Though the city has fewer people than it did before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, it has 70 percent more restaurants, according to a count by Tom Fitzmorris, a local expert who does not include fast-food or chain restaurants in his tally.
“It’s really something,” said Mr. Fitzmorris, between callers to his three-hour daily radio show about eating out. “It has never stopped going up, even in the summer, which is not a good time for us in the restaurant business.”
Economically speaking, the restaurant boom is a barometer of a city that is more affluent and more educated than it used to be. “Richer cities have more restaurants per capita,” said Jed Kolko, the chief economist of Trulia, the real estate website, who said New Orleans already ranked 14th in the nation on restaurants per person in 2010, just a few years into the recent boom (San Francisco was No. 1).
At the same time, the high concentration of restaurants here has built on itself, as chefs are attracted to a city where eating out is so popular and the most successful ones expand. In that sense, it represents an industry cluster along the lines of the financial industry on Wall Street or high technology in Silicon Valley. More than 10 percent of the jobs in the metropolitan area are in the restaurant business, compared with an average of 8.2 percent nationwide.
Now and then, I think about a certain character from the old East Village. With her folding table and anti-pornography signs, she was vibrant and angry, intimidating and exciting. Her voice and the cadence she used to call out her mantra, “Sign the petition,” has stayed in people’s psyches over the years. Now and then, some of us find ourselves still saying it, in our heads, or out loud to friends, spontaneously, as if we are conjuring old ghosts: “SIGN the pe-ti-SHUN!”
Large-scale destruction is well known in Detroit, but it is also underway in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Buffalo and others at a total cost of more than $250 million. Officials are tearing down tens of thousands of vacant buildings, many habitable, as they seek to stimulate economic growth, reduce crime and blight, and increase environmental sustainability.
A recent Brookings Institution study found that from 2000 to 2010 the number of vacant housing units nationally had increased by 4.5 million, or 44 percent. And a report by the University of California, Berkeley, determined that over the past 15 years, 130 cities, most with relatively small populations, have dissolved themselves, more than half the total ever recorded in the United States.
Historic data suggests, however, that the mass exodus of the white middle class from central cities had one positive result for the people left behind: Suburban white flight helped boost black homeownership in America. And the extent of the effect is striking. Economists Leah Boustan of UCLA and Robert Margo of Boston University have estimated that for every 1,000 white households that moved out of central cities for the suburbs between 1940 and 1980, about 100 black households became homeowners.
In a fascinating paper published in the Journal of Urban Economics, the researchers argue that the two trends didn’t simply occur in tandem. One directly helped cause the other. Between 1940 and 1980, a period during which Boustan and Margo examined data in 98 cities, the share of white metropolitan households in the U.S. living in the suburbs nearly doubled from 35 percent to 68 percent. Over that same time, the homeownership rate among black metropolitan households rose from 19 percent to 46 percent – a jump of 27 percentage points that had been unprecedented in American history.
In a weird way, Thomas R. Hochschild Jr. actually first encountered the social cohesion of cul-de-sacs in his latest research when he wandered into one in Connecticut with his clipboard and polo shirt, and someone called the cops.
That never happened on the other types of streets he was studying, places where it would turn out the neighbors didn’t know each other as well, and it was less clear who “belonged.” Repeatedly, though, he found at the end of cul-de-sacs families who watched each others’ children and took in each others’ mail, who barbequed and orchestrated the removal of snow together, and who considered each other close friends. In cul-de-sacs, these families had a stronger sense of shared social space and territoriality. An outsider stood out.
In sociologist’s terms, Hochschild ultimately concluded that people who live in traditional bulb cul-de-sacs have the highest levels of attitudinal and behavioral cohesion (covering both how they feel about their neighbors and how much they actually interact with them). People who live on your average residential through-street have the lowest levels (in between the two are “dead-end” cul-de-sacs that lack that traditional, circular social space).
These findings, which Hochschild has published in the Journal of Urban Planning and Development, may surprise you. Academics who’ve come at the decidedly controversial cul-de-sac from other angles – traffic management, engineering, and urban planning – have mostly had unflattering things to say about them (many of which we’ve chronicled). Cul-de-sacs carve up communities in a way that makes them unwalkable. They force people to drive more often and longer distances. As a result, they harm the environment. They’re actually less safe than traditional street grids because drivers speeding through arterials in suburbia don’t have to pay as much attention. And cul-de-sacs are harder to reach by fire, police and emergency crews.
Hochschild, now an assistant professor of sociology at Valdosta State University, has heard all of these critiques.
Can you picture what it would be like if, for a few hours one day a week, Houston opened a stretch of city streets to pedestrians, bikers, joggers, and skaters and 15 percent of the city’s population, or more than 300,000 people, showed up to enjoy the streets free of cars? That is what happens every Sunday and holiday when Bogotá, Columbia holds its “Ciclovias.”
