Thursday, November 30, 2006

War Wagon in the South Bronx

Firehouse 71 in the South Bronx calls itself the War Wagon - perhaps referencing the fires that ravaged the South Bronx in the 70s, or perhaps signaling a 'pull your wagons 'round' seige mentality.

Company 71 has been serving the Morrisania neighborhood since 1899. On the 100th anniversary of the company, the company reminiscenced about the early days of the company:

The work chart for the turn of the century fireman was very simple. He worked a 24-hour tour for five days in a row with one day off. Twice a month he could take a 12-hour leave, which could not be used with his 24-hour leave. He could go home for meals three times a day for an hour each time or he could go home twice a day for an hour and half or once for three hours. Back during this time, the Bronx was a slow area and occasionally a fire run would come in. Most of the time the men would be busy caring for the horses, house watch duties, building and hydrant inspections, messenger duties to the Battalion or Division and being detailed to another fire company for sick or vacation time. Another duty was the theater detail where one man would be assign to a movie house to make sure the theater was not over crowded and the aisles block. This duty was rotated around the men in the company. Some districts had several movie houses while other few or none.
Life's a little different now, but the War Wagon's still there.

For another quirky New York firehouse, check out The Friendly Firehouse of Flatbush Ave.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving and the Blow-Up Dolls Descend on Manhattan

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Staten Island Pizza Ride

Last weekend I set off with biking buddies Anna and Etan to do a Staten Island bike ride to the major Staten Island pizza places. Nunzio's, Denino's, and Nucci's, as the most commonly top-rated SI pizza places, were on the itinerary. Pat & Joe's was a little too far off the route, but I want to hit it next time.

It was a fast seven mile ride along the south shore waterfront from the ferry to our first stop. Nunzio's is on a very busy suburban-esque intersection. There's a sit-down restaurant, and a separate entrance for take-out. At first glance it looked like we were going to have to chow our slices on the sidewalk, but then we saw that there was a long counter inside the take-out entrance. Etan spied on the kitchen and reported back that their cheese method is to cut the cheese into blocks, rather than grating it thinly on top - a method that supposedly keeps the cheese from breaking down as fast at high temperatures. The slice was decent, but the crust was too thick for my taste. If I want Sicilian, I'll order Sicilian. But the hand-grated parm on the counter was a nice touch, and there was a basil leaf baked into each of our slices that was delish.

Back on our bikes. On the way to Denino's, we saw a decrepit brick building covered with graffiti. Of course, we had to explore. We thought it was a state institution called Willowbrook that was shut down in the 80s, but it turned out to be a poorhouse, as in what you read about in Dickens, as in the forerunner to the shelter system. Stay posted for more on this.

By the time we got to Denino's, they were no longer serving slices (when we got there they told us they only serve slices until 3pm). That was a bummer. Denino's been around since 1937, and definitely had the best Island atmosphere of all three places. But all of us had neglected to bring lights for our bikes and it was getting dark, so we hauled ass, courtesy of Etan's GPS gadget, to our third and final stop.

Nucci's was in a small suburban strip mall. The teenagers working there made me flash back to my own suburban childhood, but luckily for all I didn't start crying. The pizza was excellent. Thin crust, good sauce, good proportion of cheese. More hand-grated parm on the counter. Is this a Staten Island thing? Regardless, I like it.

So. Bottom line? Staten Island didn't quite live up to its pizza hype, but it's got a damn fine slice if you happen to be there. And if you can combine it with some urban exploration, even better.

Photo at Nunzio's by Anna Le Mon.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Engineering Public Space

Since becoming preoccupied with bike lanes, I've been thinking a lot about how the way a public space is designed can subtly control how people use the space. With bike lanes, I've been wondering whether the way that New York bike lanes are designed unintentionally invite drivers to park in them.

Dan Lockton, at the Architectures of Control Blog, writes about features designed into city layouts, buildings, and goods that are intended to influence user behavior. He calls these design features 'forcing functions' or 'techniques of persuasion.' Recently he wrote about a counterintuitive article in New Urban News. The article reported that roads planted with trees cause drivers to slow down, and drive with more awareness and caution.
Eric Dumbaugh, an assistant professor of transportation at Texas A&M ... looked at accident records and found that, on the contrary, wide-open corridors encourage motorists to speed, bringing on more crashes. By contrast, tree-lined roadways cause motorists to slow down and drive more carefully, Dumbaugh says.

Dumbaugh examined crash statistics and found that tree-lined streets experience fewer accidents than do “forgiving roadsides” — those that have been kept free of large, inflexible objects. He points to “a growing body of evidence suggesting that the inclusion of trees and other streetscape features in the roadside environment may actually reduce crashes and injuries on urban roadways”…

Dan Burden, senior urban designer for Glatting Jackson and Walkable Communities Inc. in Orlando, notes that there is research showing that “motorists need and benefit from tall vertical roadside features such as trees or buildings in order to properly gauge their speed.”

