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kottke.org posts about NYC

Favorite NYC Spots Lovingly Illustrated

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2019

Downtown Collective

Downtown Collective

The Downtown Collective is a project by illustrator Kelli Ercolano in which she is drawing & painting all of the NYC cafes, restaurants, and bars she’s fallen in love with. You can check out more of her work and process on Instagram.

The Art and Science of Tripping Up the Stairs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 03, 2019

This is a short video of a set of subway stairs in Brooklyn where one of the steps is juuuust a bit taller than the rest, which makes most people trip on it.

We don’t often think about it but even the least graceful humans move in a finely calibrated way. When we’re climbing stairs, our feet don’t clear the treads by much, so that even the tiniest deviation in the height of a step can spell trouble.

I’d love to see a study of how quickly our bodies learn how high the steps are in a new flight of stairs. Like, maybe we clear the first couple of steps by an inch or two but then we’re locked in and subsequent clearances are much smaller.

Is there a word for the way people tend to speed up after they trip climbing stairs? The stumble hustle? It’s such a small & endearing little thing that most people do.

My least favorite flight of stairs in the entire NYC subway system are, I believe, at the SW corner of 14th St and 6th Ave in Manhattan. Each of the steps is a different height, making for a tricky ascent and a downright dangerous descent. I keep thinking they’re gonna get fixed, but I used them on my last visit to the city in June. At this point, they’re like an old friend who’s kind of a jerk but you’ve known him so long that whaddya gonna do? (via @fishtopher)

Update: On Twitter, André Filipe Barro shared the Brazilian phrase for speeding up after tripping up the stairs: “went on a chicken chase”. Excellent!

30 Years of New York Drawings

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2019

Lucinda Rogers

Lucinda Rogers

Lucinda Rogers

Since her first trip in 1988, UK artist Lucinda Rogers has been traveling to NYC to draw the city and its inhabitants. Rogers is working on a book of her illustrations, which she hopes to publish independently with the help of Kickstarter.

With your support this book will for the first time reveal and re-assemble around ninety drawings made between 1988 and 2018.

Working with the designer Simon Esterson we are producing the book independently and by using Kickstarter we have total control of the design and quality of production, resulting in a beautiful edition — if we reach the target!

I am delighted that the introduction will be by Luc Sante, the brilliant writer and chronicler of cities, known best for Low Life : Lures and Snares of Old New York.

The project is most of the way towards the goal with a little over a week left. Let’s help push it over the finish line. (thx, david)

Vintage Photos of NYC’s High Line

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2019

Gothamist recently posted some vintage photos of NYC’s High Line taken by Jake Dobkin back when it was still an abandoned rail line and not an immaculately designed space surrounded by luxury condos. Meg & I snuck up there in Feb 2004 and walked all the way down from 33rd St to the Meatpacking and back again. Here are a few photos I snapped that day:

High Line

High Line

High Line

High Line

High Line

A couple of these were kindly included in Phaidon’s book about the making-of the High Line park.

Here Grows New York City, a Time Lapse of NYC’s Street Grid from 1609 to the Present

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2019

Using geological surveys, geo-referenced road network data, and historic maps drawn the from the collections of the Library of Congress and New York Public Library, Miles Zhang made this time lapse video of the development of the street grid of NYC from 1609 (when Henry Hudson first explored the area for the Dutch) to the present day.

The resulting short film presents a series of “cartographic snapshots” of the built-up area at intervals of every 20-30 years in the city’s history. This process highlights the organic spurts of growth and movement that typify New York’s and most cities’ development through time. The result is an abstract representation of urbanism.

Zhang has written up his research methodology for the video as well as some observations and analysis of the data.

For almost the first half of Manhattan’s history, walking was the primary means of transport. This preference was manifested in the shorter distances between residential, industrial, shipping, and commercial areas — and more frequently their overlap. With street systems, the reliance on the foot is manifested in narrower streets widths not designed to accommodate greater width from carriages, trolleys, and later cars. In fact, the average width of secondary arterial streets increased from 30 feet for streets opened between 1624-1664, to 45 feet for streets opened 1664-1811, and then a uniform width of 60 feet for any cross street opened after 1811. Later widenings increased many of these smaller and pre-1811 streets to width between 100 and 130 feet. In other words, moving from the older networks in the south to newer networks in the north, the width of streets and size of blocks generally increases. These new widths might be influenced by growing population size from only 25,000 in the 1770s, to 64,000 by 1811, and 247,000 by 1834, thereby requiring wider streets for expanding population and higher buildings.

