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kottke.org posts about NYC

A Secret to Vermont’s Pandemic Success

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 19, 2020

For Vox, Julia Belluz takes a look at the approach that’s made Vermont more successful than most other US states in combatting Covid-19. The big thing? State officials recognized that those most at risk needed more support.

There’s a fatal flaw embedded in the basic Covid-19 test, trace, and isolate trifecta used around the world: It doesn’t account for the fact that the coronavirus is not an equal-opportunity pathogen. The people who are most likely to be tested, and to have the easiest time quarantining or isolating, are also the least likely to get sick and die from the virus.

From the United Kingdom to Sweden to Canada, we have evidence that the virus preys on people employed in “essential service” jobs (bus drivers, nurses, factory workers), which don’t allow for telecommuting or paid sick leave; people in low-income neighborhoods; and people in “congregate housing” like shelters, prisons, and retirement homes.

People of color tend to be overrepresented in these groups — but there’s no biological reason they’re more likely to get sick and die from the virus. Simply put: They tend to work jobs that bring them outside the home and into close contact with other people, live in crowded environments ideal for coronavirus contagion, or both.

The state then directed efforts, resources, and money to nursing homes, the unhoused, prisons, and essential workers to make it easier for those folks to stay safe.

I also thought this bit was really interesting:

There’s a simple adage in public health: “Never do a test without offering something in exchange,” said Johns Hopkins’s Stefan Baral. So when a patient gets tested for HIV, for example, they’re offered treatment, support, or contact tracing. “We’re not just doing the testing to get information but also providing a clear service,” Baral added, and potentially preventing that person from spreading the virus any further. “This is basic public health.”

With Covid-19, the US has failed at basic public health. Across the country, people have been asked to get tested without anything offered in exchange.

“If we are asking people to stay home and not work, we have to make sure society is supporting them,” Baral said. “An equitable program would support people to do the right thing.”

“Never do a test without offering something in exchange.” To the extent that federal and state governments have been asking to people to stay home, get tested, and wear a mask, many of those same governments have been unwilling or unable to provide people with much in return for doing so. And so, here we are months into this, paying for that inaction with 250,000 lives.

Update: How NYC does “never do a test without offering something in exchange”:

You can access a free hotel room to safely isolate from your family, which include meals, Rx delivery, free wi-fi, medical staff on site, and transportation to and from hotel and medical appointments.

(via @agoX)

NYC’s New Digital Subway Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2020

NYC Digital Subway Map

New York City has a new digital subway map that reflects the current status of the subway lines. And you can even see the trains moving, right on the map. (Finally!!) Visually, the new map combines the styles of two past maps, each beloved in their own way.1Fast Company explains:

The first map is that by Massimo Vignelli, who simplified the snaking subway system into a clean diagram which traded geographic literality for graphical clarity. This elegant simplification turns the confounding subway into a logical system. But the main Vignelli map was scorned by New Yorkers because it wasn’t an actual map, and it was quickly replaced (though a permutation actually lives on as the MTA’s Weekender diagram, which signals weekend services). Meanwhile, the primary map the MTA uses today was created by Unimark International and Michael Hertz Associates. It’s more geographically accurate, but it actually condenses information that was in the Vignelli map. For example, it combines individual train lines such as the C, D, and E lines into singular trunks.

Here’s a video from filmmaker Gary Huswit that shows how the team came up with the new map:

Zooming the map in and out, you see different levels of detail, just like with Google or Apple Maps. I like it — a good combination of form and function.2

Update: A reader reminded me of designer Eddie Jabbour’s Kick Map of the NYC subway, which effectively melded the styles of the Vignelli and Hertz maps together more than 15 years ago.

Kickmap Nyc Subway

What’s interesting is that the MTA explicitly rejected and criticized the Kick Map but ended up doing something quite similar with the new digital map. I think Jabbour’s effort deserves to be acknowledged here. (thx, nicolas)

  1. I know as a lover of simplicity, beautiful design, and whatnot, I’m supposed to love the Vignelli map, but I never have. The Hertz map fits the utility of the NYC subway so much better.

