Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 architectural story of the year!

From the Wall Street Journal:

In the weekend’s bizarrest news, a nearly finished, newly constructed building in Shanghai toppled over, killing one worker. As can be seen in the photo below, the 13-story apartment building collapsed with just enough room to escape what would have been a far more destructive domino effect involving other structures in the 11-building complex.

The development, known as “Lotus Riverside,” has a total of 629 units, 489 of which have already been sold. Now buyers are clamoring to get their money back, and authorities are making efforts to reassure them. The assets of the project’s developer, Shanghai Meidu Property Development Co., have been frozen and the city officials said the developer’s ability to repay homebuyers was secure, according to a statement on the municipal government’s Web site (in Chinese). A hotline has been set up for Lotus Riverside buyers, and by Sunday afternoon, more than half of them had met with a group of lawyers and officials organized to help them negotiate with the developer, according to the statement.

Meanwhile, the cause of the accident is under investigation and nine unidentified people from the developer, contractor and management company have been detained.

A representative of Shanghai Meidu could not be reached for comment.

The disaster could reveal some uncomfortable facts about lax construction practices in China, where buildings are put up in a hurry by largely unskilled migrant workers, and developers may be tempted to take shortcuts.

According to Shanghai Daily, initial investigations attribute the accident to the excavations for the construction of a garage under the collapsed building. Large quantities of earth were removed and dumped in a landfill next to a nearby creek; the weight of the earth caused the river bank to collapse, which, in turn, allowed water to seep into the ground, creating a muddy foundation for the building that toppled.

Farming popular at Bowne High School

From the Queens Chronicle:

Nestled on a four-acre site near Queens College and the bustling Long Island Expressway is a farm with 150 chickens, numerous rabbits, two goats, assorted peacocks and pheasants and even four alpacas.

The bucolic scene is part of John Bowne High School’s agriculture program that also includes a greenhouse, orchard and field crops. The popular program — the only agriculture department in the city school system — attracts 600 students, known as Aggies, with 80 percent of them going on to college and 50 percent majoring in agriculture, according to Steve Perry, assistant principal for agriculture.

Bowne’s chickens are kept in a warm building away from the roosters. “They are not stressed and lay about 100 eggs a day,” Perry said. “Students dispense feed for them and collect the eggs. There is quite a demand for them at the school store where they sell for $2 a dozen year-round.”

When school is in session, the store is open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and sells seasonal items such as vegetables in the warm weather and poinsettias, holiday wreaths and flower arrangements in the winter. During the summer, students set up a vegetable stand outside the school at 63-25 Main St. in Flushing.

The profits from all produce, eggs and products raised at Bowne go back into the agriculture program for feed, fertilizer and seed.

“We find that students gain a lot of confidence by working with the animals and for many it gives them a skill,” Perry said. “We become the center of the kids’ community. They are very active in pursuit of their careers.”

Aggies are expected to get 300 hours of work experience either at a pet shop, zoo, veterinarian’s office or through a summer placement program on an upstate farm.

This week's Trib like syrup of ipecac

Shepard Fairey, it ain't.

This photo is just too perfect. Won't mess it up with unnecessary commentary.

A developer wishing Johnny his warm greetings...what a shock!

A self-certifier doing the same.

Gene's not looking like himself lately. Mainly because that photo is not of him. His name is Jim Rogers and he was the Vice Chair of CB11, not Board 7. He was Melinda Katz's "boyfriend" for many years.

Some priceless expressions on these 2 pusses.

Just when you think the Trib can't top does!

It's time to cut the bloat

From the Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

Just when most Americans-or at least the "working families" who toil away on behalf of the government-are getting fed up feeding the pig, along comes Professor Matthew Dallek in this morning's NY Daily News to instruct us that we need to get over our aversion to being taxed: "Americans have not always hated taxes. The marginal tax rate was approximately 90% for the wealthiest Americans during World War II, but 85% to 90% of the public still described their tax rate as fair. In the mid-20th century, new payroll taxes were enacted to help pay for Social Security and Medicare, while federal taxes helped fund the Interstate Highway System, strengthened research and education at America's premier public universities and built the world's most powerful military."

