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Save Coney Island, 646.229.6609, info@saveconeyisland.net

AS N.Y. HONORS JANE JACOBS, HER SON IS ‘APPALLED’ AT CONEY ISLAND REZONING PLAN

Ned Jacobs: ‘This rezoning plan for Coney Island does not appear to reflect

the urban values and planning principles she espoused’

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Chinese electric cars, courtesy of the NY Times

Chinese electric cars, courtesy of the NY Times

There’s plenty of uncertainty on what the future holds, but one thing is for sure, the 21st century will not be like the 20th.

While Obama and Gordron Brown try to convince the Europeans not to take away our capitalism toys, the Chinese are making exactly the kinds of massive public investments in the future that Krugman and others have argued the US must make in order to stay relevant. The money isn’t the problem. Excluding some rightwing nutters in Congress, our country has signed on to the idea that something must be done (other than cut taxes) to ameliorate this economic crisis. But why isn’t any of that money going to beef up Amtrak or the MTA? The answer: no one in power in America, either Democrat or Republican, has a 21st century vision.

But the Chinese have it.

oil-fields

Dubai is a palace of excess and contradition. It is a mushroom that paradoxically bloomed under the whithering rays of the sun. But the leadership of the UAE is a lot smarter than anyone in America today. From today’s New York Times:

[The UAE’s] new investment [in renewable energy] aims to maintain the gulf’s dominant position as a global energy supplier, gaining patents from the new technologies and promoting green manufacturing. But if the United States and the European Union have set energy independence from the gulf states as a goal of new renewable energy efforts, they may find they are arriving late at the party.

The irony that the most wasteful and oil dependent part of the globe should be on the cutting edge of green energy is unremarkable next to the ambition — characteristic of the Gulf states — to go all the way all at once. Consider Masdar City, a planned community outside of Abu Dhabi that claims it will have a zero-carbon footprint. Even though skeptics doubt this claim, it is notable not for its complete success in execution, but for its audacity.

According to the Times article, Qatar has invested $225 million into a British research fund, and Saudi Arabia has invested untold millions into American universities, including $25 million for Michael McGehee an associate professor at Stanford, to develop cutting edge technologies. That is fifty times the amount invested by Western governments or industry.

Finally, the Times tells us Masdar City “goes beyond creating new materials and is in fact exploring a new model for urban life.” To wit: “The city will have no cars; people will move around using driverless electric vehicles that move on a subterranean level. The air-conditioning will be solar powered.” As a New Yorker I take exception to this. After all, we also have subterranean electric cars that move people around. It’s called the subway. If only the city, state, and federal government could get their posteriors and capitals wired together they could see that a massive investment in the New York City subway is a necessary good faith effort to putting America into the 21st century.

burj-dubai-2009

Burj Dubai

The Burj Dubai is the tallest building in the world and holds records for many “biggest” and “most” categories including tallest structure, tallest freestanding structure, building with the most floors, and highest vertical concrete pumping for any structure. The picture above was taken (by me) from the roof of Al Ghaya Residence on Sheik Zayed road, a pitiful 30+ story building. In the foreground you can see several other buildings in various stages of construction.

dubai-skyscraper

This is the building next door to Al Ghaya Residence, some 80+ stories tall. It has been under construction for more than a year, and it looks complete from the outside. It is empty, however, and the entrances are sealed. This building became emblematic, for me, of our unique historical moment.

The Baharain Tribune noted on October 2nd 2008 that Dubai’s growth is “founded to some extent on a burgeoning property market heavily dependent on borrowed money”, and Norton Rose, a corporate law firm specializing in investing, said on its “credit crisis blog” that “there are rumors that some large projects will be placed on hold.” The analyst at Norton Rose is optimistic, if not in the near term, at least in the medium term:

The “real” market, that is where construction has commenced (and therefore finance is in place to complete the project) or the property has been completed, is suffering a short term state of confusion although the medium term view is that the market will bounce back particularly in quality sectors in quality locations.

But this may be a species of optimism ridiculed by Paul Farrell (my new favorite Wall St. contrarian) in his Marketwatch.com editorial today. Norton Rose thinks the fundamentals of Dubai’s growth are strong, and that the financial problems of the last year will clear up soon, but one could also make the case that demand in Dubai has always been artificial, and that its incredible ten (really five) year growth spurt is an effect of the global bubble that has driven over-production in all sectors to astonishing, never-before-seen levels. As the New York Times reported recently, globalization led to global growth, and now it is leading to a global contraction. Is it implausible to postulate that globalization, growth, and blowing bubbles were interconnected, self-reinforcing phenomena?

But beyond a global contraction, Dubai has other worries. Norton Rose again spins the situation in positive terms:

Dubai has built itself as a trading hub, financial centre, tourist resort and is an attractive and exciting place to live. The number of expatriates moving to Dubai from throughout the world is staggering; all of these people will need a home. Office space still remains in very short supply with heavy demand. Rents in all sectors have continued to increase and demand remains strong, however owner occupiers are struggling to find lenders to accommodate them.