How could New York design roads, sidewalks and bike lanes in ways that similarly influence driver behavior in positive ways? And how can we identity and remedy public spaces that are producing unintended behaviors that run counter to intended uses?

Turkey Hunt 06

This Saturday, November 18th, is the 2nd Annual NYC Turkey Hunt - an all city scavenger hunt. Scavengers meet up at Sarah D. Roosevelt Park, Houston St. between Forsyth & Chrystie St., on the stairs, at 1pm. Come ready to rock with $5.00, a team of 3, a bag, and a digital camera. The earlier version of this flyer on myspace said "You must have fun! No fuckin around...ACT BUCK WILD!"

Get Stoned and Watch This

The Map of the Known Universe, by Seb Chevrel. I could watch this for hours. It's a 3D projection based on astronomical data that takes the viewer on a journey through the brightest stars in the night sky. Chevrel is an artist, designer and programmer who focuses on interactive media. Click on the image and sit back.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Missed Connections: Williamsburg meets Domino's Brooklyn-Style Pizza

This Craigslist Missed Connections is very of-the-moment: not only does it have a Williamsburg single-speed riding hipster, it's got Domino's new "Brooklyn-style pizza."
Williamsburg Girl Who Shared a Brooklyn-Style Pizza With Me - m4w - 26
We were at the pizza parlor, ordering sodas, debating the merits of dominos' Brooklyn - style pizza. I was the non-tall dude with the dark hair who rode in on his single speed bike, handing out voter information, and you were the ipod belle with the attitude. We had so much fun together eating that pie that we forgot to exchange telephone numbers or emails or AIM info. But we did exchange knowing glances, the kind that say "yeah, I'm digging you today so much I could dig myself a hole to jump into if you would jump in with me." People around us felt our kewl vibe.

So let's meet, and let's have a pizza in Little Italy, which is where all the real Pizzaria are. I want you to have a taste of a slice of my life, and it comes both with veggies and sausage.
For more on the travesty of Domino's "Brooklyn-style pizza" campaign:
"Does this mean that middle America will soon think Brooklynites like crappy pizza?" [Gothamist]
"Help us, Marty Markowitz!" [Room Eight]
"Brooklyn has been molested, kidnapped, and raped constantly of its identity by marketing hounds." [Metroblogging NYC]
"Why order it at all when live in New York City? To that I answer: For you, dear reader. I eat this stuff so you don't have to." [Slice]

For more CL Missed Connection gems, check out The Gowanus Lounge.

Borat Gets Sued

I just saw the Borat movie and kept thinking that this movie is sure to get the pants sued off Sasha Baren Cohen. Well, here's the first volley.

Two frats boys from a university in South Carolina have now come to regret their racist musings on how great it would be to still have slaves, and are suing Borat for, among other things, fraud and portraying them in a false light.

According to the lawsuit, Borat got them liquored up first, and told them the movie wouldn't be shown in the United States. That's a big part of why they're angry - they never thought other Americans would see what they have to say, and now their frat brothers are sitting in the theater laughing at them.

Read their lawsuit, courtesy of

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Benefit Gig to Fight East Vill Mass Eviction

A Columbia University dean has bought a fifteen unit, rent-stabilized building in the East Village and is trying to evict everyone. Why? So they can turn the building into a mansion for their daughter.

The tenants at 47 East 3rd Street managed to get a New York trial court to grant a permanent injunction, so that the new owners, Kathryn and Peter Yatrakis, will have to get approval from the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal in order to refuse to renew the tenants' leases. Rather than seek approval from DHCR, the Yatrakis are appealing the court's decision.

The 47E3rd residents have spent over $170,000 towards legal fees so far. They're throwing a benefit for their legal defense fund this Friday at Tonic. PennyRimbaud, Louise Elliott and Japanther are playing, and there's going to be a screening of Yes Sir, I Will by 80s punk band Crass. They're also raffling off two signed Crass litho prints. [flyer]

Admission $10 @ Tonic, 107 Norfolk Street
Read more on the 47E3rd website.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Peds vs Bikes vs Cars - What to Do?

Today in the New York Times, Samuel I. Schwartz, transportation columnist for The Daily News and the Department of Transportation’s assistant commissioner under Mayor Ed Koch, lays out the history of bike lanes in the City and proposes what we need to do to create more sensible transportation policy and better relations between pedestrians, bikers and cars.