  1. Although I will say that the website in Chrome absolutely hammered the processor on my computer. It’s probably smoother on mobile?

Xi’an Famous Foods Cookbook!

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2020

Xi'an Famous Foods Cookbook

I moved away from NYC more than four years ago, and I still think about Xi’an Famous Foods all the time. I miss going there and pondering the make-up of the mind-bendingly delicious sauces they ladled out onto their hand-pulled noodles — “What the hell is in here that makes it taste so good?” Xi’an is one of my favorite restaurants, but with the pandemic and all, the last time I ate there was nearly an entire year ago. So it’s not an understatement to say that I’m overjoyed to see that they are coming out with a cookbook: Xi’an Famous Foods: The Cuisine of Western China, from New York’s Favorite Noodle Shop .

CEO Jason Wang divulges the untold story of how this empire came to be, alongside the never-before-published recipes that helped create this New York City icon. From heavenly ribbons of liang pi doused in a bright vinegar sauce to flatbread filled with caramelized pork to cumin lamb over hand-pulled Biang Biang noodles, this cookbook helps home cooks make the dishes that fans of Xi’an Famous Foods line up for while also exploring the vibrant cuisine and culture of Xi’an.

Lemme just highlight the most important part of that paragraph: never-before-published recipes. YESSSSS. The cookbook is coming out next week, but you can pre-order it now from Bookshop.org and Amazon.

How Cities Can Make the Most of a Pandemic Winter

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2020

As winter approaches in North America and Europe, cities should be thinking about how to encourage and enable people to spend as much time outdoors as possible to help keep everyone sane and safe from Covid-19. From a great piece in CityLab by Alexandra Lange:

Dress in layers, invest in silk and wool long underwear, get over your prejudice against parkas. Many people do this as a matter of course when gearing up for a day of skiing or a turn around the ice rink. But in cities, people dress for the destination, not the journey. “People dress saying, I’m going from my home to this business. What’s the least amount of clothing I can wear for the tolerance of walking x feet?” says Simon O’Byrne, senior vice president of community development for global design consultancy Stantec. “We have to switch that, and dress to loiter.”

O’Byrne, who is also co-chair of the WinterCity Advisory Council, adds, “Stickiness encourages people outside. Moscow does year-round farmers markets. The artists’ community has been pulverized by Covid. As much as we can, we should embrace things to help the local artists, community.” He suggests commissioning visual artists to illuminate dark spaces, via murals or light installations, and hiring musicians for distanced outdoor concerts.

Cities should also invest in places to loiter. All of those outdoor restaurants that are supporting local businesses and bringing liveliness back to the streets? In New York City, at least, they are scheduled to shut down at the end of October, while the mayor and governor bicker over indoor dining. But cities need to catch up to ski areas, which long ago figured out how to make après ski activities like outdoor bars and music venues as much of an attraction as the slopes. Wind breaks (with openings above and below for ventilation), patio heaters and sun orientation can all take outdoor dining further into 2020. WinterCity’s Four Season Patio Design Tips also include higher insulation value materials, like wood or straw bales rather than metal seating, as well as simple solutions like blankets, which offer customers the winter equivalent of being able to reposition your chair in the sun — though that works year-round.

And indeed, NYC just announced that the increased outdoor dining that the city has allowed during the pandemic will become “permanent and year-round”.

Tens of thousands of parking spaces will be permanently repurposed from free private vehicle storage for use by the city’s struggling restaurant owners as part of a revolution in public space unleashed on Friday by Mayor de Blasio.

On WNYC’s “Ask the Mayor” segment, Hizzoner revealed that restaurants would be allowed to occupy curbside spaces - which more than 10,000 are already doing — for outdoor dining, not just through the coronavirus pandemic, but all year and, apparently, forever.

It may turn out to be the single biggest conversion of public space since, well, since car drivers commandeered the curbside lane for free overnight vehicle storage in the 1950s.

