Monday, February 23, 2015

Fake green

Built in a green field, automobile dependent, sprawl does all the wrong things very, very well.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Urban film series at CUNY

The first film in the Rights to the City Film Series at City University of New York's Center for Place, Culture and Politics is tomorrow, Tuesday February 17. The series looks to be terrific. It examines inequitable development patterns in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Newark, Detroit and Istanbul. Each film will be followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers and CUNY faculty and students. I plan to see several, and hopefully all five films. If anyone from Hudson is interested in joining me, shoot me a note and perhaps we can share a car or train ride.

All films are free and open to the public. They will be shown in the Doctoral Students’ Council Lounge (Room 5414) unless noted otherwise.

Table Header
My Brooklyn
February 17, 7:00 PM

Skylight Room, Graduate Center, CUNY.

Panel: Kelly Anderson, filmmaker; Sharon Zukin (Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places; Professor at CUNY); CUNY Doctoral Candidate Sara Martucci.
A documentary about Director Kelly Anderson’s personal journey, as a Brooklyn gentrifier, to understand the forces reshaping her neighborhood along lines of race and class. The story begins when Anderson moves to Brooklyn in 1988, lured by cheap rents and bohemian culture. By Michael Bloomberg’s election as mayor in 2001, a massive speculative real estate boom is rapidly altering the neighborhoods she has come to call home. She watches as an explosion of luxury housing and chain store development spurs bitter conflict over who has a right to live in the city and to determine its future. While some people view these development patterns as ultimately revitalizing the city, to others, they are erasing the eclectic urban fabric, economic and racial diversity, creative alternative culture, and unique local economies that drew them to Brooklyn in the first place. It seems that no less than the city’s soul is at stake.

Rezoning Harlem
March 5, 7:00PM

Panel: Tamara Gubernat, Tom Agnotti, a member of the Harlem community, and moderator Pilar Ortiz.

Follows longtime members of the Harlem community as they fight a 2008 rezoning that threatens to erase the history and culture of their legendary neighborhood and replace it with luxury housing, offices, and big-box retail. A shocking expose of how a group of ordinary citizens, who are passionate about the future of one of the city’s most treasured neighborhoods, are systematically shut out of the city’s decision-making process, revealing New York City’s broken public review system and provoking discussion on what we can do about it.

The Rink
March 26, 7:00PM

Panel: Sarah Friedland, Ryan Joseph, and CalvinJohn Smiley. Moderator: Brenden Beck
Branch Brook Park Roller Rink, located in Newark, NJ, is one of the few remaining urban rinks of its kind. This concrete structure is nestled in a public park bordered by public housing and a highway. Upon first glance, the exterior resembles a fallout shelter; however, the streamers and lights of the interior are reminiscent of 1970s roller discos. This 55 minute documentary depicts a space cherished by skaters and a city struggling to move beyond its past and forge a new narrative amidst contemporary social issues.

Ecumenopolis: City Without Limits
April 16, 7:00PM

Panel: Imre Azam, Duygu Parmaksizoglu, Josh Scannell.

Tells the story of Istanbul on a neo-liberal course to destruction. It follows the story of a migrant family from the demolition of their neighborhood to their on-going struggle for housing rights. The film takes a look at the city on a macro level and through the eyes of experts, going from the tops of mushrooming skyscrapers to the depths of the railway tunnel under the Bosphorous strait; from the historic neighborhoods in the south to the forests in the north. It’s an Istanbul going from 15 million to 30 million. It’s an Istanbul going from 2 million cars to 8 million. It’s the Istanbul of the future that will soon engulf the entire region. It’s an Istanbul you have never seen before.

Rerooting the Motor City: Notes on a City in Transformation
May 7, 7:00PM

Panel: Filmmakers Adrienne Silverman and Nadia Mohamed; CUNY scholars Cindi Katz, Amanda Matles, and Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land.