These gradual changes in planning reflected increasing reliance on carriages and horse-drawn trolleys instead of walking. Each mode of transport required a different minimum street width and was associated with different speeds.

(via @john_overholt)

Neighborhood Golf Association

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2019

Street photographer Patrick Barr has been out photographing NYC since the 1990s. Barr also goes by the name of Tiger Hood (or Nappy Gilmore) and when he’s out on the street selling prints of his photographs, he passes the time playing a street golf game of his own invention.

It’s a game that requires only three items: a golf club, a newspaper-stuffed milk carton, and a crate. What was initially just a way for Barr to pass time has gained traction from major news outlets and celebrities on a global scale. However, street golf seems to overshadow his true passion… photography. Barr’s archive consists of thousands of mind blowing film photographs of NYC from the 1990’s to 2000’s. His goal was to preserve a time and place that he predicted would dissolve in the coming years. With his archive as evidence, he predicted correctly.

You can find some of Barr’s photos on Flickr and Instagram but if you want to buy a print, you’ll have to catch him on the streets of lower Manhattan.

The Forgotten Father of Pizza in the USA

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2019

A recent series of discoveries have upended the widely accepted story of the history of pizza in America and have the NYC food world in a tizzy. The typical origin story of American pizza is this:

In 1905, Gennaro Lombardi applied to the New York City government for the first license to make and sell pizza in this country, at his grocery store on Spring Street in what was then a thriving Italian-American neighborhood.

But research by Peter Regas (who looked in Italian-language newspapers from the late 19th century) has revealed a previously unknown pizza kingpin behind some of the NYC’s first pizzerias and moves the probable introduction date of the pizza back into the 1800s.

Of this forgotten older generation, one baker stands out. Filippo Milone came to New York in the late 19th century and likely established two of the most famous New York pizzerias that still exist today, Lombardi’s on Spring Street and John’s of Bleecker Street.

Regas explains, “Filippo Milone likely established pizzerias in at least six locations throughout New York City. Of these locations, three later became famous under different names: ‘Pop’s,’ ‘John’s,’ and ‘Lombardi’s.’ Pop’s in Brooklyn closed decades ago, but the other two in Manhattan still exist. Milone, a pioneer in what has become a $45 billion industry, later died in 1924, without children to preserve his story buried in an unmarked grave in Queens.”

Wow! This 1903 advertisement is for a pizzeria of Milone’s on Grand St.:

Pizza Milone

As for Lombardi’s founding in 1905, Regas has the receipts for that too:

While proof of that license has never materialized, Regas has tracked down Gennaro Lombardi’s birth record, naturalization papers, and other supporting documents that tell a different story. Gennaro Lombardi first came to America in November of 1904 at age 17, classified as a “laborer”. If he became involved with the pizzeria at 53 1/2 Spring Street in 1905, it was as an employee not as an owner. By that time, it had already been established as a pizzeria probably by Milone in 1898 but certainly by another proprietor named Giovanni Santillo who followed Milone in 1901.

As Pete Wells writes:

This is as if some other dude we’ve never heard of wrote both the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers and then handed them over to Adams Franklin Jefferson Madison Hamilton etc.

Regas is documenting his research here on an eventual book about all of this, due out sometime later this year. Boy oh boy, they’re gonna have to reprint a lot of NYC pizzeria menus with incorrect origin stories in them… (via @adamkuban)

“Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth” Exhibition in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2019

The “Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth” exhibition at NYC’s Morgan Library & Museum is “the most extensive public display of original Tolkien material for several generations”. Running from January 25 through May 12, the exhibition includes drafts, drawings, maps, and memorabilia related to J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, including hand-drawn maps done by Tolkien of Middle-earth.

Tolkien Exhibit

Tolkien Exhibit

Tolkien Exhibit

I’m totally going to this the next time I’m in NYC.

Update: Note to those who are heading to exhibition: cosplaying your favorite LoTR character at the Morgan Library is totally permissible.

Tolkien Exhibit

But all Gimlis, Legolases, and Gandalfs, leave your weaponry at home. (via @arbesman)

“Ask a Native New Yorker” in Book Form

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2019

One of the most popular recurring features on Gothamist is Jake Dobkin’s “Ask A Native New Yorker” column (which I’ve mentioned here more than once). In the column, Dobkin gives advice related to NYC issues like cycling in the city, dealing with problematic roommates, coping with bedbugs, and strangers sitting on your stoop.

Now Dobkin has turned that column into a book with all-new material: Ask a Native New Yorker: Hard-Earned Advice on Surviving and Thriving in the Big City.