It's as if Dallek hasn't been awake and aware for the past decade as NY City and NY State have borrowed us into an unsustainable debt - as Nicole Gelinas points out in the NY Post this morning. Or as more and more middle class Americans and small business owners have been forced to fork over more and more of their income in order to maintain - not vital services or infrastructure improvement - but a bloated state bureaucracy.

Access-A-Ride helps granny go gambling

From the Daily News:

Next stop for the cash-strapped NYC Transit: the casino.

The agency's budget-busting Access-A-Ride van and car service doesn't just take disabled passengers to the doctor's office, pharmacy or local supermarket.

Access-A-Ride regularly takes passengers from their door to the Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway to play the ponies or the 5,300 slot machines, the Daily News has learned.

The casino and raceway is a popular location. It ranks 17th among the 30 most-requested destinations for Access-A-Ride users. The vast majority are medical facilities, but the list also includes the Staten Island Mall and Kennedy Airport.

Access-A-Ride ridership and costs have been skyrocketing for years, and transit officials are looking to streamline operations to help close an MTA-wide budget gap of nearly $400 million dollars.

Still, NYC Transit can't simply refuse to provide trips requested by registered users, spokesman Deirdre Parker said.

"The law is clear; we can't prioritize trips and we do not ask what your purpose is," Parker said. "It's just like the bus and subway. We don't ask where you're going on the bus or subway. It's public transportation."

Approximately 50% of trips are medical-related, Parker said. About 20% are social. The rest fall into four categories: shopping/errands; school; work, or "other."

2 Rikers guards in hot water over photo

From Eyewitness News:

Two Rikers Island correction officers are facing departmental charges after a photo of one of them sleeping on the job circulated among fellow officers.

Eyewitness News has learned 30-year-old Nadja Green, the sleeping officer, will face departmental charges of sleeping on post, as well as others.

47-year-old Claudel Barrau, who apparently took the photo with his cell phone camera, faces departmental charges of no cell phone in jail and no photographs in jail.

Possession and use of cell phones in jails, even by guards, is prohibited.

And she's been caught sleeping on the job before.

Governor pardons army man for gun charge

From the Daily News:

Gov. David Paterson has pardoned a former Army paratrooper who did time on a felony weapons charge in 2002 so the Queens resident can pursue his dream of becoming a police officer.

Paterson said Osvaldo Hernandez "has demonstrated that individuals can turn their lives around and that we need not let our mistakes define us."

At the age of 20, Hernandez pleaded guilty to criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree in 2002 and sentenced to a year in prison. He served eight months and enlisted in the Army as soon as he was released and went on to become a decorated specialist with the 82nd Airborne Division.

Hernandez's felony conviction prevented him from being allowed to carry a gun, which scuttled his dream of becoming a member of the NYPD.

Cuomo sounding like gubernatorial candidate

"It does us no good to be one of the highest-taxed states in the nation. The notion that 'that's the way it is' is not acceptable. People are going to start voting with their feet; we are precariously close to that point."

-- New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, last week, in a speech to 250 business leaders
(from the NY Post)

Silly sign removed from Forest Park

From Lost in the Ozone:

Evidently someone at the Parks Department must read the local blogs...The previously reported incorrect sign at the Forest Park Seuffert Bandshell which combined the first name of the present City Council member, Elizabeth Crowley with the last name of disgraced former City Council member Dennis Gallagher for a sign which read "Elizabeth Gallagher" was removed today...I would accredit the quick attention by the Parks Dept to this matter as an acknowledgment that the new media and blogs on the internet are making a difference...The Power of the New Media..!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hikind to introduce racial profiling bill

MYFOXNY.COM - A local member of the New York Assembly will be reintroducing legislation that would allow law enforcement officials to use ethnic profiling among other techniques to spot potential terrorism suspects.

"There is no question that the government has a compelling interest in protecting the lives and safety of its citizenry from terrorist attacks," says Assemblyman Dov Hikind , a Democrat of Brooklyn. "The history of modern terrorism has taught us that these attacks are repeatedly executed by young Muslim men of Arab or South Asian origin. This is not a time for political correctness."

