walkitout (walkitout) wrote,
walkitout
walkitout

Recent Activities Include: Irene fizzles, Whyte's _City_

The post-mortem questioning of preparation for the first hurricane to hit the US in a few years and hit the northeast in much longer has already begun, but I'm kind of inclined to think that this falls under the better-inconvenienced-and-annoyed-than-what-happened-to-NOLA.

We have not lost power, but lots of places not too far from us have. That's a function of any particular line and the branches that can impact those lines and it turns out (I almost hate to write this) that we seem to be in a relatively resilient location. We've had some substantial rain and wind, but it hasn't necessarily felt any worse than a number of storms I've experienced in the region (that ice storm before we moved from Mayberry when I was busy chortling about having the generator, as one example).

We did go grocery shopping a few times, mostly because that's an activity the kids enjoy and because we'd been away for a week thus the fridge was bare. Our local grocery store, a Roche Bros (an unfortunate name for an excellent store, well run in every imaginable way and some I hadn't imagined prior to living here. I still sometimes wish the organic selection was a little better, but I wouldn't give up what the store has going for it in order to make that trade, which says a lot), at no point had bare shelves. They _did_ have a very bare front where they normally have the seasonal items (plant starts in the spring, folding beach chairs in the summer, pumpkins in the fall -- that kind of thing), and they were giving away bubbles (bubble solution) as they were in the process of clearing out seasonal summer merchandise. But for all the extra shifts employees were working and the crowded aisles (and omg Roche Bros aisles are narrow under the best of circumstances -- not a bad thing, mind you) and the checkouts all being open to keep the lines under control, the shelves stayed stocked. That is a well run operation.

Things outside are sufficiently calm (and I, personally, got sufficiently agitated after T. inadvertently kicked my iPad) that R. and T. have gone to McD's in search of french fries and perhaps a coke. It's not far away, in case the wind kicks up again and may help with what is probably at least a mild case of cabin fever.

While they are gone (and A. is napping, thank you, R. for working a small miracle) and it is blessedly quiet, I'm reading William Whyte's _City_. Forthwith, a few complaints:

(1) You do not fix pedestrian fatality problems by increasing fines for jaywalking. I was a little stunned that this was Whyte's suggestion. Pedestrian fatality rates are way down since he wrote this and _not_ because they went after jaywalkers. Despite a drop of at least 50%, the city is still concerned about it and doing some analysis of the fatalities to try to understand what interventions might work.

(2) I'm less certain of this one, but I am unconvinced that you fix litter problems by putting in more trash cans. To Whyte's credit, he does address issues with the specific cans and their location. I tend to feel that litter needs to be addressed at the source, and the source isn't the person who bought the thing that was wrapped in disposable packaging. The source was the person who wrapped it in the disposable packaging. The ideal solution, of course, is get rid of disposable packaging (or at least reduce it) but a second option is to require the source to provide and _adequately manage_ disposal facilities in the areas disposal is likely to happen -- or at least contribute to a fund for the city or neighborhood to do same.

Whyte is definitely at his strongest when he is describing what they learned by watching people. But it is incredibly unfortunate that he produces a summary of what they learned to be the case and only partially describes the things they believed going into the project that turned out to be untrue. When he _does_ describe the hypotheses they were forced to abandon, it is really enlightening (and not just about how to make streets work better -- mostly, it is enlightening in terms of what people believe that Is Not So, which means any discussion will have to address those beliefs if it is to be productive). But perhaps this was out of scope for the book.

And I'm sorry to say that reading Whyte is forcing me to revisit my longstanding affection for Jacobs in that way that one rewatches beloved movies (or rereads beloved books) from one's childhood and is quite shocked at how one feels about those movies (and books) later in life. Jacobs' affection for Greenwich Village and Whyte's affection for Madison Avenue (particularly the Sixties through the Seventies, which I believe would be considered the Upper East but I've never lived there and may have really said a stupid) are highly problematic. They picked places that were once on the edge, built as housing for people of moderate incomes (definitely not aimed at the really rich). And they _really_ don't want it replaced by new development (particularly not high-rises). Some of the problems they have with high rises are understandable (an office tower with blank walls at street level and no provision for restaurants for the workers therein, for example, is a big problem for a neighborhood. It puts high demands on the surrounding area and it is a dangerous dead zone when the offices are emptied out.), but others are less compelling (midrises cut out a lot of the sun anyway, and it's not like rent in those brownstones is anything other than sky high already). There is a point in history when places like the Village and that section of Madison Avenue are priced and subdivided in ways that make it possible to incubate new businesses, but when that is successful, it is usually transient. Once they've priced themselves up to the sky, blocking development just seems meanspirited? selfish? Blocking the door? Altho to be fair, if you go over the decades worth of proposed expansions to the Whitney in New York, you can really see some value in just slowing the process down as much as possible.

Whyte's antagonism to new development is more antagonism to flawed and difficult to adapt development than it is to development per se. So that's an improvement. And I cannot help but love a guy who is willing to derive an implied rent for a curb space on Madison Avenue by using the illegal rent paid by a guy to a shop owner for the shop owner to let him have space on the sidewalk in front of the shop, to produce an estimate of the ridiculous cost of allowing curb parking. He also does a nice job of explaining why merchants tend to come down on the side of allowing curb parking (and opposing efforts to reduce curb parking) and how those beliefs are not based in reality.

It's good stuff; I'll hopefully produce a review later, but I've been a little inconsistent about actually getting around to writing reviews. I picked up a copy used as it doesn't seem to be available as a kindle. For similar reasons, I'm awaiting the arrival of Peter Derrick's book about the subway in New York, which I stumbled across after reading Irene coverage that described Derrick as a "transit historian".
Tags: not-a-book-review
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