Schwartz explains that Mayor Koch was first exposed to bike lanes on a trip to Beijing:
Mayor Ed Koch ... buoyed by a visit to Beijing, where he saw bike lanes used by tens of thousands, envisioned a network of physically separated bikeways up and down Manhattan.

In the summer of 1980, the mayor directed the department to install bikeways. From Washington Square Park to Central Park, the curb lanes of Fifth Avenue, Broadway and Seventh Avenue were separated from traffic by asphalt islands, giving bikers a lane of car-free roadway all their own.
The bike lanes were physically separated from car traffic using raised islands. New Yorkers had trouble adjusting to the bike lanes, and complaints poured in.
The department’s investigation found that pedestrians considered the bike lanes to be extensions of the sidewalk; they stood in the lanes waiting for the lights to change, where bikers often yelled at them. Mr. Koch made his own observations and found many bike riders traveling outside the lanes. He had us install traffic signs along the bike lanes in typical Koch-ese — “Use it or Lose it.” But even though the lanes were largely successful — and car traffic didn’t slow nearly as much as people thought — criticism mounted.
Faced with criticism, the mayor directed that the barriers separating bike and car traffic be removed, and that the bike lanes be marked only by painted lines. In hindsight, Schwartz thinks this was the wrong decision.
I think we made a mistake. We succumbed to the emotions of the moment. Had we kept the bigger picture in mind, we could have produced a network of separate bike lanes, a widespread public education program and tough enforcement that would have combined to promote good transportation policy and safety.
Now that New York has had 26 years of experience with bike lanes and bike policy, Schwartz has some thoughtful suggestions for the future. Among them:
  • we need to establish a clear hierarchy for the use of city streets. Pedestrians come first; we started out as a walking city and it will be our greatest strength going forward. This means bikers must yield to pedestrians — even errant ones. Biking is a superb form of transport we should encourage. Drivers must yield to bike riders — even errant ones.
  • let’s advance the network of bike lanes citywide. I’d even re-introduce physically separate bike lanes. This program needs to be communicated in a mass campaign explaining rules of the road and each group’s responsibility. For example, drivers need to know they are forbidden to enter a bike lane to turn; bikers need to know that they must not block crosswalks; pedestrians must learn they can’t use bike lanes as sidewalks.
Words of wisdom from someone who's been there.
Full op-ed: Rolling Thunder.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

What's On This Weekend

It's going be crisp but oh-so-sunny this weekend. What to do?

Williamsburg White Room Grand Opening
The opening of a new art space featuring 15 local artists. Open bar 8-9, DJs and live music.
S 3rd and Roebling, 7pm to 3am

Brazen Head Cask Ale Festival
22 cask ales from all over. Brooklyn Record describes cask ales as "hand-drawn to perfection and served in pint or half-pint glasses at a civilized temperature."
Brazen Head, 228 Atlantic Ave (between Court and Boerum Place), Saturday and Sunday

Walking Tour of Atlantic Yards
Organized by New York Like a Native walking tours, find out what the Atlantic Yards really looks like and where Ratner's baby is supposed to go. The best way to understand the controversy -- including issues of scale, design, and blight -- is to take a look around the proposed site and the surrounding neighborhood. The tour should run between 2 and 2 1/2 hours.
1:30PM, Williamsburgh Savings Bank, $15.

Reverend Billy's Revival
The Brooklyn Lyceum will be the site of some fabulous exorcisms, prayers, shouts, and radical gospel with the Church of Stop Shopping. The Reverend and the choir kick off their All Borough Revival Tour in the Wal-Mart-and-Ratner resistant borough of Brooklyn.
Brooklyn Lyceum, 227 4th Ave at President (R to Union), 4pm, $10

NYC Marathon
Pro women start at 9:35; pro men and the rest of the field at 10:10. A few good places to watch: Mile 14 at 23rd Street in Queens; 4th Avenue in Brooklyn; Mile 15 near Queensboro Plaza; Mile 18 near First Ave and East 86th St in Manhattan; near the finish at 90th and 5th Ave. Where to eat along the marathon route from Zagat's.

The Impeach Bush Jogging Circus
A mobile carnival of jugglers, joggers, clowns, hula hoopers, and a 10-plus piece jogging kazoo band are running the NYC Marathon as a team.
Mile 17, 1st Avenue and 66th Street, Manhattan, noonish; $free

Friday, November 03, 2006

NYC Marathon Elevation Map

That's a mean hill at the start of the marathon. You get another doozy at mile 15, but the planners saved their most dastardly scheme for the last few killer miles - rolling hills from mile 23 on. Plan your race strategy, or just figure out where you want to watch, using the marathon organizers' official elevation chart. Click for a pdf of the full elevation map.
The marathon is Sunday November 5th.