The book version features all original writing and aims to help newbies evolve into real New Yorkers with humor and a command of the facts. In 48 short essays and 11 sidebars, the book offers practical information about transportation, apartment hunting, and even cultivating relationships for anyone fresh to the Big Apple. Subjects include “Why is New York the greatest city in the world?,” “Where should I live?,” “Where do you find peace and quiet when you feel overwhelmed?,” and “Who do I have to give up my subway seat to?” Part philosophy, part anecdote collection, and part no-nonsense guide, Ask a Native New Yorker will become the default gift for transplants to New York, whether they’re here for internships, college, or starting a new job.

Instant pre-order.

The Last Chess Shop in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2018

From directors Molly Brass and Stephen Tyler, this is a really lovely & poignant short film about Chess Forum and its owner, Imad Khachan, a Palestinian refugee who came to America to get a PhD in American literature and ended up as the owner/operator of a classic NYC establishment.

Anybody who doesn’t speak any language or different languages, they can sit here and play chess. You can still hold a meaningful conversation without saying a word.

In the 90s, Khachan opened Chess Forum across the street from another chess shop, The Chess Shop, after a disagreement with its owner.

After an ownership agreement between Khachan and a former business mentor fell to pieces, Khachan opened the Chess Forum directly across the street from his former partner’s shop, The Chess Shop. His move triggered what, in New York chess circles, is still known as the Civil War on Thompson Street.

“Sometimes attack is the best defense,” Khachan said of his decision.

His move tore New York’s tight-knit chess community in two. A ceasefire eventually settled in, with each shop courting its own customers and suppliers. His business rival closed in 2012, but the feud taught Khachan a lesson as strong as any he learned on the board.

“Like any chess game it’s the thinking ahead that keeps you one step ahead of the guy who’s shooting after you and not hitting you,” he said. “You have to keep moving.”

Update: Speaking of “holding a meaningful conversation without saying a word”, Gregor McEwan sent in links to a pair of papers he co-authored that argue that game play should be considered conversation: Chess as a Conversation: Artefact-Based Communication in Online Competitive Board Games and “I’m Just Here to Play Games:” Social Dynamics and Sociability in an Online Game Site.

Our analysis provides new evidence that even simple turn-based games contain a great deal of interaction richness and subtlety, and that the different levels of communication should be considered by designers as a real and legitimate vehicle for social interaction.

The Wrong Color Subway Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2018

Wrong Color Subway Map

From the orange 123 line to the green ACE to the purple 456, the color designations on the NYC subway lines on the Wrong Color Subway Map will mess with your head. Get the print here. From the folks who brought us the One-Color Subway Map. (via @khoi)

New York City Street Tree Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2018

Nyc Street Tree Map

The NYC Parks department maintains an online map of the city’s street trees — currently 678,674 mapped trees from 422 different species.

Our tree map includes every street tree in New York City as mapped by our TreesCount! 2015 volunteers, and is updated daily by our Forestry team. On the map, trees are represented by circles. The size of the circle represents the diameter of the tree, and the color of the circle reflects its species. You are welcome to browse our entire inventory of trees, or to select an individual tree for more information.

The map only shows trees that grow on land under the jurisdiction of NYC Parks. This includes trees planted along sidewalks or other public rights-of-way. You might not see trees that are planted on rights-of-way maintained by the NYC Department of Transportation, or by the state or federal government. You will also not see trees planted on private property.

Each tree on the map is clickable; when you do so, you can see the tree’s species, diameter, and the ecological benefits. (For example, this large oak tree along Central Park West provides $540 of ecological benefits each year…from capturing storm runoff to removing air pollutants.) You can also keep track of your favorite trees, join a tree care group to help take care of the city’s trees, or record activities you’ve done to care for trees in your neighborhood.

It’s easy to become a tree steward! We host volunteers all year long. We can train you in basic activities such as watering trees, adding mulch and soil, and removing weeds and litter; as well as advanced activities such as installing a tree guard, expanding tree beds, and installing or removing stone or brick pavers.

When Melbourne, Australia assigned each of their trees an email address to report problems, people started writing love letters to their favorite trees.

“My dearest Ulmus,” the message began.

“As I was leaving St. Mary’s College today I was struck, not by a branch, but by your radiant beauty. You must get these messages all the time. You’re such an attractive tree.”

This is an excerpt of a letter someone wrote to a green-leaf elm, one of thousands of messages in an ongoing correspondence between the people of Melbourne, Australia, and the city’s trees.