But whatever measures are taken, they need to be inclusive for the diverse populations that live in cities. Here’s Lange again, who spends several paragraphs in her piece on this issue:

Snow clearance has become an ongoing political issue for winter cities, with disabled people, the elderly, and parents and caregivers arguing that sidewalks and crossings deserve the same priority as cars, lest people be essentially trapped in their homes. Many physically disabled people have already had their mobility limited during quarantine due to pre-existing health risks, the inability to avoid using elevators and the difficulty of maintaining social distancing. Temporary urban design changes also need to be inclusive.

Five Months of the Virus in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2020

Daniel Arnold NYC Covid Times

Photographer Daniel Arnold and editor Dodai Stewart collaborated on a photoessay documenting the first five months of the pandemic in NYC. That image above is just…wow.

See also COVID-19 Empties Out Public Spaces.

If NYC Were 100 People…

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2020

Using census data (which she acknowledges can be imperfect in capturing the full range of people’s identities), data scientist/artist Mona Chalabi created a drawing of 100 people who are representative of NYC’s population for a NY Times opinion piece on inequality and coronavirus.

100 New Yorkers

Chalabi writes on Instagram:

When you think about who is most affected by Covid-19, you need to consider inequalities in housing, in access to healthcare, in wealth. And so much of that ends up consistently affecting people of color. You could think of it as overlapping circles in a Venn diagram. Or, you could look at these 100 people.

She’s selling prints of this on her website (pink background, black background), with all profits going towards a Covid-19 rent relief fund for families organized by The Conscious Kid.

See also If Only 100 People Lived on Earth…

A Virtual Stroll Through Manhattan, Circa 1609

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2020

Mannahatta vs Manhattan

The NY Times’ Michael Kimmelman has been taking a series of virtual walks around NYC, exploring different aspects of the city. His latest walk is with Eric Sanderson, conservation ecologist and author of Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City. The pair of them start at the southern tip of Manhattan over 400 years ago, with Sanderson explaining how the island would have appeared when Henry Hudson arrived in 1609.

Michael Kimmelman: Aside from Hudson’s ship, what do we see?

Eric W. Sanderson: Whales and porpoises. One of the earliest sketches we have of Manhattan shows a whale in the Hudson River. The charter of Trinity Church includes a provision specifically saying dead whales found on beaches in the province of New York are property of the church, which could use them to make oil and whale bone. So whales were clearly a meaningful part of the local economy and ecosystem.

Kimmelman: What was the ecosystem?

Sanderson: Ecosystems, actually. Manhattan is something like one percent the size of Yellowstone. Yellowstone is 2.2 million acres and it has 66 ecosystems. Mannahatta had 55.

It’s an interesting thought exercise to imagine what might have happened had the United States been colonized from the West, instead of from the East. We might have decided to make Manhattan a national park. We would be coming to New York for an entirely different sort of wildlife.

The Missing Sounds of New York

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2020

The NYPL has released an album of sound-based experiences that you might be missing right now as we all shelter at home: Missing Sounds of New York.

It’s a short album (16 min) and includes soundscapes like Serenity Is a Rowdy City Park, I’d Call a Cab to Anywhere, and The Not-Quite-Quiet Library.

See also this 3+ hour album of ambient city sounds. There are also many videos of ambient city sounds on YouTube, like this 10-hour video of ambient NYC sounds:

This is a mix of ambience sounds recorded around Christmas Eve as well as St Patrick’s Day. Enjoy the sounds of people talking, traffic noises, police sirens, subway sounds, footsteps around NYC. City sounds at night and day.

