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April 18, 2014

the ick of the public private partnership

I endorse this Daily News op-ed by Harry Siegel unreservedly:
The socialite founders of Washington Square Park's new conservancy reportedly planned to replace "unsightly" hot-dog vendors with "new and different" options, including a $5 ice-cream sandwich. Madison Square Park houses a Shake Shack, in a building paid for by its conservancy. The High Line -- the symbol of the business district's spread west and south -- is a place where families casually drop $100 on lunch. The south steps of Union Square are colonized by a tent-housed shopping boutique every Christmas.

Our public spaces are becoming commercial ones, billboards for nearby companies and developers -- and places pitching pricey goods, not unsightly hot dogs.

There are few concepts that I loathe more than "public-private partnership," and few things make me sadder than the face that public-private partnerships are considered the optimal way to finance public spaces.  But here's the thing about public spaces: they are supposed to be public spaces.  They are not supposed to be revenue-generators, they are not supposed to be festooned with advertising, whether in the form of "sponsorship" or not, and they are not supposed to be more accessible by the upper classes by virtue of such upper classes paying a fee to keep all the other people out.

I remember the first time I walked into Central Park, 1985.  Of course I knew about it (I knew all about New York City, who didn't?), but that did not prevent my mind from being blown into a million pieces.  "So basically a parcel of land the size of a small city is roped off, restored to nature and then free for everyone to use?"  It was communism under everyone's noses.  It was the most cosmopolitan and proletarian thing in the world, at the same time.  It was perfect.

Compare and contrast that with the High Line, which is not a block from my office.  It is an entirely curated experience, as all of the flora installed on the once-dilapidated elevated railway is strictly off-limits.  It is a look-don't-touch experience.  It is more museum exhibit that public park.

And yes, it is a widely hailed example of a successful public-private partnership.  But if you want a better metric of success than the thousands of Eurotourists currently on the High Line, check the fifteen or twenty luxury condo towers currently being built in West Chelsea, or the thirty or forty already completed since the planning of the High Line.

The High Line is nothing but a very simple real estate grift: create some modest "public" space as a destination, and watch property values skyrocket.

I also agree with Siegel's simple recommendations:

Some simple standards, the sort I'd share with my daughter:

1) Park concessions shouldn't cost much more than a hot dog. A simple measure: no more than twice the cost of a subway ride.

2) No commercial events. No GoogaMooga (the food, drink and music festival in Prospect Park the past few summers); no beer for sale at SummerStage. Bring your own, or buy a falafel and Coke.

3) Regularly used common spaces, like ice-skating rinks or carousels, should not be available for rent at any price, or time.

4) Spaces that are meant for private events, like the Boathouse at Prospect Park, should be available at cost, and on a strict first-come, first-served basis.

Maybe it's not too late to de-awfulize New York?  I mean, it certainly seems an uphill battle, but we need to remember what made NYC NYC in the first place.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:38 AM

April 16, 2014

enjoy college football while you can

A couple of months ago it was fashionable, when discussing the sport of American football, to add, "Enjoy it while it lasts," as the fact that even the small repetitive head injuries players experience kill them young.  An inescapable truth, though of course the NFL, a non-profit entity by an act of Congress, will find some way around it.

Now, prepare yourself for similar calls for the end of college football, but on different grounds entirely: it is a corrupt sham of "amateurism" that profits on the backs of amoral monsters who will on to eventual fame and fortune (and eventual premature death) in the NFL.

Well, maybe not all that.  BUT, aside from the news from a couple of weeks ago that the Northwestern football team can vote to unionize, there are two great, fantastic, long looks into the world of college football from the past seven days, each of which should be read by you.

First, Steven Godfrey for SB Nation pins down a college football bag man, and pulls back the curtain on the ways that the local boosters of large football programs grease the skids for top prospects:

These men are fans who believe they're leveraging football success $500 or $50,000 at a time. I can't show you that money, and neither can anyone else. You might think you see the money -- a flash of $20 bills all over some kid's Instagram or Facebook update -- but that's just money.

This is the arrangement in high-stakes college football, though of course not every player is paid for. Providing cash and benefits to players is not a scandal or a scheme, merely a function. And when you start listening to the stories, you understand the function can never be stopped.

Godfrey gets incredible access, and is witness to many transactions between his source and the high school prospects visiting the program — and how Godfrey got a guy to talk and to let Godfrey follow him around astounds me.

And this morning the NYT ran another two and a half page investigative feature that they pretty up for presentation on the web, a review of the conduct of the authorities in the accusations of rape against FSU quarterback Jameis Winston by reporter Walt Bogdanich.

No pullquote for this one, but, unless Bogdanich's sources are lying, Winston is a rapist, and his behavior is enabled by both the administration of Florida State University and the Tallahassee Police Department, and this event is more the par for the course than the outlier when it comes to big college football programs.

Both are great ways to spend a lunch break, and testaments to the fact that there is still room for dogged reporting that needs more than two hundred words to share.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:48 AM

April 14, 2014

dystopia: you're soaking in it

This is Charles Stross writing about those peculiar people we mock and deride as "millennials" and those youngsters that will eventually follow them, Generation Z.  Refreshingly, Stross is not mocking and deriding them, but rather using them as the canary in the coalmine:
There has been a boom market in dystopian young adult fiction over the past decade. There is a reason for this. Play and recreation is an important training mechanism in young mammals by which they practice or rehearse activities that will fit them for later adult life experiences... Could it be that the popularity of YA dystopias reflects the fact that our youngest generation of readers expect to live out their lives in dystopia? (The alternative explanations hold that (a) high school in the age of helicopter parenting, fingerprint readers in the library, and CCTV in the corridors is an authoritarian dystopia anyway, and YA dys-fic helps kids understand their environment; and (b) that worse, their parents (who influence their reading) think this.)

Not that I've been spending time thinking about the slow degradation of all things (okay, I've been spending time thinking about the slow degradation of all things), but it is increasingly seeming (like, give today's NYT a quick glance) that the dystopia that we were all worried about when we were dabbling in the speculative fiction ten or fifteen years ago is actually already here.

Stross is a bit more solution-focused than I am:

What should we be doing about it? And what is it feasible for us to do? (For example: I'd love to see a UK government deflate the housing market by around 80% and renationalize a bunch of infrastructure that should never have been sold off in the first place, but I recognize that it would be political suicide for any party that tried it).

But as he demonstrates, it's really hard to do that without discouraging oneself.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:39 AM

god's honest truth

So it may have seemed like I got hit by a bus or finally threw my Spidey suit in the garbage can and walked slowly down the alley, but it is not the case!

This is what happened, I swear: end of March, I tried to log in to my dashboard.  I got a weird error message.  Huh.  I figured maybe it was my cheapo home computer, so I made a note to try to log in from work, on that nice new expensive fast thing I revise agreements on.  Same result.  Huh.  Weird.

So a few days later I email my tech friend who bails me out of these jams.  He pokes around.  "Some of the drivers that manage your database are gone."  "Gone?"  "Gone. Nothing I can do."

And that just startled me.  I've been hacked before, and I've loused thing up by trying to do them myself before, but having stuff just disappear off the server?

So I scratched my head about that for a while.

And when I finally got around to emailing customer support (after digging up the pw, etc.), I pretty quickly get a note back saying, "Fixed it, we're really sorry about that."

So I'm back, but I'm back with the realization that my host actually misplaced a bunch of my shit and then forgot about it.  Huh.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:27 AM