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August 30, 2013


I had a mild sidewalk realization this morning, trundling up Avenue of the Americas.

Now, the High Line (in case you are not in NYC, is a public/private "park" on the island's west side) is a topic I've spent some time (and words) thinking about.  It was included in some article I forgot to bookmark as one of the enduring positive legacies of the Bloomberg administration, along with bike lanes and pedestrian plaza and the like.  And I had a mild lid-flipping experience: I like walking on the dang High Line just fine (in the mornings, before half of Europe shows up to enjoy it), but to call it an improvement without noting the cynicism behind it is just not fair.  The High Line is a "public/private" partnership, as they say, or a boon to real estate developers, as I say.  My office has been just off the High Line for thirteen years.  Number of high-density luxury condos within five blocks north or south then: zero.  Number now: let's say twenty, with another five or six under construction.

It's an issue that's not going to be decided in a paragraph, and many disagree with me, but that kind of high-end development-swarm is exactly what I don't like about the New New York, and it's where I'm coming from w/r/t this small realization.

So now take Williamsburg.  Williamsburg has hit the point where I don't even need to explain it to you, whether you're from Tokyo or Abu Dhabi or anywhere in between.  The way that Williamsburg "happened" is this: it was a run-down, remote mixed industrial/residential neighborhood, it was slowly gentrified by art kids, most of whom were as poor as the residents, and then the aesthetic was incrementally commodified to the point that the "hipsters" became not art kids but rootless Trustafarians, the idle rich obsessed with Williamsburg style.  After which comes the luxury condo towers and the trendy hotels and everything that comes with them.

And that recipe became not specific to just Williamsburg.  It was replicated all over the city — Chelsea, Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, Long Island City.  Communities left behind by progress get turned by developers into "destinations".  Hipster playgrounds, each, engines for wealth for primarily the already wealthy.

And here's what's wrong with them.  Well, other than the fact that they exist only to enrich real estate developers and high end service industries and squeeze out the poor natives that have lived there for generations, this is what's wrong with them, as a strategy eagerly pursued (by Bloomberg, through rezoning) to bring prosperity to the city.  The concept of Williamsburg was predicated on it being a place in the shadows, in an unused corner of the city.  It was a place that you had to go to, and while you were there, the rest of the city continued doing its city things, heedless.  It was defined by contrast with the rest of Metropolis.  That was the charm that the real estate developers have bottled and sold to the rich.

But everywhere can't be Williamsburg.  If everyplace is Williamsburg, then that thing that defined it, the everywhere else, is gone.  Think of Williamsburg as Disneyland, an urban Disneyland.  Everywhere can't be Disneyland.  If everywhere is Disneyland, then Disneyland stops being Disneyland.

Which is kind of what happened.  Not only did Williamsburg stop being Williamsburg, but the possibility of some other new Williamsburg coalescing somewhere else in the city just took the last train to Clarksville.

We're going to have a new mayor in a couple months.  This is a good thing.  Bloomsberg successfully realized his vision, and his vision was to fill the city with Williamsburg Towers.  And since he's done that, it's basically a city that no one can afford to live in, and one that's a lot less vibrant.  (Unless you think that bottle service is vibrant.)

Posted by mrbrent at 9:33 AM

August 29, 2013

jamelle bouie on vote-blocking

Yesterday Jamelle Bouie aptly filed a nice little round-up of all the different times that Republicans have admitted that their Voter ID laws being rushed so quickly through state legislatures in the wake of Shelby v. Holder are nothing but overt efforts to tamp down the Democratic votes.  Phylis Schafly's in there, for some reason arguing out loud the electoral advantages that vote suppression laws give the GOP, as are the state officials from Florida and Pennsylvania dumb enough to say the same in front of a live microphone or a reporter.

But, your conservative twitter follower argues, what's so wrong with having to show ID?  Oh, right, this:

For the one in five Mississippians who live below the poverty line, there's no guarantee of the time to go to an office, a computer to access the website, or a credit card to make the transaction. After all, more than 10 million American households don't have bank accounts, and the large majority of them are low income. Most voters will know the steps they need to get an ID. They just aren't easy to complete, and that's the point.

Why so apt?  Because it was the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and hence the 50th anniversary of MLK's I Have a Dream speech, which was the linchpin of the Civil Rights movement, which movement the Voter ID types are purposefully trying to dismantle retroactively.

Of course not everyone commemorated the day as Bouie did.  In fact, some conservative thinkers (who had time on their hands — not one Republican invited to the event could be bothered to attend) saw fit to argue that the conservative movement was somehow the direct descendant of MLK.  (Which would be out-loud laughable were it not for the fact that so many argue it with a straight face.)