Or perhaps you’d like to go for a stroll in the city instead? (via the morning news)

Chris Ware’s NYC Still Life

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 27, 2020

Chris Ware's Still Life of NYC

For the cover of this week’s New Yorker, Chris Ware drew several vignettes of NYC arranged in his trademark grid as a companion to this incredible piece about a single day of the Covid-19 crisis in the city. About the cover, Ware wrote:

Teeming with unpredictable people and unimaginable places and unforeseeable moments, life there is measured not in hours but in densely packed minutes that can fill up a day with a year’s worth of life. Lately, however, closed up in our homes against a worldwide terror, time everywhere has seemed to slur, to become almost Groundhog Day-ish, forced into a sort of present-perfect tense — or, as my fellow New Yorker contributor Masha Gessen more precisely put it, ‘loopy, dotted, and sometimes perpendicular to itself.’ But disaster can also have a recalibrating quality. It reminds us that the real things of life (breakfast, grass, spouse) can, in normal times, become clotted over by anxieties and nonsense. We’re at low tide, but, as my wife, a biology teacher, said to me this morning, “For a while, we get to just step back and look.” And really, when you do, it is pretty marvellous.

A Relaxing Walk Through the Cherry Blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2020

It’s unfortunate that places like the Brooklyn Botanic Garden need to be closed during this stressful time, because the cherry blossoms are in bloom right now and what a balm that would be to so many souls. Luckily, cinematographer Nic Petry was granted access to the garden a couple of weeks ago to capture a relaxing and meditative walk through the Japanese Garden.

The historic garden is one of the oldest extant Japanese gardens in the United States, and its collection of cherry cultivars was in lovely bloom during filming. Petry, a specialist in moving camera techniques, conceived the piece as a way to recreate the meditative experience of walking through the garden on a glorious, early spring day.

(via laura olin)

Update: See also Gothamist’s photos and drone video of the cherry blossoms this year.

Update: Now that more cherry trees are in blossom at the garden, they have uploaded a video of a walk through the esplanade.

The View from the Front Lines of NYC’s Public Hospitals

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2020

Philip Montgomery

Philip Montgomery

Clad in full PPE, photographer Philip Montgomery visited seven different NYC public hospitals over the course of a week for the NY Times Magazine, documenting the hospital workers’ fight against Covid-19, supply shortages, and intense working conditions.

At Elmhurst, the improvisation began as soon as the first surge of coronavirus patients started arriving in the middle of March. In order to more efficiently sift through the crowds and find the most severe cases, the staff set up a divider at the entrance. Medical workers armed with thermometers and oxygen monitors steered people with milder symptoms to a separate treatment tent. Those who were seriously ill went into critical care. Thirteen patients at the hospital died over a 24-hour stretch during the fourth week in March. A refrigerated trailer was parked behind the building to store dead bodies.

In a short behind-the-scenes video about his photos and the piece, Montgomery says “I think if the general public could stand where I was for at least 10 to 30 seconds, I think everyone would be staying home.”

From the same issue of the magazine, Dr. Helen Ouyang: I’m an E.R. Doctor in New York. None of Us Will Ever Be the Same. What initially started as an article about the situation in Italy rapidly escalates into NYC hospitals fighting those same battles.

Family members weren’t allowed into the hospital because they, too, could get infected or spread the virus to others if they themselves were sick. But Duca asked for permission from his supervisor to let the man’s wife and daughter in, just for a few minutes. “I saw his face when he looked at his wife coming inside this room,” Duca recalls. “He smiled at her. It was a fraction of a second. He had this wonderful smile.” He continues: “Then I saw that he was looking at me. He realized that there was something wrong if only his relatives were coming inside.” The man knew in that instant that he was going to die, Duca says. As the man’s breathing worsened, morphine was started. He died 12 hours later.

Read the whole thing; it’s upsetting, terrifying, and deeply humanizing. I wish Americans watched less TV news and read more — if everyone in the US read these articles, I believe the entire tone of this crisis would change and become more urgent.

The Best New York Accent

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2020

Stuck at home during the pandemic, filmmaker Nicolas Heller decided to hold a contest on Instagram to find the person with the best New York accent.

It would be impolitic to say that the New York accent is the signature American accent. You could argue, though, that the New York accent is the accent of the current crisis. It’s there in the burly roundness of the words coming out of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mouth, or the acidity in the tone of Dr. Anthony Fauci, or the way President Trump scrapes all of his syllables together. (Senator Bernie Sanders’s howling woof counts here, too.)

