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VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

IN BLOOM

The New York Botanical Garden, located far uptown but within walking distance of the 2, 4/5, D, and Metro-North trains, is beautiful in the spring and summer, when the flowers are in full bloom and the leaves are at their fullest. But really, it might be best in the fall, when the toughest of those flowers are hanging on while the first of those leaves begin to fall. This week, take the train to the annual Kiku exhibition, a display of Japanese chrysanthemums that have been modified in such a way that dozens of buds will grow from a single stem. Kids (of all ages, as they say) should go from there through the nature trails that cross the Bronx River and around to the Everett Adventure Garden, where this year’s collection of carved pumpkins is being advertised as “spookier than ever.”

Mon., Oct. 14, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Starts: Oct. 14. Continues through Oct. 27, 2013

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Education Neighborhoods NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Watching the Wheels

In order to reach David Andrew King’s office on the third floor of Buell Hall, a beautiful old brick building nestled in the center of Columbia University’s Morningside Heights campus, I take a Metro-North train from my home in Fairfield, Connecticut. The station is just a few miles south of where two trains collided in mid-May, injuring more than 70 people, some critically, and halting service on one of the country’s busiest railroads for almost a week. Today, like most days, my train is delayed due to maintenance. My peak-hour one-way ticket cost $15.75, and it takes me an hour and 15 minutes to arrive at the Harlem-125th Street Station. “There’s an old joke,” King will tell me when I arrive. “Everybody’s least favorite transit system is the one they rely on on a daily basis.”

I had wanted to try riding a Citi Bike—the new and controversial bike share program colonizing sidewalks in parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn—from the 125th Street Metro-North station to Columbia, but the bike docks don’t yet extend north of 59th Street, so I walk to the subway on 125th Street and Lenox Avenue instead. I pay my $2.50, push through the turnstile, and take the downtown 3 train to 96th Street. I walk the stairs up and around the station, pace the platform for 10 minutes, and then ride the 1 train back uptown to 116th Street—Columbia University.

When I finally knock on King’s door, I’m thinking what most people do at the end of a long commute: There’s got to be a better way. But while so many New York area residents begrudgingly accept inconvenience as a way of life, King is trying to determine what the future of transportation might actually look like in Manhattan, the outer boroughs, the suburbs, and beyond. As an assistant professor at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, specializing in transportation and land-use issues, King analyzes what makes sense (and what doesn’t) in our transportation system and encourages his students to do the same.

“If we look forward five years, 10 years, 15 years, I suspect that we’re going to have a much different relationship with transportation in our adult lifetimes,” King says. “We’re going to likely have self-driving cars, and really that may have a dramatic influence on cities. Everyone could essentially call a taxi anytime they wanted to. We wouldn’t have to supply parking anymore.”

King teaches four courses under the umbrella of urban planning: a survey course on methods for planning research, a transportation economics and policy class, an elective on transportation and land-use planning, and, finally, a year-long thesis course for second-year master’s students. During the summer months, however, King focuses on his own research, not just studying the city’s past, but imagining its future.

Sitting at his desk with his back to a small window overlooking the campus, King speaks passionately about problems facing our transit system, and how what he sees as a misallocation of public funds and a closed-mindedness toward new technologies have kept it from evolving properly. It’s easy to picture King some 23 years ago as a 20-year-old college dropout opening a bar in the Warehouse District of Minneapolis—the center for the arts in the Twin Cities—and becoming involved in local planning politics after his friends’ independent coffee shops were forced to provide a high number of coveted parking spaces for their modest, 1,000-square-foot businesses.

“It ruined their opportunity,” says King, who went on to complete both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Minnesota before earning a Ph.D. from UCLA. “That was one of the things that got me interested: the way cities value the arts and small-scale business.”

King has written extensively on cruising for parking spots, a common phenomenon that worsens congestion in the city and contributes to air pollution. In theory, the solutions to these kinds of problems sound like little more than common sense: Encourage people to forgo their cars by improving public transportation choices, revamping taxi and jitney services, or hiking parking fines and congestion tolls.

“I’m very interested in what cities and communities can do,” he explains. “I’m skeptical that we should be sitting around with our urban problems and waiting for Albany or waiting for Washington to step in and make the changes.”

The MTA serves roughly 10 million trips per day, fully one-third of the daily transit trips in the entire country. Yet New York’s subway and bus systems seem poorly equipped to get commuters where they actually need to go.