He says that using ethnic profiling is not unconstitutional, because he says a "compelling governmental interest" in using it to save lives.

Hikind says that police officers should be allowed to consider a person's race and ethnicity among other factors when deciding who to stop, question and search, including "wearing heavy clothing in warm weather; carrying a briefcase, duffle bag or backpack with protrusions or visible wires; displaying nervousness and/or inappropriate sweating; an inability or unwillingness to make eye contact; and chemical burns on clothing or stains on hands."

He plans to reintroduce the legislation, which he first proposed in 2005, when the legislative session reconvenes in Albany in January.

Senators to Hiram: "You're outta here!"

From City Hall News:

A Senate panel mulling the fate of Hiram Monserrate, who was convicted in October of misdemeanor assault, has completed four marathon sessions, pored over thousands of pages of documents and reviewed hundreds of hours of court proceedings. The committee expects to complete its work by the end of the year.

But a growing number of lawmakers say they have already made up their minds, and plan to move forward early next year with a vote to expel Monserrate regardless of the committee’s findings.

Sen. Brian Foley of Suffolk, one of the first members of the chamber to call for Monserrate’s removal, has already told colleagues he plans to initiate expulsion proceedings even if the committee recommends a less severe sanction, Foley’s office confirmed. Senate officials say they expect such a measure to have broad support among both Republicans and Democrats in the chamber.

Another prominent Senate Democrat with knowledge of the committee’s work, who did not want to jeopardize the legality of the review process, put it more bluntly: “It’s a done deal.”

There's a house on the roof!

From Apartment Therapy:

New York City doesn’t have a lot of real estate to build a full-fledged house. But a few industrious homeowners found space where they could, like these homes atop buildings. It’s penthouse living at its best.

Meeks' pals include Ponzi schemer and dictator

From the Daily News:

Rep. Gregory Meeks has been a frequent flier to sun and sand with a little help from an unusual source - accused Ponzi schemer Allen Stanford.

The Queens Democrat, sometimes accompanied by his wife, Simone-Marie, took six trips to sun-drenched locales from Antigua to St. Lucia, courtesy of a Stanford nonprofit called the Inter-American Economic Council, records show.

Stanford, once listed by Forbes as one of the richest men in the world, was indicted in June, charged with fleecing investors in a $7 billion Ponzi scheme.

The Miami Herald Monday quoted unnamed ex-Stanford employees as saying that in 2006, Stanford asked Meeks to retaliate against a turncoat Stanford executive in Venezuela who was accusing Stanford of fraud.

The workers said Stanford asked Meeks to call Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whom Meeks knew.

The employees say Stanford wanted Chavez to launch a criminal probe of the Venezuelan whistleblower, The Herald reported.

Meeks later traveled to Venezuela to seek Chavez's support in the war on drugs. The whistleblower was indicted a year later.

Records show Meeks has been a repeat guest of the nonprofit funded by Stanford, the Inter-American Economic Council. Barry Featherman, the group's president, did not return calls.

Since 2003, the group has spent at least $22,347 on airfare, hotels and meals for Meeks and his wife to various locales, usually for "business round tables," records show.

During a Jan. 11-15, 2006, trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica, Meeks and his wife stayed at the luxurious Ritz Carlton, running up $2,711 in lodging expenses, $5,365.46 on airfare, and $1,470 on meals. They flew in a Stanford jet.

Dutch Kills still looks like hell

From LIQCity:

While the Long Island City focus has always been on the Queens West waterfront and Hunters Point, Dutch Kills – loosely defined as the area just north of Queens Plaza, heading up towards Astoria – has been quietly gentrifying itself into a frenzy. Not only have two new hotels gone up a block or two from each other on Crescent St (Country Inn & Suites and the Ramada), but lots are being ripped up, developments are starting and stopping and starting again, and towering buildings are settling into quiet blocks lined with family houses. Sigh.

Dutch Kills began its recent transformation after some crafty developers took advantage of the city dragging their feet (for, um, three years) when it came to rezoning the neighborhood to allow for medium-density residential development.

