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A tap dancing mermaid at the Clinton Hill Carnival of Carnage

Happy Halloween! Tonight the good people at 313 Clinton Avenue put on their yearly Halloween show, and it may have been their best ever! The theme this year was “Carnival of Carnage.” As always the production value was top notch. The folks working on the show include some past and present theater folk from the Great White Way who know their way around sound and light equipment. They also know how to edit your favorite Disney songs to give them Brooklyn specific lyrics over the familiar music. Most of the ghouls and monsters in this year’s show crawled out of the ooze of the Gowanus canal, including the mermaid in the picture above, tapping her way into the hearts of the many children in the audience who were enchanted by the spectacle. (It seemed like half the audience was under three years old.)

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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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Yay! Obama announced a plan to invest $8 billion in high speed and existing rail projects! This is a welcome change from the plan of the past administration to strangle Amtrak and throw it in a tub to drown it. Build it, and they will come. Please lord, let the economically stimulating effect of mass transit in New York City show the Feds and the villains in the New York State senate that mass transit is a priority, not a privilege.

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.

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This was taken last week downtown. Where is the New Depression is headed?!

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.

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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!

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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

new-years-eve

2008 has been a big year. It saw the advent of this blog, for instance, the end of the Bush fiasco, the rise of Sarah Palin, the publication of my friend’s novel, the financial collapse, and, what is worse for me, the collapse of the MTA’s budget. This year also saw the rise of a bright new star on the burlesque scene, and I am not talking about Trixie Little’s hate monkey. I’m talking about J. D. Oxblood, the star reporter for this blog, who in his first six months as a cub reporter has earned the love — if not the respect — of a sizable percentage of women in New York City between the ages of 32 and 35. Seriously, read the comments appended to his post on Jo Boobs’ school of burlesque graduation show. He has more hot, female Facebook friends than you. No doubt.

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Obama Transition

Nancy Pelosi says we should bailout GM and Chrystler. Coming on the heels of the financial bailout, this will rack up more trillions of Federal debt, and it will set a bad precedent, as I argued in an earlier post. But more to the point, as Paul Farrell has forcefully argued at Marketwatch.com today, it is an inexcusable extension of Reaganomics.

[Naomi] Klein further exposed this insanity in a recent Rolling Stone article, “The New Trough: The Wall Street bailout looks a lot like Iraq, a ‘free-fraud zone’ where private contractors cash in on the mess they helped create.” Paulson’s privatization, outsourcing and management of the $700 billion bailout has the exact same Reaganomics ideological, strategic and deceptive footprints that President George W. Bush and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld used to privatize, outsource and mismanage the costly Iraq War blunder. Yes, Paulson is America’s new Rumsfeld!

And they keep going at it! Where is Krugman’s vaunted conscience? This needs to be shouted from the rooftops until someone in government grows the testicular fortitude to do the right thing: Fiscal stimulus is an investment in public capital — not private capital.

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Photo by Tina Fineberg for The New York Times

Though this article in the New York Times is feel-good real estate porn, it is also anecdotal evidence that urbanizaton might reverse the sixty year trend of suburbanization. The reasons Keyes and Woods give for moving back to the city sound like the mantra of the post baby boom, urbanist ethos.

In the summer of 2006, [Keyes and Wood] sold the Brooklyn house to friends for $2.075 million and moved to a five-bedroom colonial, circa 1920, in Maplewood, N.J. Their house there cost $930,000. Compared with other places, Maplewood, which reminded them of New England, felt more like a community and less like a bedroom suburb.

Their Brooklyn taxes were around $3,500 annually, but in Maplewood they were paying around $23,000. The good schools, they thought, would justify that amount for a family with several children, but “we could put Jillian in a really nice private school for that,” Mr. Wood said.

And Maplewood didn’t really feel like a community after all. “We had wonderful neighbors,” Mr. Wood said, “but it wasn’t the same as being in the city. Everyone got in cars and went somewhere. The only people you saw were running down to the train or jogging or walking their dog.”

Mr. Wood works from home but travels often. Ms. Keyes, alone with Jillian, now 4, felt isolated. “I underestimated how important the sense of community we developed in Brooklyn was,” she said. “I missed the restaurants and the green markets.”