Remember: if the only way you can win an election is by disenfranchising voters, then you are a coward.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:39 AM

August 28, 2013

bittman on lunch, the most important meal of the day

I am sometimes agnostic on Mark Bittman.  I will concede that he wrote the most important cookbook ever, which I use more than any other, but he can come off as someone more than happy to be massaged into a Brand, which curdles my No Logo sensibilities, but whatever!  His piece in today's DI/DO I wholeheartedly endorse, and props to him for giving this important topic voice:
As a meal, lunch is undeniably tough; most people say that and I recognize it. But something good happens when you make the default a brown bag.

I am not talking literally about brown bags; you can bring your groovy REI lunchbox, or your authentic Mumbai tiffin carrier (actually, where I work, the people who seem to bring their lunch most often are of South Asian origin) or -- as I tend to do -- your assortment of recycled takeout containers.

Bittman is talking about the importance of bringing your lunch to work.  And it is important!  You'll guess that it's like more than half as expensive as take-out or delivery lunches and that (if you make it yourself) it's much more nutritious.  But also, I find it a way to combat the every day of the everyday.  Even if you think that ten or fifteen bucks is something you want to pay for lunch, there's the throngs waiting in line for the salad counter, sipping their iced coffees, or the droves of deliverymen locking/unlocking their bikes in front of the buildings.  (Imagery urban center specific, of course.)  We'd all much rather be tucking into a ceviche on a cabana somewhere, so why not eat lunch on your own terms?

And then, on the rare days when you throw caution to the wind and go grab a curry or hit the Chipotle, it's a treat and not just another day that ends in Y.

Remember: lunch, the most important meal of the day.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:33 AM

August 27, 2013

that letter on syria

This is more apt for a Tumblr post (freely available, of course), but it's an important thinky sentiment, which makes it not so much Tumblr-appropriate content.  It's a letter to the editor to the Financial Times, which is behind a paywall, so here's a link to an image, and this is the transcript:
Sir, Iran is backing Assad. Gulf states are against Assad!

Assad is against Muslim Brotherhood. Muslim Brotherhood and Obama are against General Sisi.

But Gulf states are pro Sisi! Which means they are against Muslim Brotherhood!

Iran is pro Hamas, but Hamas is backing Muslim Brotherhood!

Obama is backing Muslim Brotherhood, yet Hamas is against the US!

Gulf states are pro US. But Turkey is with Gulf states against Assad; yet Turkey is pro Muslim Brotherhood against General Sisi. And General Sisi is being backed by the Gulf states!

Welcome to the Middle East and have a nice day.

I think that letter, broadly accurate (though the landscape shifts, of course), demonstrates why the (probably) upcoming conflict will not be like the "regional conflicts" that our parents lived through.  There's far too many inter-relationships that are sometimes in conflict, way too much room for unintended consequences.  Also, unsaid in the letter, the two stabilizing powers in the region, Egypt and Turkey, are having their own little troubles, troubles that could be affected by a proxy war in Syria.

Hey, I just wrote "proxy war in Syria."  That's not very heartening.

We've left the days of good-guy/bad-guy narratives.  Who are the good guys in Syria?  Are they the same as the bad guys?  And, once we're done scratching our heads, are we ready to reconcile ourselves to a foreign policy, up to and including interventions, based more on balance of power than ideological concerns (or at least to admit to ourselves that that's how it's always been?)

The credited author of the letter is one KN Al-Sabah, of London, England.  Good one, KN.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:16 AM

August 26, 2013

columbia, sc in the news

Can't seem to quit the Carolinas.  NYT runs the story that Columbia, SC, has decided to outlaw homelessness.

Columbia is the dark heart of South Carolina.  It's located between Interstates 85 and 95, so if you're driving down to Florida, you miss Columbia to the east, and if to Atlanta, you miss it to the west.  Basically, if you find yourself in Columbia, you took a wrong turn somewhere.

And if you are living in Columbia, you better damn well hope that ill fortune, the kind that deprives you of your home, does not happen to you:

City officials have clashed about what precisely the Council approved during a marathon meeting, but [Councilman Cameron] Runyan said the intent of his strategy was to increase enforcement of existing vagrancy laws and offer the homeless three options: accept help at a shelter, go to jail or leave Columbia.

The shelter he's talking about he's trying to relocate fifteen miles outside of what constitutes the "city" in Columbia, so make that actually two options: go to jail or leave.

Coincidentally, Columbia is from a place referred to as the "Bible Belt," for reasons unbeknownst as apparently no one on the City Council has read a Bible.

Though wait til Runyan or one of his compassionate friends sees some old History Channel bit on debtors' prisons.  That's gonna be fun.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:16 AM