Yeah, we noticed.

Crime is down - yet again!

From Crains:

New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that 2009 was another record-setting year in crime reduction.

New figures released Monday show overall crime is down in the city 11% from last year, and 35% since 2001. Murders are down 11%. The only major crime that is rising is felony assault, up 2%.

The figures reflect a nationwide trend.

FBI crime figures for the first half of 2009 showed crime falling across the country. Most surprisingly, murder and manslaughter fell 10 percent for the first half of the year.

Earlier this year, the NYPD had projected about 457 murders, the lowest total since the department first started keeping records in 1962.

(Crime is down because the police won't take reports. They left that part out of the article.)

Waste not, want not

I've been noticing a truck with a large trailer that says, "municipal waste" parked along the LIE service road a block or two west of Main Street for some time now. The stretch of road is 100% residential and the truck is parked behind people's backyards.

Took this photo last Sunday.

Went to Google Maps and found the same truck parked there back when the truck drove through to record the images, probably a few months ago.

Truck says Matawan, NJ.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

She's no longer the "victim"

From the Daily News:

She's no victim, after all.

A Queens teenager who stabbed a man to death in a subway was facing charges Tuesday after cops said she was to blame in the Christmas Eve fracas.

Charges were pending against Cyan Brown, 16, who was originally portrayed as a plucky victim who stabbed Thomas Winston, 29, in self-defense after a group of men tried to attack her.

"She was the main aggressor, without a doubt," a police source told The Daily News.

Brown got into a shouting match with Winston after one of her male friends bumped into him on an F train at the 21st St.-Queensbridge station.

Winston, who was with his pals, asked the man to apologize, setting off a confrontation that apparently spilled onto the sidewalk in front of a chicken joint.

"You could say excuse me," the slain man said, according to cops.

That's when Brown, who lives in the nearby Queensbridge Houses, pulled a knife.

"She reaches in her bag, takes out a weapon, lunges at him and cuts him," the source said.

Winston's friends chased after Brown, who escaped into the night.

Witnesses believed the teen was fleeing from a gang of aggressive men and told cops they thought she acted in self-defense.

Brown turned herself in for questioning yesterday at the 114th Precinct.

She will face first-degree manslaughter and weapons charges, Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne said.

More than arson involved in Bushwick fire tragedy

From the NY Times:

There was little question that someone set fire to a federally owned walk-up apartment building in Brooklyn early Monday, killing a 17-year-old girl and injuring five others.

The questions that remain are why and who.

Investigators were still trying to determine the motive Monday evening. The building was so heavily damaged that it will have to be torn down, officials said.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development said that the building, which in March was cited by the city for dozens of violations, was among 450 troubled buildings that the agency acquired around 2004. Many required extensive repairs.

But of the 450, the department was unable to refurbish 6, including the Harrison Place building, because of difficulties with tenants, department officials said.

The agency has asked the tenants, who have not paid rent since 2004, to move so the building can be fixed. The department has offered to pay for relocation expenses, but the tenants have declined to move, officials said. Several eviction efforts were rejected in Brooklyn housing court.

Since 2004, the department has received several complaints that drugs were being dealt in the building. And the department’s contractors, including a building supervisor and an architect who was trying to develop repair plans, had been rebuffed repeatedly by tenants who would not allow them to enter their units.

In March, city officials did a “roof to basement” assessment of the building, finding 75 violations, including a dozen that were considered immediately hazardous. Among the violations were several for not having working fire and carbon monoxide detectors in apartments. A spokesman for the Fire Department said Monday evening that it was not known whether there were working fire detectors in the building.

No more new parks without luxury condos?

From the NY Post:

A Queens waterfront-park project will become the first city-run green space funded by the construction of new housing, The Post has learned.

City officials confirmed that daily maintenance of an 11-acre esplanade planned for Long Island City will largely be funded with revenue from 5,000 apartments in the same project.

And park advocates fear the city's Hunters Point South development will open the door to other city parks relying on housing to survive, as a state-city quasi government entity is with Brooklyn Bridge Park.