Each of NYC’s trees has a ID number too…let’s give them email addresses! (via @halobrien_wa)

Seven Species So Endangered that Their Remaining Members Could Fit in a Single NYC Subway Car

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2018

Some animals are so endangered that fewer than 100 members of their species remain in the world. For The Guardian, Mona Chalabi depicted the remaining members of seven of those species fitting into their own NYC subway car.

Subway Species

The data was taken from The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Rest In Pancakes, Kenny Shopsin

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2018

Shopsins

Word is filtering through the NYC food community that Kenny Shopsin has passed away. Together with his wife and children, Shopsin was the proprietor of Shopsin’s General Store, an iconic NYC restaurant, an establishment.

Calvin Trillin wrote a profile of Shopsin and the restaurant for the New Yorker in 2002.

One evening, when the place was nearly full, I saw a party of four come in the door; a couple of them may have been wearing neckties, which wouldn’t have been a plus in a restaurant whose waitress used to wear a T-shirt that said “Die Yuppie Scum.” Kenny took a quick glance from the kitchen and said, “No, we’re closed.” After a brief try at appealing the decision, the party left, and the waitress pulled the security gate partway down to discourage other latecomers.

“It’s only eight o’clock,” I said to Kenny.

“They were nothing but strangers,” he said.

“I think those are usually called customers,” I said. “They come here, you give them food, they give you money. It’s known as the restaurant business.”

Kenny shrugged. “Fuck ‘em,” he said.

Kenny’s daughter Tamara published a memoir recently called Arbitrary Stupid Goal…I read it last month and loved it. The book is not only a love letter to her family’s restaurant and the old West Village (which is now almost entirely gone), but also to her father, who is featured on nearly every page.

Shopsin published a cookbook back in 2008, Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin.

“Pancakes are a luxury, like smoking marijuana or having sex. That’s why I came up with the names Ho Cakes and Slutty Cakes. These are extra decadent, but in a way, every pancake is a Ho Cake.” Thus speaks Kenny Shopsin, legendary (and legendarily eccentric, ill-tempered, and lovable) chef and owner of the Greenwich Village restaurant (and institution), Shopsin’s, which has been in existence since 1971.

Kenny has finally put together his 900-plus-item menu and his unique philosophy-imagine Elizabeth David crossed with Richard Pryor-to create Eat Me, the most profound and profane cookbook you’ll ever read. His rants-on everything from how the customer is not always right to the art of griddling; from how to run a small, ethical, and humane business to how we all should learn to cook in a Goodnight Moon world where everything you need is already in your own home and head-will leave you stunned or laughing or hungry.

Much love to the Shopsin family right now.

Update: Several people wrote in mentioning I Like Killing Flies, a 2004 documentary about Shopsin. There are a few clips of it floating around on YouTube. The NY Times filmed Shopsin making his macaroni and cheese pancakes, one of the hundreds of items on the restaurant’s menu.

Update: The NY Times has an obituary of Shopsin and Helen Rosner wrote Remembering Kenny Shopsin, the Irascible Chef-King of Lower Manhattan for the New Yorker. Yesterday, Kenny’s daughter Tamara posted a photo of her dad on Instagram with the following caption:

@shopsinsnyc will be open Wednesday. My dad won’t be there in body but he will be there. I love you dad.

The Community of The Tables

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2018

The Tables is a short documentary about the ping pong tables in NYC’s Bryant Park and the cast of characters who play there frequently — homeless folks, pro players, bike messengers, and a guy who uses a block of wood for a paddle.

The carrot is not important. Chasing it is.

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2018

Arbitrary Stupid Goal

I finally picked up Tamara Shopsin’s Arbitrary Stupid Goal the other day. This is how it begins (emphasis mine):

The imaginary horizontal lines that circle the earth make sense. Our equator is 0°, the North and South Poles are 90°. Latitude’s order is airtight with clear and elegant motives. The earth has a top and a bottom. Longitude is another story. There isn’t a left and right to earth. Any line could have been called 0°. But Greenwich got first dibs on the prime meridian and as a result the world set clocks and ships by a British resort town that lies outside London.

It was an arbitrary choice that became the basis for precision. My father knew a family named Wolfawitz who wanted to go on vacation but didn’t know where.

It hit them. Take a two-week road trip driving to as many towns, parks, and counties as they could that contained their last name: Wolfpoint, Wolfville, Wolf Lake, etc.

They read up and found things to do on the way to these other Wolf spots: a hotel in a railroad car, an Alpine slide, a pretzel factory, etc.