“Our transit system is focused on getting people in and out of the Manhattan core, but that’s not where the jobs are growing; the jobs are growing in the outer boroughs and suburbs,” King says. “It’s very difficult if you live in the South Bronx to get to a job in Brooklyn. The distance might not be any different than the distance to midtown, but it’s impossible for you to get there in a reasonable amount of time. That is a huge challenge to the city. How can we provide the appropriate transportation choices to where people need to go, and not just in and out of midtown?”

Ultimately, what King craves is innovation—a sign that real progress is being made, and that the city is not just spinning its wheels, so to speak, with easy fixes. Citi Bike is one such solution, according to King, and even if it’s met with opposition from residents who don’t want to see bike share stations installed in front of their apartment buildings, he believes the new program will eventually win over the majority of the public.

“I think the biggest challenge to it, just like any investment or any change, is that there is a strong status quo bias,” says King, who hopes Citi Bike will quickly expand to Morningside Heights and other parts of the city. “As people are introduced to it, it turns out they love it, and the few people who are opposed will eventually change their minds when they realize it’s not a terrible thing.”

King also sees students as an ideal demographic for programs like Citi Bike. “Students are a natural fit for this,” he explains. “They’re also a natural fit for car shares, because they’re not going to have access to a car to the same degree. Another advantage of students is they have odd schedules. With setting a bike share up in a commuter neighborhood, the rack will be filled at 8, and then at 8:05 it will be empty. But students come and go throughout the day, so they will naturally redistribute the bikes a little bit easier.”

What may truly determine the future of transportation in major metropolitan areas, King believes, is the pairing of vehicle shares and new technologies. Cars that can park themselves and adjust their speed according to traffic flow are already on the market, but companies like Toyota, Audi, and even Google are making gains in developing fully autonomous systems.

King predicts that once implemented, self-driving cars will look something like a sophisticated, high-tech taxi network. This, along with a changing economy, could soon make vehicle ownership a thing of the past.

“If people decide that they don’t want to own their vehicles anymore, that will have a dramatic effect,” says King. “Young people now are more likely to have student loan debt, and it’s very difficult to, in your 20s, buy a house, buy a car, pay off your student loans, save for retirement. Something’s got to give, and it seems like the house and the car are going away because they require a substantial amount of upfront money.”

King’s former students, ironically, may be some of the few who will still be able to afford car loans. Planning is “booming” right now, according to King, and he says that his school’s recent alumni are finding jobs working for the city, the state, consulting firms, architecture firms, engineering firms, and community advocacy groups to help organizations better navigate an ever-changing urban landscape. King’s former teaching assistant Maxwell Sokol graduated from the program in 2012 and is now a planner at Parsons Brinckerhoff, a large planning, engineering, and construction management organization in New York. Since starting his job last September, Sokol has been working on a high-profile environmental impact statement for the Department of City Planning concerning a proposed rezoning of a 73-block area surrounding Grand Central Terminal.

If King’s predictions are right, however, the urban landscape that organizations like Parsons Brinckerhoff and the Department of City Planning are hoping to navigate will be far less congested in years to come. But even for someone like King, it is still hard to determine exactly what this New York will look like, or when it will arrive.

“It’s difficult for me to say what the optimal way is,” he says earnestly, “but it’s not what we have now.”

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ART ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES Theater

Go Time-Traveling at the Ice Factory Festival

This year’s Ice Factory festival of six new works transforms the New Ohio into a hot-weather time machine (never fear, the AC is cool). The time-warping began at the end of June with That Poor Dream, the Assembly’s update of Dickens’s Great Expectations, which transposes the story to a Metro-North train. This week, The Mad Ones bop back to the grooviest decade, ruminating on 1960s folk-rock culture in Untitled Biopic Project (July 10–13). On the horizon, Built for Collapse’s Red Wednesday (July 24–27) surveys millennia of Iranian history, multimedia-style, while CollaborationTown’s Help Me to Make It (July 17–20) traces the architecture of family life over generations. Anonymous Ensemble’s I Land (July 31–August 3) concludes the chronology-obsessed program by escaping to a timeless isle populated by phantasms.

Appropriately enough, the fest’s most recent offering, last week’s hyperkinetic My Machine Is Powered by Clocks—a SIGHTLINE production, written by B. Walker Sampson and directed by Calla Videt—is a sci-fi dance-theater piece about the perils of temporal tourism.