They’re also concerned that the new park, like the 85-acre Brooklyn Bridge Park project that includes condos, will ultimately feel more like a fancy back yard for residents of the adjoining housing than a true public park.

"It's a dangerous precedent to rely on these funding schemes, as they create an enormous disparity between the haves and the have-nots," said Geoffrey Croft, of New York City Park Advocates.

"Plus, it's even worse than Brooklyn Bridge Park because Hunters Point is a denser project, with many more residents and less parkland."

With an anticipated budget of about $1.1 million, or $100,000 an acre, Hunters Point’s esplanade would also be among the city’s top-funded parks through the creation of 3,000 affordable and 2,000 market-rate adjacent apartments.

The city spends nearly $10,000 an acre in tax dollars to maintain the average park. Historically, the best ones — like Bryant and Central — are usually in elite neighborhoods that supplement their budgets with private dollars raised by well-funded conservancies.

Sleazy company filing bogus DOB complaints

From the NY Post:

It's New York's nastiest neighbor -- a Queens business that has made 1,030 calls to a city complaint hotline since September and sparked a sweeping inspection blitz against innocent homeowners.

The company made the flurry of 311 calls from three different phones, claiming on each occasion that the homeowners were illegally converting their basements into apartments, city sources said.

An army of city inspectors descended upon the middle-class neighborhoods in Flushing, Whitestone and other areas of northeast Queens, only to find that most complaints were completely bogus.

In some cases, inspectors discovered penny-ante violations that left furious residents with fines to pay or repair bills in the thousands of dollars.

City officials would not reveal the identity of the caller, but the city Department of Buildings is now investigating the calls.

Many angry residents and elected officials believe the "whistleblower" is a sleazy building-industry firm trying to drum up business by filing false complaints and then swooping in to fix them.

Bloomberg thinks he'll be on Easy Street during 3rd term

From the Huffington Post:

But the mayor has had many second-term setbacks.

The founder of financial information company Bloomberg LP garnered a whopping re-election victory. But shortly after his inauguration, the death of a 7-year-old girl brought close scrutiny of him and the child services agency.

Nixzmary Brown was tortured and beaten to death by her stepfather. Officials said she might not have died if the child welfare caseworkers involved in her case had acted more quickly in investigating suspected abuse when concerns were raised months earlier.

In winter 2006, the mayor vehemently denied an interest in running for president while his associates whispered otherwise. By spring, the mayor's operatives had begun to plant the seeds for a campaign.

He spoke out on national issues and found reasons to travel to presidential swing states. He changed his party registration from Republican to independent, while he had a team of people examine how he could get on the ballot as a third-party candidate.

"The fact that they were concentrating so much on this sideshow presidential campaign – it had to take away attention from day-to-day operations," said Doug Muzzio, public affairs professor at Baruch College.

By summer 2006, his reputation for handling crises smoothly during his first term – including a transit strike, a citywide blackout and the shooting of a councilman inside City Hall – risked being hurt by his response to a weeklong blackout in Queens.

Critics said the mayor should have come to the neighborhoods sooner than he did. But Bloomberg's aides said he was focused on preventing wider outages and had misinformation about the size of the blackout.

Throughout his second term, the mayor was embarrassed by problems among some city agencies.

In 2007, two firefighters died in a blaze at a condemned asbestos-filled building being dismantled at the World Trade Center site. It revealed the Fire Department was failing to inspect many construction sites and uncovered communications lapses between many agencies.

After two fatal crane accidents and several other construction deaths in 2008, Bloomberg admitted he was not satisfied with the agency, and his buildings commissioner resigned.

The mayor also had a number of policy disappointments.

While he set a goal of reducing the city's homeless population by two-thirds by 2009, the number of those in shelters reached an all-time high of more than 39,000, some 3,000 more than when he took office.

He failed to persuade the state Legislature to sign onto his plan to raise money for mass transit by making Manhattan's most congested streets essentially toll roads.

In addition, his administration gave up a plan to force the city's taxi fleet to go entirely hybrid by 2012, after taxi drivers and advocates sued in federal court.

The jet-setting mayor, who has homes in Colorado, Florida, Bermuda, London and upstate New York, has also had to contend with questions about how his own energy use isn't environmentally friendly.