Ciclovias, which translates to English as “bike paths,” are “city streets that have been freed from motorized traffic to allow, during a few hours a day, usually on Sundays and holidays, the free and safe circulation of thousands of people on bicycle, skate, or foot.” Ciclovias began in Bogotá in 1974. They started small, with only about 8 miles of streets closed, but over time it has proven so popular that now more than 70 miles of Bogota’s city streets are closed to motorized traffic from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. each Sunday and holiday and as many as 2 million people, 15 percent of the city’s population, participate in each Ciclovia.
Although it is now the largest in the world, Bogota’s Ciclovia was not the first “Open Streets” initiative. In 1965, Seattle began to hold “Seattle Bicycle Sundays” closing to cars a three-mile stretch of streets connecting several parks. But, undoubtedly, it has been the tremendous success of Bogota’s Ciclovias that has spawned a worldwide Open Streets movement. In the United States alone, over 70 communities have held Open Streets days. In Texas, Austin, Brownsville, El Paso, Fort Worth, and San Antonio all have held Open Streets. In fact, San Antonio held their latest “Siclovia” (its version of Ciclovia) on September 29.
It would only be natural for a location startup to have a smartphone app, right? But Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake’s new company Findery didn’t have one. Until now.
Photo courtesy of Robert Scoble
Findery, which Fake describes as a collection of “stories about places,” is releasing an iOS app today — a year and a half after launching its website — but only in Australia.
The Findery app will help users find stories that have been geotagged to where they’re located, zip themselves around the world to explore another place, and follow favorite writers for their latest posts. Users can also create their own stories.
The vacancy rate of U.S. malls in the third quarter declined to 8.2% from 8.3% in the second quarter, according to new statistics released by Reis Inc., REIS +0.31% a real-estate data firm. Mall vacancy was 8.7% in the third quarter of 2012, said Reis, which tracks the top 77 markets in the U.S.
But the improvement hasn’t been as strong with shopping centers—typically open-air retail strips that face parking lots. The average national vacancy rate for neighborhood and community shopping centers held steady in the third quarter at 10.5% from the previous quarter, down from 10.8% in the third quarter of last year.
The national average asking rent at shopping centers was $19.25 per square foot, up just 1.5% from the recession low of $18.97 in 2011. The average asking rent for malls in the largest 77 U.S. markets rose to $39.77 per square foot in the third quarter, up 1.4% from the same quarter last year, according to Reis Inc.
Malls are recovering faster because people go to them for high-end retail, entertainment and dining. People are more likely to go to shopping centers, on the other hand, for basic consumer needs that they can also satisfy online, real-estate economists and executives say.
Sociologist William Helmreich likes to play a game with students in his intro class at the City College of New York. “You’re going to raise your hand and say what neighborhood you’re from,” he tells them, “and I’m going to tell you a story about it.” Though his students hail from all five boroughs, he’s never once been stumped, not by the edges of Brooklyn’s East New York, not by the village-like enclaves of Staten Island.
Because after 40 years of teaching in and about the city – and after spending nearly all of his 67 years calling it home – Helmreich’s seen it all. Now, this encyclopedic knowledge is quite literal. The ethnographer has spent four years on an epic quest to crisscross the city, walking all five boroughs, all 120,000 city blocks. He compares himself to a marathoner, regularly pulling out the statistic that his research has taken him the distance from New York to L.A. and back, plus another 900 miles, the equivalent of a side jaunt to St. Louis.
The result is his new book, The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City. The expansive sociological study relies on Helmreich’s on-the-ground research, culled from thousands of hours of observation and casual conversations with local residents, to help parse hot-button issues like immigration, assimilation, and gentrification. But more than that, the miles and miles clocked – he wore out nine pairs of shoes in his trek across the city – come through as a sort of extensive love letter to the frenetic energy and diversity of New York.
Nicola Twilley of Edible Geography has put together an amazing event this coming Tuesday evening, October 8, at my former employer, Studio-X NYC, an event space run by the architecture department at Columbia University. Called “Air: Its Contents, Value, and Motion,” the event looks at air rights in New York, the challenge of structurally engineering against air, winds, and hurricanes in some of the world’s largest buildings, and a slightly more philosophical take on air’s contents—its pollen, pollution, and even aerosolized fats.
n] with stress on the first syllable (“PEE-can”) (17.03%) b. [pi:k
n] with stress on the second syllable (“pee-CAN”) (9.02%) c. [pi:k
n] with stress on the first syllable (“PEE-Kahn”) (13.19%) d. [pi:k
n] with stress on the second syllable (“pee-KAHN”) (28.60%) e. [p
n] (“pick Ann”) (1.48%) f. [p
n] (“pick Ahn”) (20.92%) g. I pronounce it differently when it’s alone than when it’s in a compound like “pecan pie” (please state how you pronounce the two variants in the comments box) (6.24%) h. other (3.51%) (11213 respondents)(via Dialect Survey Results)
Allison Orr is back in the old routine: up at 5am (5:30 on a “good” day); out of the house by 6. Meet with city crews between 6 and 6:30, and spend the better part of their shifts – eight to 10 hours – out in the field, observing them do their work and frequently doing it with them. Come back to meet with city department officials to work out logistics for the large dance performance she’s developing with their employees and/or the creative team (lighting designer Stephen Pruitt, composer Graham Reynolds) to strategize about the show. Go home for family time. Put kids to bed by 8:30. Collapse into bed by 10. Repeat.