Sometime in the future, a scientist named Halley Martinson invents a time machine—and things get very complicated. The Time Bureau, a clique of chronological busybodies, tallies the permutations caused by time-tampering. But they can’t resist meddling: One attempts to edit an old flame’s biography so they never meet (or break up); another watches helplessly as her brother repeatedly gets into the same accident; a third zips back to reproduce with himself (the biological specifics are hazy and the whole idea is pretty gross). Meanwhile, Martinson, addled by time-twerking, meanders through history; her more serious symptoms include long monologues and frequently shouting the title of the play.

My Machine proceeds fitfully in jumpy flashbacks and flash-forwards—at first, we’re as discombobulated as Martinson. But the banal storylines don’t reward the effort required to parse them together. The equally busy production alternates between two basic settings: In caffeinated-cuteness mode, performers hurtle around mugging like Pixar characters. When serious themes arrive, so does maudlin meaningfulness—and dancers solemnly twirl and stare. The piece’s insights about infinity could be summed up, stoner-fashion, thusly: “Time travel! Whoa!”

Despite experimental pretensions, My Machine ends up seeking refuge in the hoariest of theatrical pieties about time—fate!—with the cop-out conclusion that some events were just meant to happen. You might leave wishing for a personal time vehicle so you can get that lost hour back.

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DEEP FREEZE

If you can’t stand the heat, get into the air conditioning. The Ohio Theater’s Ice Factory used to be something of a misnomer—with just a few ceiling fans for cooling the cavernous Wooster Street space, this festival was among the city’s steamiest. But the Ice Factory has since decamped farther west to the New Ohio, and while the temperature is now much more moderate, the lineup isn’t any less scorching. This summer’s offerings includes The Assembly’s That Poor Dream, set on a Metro-North train and based upon Great Expectations; The Mad Ones’ Untitled Biopic Project, about ’60s folkies; Built for Collapse’s Red Wednesday, centering on the Iranian Hostage Crisis; and Anonymous Ensemble’s atoll-set I Land.

Wednesdays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Starts: June 26. Continues through June 29, 2013

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Neighborhoods NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Elevator Diplomacy

The Glasers—a family of Bronx elevator-equipment moguls—haven’t been too big on giving money to political campaigns. In fact, city campaign-finance records show that before this spring, they and their company—G.A.L. Manufacturing in the South Bronx—hadn’t given a single dollar to local candidates. Ever.

So why did the Glasers suddenly drop almost $30,000 into Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion’s campaign war chest in May and July?

Could it have anything to do with the fact that the city had just agreed to pay the Glasers a whopping $5 million for “air rights” over their East 153rd Street property to make way for the renovation of an old pedestrian bridge to the new Yankee Stadium?

The thing that makes the timing of their contribution even more intriguing is that the same politically connected lawyer involved in the air-rights deal also acted as the middleman in raising those contributions for Carrion.

The Glasers didn’t return the Voice‘s phone calls. A spokesman for Carrion referred questions to his campaign office, which said, “The borough president has many first-time contributors, as people throughout the city have taken notice of his proven track record in governing.”

The pedestrian bridge is a small but key piece of the massive stadium project because it connects the new Metro North station to the stadium property. An existing pedestrian bridge is considered too narrow and out of compliance with federal disability laws.

Under the deal signed last spring, the city agreed to pay $5 million to the Glasers for the air rights over their property to allow for widening and improving the concrete pedestrian bridge leading to the foot of Yankee Stadium. The air-rights deal will cost taxpayers almost as much as the $6.5 million that the city plans to spend actually renovating the bridge.

City officials say that the $5 million bought three things: access to the property for two years, the right to put the bridge over the property, and a piece of land on which to set a column that will support the bridge.

The new bridge, according to a source with the city Economic Development Corporation, will limit G.A.L.’s ability to build over the parking lot and, to some extent, to build up on its existing factory. The deal takes into consideration the impact on G.A.L. and the tight construction deadline, as well as the wish to avoid an eminent-domain fight, the EDC source says.

But the actual contract filed with the city offers a slightly different view. The deal specifically states that the new bridge cannot affect the company’s right to expand its building.

Carrion, who has mayoral aspirations but has yet to declare his candidacy, has been a major backer of the Yankee Stadium plan, touting the project’s economic-development and employment benefits. He’s also been the target of criticism from some community advocates.

“It’s a poorly planned project that has screwed over a neighborhood of poor people,” says Lucas Herbert, a local resident (and, professionally, an urban planner) who opposes the project. “He’s selling out the whole neighborhood so he gets the chance to run for mayor.”