He ordered his drivers to stop leaving the engines running in his SUVs after The Associated Press found them idling all over the city, sometimes for more than an hour.

Bloomberg insisted last week that he has learned from experience and that his second term was better than his first. He predicted his third term "will be even easier."

Developers not exactly jumping at the chance to provide affordable housing

Some interesting quotes from Joel Klein

"So now we're moving the system much more toward portfolio management, talent management and innovation." - Schools Chancellor Joel Klein

It sounds like he thinks he's running a finance company rather than a school system.

"It may be that I'm just not smart enough, but I don't know how anyone can run 1600 schools." - Schools Chancellor Joel Klein

So there he explained, in a nutshell, why he should resign.

Inside College Point's Spa Castle

From WNYC:

The Disneyland of spa resorts is right in our own backyard. From the outside, Spa Castle looks more like a suburban mall than a place to unwind. Once you enter the building in College Point, Queens, it's pure sensory explosion.

Huge spa complexes are common in Korea. They go full monty, so these places tend to separate men and women. However, there's a family vibe the unisex areas because, unlike most American spas, little kids can roam around with their parents.

This Asian import offers the usual fare: facials, massages, scrubs, etc. At five stories high and 100,000-square feet big, it's the sheer size of the place that never ceases to amaze. The only thing that’s missing is a moat.

City cleanup leaves a lot to be desired

From LTV Squad:

The press has been giving the city government glowing reviews for cleaning up what they call ‘The Bronx Swamp’ (which of course is NOT a swamp). Since it seems over the last decade we’ve been the only exploring team with the boots and boldness to bother actually walking this abandoned rail line from end to end, we figured it might be nice to go back and see it cleaned up. Unfortunately though, what we found was that the city has done the minimal amount of work and has left the tunnel under St. Mary’s park completely fetid and flooded to boot. This tunnel was once dry enough to serve as a safe haven to migratory cave dwelling birds. Today though it’s the same old health hazard that the city promised it would eliminate. I guess they only cleaned the parts of this former railroad right of way that are visible to public and left a toxic soup directly under a park where children play.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Stadium development schemes always bite taxpayers

From the NY Times:

Years after a wave of construction brought publicly financed stadiums costing billions of dollars to cities across the country, taxpayers are once again being asked to reach into their pockets.

From New Jersey to Ohio to Arizona, the stadiums were sold as a key to redevelopment and as the only way to retain sports franchises. But the deals that were used to persuade taxpayers to finance their construction have in many cases backfired, the result of overly optimistic revenue assumptions and the recession.

You mean like Yankee Stadium and Citifield and the proposed Barclays arena in Brooklyn and the one that keeps popping up as a possibility in Willets Point?

Check out this analysis from Atlantic Yards Report:

Well, the sports facility financing schemes in New York are different and, to their architects, much superior: the amount of direct subsidy is much smaller, for land and/or infrastructure rather than construction, while the cost of construction is magically shifted to PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes), given that the land is (and, in most but not all cases, was) tax-exempt. And the Internal Revenue Service has now banned such plans, after grandfathering in the one for the arena.

Of course the tax exemption for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard was supposed to increase the price of the property when sold, but there was only one other bidder, given Forest City Ratner's head start. As the New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) observed, "It is clear that the MTA’s ability to maximize its return from property sales has been constrained."

And the PILOTs in the case of the AY arena would rely significantly on the naming rights that the state simply gave away.

And Forest City Ratner has been good at getting the city, state, and MTA to modify agreements in its favor. Meanwhile, the IBO's analysis that the arena would be a net loss for the city has not been refuted, despite the Times's willingness to quote a deceptive response from the New York City Economic Development Corporation (an agency that has failed to release a promised cost-benefit analysis).

Wrong focus for stimulus money?

From the Wall Street Journal:

The House has passed a $154 billion jobs bill, and the administration has announced a plan to spend $50 billion of repaid TARP money to "create" jobs—this time its green jobs, "shovel ready" infrastructure projects ($27.5 billion for highway construction and repair) and a tax credit for small businesses.

