker of pens, drafting supplies, and slide-rules (Anyone ever use one of those?  Before my time!)  Now completely obscured by scaffolding, but soon to be revealed in all its glory. 

This is the NYC Landmarks Commission report.


Corbin Revived!

November 19, 2012

click for more info

I had noticed this building pre-9/11, and wondered about it. It was black with soot, but there was something of interest there.  It is The Corbin Building, by Francis Kimball, considered one of New York City’s first skyscrapers, although it is only eight stories high!  Now the exterior has been lovingly restored as part of the  rebuilding, and improvement, of the hideous Fulton Street subway stop. (Many a wretched hour I have spent at that stop, trekking futilely from hall, to stair, to platform, in search of the proper train.  So far, I have seen a vast improvement.)

The restored building will include the pyramidal towers seen in this old photo, which have been missing for decades.  The restoration brings to light the beautiful tones of the cleaned stone, which contrast with the ornate, Moorish terracotta designs, and the Victorian cast-iron relief of the bay windows.

It was pretty hard to get a view of this narrow building on a narrow street, clogged with traffic, pedestrians, and massive construction scaffolding works, but here’s what I managed.


Calatrava White Elephant?

June 27, 2012

I am a civil engineer, so I cannot help but be thrilled at the sight of the Calatrava PATH terminal taking shape (the elliptical foundation in the middle of the photo) beneath my window at World Trade Center site – it will be amazing!  And the memorial park itself is pretty nice too – I visited it for the first time last week.

Of course, the base of the Freedom Tower looks disturbingly like Godzilla’s foot stamping on Bambi, but no matter.  They’ll fancy it up…a bit.

In the end, as I gaze down at the massive construction site, with more people and money moving in and out of it than some entire countries no doubt, I wonder about that PATH building:  let’s forget the money-losing tower for now.  What is it for?  Penn Station handles more than seven times the number of passengers, and this terminal will do nothing to increase capacity.  It will simply look fantastic.  Is it worth $3.5 billion, and counting?  That would buy a lot of nitty-gritty upgrades for the cars and tracks that actually move people around the city.

I have to conclude that it’s a colossal waste of money, what used to be known in architectural circles as a ‘folly’.  All those bridge and train tolls gonna rise…$3.5 billion and counting.  We will pay for the megalomania of the PA NYNJ directors.  From the Wiki article:

A large transit station was not part of the 2003 Memory Foundations master plan for the site by Daniel Libeskind, which called for a smaller station along the lines of the original subterranean station that existed beneath the World Trade Center. Libeskind’s design called for the space to be left open, forming a “Wedge of Light” so that sun rays around the autumnal equinox would hit the World Trade Center footprints each September.

In early 2004, the Port Authority, which owns the land, modified the Libeskind plan to include a world-class transportation station downtown that was intended to rival Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal.

For a little perspective, consider that Grand Central, completed in 1913 for $80 million, $1.9 billion today, has 44 platforms, on two levels, and 67 tracks.  It was built with private money, and marked a tremendous advance in the design of complicated rail terminals, besides being a Beaux Arts monument.  The PATH terminal will have, uh…four tracks?

If I go back to using the PATH, I will go from Hoboken, left and center, to NYC, at the right, in the photos below.


State of the Police

March 15, 2012

News on the incredible case of Adrian Schoolcraft, who was thrown into a mental hospital for six days to try to cover up his documenting of NYPD abuses.  What with periodic shootings of young black men, subsequently found to be unarmed, and things like this, it’s hard to feel trusting towards New York’s Finest.

He’s not so crazy after all.

An NYPD report supports the claims made by Officer Adrian Schoolcraft, the Brooklyn cop who accused the NYPD of throwing him into a mental hospital because he complained supervisors were cooking the books to make the crime rate seem lower.

The 95-page report was completed in June 2010 but never released. Jon Norinsberg, Schoolcraft’s lawyer, called it “a very strong vindication” of Schoolcraft’s claims.

“It’s unfortunate that this has not been disclosed to the public,” Norinsberg said. “But it will all come out when this goes to trial.”


Occupy Wall Street

October 3, 2011

I work a block or two north of Zucotti Park where the Occupy Wall Street demonstration has been going on.  When I checked it last time, a couple of weeks ago, there was a young woman holding up a sign saying, “Blame Barney Frank!”  Hmm…better choose your targets more carefully, sister, is what I thought.  Today, the crowd, many of them encamped, was much larger, and the slogans were various.

A generally scruffy bunch – goes with sleeping outside in a park, I guess – some with pretty wacked out messages.  A wondering crank denouncing adultery was on his own.  More common were protesters against The Federal Reserve System, fiat money, central banking generally, and so on.  This group is heavily influenced by the intellectual wing of the anti-establishment wave, some of which sloshes in the Tea Party’s cups, and is libertarian, pro-silver, and a bit loony as far as I can tell.

Most of the people were simply angry at the usual and well documented offenses of “Wall Street.”  Oversize-bonuses for CEOs while people get evicted from homes; hand-outs, bailouts, guarantees, and golden parachutes for the financial élite while most people hunker down and suffer.  The capture of government and politics by the super-rich, and so on.  One sign that I liked a lot said, “Lay off CEOs, not teachers.”  Pretty good idea, pretty simple.

There was a man there making buttons with a T-shirt that said Un-Locke America, and had a picture of venerable John Locke with an international ‘NO’ sign on top of his face.  “A pretty smart guy, but a schmuck,” is how the man described the granddad of British Empiricism and the intellectual godfather of our American bourgeois revolution.  In particular, he took issue with Locke’s ideas of natural rights, and property rights being prior to all governmental arrangements.  That was all a convenient assumption for a 17th century philosopher to make, and so very congenial to his patrons and his class.