The Wolfawitzes ended up seeing more than they planned. Lots of unexpected things popped up along the route.

When they came back from vacation, they felt really good. It was easily the best vacation of their lives, and they wondered why.

My father says it was because the Wolfawitzes stopped trying to accomplish anything. They just put a carrot in front of them and decided the carrot wasn’t that important but chasing it was.

The story of the Wolfawitzes’ vacation was told hundreds of times to hundreds of customers in the small restaurant that my mom and dad ran in Greenwich Village. Each time it was told, my dad would conclude that the vacation changed the Wolfawitzes’ whole life, and this was how they were going to live from now on — chasing a very, very small carrot.

The restaurant was Shopsin’s, no longer in Greenwich Village, and after a start like that, I read the next 80 pages without stopping. Really wish I’d heeded much advice to pick this up sooner.

See also “I’ve never had a goal”.

Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2018

I really like these drawings of NYC with a historical bent by illustrator and “amateur historian” Julia Wertz.

Julia Wertz 01

Julia Wertz 02

They’re from a book Wertz wrote & illustrated called Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City. Gothamist recently interviewed Wertz about the book and her work.

Q: Bob Dylan (and my boss, Jake Dobkin) both like to exclaim that “nostalgia is death.” Which probably says more about them, and their own particularly complex relationships with nostalgia, than anything else. But do you think of yourself as a nostalgic person? How does nostalgia play into your appreciation of the urban landscape?

A: I understand what people mean by that expression, but it categorizes nostalgia in too simple a way. Nostalgia is like an intoxicant — in moderation it can be a rewarding experience, but if abused/overused, it becomes toxic. To indulge in nostalgia is to romanticize the past and stop living in the present. This could be totally fine for short periods of time, just a nice way to remember a pleasant time you experienced, but if it becomes a way of thinking, it ruins the present because there’s no way the present moment can compare to a fabricated, romanticized version past. Nostalgia has a way of erasing the shitty parts of reality. Like when people are nostalgic for, say, NYC in the 1800’s — the horse and buggies, the handmade shop signs, the elaborate suits and dresses — they’re forgetting (or perhaps never knew) that the city then was a filthy cesspool of trash and sewage, disease was rampant, and the clothing was insufferably hot and restrictive, and sometimes even deadly for women cooking with open flame.

NYC is boring

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2018

In The Death of a Once Great City Kevin Baker argues that the current affluence of NYC has made the city “unremarkable” and “boring”.

New York has been my home for more than forty years, from the year after the city’s supposed nadir in 1975, when it nearly went bankrupt. I have seen all the periods of boom and bust since, almost all of them related to the “paper economy” of finance and real estate speculation that took over the city long before it did the rest of the nation. But I have never seen what is going on now: the systematic, wholesale transformation of New York into a reserve of the obscenely wealthy and the barely here — a place increasingly devoid of the idiosyncrasy, the complexity, the opportunity, and the roiling excitement that make a city great.

As New York enters the third decade of the twenty-first century, it is in imminent danger of becoming something it has never been before: unremarkable. It is approaching a state where it is no longer a significant cultural entity but the world’s largest gated community, with a few cupcake shops here and there. For the first time in its history, New York is, well, boring.

The chimeras of the NYC subway

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2018

The NYC subway is home to many interesting characters and creatures but perhaps none as delightfully weird as Matthew Grabelsky’s straphanger chimeras.

Matthew Grabelsky

Matthew Grabelsky

Matthew Grabelsky

(via colossal)

Through a Different Lens, a book of Stanley Kubrick’s photography

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2018

Kubrick Photo Book

Kubrick Photo Book

Kubrick Photo Book

Kubrick Photo Book

Kubrick Photo Book

There is much to admire in how Stanley Kubrick’s movies are constructed, but the director’s keen compositional eye is perhaps the most noticeable. Before becoming a filmmaker, Kubrick honed his observational skills as a photographer in NYC. Look magazine hired him when he was just 17 years old to fill the pages of the publication with photos of life in the city. A new book, Stanley Kubrick Photographs: Through a Different Lens, celebrates Kubrick’s photography, showcasing how that youthful talent would eventually translate into a great filmmaking career.

Through a Different Lens reveals the keen and evocative vision of a burgeoning creative genius in a range of feature stories and images, from everyday folk at the laundromat to a day in the life of a debutant, from a trip to the circus to Columbia University. Featuring around 300 images, many previously unseen, as well as rare Look magazine tear sheets, this release coincides with a major show at the Museum of the City of New York and includes an introduction by noted photography critic Luc Sante.