More infrastructure? Recycling Great Depression-era projects is lame. My advice? Put down that shovel! It's time to try something else.

We're in a knowledge economy now; we use high-tech tools to efficiently and effectively design, make, market and sell. Building roads and bridges willy-nilly won't make us more productive; and without increases in productivity and the associated corporate profits, there can be no sustainable job creation, no increase in standards of living, and no real economic recovery.

Given that real tax cuts are off the table and a new stimulus (even if it isn't called that) is inevitable, the best we can hope for is to use the power of the government to clear a path that private enterprise can't, via one-off projects that end and disband. Stop thinking concrete and massive construction projects. Think small—photons, electrons and proteins.

(Click link to read the suggestions.)

Black market thriving in Chinatown

From the NY Post:

Pickled cobra that "cures" kidney problems. Chinese Viagra made with deer penis. Balms filled with powdered tiger bone. Bushels of bushmeat.

These are just a few of the exotic and unlawful imports that pour into New York City daily.

And when the black-market booty is not seized by federal agents at airports, they can be found on the shelves of China town apothecaries, Bronx botanicas or swap meets in ethnic neighborhoods throughout the city.

"We had 10 million passengers come into JFK last year, and I have 12 inspectors," said Bob Onda, who supervises US Fish and Wildlife Service inspectors at JFK and La Guardia airports.

A Post interpreter was told recently in Chinatown that he could buy bear gall bladder to clean his blood, and deer penis to improve his sexual prowess.

Inspectors say many strange objects are used in so-called traditional Chinese medicines -- thought to cure everything from a toothache to cancer.

Onda said the Chinese use "medicine mules" like other cultures use "drug mules" -- smuggling into the country thousands of hidden pills containing ground-up tiger and leopard bone.

"If they get it by us they mule it into Chinatown," he said.

Potential new pandemic reaches America

From Eyewitness News/AP:

It started with a cough, an autumn hack that refused to go away.

Then came the fevers. They bathed and chilled the skinny frame of Oswaldo Juarez, a 19-year-old Peruvian visiting to study English. His lungs clattered, his chest tightened and he ached with every gasp. During a wheezing fit at 4 a.m., Juarez felt a warm knot rise from his throat. He ran to the bathroom sink and spewed a mouthful of blood.

Doctors say Juarez's incessant hack was a sign of what they have both dreaded and expected for years - this country's first case of a contagious, aggressive, especially drug-resistant form of tuberculosis. The Associated Press learned of his case, which until now has not been made public, as part of a six-month look at the soaring global challenge of drug resistance.

Let's see where we stand on this:

- Hospitals closing
- People living in overcrowded conditions
- Unchecked hordes of people entering the country
- No action plan to turn to when faced with inevitable pandemic (see "swine flu crisis")
- A government that is too concerned with ensuring an illegal labor force, a war on fat and developers' bottom lines to care about any of the above

The perfect storm.

Windfall expected from supermarket liquor sales

From Fox 5:

ITHACA, N.Y. (AP) - A Cornell researcher says the state could reap about $22 million a year if grocery stores were permitted to sell wine.

Grocery store wine sales would also benefit wineries in and outside of the state. That's according to Bradley Rickard, an assistant professor of economics who conducted simulation experiments to assess the implications of introducing wine into grocery stores.

Rickard said expanding wine sales to grocery stores would likely lead to a decrease in wine sales by 17 percent to 32 percent in existing liquor stores.

Legislation to legalize grocery store wine sales was defeated in 1984 and 2009 amid heavy opposition from liquor stores. But Rickard said a new bill being discussed would provide compensation to liquor store owners to make up for their expected loss in revenues.

Cops on graveyard shift issuing stupid tickets

From the NY Post:

A Fashion Institute of Technology student and a waiter at a Brooklyn diner were each recently nailed by graveyard-shift transit cops, who hit them with $50 fines for taking up more than one seat on virtually empty trains at around 2:30 a.m.

Josh Stevens, of Harlem, a recent transplant from Cincinnati, was stunned when he was slapped with back-to-back summonses at the 96th Street station on Nov. 19 and 20, in what police told him was a quota-driven sting.

