What’s good for General Motors is good for America

On March 15 I tweeted, “If America hadn’t decided to create a new national transportation system based on individuals in private cars driving everywhere for everything, climate change would be a very different—and smaller—problem than it is.”

I posted the Tweet on a couple of listservs for urbanists and followed up with some notes, comments, and questions in reaction to comments on the listservs. Some of the answers about data exist in various places. But frankly I’m not great at looking up data, so I wanted to run this by people. At this point, I’m intentionally avoiding extending the comments into conclusions.

    • In 1908, when the Ford Model T went into production, America had a great national transportation system of trains, subways, streetcars, and boats. Many of the services were privately owned but regulation required public access for both passengers and freight.
    • The transportation system connected walkable towns and cities. They had to be walkable since most people didn’t own a car or a horse. The carbon footprint produced by Americans was low. See below
    • Today we have a system that primarily depends on private vehicles on public streets. In more urban situations, that includes the storage of private vehicles on public streets.

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Traffic Flow and the Status Quo: There are better ways to spend $10 billion than rebuilding the BQE

New York City plans to spend more than $10 billion on a project that will speed up climate change and increase the number of New Yorkers killed by traffic and pollution. The good news is that the city will hold meetings so the public can comment on the plan, which is rebuilding the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway (BQE). The New York City Department of Transportation commissioned three schemes for discussion: the designs are good, but the concept is wrong. Now is the time to say so. Future public meetings are listed at https://bqevision.com/events.

Continue Reading at NYDailyNews.com<

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Car Free Brooklyn Bridge – photos and drawings

A Car-Free Brooklyn Bridge Is Possible Images and Illustratons

AFTER: Aerial view looking east towards a car-free Brooklyn Bridge. Centre Street and Park Row next to the Brooklyn Bridge are reimagined as an extension of City Hall Park. © 2020 Massengale & Co LLC, rendering by Gabriele Stroik Johnson.
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My Meals With Bob: My Mini Memoir in Common Edge

A photo of New York 1900. showing two of the four images of the Colonial Club in the book. We included so many images of the pleasant but unremarkable building because that was where we wrote the book, in Robert A.M. Stern Architects’ first office. On the southwest corner of Broadway and 72nd Street, 200 West 72nd housed RAMSA for many years in the former Ladies Dining Room of the club (illustrated on page 391).

After the club closed, a number of developers had offices in the building, including the prolific Paterno Brothers and the Cuban Holding Co. Architects in the building serving the developers included Rosario Candela and Geo. F. Pelham, the architect of my apartment house.

ONCE upon a time, long, long ago, I was lucky enough to get a summer job with Robert A.M. Stern while I was in graduate school. Stern’s new memoir, Between Memory and Invention: My Journey in Architecture (MonacelliPress, 2022), has prompted my own mini-memoir, with some relevant details not included in the book.

I arrived at the office in the early summer, not long after the dissolution of Bob’s marriage and then his office, Stern & Hagmann. I found two young architects-to-be, a sweet but disorganized secretary-receptionist-bookkeeper, and Bob. The office grew during the summer and beyond—and today there are over 200 in the office, including 16 partners in Robert A.M. Stern Architects (aka RAMSA).

Continue reading at Common Edge

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“Big Real Estate’s Continuing Stranglehold Over New York City”

Recently, the Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times about the causes of unaffordable housing in New York City. He blamed the crisis on a few things, including a powerful financial “monoculture” in the city, NIMBYs, and the city itself blocking new construction. That last element, however—that the city blocks new construction—is an increasingly popular myth that needs examination.

When we look at construction in New York, we see that the city is not an economic monoculture. Property taxes are the largest revenue source for the city, and both New York City and New York State work to increase property taxes by subsidizing new development with zoning changes, planning policies, new interpretations of zoning and building regulations, economic development plans for rebuilding, the use of eminent domain, tax abatements and credits, public-private capital projects, and sweetheart real estate deals for major political donors—and this is only a partial list.

It all adds up to billions of dollars in direct and indirect subsidies for billionaire developers like Stephen Ross, Steve Roth, and Gary Barnett. So much for the idea that New York “blocks” construction.

Please note: the first three rules of real estate are traditionally “location, location, location.” The following discussion about affordable and unaffordable housing is specific to New York City in our time.

Continue reading on CommonEdge or ArchDaily

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“My Open Letter to NYC DOT Commissioner Rodriquez”

Dear Commissioner Rodriquez,

I’m writing to you because I just signed up for a workshop to improve Canal Street that your department is running tonight. I met you when you were a Councilman. I know you care deeply about making New York streets safer and better for city life.

There was more carnage than usual on New York’s streets this weekend. One reaction I have is that until the NYC DOT fundamentally changes in at least two ways, most of the department’s work will be band aids.

The agency still sees its primary job as moving cars. And it does little or nothing to reduce the number of cars in the city.

The two priorities are both incompatible and bad for city life. If you want cars to move, you can’t put five pounds of cars into two-pound bags. If you want a city where the space between the buildings supports public life, you can’t take most of that space for machines.

Continue reading on Streetsblog

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Why GoDaddy’s Microsoft Exchange Email for Mac Users S*cks

After three years of unreliable, expensive email service from GoDaddy and Microsoft, I’ve reluctantly concluded that I have to find a new service for my domain name email. For reasons I won’t go into here, that’s a problem. GoDaddy is part of the problem.