Kubrick’s photos are also on display at the Museum of the City of New York until late October 2018.

MTA Country, a game about the NYC subway

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2018

MTA Country

Everyday Arcade, which is responsible for The GOP Arcade (sample game titles include The Voter Suppression Trail and Thoughts & Prayers: The Game!), has designed a new game called MTA Country. Based on the SNES title Donkey Kong Country, the goal of MTA Country is to guide Andrew Cuomo, Bill de Blasio, and celebrity straphanger Gregg Turkin past hazards like track fires and stalled trains to their destination. That ending though… Hmm…

Ultra ultra HD 12K aerial video of NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2018

Phil Holland shot some aerial footage of NYC that he stitched together into a video with a resolution of 12K. That’s a 100-megapixel image, folks, “48.5 times the resolution of HD 1080p”. Holland has a writeup of the process used to capture the video, which is available at a down-sampled resolution of merely 8K. He shared several down-sampled 4K stills from the video, but I wish he would have included a 12K image as well, just to see what kind of detail is possible.

Is 12K footage of any practical use without 12K displays? My computer screen has 5K resolution, so I can’t even view 8K video or photos at full resolution, much less 12K. Does a 12K image down-sampled to 8K viewed on a 5K display look better than a 5K image on a 5K display? Better than an 8K image down-sampled to 5K on a 5K display?

Update: Cinematographer Steve Yedlin, who most recently was director of photography for The Last Jedi, did a comparison of different resolutions last year and concluded that bigger is no longer better. No Film School has a short summary of Yedlin’s findings.

The biggest takeaway for filmmakers is that we have already likely passed the point where extra resolution is noticeable to an end user. While going from standard definition to high definition was a huge leap in image quality, going from HD to UltraHD won’t even be noticeable for most users, and anything beyond that offers no benefit at all. The goal of these tests it to have technical discussions in a fashion that is understandable by laypeople, and Yedlin does a great job of that.

This is a similar conclusion to where we’ve been with smartphone and other digital cameras for awhile: megapixel count is no longer the thing that matters. (via @byBrettJohnson)

What America can learn from Europe about redesigning urban traffic patterns

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2018

In the NY Times, architect and urban designer John Massengale discusses how four European cities (London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Copenhagen) addressed their urban traffic problems and how NYC might apply those lessons to fix its own traffic issues. Massengale shared what the Dutch learned in reconfiguring their streets:

1. When drivers slow down to 20 m.p.h. or below, they are less likely to hit people and much less likely to seriously injure or kill people if they do hit them.

2. The best way to slow cars down is to throw away all the techniques that traffic engineers developed to make traffic flow quickly.

3. When you throw out all the detritus of traffic engineering, it becomes much easier to make beautiful places where people want to walk. Bike riding becomes more pleasant and safer as well.

His four-step plan to fix traffic in Manhattan is equally simple in principle:

The next step is to adopt congestion pricing below 96th Street in Manhattan and then:

1. Decrease the number of Manhattan streets that function as transportation corridors primarily devoted to moving machines through the city.

2. Design and build Slow Zones where people actually drive slowly.

3. Make the transportation corridors that remain better urban places, with a better balance between city life and moving cars.

Seems to me a vital part of this is fixing, expanding, and subsidizing the subway system…get everyone using the subway. Better, more reliable, and cheaper public transportation = less demand for taxis and Lyfts. As Bogota mayor Enrique Peñalosa said, “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transport.”

Ask A Native New Yorker (and Gothamist!) is back

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2018

New York City got an injection of good news earlier this year when WNYC announced they were buying Gothamist with an eye toward relaunching the site. After a successful Kickstarter campaign to procure additional funding, the site has resumed its dogged coverage of NYC.

Also back is Jake Dobkin’s great advice column, Ask A Native New Yorker. Past installments have considered burning NYC questions like Should I Buy A Mattress On Craigslist?, Should I Move Upstate?, and Is It Wrong To Read Over Someone’s Shoulder In The Subway? The series relaunched with this question: What Should I Do About My White Neighbor’s ‘Thug Life’ Doormat?

Some things never change, like gentrifiers still acting like jackasses to their new neighbors. Take this doormat: your new neighbor from Long Island probably just thought it was a cute demonstration of her realness-after all, Tupac did grow up in Harlem. She probably wasn’t even alive when his “Thug Life” album came out in 1994; it likely just seeped into her consciousness as an Internet meme, or however young people get their culture these days. What she’s failed to consider, obviously, is how other residents of the building might feel about them literally stomping on the legacy of one of the most mourned and respected rappers of all time, or the message it sends when white people appropriate the culture of black people for use as ironic home decor.