For New Yorkers, that’s made the conversation around the coronavirus feel as local as the pandemic’s actual impact. Watching the news can feel like watching quarrels between grouchy neighbors.

In this climate, the #BestNYAccent challenge was even more reassuring. A reminder of local resilience and stubbornness in the face of global trauma. A monument to history and place standing firm against titanic winds. A middle finger to life’s cruel dice roll.

New York Apartment For Sale, Only $43.9 Billion

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2020

New York Apartment

For New York Apartment, an art project commissioned by The Whitney, artists Sam Lavigne and Tega Brain compiled actual NYC real estate listings into a listing for one mega apartment for sale.

Compiled from actual online real estate listings, the artwork collapses the high and low ends of the market, architectural periods and styles, and neighborhoods and affordability into a single space that cumulatively creates a portrait of New York’s living spaces and the real estate market. Like a standard real estate ad, the listing shows the price, number of bed- and bathrooms, and square footage, all of which are updated weekly based on the city’s aggregated real estate listings.

Take some time to explore the project — take the 3D virtual tour, scroll through all of the bathrooms & closets, peruse the apartment features, and take the video tour:

Do you crave brilliant sunshine and the peace Zen behind closed doors at home, and the bustle and excitement of the big city at your doorstep?

Do you dream of a Manhattan life?

Do you dream of Brooklyn living with Manhattan in reach?

Do you have a thing for top floor apartments?

Do you have vision?

Do you like light?

Do you love to cook?

Do you love to entertain?

Do you need lots of closet space?

Do you own or plan to buy a car?

Do you prefer simple shaker style wood cabinets with solid surface counters or custom lacquer cabinets paired with a travertine marble?

Do you want a home just steps to the beach?

Do you want Katz Deli, Russ and Daughters or maybe some Economy Candy?

Contact information for all of the brokers is listed on the site in case you’re interested.

The Times of Bill Cunningham

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2020

In 1994, legendary street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham gave a six-hour interview about his life and work. This interview was recently rediscovered and made into a documentary called The Times of Bill Cunningham. Here’s a trailer:

The movie is out in theaters, but the reviews so far are mixed, especially when compared to the rave reviews received by 2011’s Bill Cunningham New York. Still, Cunningham is a gem and I will watch this at some point soon. (via recs)

Remembering Jason Polan

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2020

Jason Polan

New York artist Jason Polan has passed away at the age of 37. The cause was colon cancer. From the NY Times obituary:

Mr. Polan’s signature project for the last decade or so was “Every Person in New York,” in which he set himself the admittedly impossible task of drawing everyone in New York City. He kept a robust blog of those sketches, and by the time he published a book of that title in 2015 — which he envisioned as Vol. 1 — he had drawn more than 30,000 people.

These were not sit-for-a-portrait-style drawings. They were quick sketches of people who often didn’t know they were being sketched, done on the fly, with delightfully unfinished results, as Mr. Polan wrote in the book’s introduction.

“If they are moving fast, the drawing is often very simple,” he wrote. “If they move or get up from a pose, I cannot cheat at all by filling in a leg that had been folded or an arm pointing. This is why some of the people in the drawings might have an extra arm or leg — it had moved while I was drawing them. I think, hope, this makes the drawings better.”

See also obituaries and remembrances from Gothamist and Ghostly. You can check out his blog and buy some of his work from 20x200.

I never met Polan in person — we corresponded via email occasionally, were admirers of each other’s work (I have several of his drawings), and I linked to his stuff sometimes (not enough) — but many of my friends knew him well and are reeling. There was a gentleness, a loving attention, that really came through in his work and in talking with the folks who knew him, that’s the way he was in person too. A kind soul, gone too soon. Rest in peace, Jason.

Update: Polan’s friend and long-time collaborator Jen Bekman posted a lovely tribute to him on 20x200.