This is the daily grind that Orr followed for months and months while preparing The Trash Project, her award-winning, phenomenally popular collaboration with the city’s Solid Waste Services Department (now Resource Recovery) that made dancers of sanitation workers and the machines they operate. It’s the schedule to which she returned when the work was revived two years later. Now, the Forklift Danceworks artistic director is at it again, albeit with a different city department, Austin Energy, whose employees are the focus for PowerUP, premiering this weekend at the Travis County Exposition Center.
The rest of the country may have turned into a landscape of Home Depots, Taco Bells, and Ramada Inns, but, since 2004, San Francisco has rejected chain stores through a series of laws and a ballot initiative. Today, it’s the largest city in the country to ban chains in some zones and require special permits in others.
“Our claim to fame, in San Francisco, has always been our unique neighborhoods,” said Kathleen Dooley, who serves on the city’s small-business commission, and has been a part of discussions on pending legislation. “There’s a very valid worry that it could become very homogenous, as we’ve seen in Manhattan.”
The current system is far from an outright ban: in fact, since 2004, the municipal planning commission has approved permits for seventy-five per cent of proposed chain locations. You can easily find Big Macs, Starbucks lattes, and Apple Macbooks (one chain San Francisco residents can really get behind) within city limits. Target opened a scaled-down store downtown last year, which the mayor championed, and a second location is set to open this fall. Still, the planning commission has barred a Sherwin-Williams, the Bay Area chain Pet Food Express (twice), and a CVS pharmacy. City planners quashed Chipotle’s recent bid to open in the Castro neighborhood, and this summer, city supervisors passed a law requiring, for eighteen months, that chains obtain permits to open stores in the formerly blighted downtown stretch where Twitter headquarters relocated, a zone known for vacancies, drug deals, and fast food. The supervisors have also introduced tougher chain-store legislation, such as extending controls to even more neighborhoods.
The city defines chains as businesses with at least eleven stores nationwide and certain standardized aesthetics and merchandise. Jack Spade has ten U.S. locations; San Francisco would be the eleventh. That puts it one store short of requiring a conditional-use permit—which would have meant notifying the public of its plans, getting through a public hearing, and persuading planning commissioners of the proposed store’s benefits.
A 2003 article in the Military Review has proven darkly prescient with last weekend’s terroristsiege of an indoor shoppingmall in Nairobi, Kenya. Written by two retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonels, the piece outlines the emergence of modern-day siege warfare tactics, or the invasion of large architectural structures.
In the magazine’s September/October 2003 issue, Lester W. Grau and Geoffrey Demarest collaboratively warned that, “while perhaps not a likely target in a traditional military sense, an indoor shopping mall could be attractive as a terrorist target.”
Their article goes on to imagine what might happen when armed groups lay siege to megastructures—prisons, malls, airports, embassies, cinemas, skyscrapers, even entire gated subdivisions—asking, in the process, how we might protect ourselves when acts of war or terrorism erupt in the midst of our everyday, civilian environments.
The disturbing realization is that, for the U.S. Army, the vulnerable targets of tomorrow are shopping malls and schoolyards, airports and sports stadiums, perhaps even suburban streets. The mall siege in Nairobi is perhaps only the most recent, horrifying example of how this will look.
I was waiting and hoping for this — Geoff Manaugh on the Kenyan mall attack. Highly recommended.
The Dutch police have begun training rats to identify certain smells, just like drug-sniffing dogs. They’re quick learners, according to Monique Hamerslag, who heads the project. “They need barely 10 to 15 days to learn to distinguish a certain smell,” she told AFP. Plus, rats cost far less than trained dogs, both to buy and to house. (No need to take your rat for long walks in the park.)
The first rat cadet class—Derrick, Thomson, Thompson, Magnum, and Poirot, all named after fictional detectives—have been training for the past two years. Derrick has the accuracy of a finely-tuned machine—a 98.8 percent success rate, according to Spiegel Online.
The average size of a new home now exceeds the lofty levels reached during the housing boom, the latest indication that the new-home market is catering more to older, more affluent buyers and less to younger and first-time buyers.
During the finance and housing downturns, many home builders downscaled and built smaller and less expensive homes in response to an era of frugality. But that has changed, especially for upscale buyers who are purchasing their second- or third-generation home and account for a greater portion of deals. First-time buyers, meanwhile, have been sidelined by more-stringent lending standards and rising interest rates.
In the new-home market, “what’s left is people who have means,” said Brad Hunter, chief economist for housing-research firm Metrostudy, a division of Hanley Wood LLC. “They are buying homes that they can afford, which tend to be bigger.”
Data released by the Census Bureau this month confirmed the trend and showed that the average size of a new home was a record 2,642 square feet in the second quarter, eclipsing the record of 2,561 square feet set in the first quarter of 2009. The average size has bounced between small gains and declines for more than a year, but the 5.2% jump in the second quarter was the largest quarter-to-quarter gain since the Commerce Department began tracking the data on a quarterly basis in 1987.