Why do I have to move my email? Because,

  • I have a Mac desktop, a MacAir, an IPad, and an iPhone. At least 10% of my email never syncs across all four “devices.”
  • Another 20-30% of the email can take up to an hour to go to any device.
  • At least one of the GoDaddy support people suggests I would be better off switching to Windows. But he can sell me tech support for $50.

Microsoft’s email is moderately expensive, but the problem is that I have 30,000+ emails in my account. Three years ago GoDaddy told me they would transfer all my old messages into the new account.

“We can’t guarantee any other provider will be able to move it all,” they said.

I’ll be glad to leave.

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Take Back The City

On a recent episode of Billions, the New York Attorney General stands on the roof a car in the middle of a New York City street with a bullhorn. Why? Vecause he’s positioned himself near a meeting on the Highline where the Mayor is announcing a plan to bring the Olympics to New York City. With the Mayor is the billionaire behind the plan, a man whom the AG wants to thwart. Through the bullhorn he yells,

So they want to revitalize the city? These plutocrats? Have they thought about the unintended consequences to the average citizen.? Do they think about the average citizen at all?

A cabal of billionaires remaking the city. What the hell do they know about the real New York? How many will be displaces, so they can build an Olympic stadium? Have they at all considered what real New Yorkers want for our city?”

Maybe we should remind them who we are. What do we do when the carpetbaggers and the land barons try to shove us out of the way? We shove back. We shove back!

That’s right! And together, the people, and those who represent the people, we will take back our city.

Take back our city!
Take back our city!
Take back our city!

Repeat, fade to credits and the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man”

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Two MSG quotes: “In animal studies, injecting high doses of MSG into the brains of rats made them fat.” – Wikipedia

“Through Pennsylvania Station one entered the city like a god…. One scuttles in now like a rat” [under Madison Square Garden]* – Vincent Scully

PS: Archpaper called Governor Cuomo’s proposed Penn Station replacement “less soul-deflating” than its predecessor. The Empire State can do better than “less soul-deflating.”

Here at massengale.com, we support ReThinkNYC’s plan to rebuild McKim, Mead & White’s great station.

McKim, Mead & White Bonus: Spoke Up at the Hotel Pennsylvania

* McKim, Mead & White’s Pennsylvania Station is the best building ever torn down in New York City. Its destruction is widely said to be the turning point for historic preservation in the city.

The second greatest building ever torn down in New York City was McKim, Mead & White’s Madison Square Garden. Ironically, it is the current Madison Square that is the biggest impediment to recreating the old Penn Station.

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Spoke Up at the Hotel Pennsylvania

CNU NYC is a member of the Empire Station Coalition that opposes Governor “Demo Dan” Cuomo’s plan to declare the blocks around Pennsylvania Station “blighted,” as part of an urban removal scheme for the area. Yesterday, several members of the Coalition spoke in front of the Hotel, supporting the Hotel Pennsylvania Preservation Society.

Here are my remarks:

The great Jane Jacobs wrote in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, “Streets and their sidewalks the main public places of a city are its most vital organs. Think of a city and what comes to mind? Its streets. If a city’s streets look interesting the city looks interesting if they look dull the city looks dull.”

Well, look around you. Look behind you. Continue reading

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My Privileged Youth: After My Summer of Florence

MY JOB AT THE RED GUTTER ended in late August. I rented a FIAT Cinquecento and spent a week driving through Tuscany and Umbria, hitting all the highlights like Todi and Perugia.

I had a little over a week until I met up with my parents in Venice. I had a good time visiting Italian hill towns I had never seen, but before a week had gone by, my money was running out. This was September 1969, and I didn’t have a credit card. I don’t remember how I rented a car without a credit card, but I did.

I drove to Venice, which took most of the day. I spent all the money I had putting more gas in the tank. Luckily, that bought enough gas to reach the Piazzale Italia (where I was to return the car, next to the train station). At one point, I didn’t think it would be enough.

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A Halloween Story

Almost forty years ago, I successfully “flipped” a tiny old house in north Greenwich. The house was a little under two miles from the Westchester Airport, which is on the Greenwich border.

This was before 9/11, and you could arrive at the airport and be on the plane in less than 10 minutes if you ran. One morning I was scheduled to fly to Florida to speak at the University of Miami. Before leaving for the airport I had a call from the organizer of the event, and we got into a conversation about content. Suddenly he said, “What time is your flight? Don’t you need to go?” Continue reading

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Tales From My Privileged Youth / Palate Cleanser

(NB: If you start to lose interest, jump down to the surprise ending.)

I GREW UP in Darien, Connecticut, where my father had a college friend named John Pierpont (“Mr. Pierpont” to me). Mr. Pierpont was a tall, elegant man. I’m not sure what his work was. Maybe he was on Madison Avenue. I assume people still know that means someone who worked in advertising.

At some point, well before he was 65, he either retired or was fired (I think it was the latter). He soon became the movie critic for the Darien Review. In Darien nearly everyone read the Review, but the town population at the time was under 15,000 people, so working as their movie critic was not a highly sought-after or well-paid job.

One day, Mr. Pierpont was working at home when there was a knock on the door. The Pierponts’ house was in a part of town with no sidewalks, and Mr. Pierpont wasn’t expecting anyone, so that was surprising. Continue reading

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