Jason noticed. This was his thing. The effortlessness with which he could hone in on a person in the endless stream of the city, pick out just one or two details that made them unique and make art of them. People often asked me if I thought he had a photographic memory, and yea, maybe he did, but it wasn’t really the source of his genius. The source, I think, was his bottomless empathy and interest.

The Lost Central Park Neighborhood of Seneca Village

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2020

In the 1850s, the well-heeled residents of Manhattan were convinced the city needed a grand park like the European capitals had. And so, a park located in the middle of the city was proposed, a Central Park, if you will. The only problem? There were people living in the park’s proposed location, including Seneca village, a small, integrated, predominately black neighborhood.

It’s a story that goes back to the 1820s, when that part of New York was largely open countryside. Soon it became home to about 1,600 people. Among them was a predominantly black community that bought up affordable plots to build homes, churches and a school. It became known as Seneca Village. And when Irish and German immigrants moved in, it became a rare example at the time of an integrated neighborhood.

See also ‘The City Needed Them Out’.

Goldman v Silverman

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2020

Filmed during Uncut Gems, Goldman v Silverman is a short film by the Safdie brothers starring Adam Sandler & Benny Safdie as dueling street performers dressed up in metallic paint. In addition to the paint, Sandler has a mask on and doesn’t really talk, so no one in Times Square realizes it’s him. (via gothamist)

World Underwater

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2020

World Underwater

Inspired by a trip to Venice, the world’s most prominent example of what life could be like in many of our coastal cities in the years to come, Hayden Williams made a series of 3D rendered images showing what our world might look like underwater. (via the morning news)

A Map of the 637 Languages Spoken in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2019

NYC Language Map

The Endangered Language Alliance has produced a map of the 637 languages and dialects spoken by the residents of NYC (past and present).

It represents ELA’s ongoing effort to draw on all available sources, including thousands of interviews and discussions, to tell the continuing story of the city’s many languages and cultures. The patterns it reveals — the clustering of West African languages in Harlem and the Bronx, a microcosm of the former Soviet Union in south Brooklyn, the multifaceted Asian-language diversity of Queens, to name a few — only hint at the linguistic complexity of a city where a single building or block can host speakers of dozens of languages from across the globe.

The online map embedded in the page works ok, but a $50 donation to the organization will get you a 24″ x 36″ print for your wall.

According to a Gothamist post about the map, the size and diversity of the city sometimes means that a significant chunk of a language’s worldwide speakers live in NYC:

Seke is a language spoken in just a handful of towns in Nepal-worldwide, there are fewer than 700 people who speak it. More than 100 of those people live in Brooklyn and Queens, according to the Endangered Language Alliance, a group that seeks to document and preserve smaller, minority, and Indigenous languages across New York City.

(via gothamist)

Thanksgiving Dinner Served on the L Train

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 26, 2019

File this under “I Love NYC”. On Sunday night, riders on a Brooklyn-bound L train were treated to a full Thanksgiving dinner, courtesy of some of their fellow straphangers. For more than 20 minutes, a group of riders dined and passed out plates of turkey, collards, stuffing, squash, and mashed potatoes to other folks in the car. Here’s a 21-minute chunk of the action:

They started the meal with a prayer and everything. An onlooker said of the event:

It was a 7 PM Sunday L from union square and was not crowded at all. They said it was an inclusive gesture to emphasize no one should go without food on Thanksgiving. They were loud but not rowdy or a nuisance. They even handed out plates to everyone in the car — I got one and the turkey was a solid 7/10 and collard 8.5/10. I’m glad I got to experience something like this. Makes a great story!

There were even MTA employees amongst us but no one objected.