"After the second time, I asked the officer, 'Really, what's going on? Why is this happening?' " Stevens said. "And he told me, 'Recently we've been told to write tickets instead of give warnings for this type of thing.' He said they need to hit quotas."

Three weeks later, police were still at it when Andres Alzamora, 58, was cited for taking up more then one seat -- even though the waiter said he just had his legs in front of the space next to him.

He was stunned when police told him to step out of the 2 train at around 2:30 a.m. at the 96th Street station so he could be given the summons.

"There was no one else in the subway with me," he said. "They just want to make money."

Stevens said the police should do this kind of enforcement during the rush hour, and not in the "dead of night."

Greenpoint wonders where its promised affordable housing is

From the Times Ledger:

As the City Council was voting to rezone the Broadway Triangle, a Williamsburg-based nonprofit received a $500,000 private donation to bolster its bid to develop another long-dormant site in Williamsburg.

St. Nicks Alliance, on behalf of the Greenpoint Renaissance Enterprise Corporation (GREC), accepted the donation from the Von Damm Family Foundation, which would be used to advance GREC’s proposal to redevelop the site of the former Greenpoint Hospital (Kingsland and Maspeth avenues).

In 2005, GREC members seized the Greenpoint-Williamsburg Waterfront Rezoning negotiations as an opportunity to restart discussions on their plan. An RFP for the site was created by the city as part of the waterfront rezoning, in which the city committed funding the creation of 1,800 units of affordable housing on city-owned sites within the boundaries of Community Board 1. So far, only 16 units of housing under the rezoning agreement have been built.

A spokesperson for HPD could not be reached by press time, though HPD officials have previously noted that a decision regarding the Greenpoint Hospital site is expected in the first quarter of 2010.

However, Cooper Park Houses President and GREC Coalition member Diane Jackson chastised the city for several months of delays.

“We’re still waiting for the city to create the affordable housing they promised after the Greenpoint Williamsburg waterfront rezoning,” said Jackson. “They’re telling us that development on two of the large publicly owned sites, the old Greenpoint Hospital and a couple of open areas in Cooper Park, is stalled because the city doesn’t have enough money. Then why has HPD given a commitment of over $10 million to develop housing in the Broadway Triangle area, on land which isn’t even properly zoned for housing now and where they’d have to push out some neighborhood businesses to make room?”

Look folks, it's time to realize that the words "affordable housing" are tweeding code words and are ALWAYS attached to some bullshit plan to make well-connected developers rich off taxpayer subsidies and tax breaks. Once you understand this thoroughly, you'll feel much less frustration over these schemes.

Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezone = Affordable housing bullshit
Western Railyards rezone = Affordable housing bullshit
Broadway Triangle rezone = Affordable housing bullshit
Downtown Jamaica rezone = Affordable housing bullshit
Willets Point rezone = Affordable housing bullshit
Queens West rezone = Affordable housing bullshit
Atlantic Yards = Affordable housing bullshit
Silvercup = Affordable housing bullshit

Here's just an example of how they pull fast ones, from the Western Railyards rezoning, which just happened last week...

From the NY Times:

"After lengthy negotiations with community groups, elected officials and the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, Related promised that 431 of the more than 5,000 apartments it planned to build at the site would be at below-market rates. The developer also pledged to preserve an additional 401 apartments in nearby housing complexes it owns for subsidized housing.

At the same time the city agreed to build 320 apartments for low- and moderate-income families on sites it owns in the neighborhood and to try to acquire an additional 150 units in single-room occupancy hotels."

This is what Christine Quinn got out of Related Companies after they got a discount on the purchase price from the MTA - that the City would continue to give them partial rent payments on already-built units and the City would build units on city-owned land.

OMG, what a great deal!

Developers are making millions of dollars off these projects and the local people who were suckered into accepting and sometimes shilling for neighborhood-destroying megaprojects in return for non-binding affordable housing agreements (with a very loose definition of "affordable") are the ones who suffer. It happens every single time. It's time to get wise, morons, and stop acting like doormats.

Rendering from Magnusson Architecture and Planning PC