In the most recent one, published today, a reader asks: Can I Ask A Dog To Give Up Its Subway Seat?

You shouldn’t have to ask the dog, or its owner, for the seat, because the law is quite clear on this: “no person may bring any animal on or into any conveyance or facility unless enclosed in a container and carried in a manner which would not annoy other passengers.”

There is of course an exception for “working dogs for law enforcement agencies,” “service animals,” animals-in-training, and the like, but all of them “must be harnessed or leashed.” The law clearly does not include “emotional support” dogs, and no, that letter you made your therapist write (or bought from the internet) to get your canine friend on airplane won’t help.

But Dobkin doesn’t just leave it at that…as with many of his answers, he considers the situation from the perspective of all the parties involved (the questioner, the dog, the dog owner, the MTA, fellow passengers) and then widens the scope of his answer to include NYC’s growing mass transit crisis. Good stuff.

Street photos of NYC from 1969 to 2006

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2018

Jeff Rothstein NYC

Jeff Rothstein NYC

Jeff Rothstein NYC

“Urban observer” Jeff Rothstein has been wandering the streets of NYC taking B&W photos since the early 1970s. Among the photos, you can find snaps of John and Yoko, Bob Dylan, and Muhammad Ali. What’s interesting is because they are black & white and the look of NYC’s streets haven’t changed that much (from some angles at least), you can’t often tell when a particular photo was taken unless you look closely at clothing styles or signage in the background. And even then…NYC kids have been wearing Adidas kicks for more than 30 years.

You can buy his book, Today’s Special: New York City Images 1969-2006, right here on his website. (via craig mod)

The Summer of ‘78, NYC in photos

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2018

NYC Summer 78

NYC Summer 78

NYC Summer 78

In the summer of 1978, eight NY Times staff photographers, who had some time on their hands because of a newspaper strike, set out to document people using NYC’s parks. They took almost 3000 photos, which were recently rediscovered in a pair of cardboard boxes, forgotten and unseen for decades.

The infamous wretched New York of the 1970s and 1980s can be glimpsed here, true to the pages of outlaw history.

But that version has never been truth enough.

The photos speak a commanding, unwritten narrative of escape and discovery.

“You see that people were not going to the parks just to get away from it all, but also to find other people,” said Jonathan Kuhn, the director of art and antiquities for the department.

The NY Times has a selection of the photos and there’s an exhibition featuring the photos on view at The Arsenal Gallery in Central Park until June 14.

The Design of Childhood

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2018

C&C Brooklyn Bridge

Design? Parenting? Playgrounds? iPads? Architecture? Toys? Probably Lego? Alexandra Lange’s upcoming book about “how children’s playthings and physical surroundings affect their development”, The Design of Childhood, is firmly in my wheelhouse.

Parents obsess over their children’s playdates, kindergarten curriculum, and every bump and bruise, but the toys, classrooms, playgrounds, and neighborhoods little ones engage with are just as important. These objects and spaces encode decades, even centuries of changing ideas about what makes for good child-rearing — and what does not. Do you choose wooden toys, or plastic, or, increasingly, digital? What do youngsters lose when seesaws are deemed too dangerous and slides are designed primarily for safety? How can the built environment help children cultivate self-reliance? In these debates, parents, educators, and kids themselves are often caught in the middle.

It’s out in early June, but you can preorder it on Amazon.

P.S. That photo is a model of the Brooklyn Bridge built by 7-year-olds at City & Country School in NYC made almost entirely out of unit blocks.

In the 7s, children engage in a formal study of the infrastructure and geography of New York City. Through extended block work, they explore the relationships among city systems of government, transportation, communications, commerce, and utilities. New issues continually arise: Who makes the laws, and how are they carried out? How does traffic flow? Where does water come from? The city study culminates with the building of a permanent city, complete with running water and electricity, and an historical study of the Brooklyn Bridge.

The blocks all have official names (like pillar, double unit, cylinder, etc.) but the kids have their own names for them based on the shapes: squarie, roundie, brickie, buttery (because it’s shaped like a stick of butter), half buttery, archie, rampie, cubie, longie, middlie, and so on. So for example, if you’re constructing a model of the Empire State Building, that might call for several longies, a few middlies & squaries as you get closer to the top, a buttery + half buttery for the spire, and then several strategically placed colorful cubies for the nighttime lights.