On one hand, many of the immigrants to Dubai are from India and Pakistan, and those people are definitely not the people Dubai wants filling up its empty towers. Certainly, Dubai’s planners have gone to great lengths to lure Western investment. Investment banks are able to run by Western laws — within the walls of their own buildings.

The lush courtyard of the Dubai Financial Center

The lush courtyard of the Dubai Financial Center

But outside the walls Dubai is still a theocratic state run under Sharia law. The world chuckles at Vince Acors and Michelle Palmer who were caught having sex on the beach and sentenced to three months in prison. The situation is made human and poignant, however, by the case of Marnie Pearce who was accused of adultery by her estranged husband and consequently convicted and sentenced to six months in prison. As a result she may lose custody of her two children entirely. In the print version of the article from January 5th, Ms. Pearce tells the reporter for the Telegraph with obvious passion that Westerners need to remember that Dubai is not a liberal state. A woman — any woman — can be punished for being alone in the company of a man who is not her husband or kinsman. And that is a kink in Norton Rose’s projection of continued demand for Dubai properties.

UPDATE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE!

dubai-apartment-apartments-villa-ville-5

UPDATE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE!

Dear Readers,

I, the editor, am off to Dubai to learn something about life in a desert. The hotel pictured above, one of the most, if not the most expensive in the world is not where I will be staying. But it makes a nice header to this post.

Some of the other writers may post something here or there — but don’t count on it. We, the unpaid observateurs of Cultural Capitol, will be off until January 5th (at the earliest). But in 2009 we hope to roll out some new tricks to make your experience of CC even more enriching.

Best,

Me.

FEBRUARY UPDATE!!!

For some reason this post has gotten an inordiant number of hits in the last few days (February 12 – 16). I can only assume that is because of widespread rumors that foreigners are fleeing Dubai and the Emriati debtors’ prisons. The New York Times wrote an article about it on February 11. If you want to read my reflections on my trip to Dubai over New Years, you can find the essays here:

Dubai — the world of tomorrow (and yesterday)

Dubai — where West eats meat

The UAE: Turning sunlight into gold

No, the picture above isn’t the Old West, or Kansas in the 1930s, or a movie set. This ruined house is in urban Buffalo, 2008.

Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics fame asks the question: why is it that major macroeconomics texts books gloss over the fact that periodical economic crises are endemic to capitalist accumulation? The discipline of macroeconomics came into being as a reaction to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Its purpose as an academic endeavor was to minimize or eliminate the business cycle.  The promise of macroeconomics tells us, if we’re smart enough we can think our way out of what looks like a permanent feature of capitalism.

The financial crisis of the last month has given the ultimate lie to the thought that economies can grow without also shrinking. (With two small exceptions in 1990 and 2002 the US has had sustained growth for 25 years. The unwinding of the current asset bubble in housing is the final end of that growth period.) Conservatives fear the business cycle because in a crisis the people look to the government to keep them from starving, and that, they feel, is socialism. This essay by Murray Rothbard puts the free market fundamentalist case eloquently. Liberals are hoping Obama can turn disaffection over jobs into votes, though liberals also are wary of being too gleeful about the impending crisis.

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The New York Times published an editorial yesterday that argued against a $1 surcharge on taxi fares due to the spike in gas prices. They note that there are a few hundred hybrid vehicles in the 13,000 taxi fleet, and that the entire fleet will be hybrid by 2012. The question is, why aren’t all yellow cabs hybrid now, and why won’t we have a fleet of electric taxis by 2012. The answer undoubtedly has to do with politics and the T&LC. Cultural Capitol will look into the matter and report more later!


My friend and I went to Kenka, a Japanese restaurant, on Saturday night (23/05/08). Though there was a twenty minute wait to get a table, I enjoyed hanging out on the sidewalk. Last week was Fleet Week in Manhattan, and the streets were jammed with sailors looking for a good time (and maybe a tattoo?).

Urban density means street life. We sat on the steps in front of Kenka watching the constant flow of people on the sidewalk, listening to conversations and soaking in the richness of the city. Some xenophobes and paranoiacs may feel short of breath on a crowded New York City sidewalk, but there is nowhere safer per capita in the U. S.! Though we were surrounded by different nationalities, ethnicities, and languages, the possible friction from those differences are overwhelmed by the sheer diversity of the street. Not even the scary Japanese mole-monster scared off diners!

Kenka has great food, and as far as I know it’s very authentic. Either that or the Japanese (Chinese and Koreans) that crowd the restaurant enjoy the Epcot vibe more than the “authentic” KFC you find all over Tokyo and Shanghai. Best of all, Kenka has a cotton candy machine just outside the front door, and they serve a little plastic cup of flavored sugar with your bill instead of fortune cookies. Use a chopstick to capture the cotton candy, and walk away with yummy desert!