Here’s a shorter video with some of the highlights:

(thx, johana)

The Typologies of New York City

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 22, 2019

Using almost 1300 photos from Instagram of iconic/stereotypical shots of NYC, Sam Morrison spent 200 hours creating what he calls a crowdsourced hyperlapse video of the city. I love it. Reminds me a little of the old Microsoft application Photosynth, which could stitch together hundreds of online photos of, say, the Eiffel Tower or Golden Gate Bridge into a composite 3D image. (via a newly resurgent waxy.org)

Incredible Low-Angle Satellite Photo of NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2019

Low Angle NYC

That’s much of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens captured by Maxar’s Worldview-3 satellite, but at an unusually low angle. Here’s a closer view of the southern tip of Manhattan:

Low Angle NYC

Says Daily Overview of the shot:

This particular shot is made possible due to the focal length of the camera in this satellite that is roughly 32 times longer than that of a standard DSLR camera.

I don’t know what practical value low-angle satellite photos have, but they sure are beautiful.

See also a low-angle satellite photo of San Francisco.

What Killed City Bakery?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2019

Last week, the beloved NYC eating establishment City Bakery closed its doors due to financial troubles.1 Rachel Holliday Smith dug into what happened for The City. It sounds like the company over-expanded, couldn’t get out of the debt it took on, and got into a series of increasingly bad lending situations.

One of those bad deals was borrowing $75,000 from a financial services firm called Kalamata Capital Group and promising to pay back $105,000. That’s a 40% interest rate, firmly in loan shark territory. But this is the bit that really got my eyebrows heading north (especially the bit in italics):

In a statement, the chief operating officer of Kalamata Capital Group, Brandon Laks, said the company “is truly sorry City Bakery decided to close” and stressed that many Kalamata Capital Group employees loved the establishment.

He said KCG made amendments to the funding agreement as City Bakery struggled and “without KCG’s capital and amendments, City Bakery would have closed, and jobs would have been lost, much sooner.”

“Unfortunately, many small businesses close and it is a risk KCG takes when we help fund and support these businesses,” he said.

Let’s be clear here: City Bakery was primarily a place for folks who can afford $5 croissants, but this is one of those instances where capitalism has become deeply disconnected from the people it’s allegedly supposed to benefit. All those KCG employees that loved City Bakery? Meaningless bullshit. A local lender that wants to invest in the community and its businesses doesn’t charge 40% interest. City Bakery needed some solid financial advice, a plan for getting out from under their debt (if possible), and a loan with decent terms. All KCG did was give City Bakery more rope to hang themselves and called it “support”.

Update: A couple people have pointed out that we don’t know the length of the loan and so cannot calculate the annual interest rate. Even so, as the article details, these “merchant cash advance” loans are under increasing scrutiny for being predatory:

As the Duncans soon learned, tens of thousands of contractors, florists, and other small-business owners nationwide were being chewed up by the same legal process. Behind it all was a group of financiers who lend money at interest rates higher than those once demanded by Mafia loan sharks. Rather than breaking legs, these lenders have co-opted New York’s court system and turned it into a high-speed debt-collection machine. Government officials enable the whole scheme. A few are even getting rich doing it.

  1. I was in NYC last week and City Bakery shuttered on the very day I was going to wander over for one of their chocolate chip cookies, my #1 all-time favorite cookie.

The New MoMA

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2019

After months of renovations and a week or two of previews, MoMA officially reopens for business today. I was able to attend a press preview last week and here are some observations I had about my visit.

New MoMA

One of the main goals of the museum’s expansion was to “focus new attention on works by women, Latinos, Asians, African-Americans and other overlooked artists”. I’ll leave the question of their success in more qualified hands, but even making the attempt is an admission by one of the most influential museums in the world that the art that society considers important is highly subjective. If there are good paintings that aren’t currently considered that interesting or important (because they’re not by Picasso or Degas or Cezanne), maybe that can change depending on what stories you tell about them. Look at what the Hilma af Klint show at the Guggenheim did for example.

The display of the main collection is now not just paintings and a sprinkling of sculpture but also includes photography, film, architecture, performance art, design, and drawings. The art is also placed into much more of an historical context than before…the visitor gets more of a sense of what was going on in the world when these pieces were created and what societal happenings the artist may have been reacting to in creating their work. I very much enjoyed these improvements.