How are Detroiters responding to the localized failures of post-industrial global capitalism? How are they re-mediating the frontier mythologies perpetuated by the mainstream media that complement “creative class” policy promotion? With a critical lens on race and class dynamics, this documentary weaves together segments on Detroit’s labor history, the budding urban agriculture movement, a critical look at philanthro-capitalism and its relationship to redevelopment as well as media (mis)representations of a city in transformation.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Hey, Mom and Pop entrepreneurs...

In the spirit of Radical Urbanism, I'm extending an offer to my readers who are or would like to be small business owners: I will provide a free one-time, and possibly two-time, architectural consultation on your business space. If you have an existing store, workshop, restaurant, or office that needs reorganization, an image upgrade, improved lighting, a new color scheme, smarter signage, or a not-quite-sure-what change, e-mail me via the link on the lower right of this page. Ditto if you are a homeowner exploring the possibility of opening an at-home business.

There's a catch: You have to be in an urban area—the Hudson grid, Catskill village, Chatham village, urban areas of Troy, Albany, get the idea. And oh yeah—no heavy lifting.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The overlooked truth of the mixed-use neighborhood

The electronic age has helped me manage the paper overload on my desk, but only a little. Yesterday, at the bottom of a long neglected stack of newspaper and magazine clippings, I came across an article in the Albany Times Union from a few years ago. Entitled "Long walk home," it cited a poll that found that 58 percent of Americans would like to live in neighborhoods with stores within walking distance. "So why haven't they been built?" asks the article by the always dependable Chris Churchill.

The question has become a well-worn one in urban planning circles. Ditto for the answers commonly proffered: zoning laws need to be more accommodating, planners and developers need to be more sensitive to the needs of citizens, and a number of others. The first answer is true enough: we're never going to attain walkability as long as zoning codes require segregated uses, large lots, and other pedestrian-hostile features.
Credit: Philip Kamrass, Times Union
But the second answer is mostly untrue, as unintentionally demonstrated by the photographs accompanying the article. They show an older mixed-use neighborhood in Schenectady that clearly didn't come about through a formal planning and development process. Rather, the mixed uses were birthed organically, through an ad hoc process initiated and controlled by neighborhood residents themselves. Note that the businesses pictured were created after the fact in buildings originally intended to be homes. The commercial uses were created as citizens actively made their neighborhood into what they thought it needed to be. They didn't wait for developers; they did it themselves.

A formalized planning and development process can give us mixed uses, but it can't give us the kind of neighborhoods we most need. It can give us contrived architecture, chain stores, and predictability, but it can't give us authenticity. Nor is it likely to impart local economic benefit. Formal development rarely generates wealth for the people already living in a neighborhood; instead, it tends to replace them with a different group of people who gained  their wealth elsewhere. The residents remaining from the old days of the neighborhood may appreciate the convenience of having a new chain store nearby, but that store sends wealth out of the community every day.

What will it take for more mixed-use, economically and culturally viable neighborhoods to be built? Less zoning, fewer developers, and more mom and pop.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Upside-down landscape

Kaaterskill Creek, Catskill, New York
 (The image above is upside-down. Below, the photograph as taken.)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

At the top of the Alps

This is from last year. Today, I can't even see out the window.

Christ Episcopal Church, Union Street, Hudson
(Background right: St Mary's Catholic Church)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sips, suds, sweets, swash

A very nice article today from Columbia Economic Development Corporation details the entrepreneurial endeavors of Hudson business owner Selha Graham Cora. Her Sip n' Suds on State Street exemplifies everything an urban business should be: human-scaled, locally responsive, multi-faceted, and infinitely flexible.

In addition to a self-serve laundry, Cora provides wash-dry-fold service, baked goods, U-Haul pick-up and drop-off, and even rooms for rent. She recently added a "Swash" machine, which deodorizes and steams clothes in an hour. Perhaps we can convince her to add a formal drycleaning dropoff; given her admirably fluid business model I will not be surprised if and when that happens.

Sip 'n' Suds Laundro-net Cafe
453 State Street, Hudson | 518.828.3452
M, W-F 9AM to 7PM; Sa-Su 8:30AM to 8PM