Taxes are paradoxically lower in the city than in the ‘burbs; the city has more community, and this is largely due to pedestrian traffic, public transportation, and population density; prices of homes are falling in the suburbs as people become desperate to get out. This last point is of particular interest. Though gas prices may fall so far that driving is not a crushing expense and will not be as important a motivating factor moving people to the cities as it was last summer, the housing contraction may take its place as a motivator. The “broken windows” syndrome that drove whites from the urban core from World War II to the end of the Cold War may now drive them from the suburbs as unsellable houses become squats, derelict, or hideouts for crime. The process may be viral, first infecting the last, big, overdeveloped exurbs, then making its way into older suburbs until they too seem like ghost towns. If it is, the next fifty years will look considerably different than the last fifty years.

That will have an effect on politics too. The rural myth, enabled by the automobile and the suburb, that made Sarah Palin seem like a wise choice to Karl Rove will change dramatically. Will it disappear? Probably not. But it will change, and that will change what sort of candidates the rural right chose to represent them.

"Party's Over" -- NYC subway, October 2008

"PARTYS OVER" graffiti, NYC subway, October 2008

The editor asked me to write more about NYC and less about national politics. So this is it.

We’ve all heard about the vices of city living: gangs, drugs, AIDS, high taxes, poor schools, crowded apartments, and no place to park. What are the virtues of urban living?

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The New York Times is running a story today about the difficulty of getting alternative energy (in this case wind energy) to market. Mr. Wald locates the problem here:

The power grid is balkanized, with about 200,000 miles of power lines divided among 500 owners. Big transmission upgrades often involve multiple companies, many state governments and numerous permits. Every addition to the grid provokes fights with property owners.

This sounds a lot like the classic modernist narrative Le Corbusier gives in The City of Tomorrow:

Man walks in a straight line because he has a goal and knows where he is going; he has made up his mind to reach some particular place and he goes straight to it. The pack-donkey meanders along, meditates a little in his scatter-brained and distracted fashion, he zigzags in order to avoid the larger stones, or to ease the climb, or to gain a little shade; he takes the line of least resistance.

It is also the capitalist, freemarketeer’s main argument against preservation — and, by the way, environmentalism. Speed and economies of scale are assumed by the capitalist to be fundamental to survival. In high school debate this is the “Growth Is Good” argument.

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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!

(Editor’s note: This is the first post by Cultural Capitol writer J. D. Oxblood.)

On Dining with Strangers

By J.D. Oxblood

I live on a small island off the coast of the United States of America. That may be technically untrue, but it’s more true than the truth. I live on the Island of Long, in a small corner that is vastly different from the rest of the island and—like the neighboring island of Manhattan—the rest of America.

This is a story, like all New York stories, about what makes us different, if not exactly special. We live in tiny, tiny apartments and pay anywhere between a third to half of our income on rent. This is alarmingly obvious to New Yorkers, but if anyone’s reading this out in flyover country (that’s right, I said it) read that sentence again. It’s insane if you really chew it over, and yet we do it, year after year. And as I was recently reminded whilst dining with out of town guests, it’s always all about the rent. As my visitors were wondering why we were paying $15 for a cocktail, I noted the address: we’re half a block from Rockefeller Center. Guess what—while the cocktails are weak, the service is crap, the décor is overdone and like something some rube from the suburbs would call “so New Yorky”—these people have to pay the RENT.

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Construction on the fountain in Washington Square Park continues. It is being moved some feet to the right to make its center align with the arch and fifth avenue. To know more about the controversy behind the “redesign” of the park check out Washington Square Park blog.

The park’s history is the struggle of American urbanization writ small. Since the time of Robert Moses, anti-urbanists have tried to break it up or privatize it. Moses succeeded in extending 5th Ave. through it, and wanted to widen LaGuardia place to make it a thoroughfare, but Jane Jacobs and Shirley Hayes blocked the plan. The street was closed and Moses, who is legendary for bulldozing over neighborhood residents’ objections, was successfully checked for the first time. Ric Burns’s New York documentary is also a great place to learn more about Moses and the anti-urbanists.


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!


Some friends and I ate lunch at Habana Outpost on the corner of Fulton and South Portland St last Friday. It was a beautiful day to sit outside and have a margarita.

The decor is fantastic. I love the combination of Southern Spanish / North African elements with Catholic, Central American and bricolaged pieces.

Habana Outpost is an “eco-eatery,” which is displayed in several design elements. In the bathroom rainwater runs through copper pipes to feed sunflowers and other green plants. In the back rainwater is channeled to rows of herbs that patrons are invited to smell and identify.

Habana Outpost is a perfect example of the New Urban Aesthetic that seeks to enhance the already ecologically advantageous elements of urban dwelling with environmentally conscious architecture. And the food is delicious.