Philip Glass: “I expected to have a day job for the rest of my life”

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2018

I enjoyed reading Lolade Fadulu’s interview with Philip Glass about the composer’s early life and how he made a living in NYC before being able to fully support himself with his music (which didn’t happen until he was in his early 40s). As a boy, his mother made sure he got a musical education and his job at his father’s record store exposed him to the idea that people paid money for art:

To this day, among my earliest memories was someone would give my father $5 and he’d hand them a record. So the exchange of money for art, I thought that was normal. I thought that’s what everybody did. I never thought there was anything wrong about making money.

As an adult, Glass worked odd jobs (plumber, mover, cab driver) to have the independence to work on his music:

I had an ensemble at the time. I would go out and play for three weeks. We would come back from the tour, and we usually had lost money so I had to make money immediately. I put an ad in the paper. My cousin and I ran the company, and I moved furniture for about three or four or five weeks. Then I went on tour again. Again, we lost money.

That went on for years. I thought it was going to go on for the rest of my life, actually. It never occurred to me that I would be able to make a living, really, from writing music. That happened kind of by accident.

I was interested in jobs that were part-time, where I had a lot of independence, where I could work when I wanted to. I wasn’t interested in working in an office where everything would be very regimented.

As his musical career took off, Glass continued to take his other work seriously. From a 2001 profile of Glass in The Guardian:

Throughout this period, Glass supported himself as a New York cabbie and as a plumber, occupations that often led to unusual encounters. “I had gone to install a dishwasher in a loft in SoHo,” he says. “While working, I suddenly heard a noise and looked up to find Robert Hughes, the art critic of Time magazine, staring at me in disbelief. ‘But you’re Philip Glass! What are you doing here?’ It was obvious that I was installing his dishwasher and I told him I would soon be finished. ‘But you are an artist,’ he protested. I explained that I was an artist but that I was sometimes a plumber as well and that he should go away and let me finish.”

But after Einstein on the Beach dazzled critics at the Metropolitan Opera, Glass’s days in the driver’s seat of a cab were limited:

The day after the performance, Glass was back driving his taxi: “I vividly remember the moment, shortly after the Met adventure,” he says, “when a well-dressed woman got into my cab. After noting the name of the driver, she leaned forward and said: ‘Young man, do you realise you have the same name as a very famous composer’.”

Glass is my favorite composer, but as much as I love his music, I might appreciate the way he has approached his work and career almost as much.

Pristine restoration of a 9-minute silent film of NYC street life from 1911

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2018

Last year, MoMA presented a nine-minute short film of locales around NYC that was shot in 1911.

This documentary travelogue of New York City was made by a team of cameramen with the Swedish company Svenska Biografteatern, who were sent around the world to make pictures of well-known places. (They also filmed at Niagara Falls and in Paris, Monte Carlo, and Venice, although New York 1911 is the only selection in the Museum’s collection.) Opening and closing with shots of the Statue of Liberty, the film also includes New York Harbor; Battery Park and the John Ericsson statue; the elevated railways at Bowery and Worth Streets; Broadway sights like Grace Church and Mark Cross; the Flatiron Building on Fifth Avenue; and Madison Avenue.

The film was only on the MoMA’s site for a brief time1 but lately some copies have popped up on YouTube, including the one embedded above. Note: this particular copy of the film has audio added and has been slowed down to a “natural rate”. I’d turn the sound off…the added foley effects are poorly done. If you want to see the original video, watch this one.

  1. No idea why they took the video down. Are there licensing issues? Or are they just trying to force an artificial scarcity? Why not just leave it up as a permanent exhibit? If you’re an art museum, you should share the art you have access to as much and as widely as possible.

Photographer captures the same people on the same NYC street corner many times over 9 years

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2018

Peter Funch

Peter Funch

For 9 years, photographer Peter Funch stood on a street corner near Grand Central Terminal, photographing the same people over and over again on their commutes to work…often wearing the same clothes and drinking the same drink. The result is 42nd and Vanderbilt (also available as a book).

The corner of 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue… what’s that? It’s a patch of nowhere that hides, like similar patches of nowhere, in all cities everywhere. It’s the space of Edward Hopper. It’s the real estate equivalent of a Styrofoam packing peanut. It’s blank, and it’s in this blankness that we circle back to Warhol and repetition and the aesthetic experience we enjoy when we look from one Marilyn to the next to see which screened face has what kind of silkscreen printing error.

Reminds me a little of several things, but mostly of Hans Eijkelboom’s People of the Twenty-First Century.