New MoMA

The general feel of the place is more casual than before. In Amy Sillman’s Artist’s Choice gallery, paintings and sculptures were resting on risers around a large room, all unlabelled. Gallery titles were sometimes colloquial instead of formal or academic. In the one of the exhibitions, the gallery titles were in all lowercase — “a revolution of limits” vs “A revolution of limits” or “A Revolution of Limits”.

In some areas, the space still smelled vaguely of construction.

One of the things I love about The Whitney is how it incorporates the city into the art viewing experience. On the top floors, you can look at what’s on display and then head out to the terrace to see the city on display: the architecure, the construction, people walking on the High Line, the Hudson River traffic. It doesn’t have the best location to work with, but the new MoMA tries to do this a little more after the renovation. There are new overlooks to the sculpture garden and larger windows with street views.

Was it my imagination, but was Matisse’s Swimming Pool room actually a bit warmer and more humid than the other galleries? You know, like an actual indoor swimming pool?

New MoMA

Honestly, the best part of my experience was how few people were there. This was the last of four press previews and was sparsely attended because most people had already filed their stories. In many galleries, I was completely alone with these amazing works of art. I stood in front of Starry Night for two minutes all by myself — same with Pollock’s One: Number 31, 1950 and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Monet’s Water Lillies gallery was empty. Empty! I sat for several blissful minutes taking it all in — it was almost meditative. This reveals a sad truth about large and popular art museums like MoMA: they are often not good places for actually viewing art. They’re just too crowded. Starry Night is basically an Instagram selfie wall at this point. During a normal visit, you can’t actually look at the thing to see what van Gogh was up to with his brushstrokes because there are 20 people waiting their turn to see it too. But you can’t spend $450 million on a renovation and just let a few hundred people a day into the place, right?

Jenny’s Holzer’s VIGIL for Gun Violence Victims

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2019

This past weekend for a project called VIGIL, artist Jenny Holzer projected texts about the impact and realities of gun violence onto the buildings of Rockefeller Center.

Jenny Holzer Vigil

Employing her signature text-based practice, Holzer will project testimonies, responses, and poems by people confronting the everyday reality of gun violence onto the iconic buildings at Rockefeller Center after sundown. These hauntingly sober first-person accounts serve both as an acknowledgement of communities impacted by gun violence and an invitation for dialogue around the prevalence of this issue in the United States. Holzer will feature texts from the compilation Bullets into Bells: Poets & Citizens Respond to Gun Violence, stories from Moments that Survive collected by Everytown for Gun Safety, and poems by teens who have grown up in the shadow of mass shootings.

Gothamist has a story about the project, which includes several photos of the projected texts.

Five True Tales of Manhattan

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2019

Great Big Stories has collected five of their video short stories into a collection: 5 True Tales of Manhattan. The stories include a restaurant that serves Cuban-Chinese cuisine, Sunday night jazz concerts in a Harlem apartment, and a woman who rehabs dozens of turtles in her small apartment.

Machine Hallucination

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2019

Machine Hallucination

After seeing some videos on my pal Jenni’s Instagram of Refik Anadol’s immersive display at ARTECHOUSE in NYC, it’s now at the top of my list of things to see the next time I’m in NYC.

Machine Hallucination, Anadol’s first large-scale installation in New York City is a mixed reality experiment deploying machine learning algorithms on a dataset of over 300 million images — representing a wide-ranging selection of architectural styles and movements — to reveal the hidden connections between these moments in architectural history. As the machine generates a data universe of architectural hallucinations in 1025 dimensions, we can begin to intuitively understand the ways that memory can be spatially experienced and the power of machine intelligence to both simultaneously access and augment our human senses.

Here’s a video of Anadol explaining his process and a little bit about Machine Hallucination. Check out some reviews at Designboom, Gothamist, and Art in America and watch some video of the installation here.

Treasures in the Trash

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2019

Treasures in the Trash is a short film by Nicolas Heller about former NYC sanitation worker Nelson Molina, who started (and still maintains) an unofficial museum of more than 45,000 objects that people have thrown out over the last few decades.

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!