The G.A.L. cash isn’t the only recent Carrion campaign contribution that has raised questions. Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez reported last week that the Baldor’s supermarket chain gave $6,000 to Carrion the same week that the borough president backed the company’s request for tax-exempt government bonds to expand its Hunts Point food-processing center. The company also hired Carrion’s former press spokesman, Gonzalez reported.

The $30,000 in contributions from the Glasers to Carrion were raised through an intermediary, Ricardo E. Oquendo, of the major lobbying firm Davidoff and Malito, records show. Oquendo was formerly counsel to the Bronx Democratic Party and former state assemblyman Roberto Ramirez. (Under the law, an intermediary is someone who solicits or delivers contributions from a third party to a campaign, a city campaign-finance spokesman said.)

The timing of the contributions is also interesting. On May 15, the Glasers made their first $5,000 contribution to Carrion via Oquendo.

Two days later, on May 17, Herbert Glaser, a G.A.L. principal, had Oquendo notarize the easement contract, records show.

On July 3, Glaser officially signed the contract that sold the air rights to the city, via the MTA, for the $5 million, records show.

Three days later, on July 6, the Glasers made five more donations to Carrion via Oquendo, totaling $25,000. In each of the six contributions, the Glasers gave the maximum amount allowed under the law.

On Friday, Oquendo declined to comment on how the contributions came about and refused to discuss his clients. He also refused to say whether he had done any lobbying work for G.A.L.

The Glaser contributions placed the company among Carrion’s most generous donors this year.

Other top donors to Carrion include the Related Companies, which gave $34,156. Related is building the massive Gateway Mall just down the street from the stadium—a project supported by Carrion. Related is also the developer most closely associated with the Bloomberg administration.

At the same time that G.A.L. negotiated the $5 million air-rights deal, Related got $1.2 million from Metro North for an easement over a small sliver of its property to allow for the widening of rail tracks.

Rounding out the top four donors to Carrion this year were executives with Rudin Management, a major real estate firm, who gave $29,710, and top officials with TriLine Contracting, a construction firm, who gave $31,000. Carrion also got $4,950 from Yankee Global Enterprises on May 18.

Carrion’s campaign has been ahead of the pack in accepting contributions from limited-liability corporations, known as LLCs, and partnerships—largely from real estate and construction interests. Campaign-finance records show that he has raised more than $250,000 from LLCs and partnerships since January 2006.

A law signed by Mayor Bloomberg in July will make it against the law for campaigns to accept contributions from LLCs and partnerships as of January 1, 2008.

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Sports

Making Nike Sweat

Jockbeat‘s newest hero is Jonah Peretti, who turned Nike’s corporate creativity against itself in a stand against third-world exploitation labor. Peretti’s protest made use of the swoosh brand’s Nike iD Web site, which allows customers to “build your own” sneaker, complete with a word of your choice, or “iD,” printed on the side. For his iD, Peretti selected “sweatshop,” which generated the following e-mail exchange:

From: Personalize, NIKE iD

To: Jonah H. Peretti Subject: RE: Your NIKE iD order

Your NIKE iD order was cancelled for one or more of the following reasons: 1) Your Personal iD contains another party’s trademark or other intellectual property. 2) Your Personal iD contains the name of an athlete or team we do not have the legal right to use. 3) Your Personal iD was left blank. Did you not want any personalization? 4) Your Personal iD contains profanity or inappropriate slang, and besides, your mother would slap us. If you wish to reorder your NIKE iD product with a new personalization please visit us again at www.nike.com Thank you, NIKE iD

From: Jonah H. Peretti

To: Personalize, NIKE iD Subject: RE: Your NIKE iD order

Greetings, My order was canceled but my personal NIKE iD does not violate any of the criteria outlined in your message. The Personal iD on my custom ZOOM XC USA running shoes was the word “sweatshop.” Sweatshop is not: 1) another party’s trademark, 2) the name of an athlete, 3) blank, or 4) profanity. I chose the iD because I wanted to remember the toil and labor of the children that made my shoes. Could you please ship them to me immediately?

Thanks and Happy New Year, Jonah Peretti

From: Personalize, NIKE iD

To: Jonah H. Peretti Subject: RE: Your NIKE iD order

Dear NIKE iD Customer, Your NIKE iD order was cancelled because the iD you have chosen contains, as stated in the previous e-mail correspondence, “inappropriate slang.” If you wish to reorder your NIKE iD product with a new personalization please visit us again at www.nike.com

Thank you, NIKE iD

From: Jonah H. Peretti

To: Personalize, NIKE iD Subject: RE: Your NIKE iD order

Dear NIKE iD, Thank you for your quick response to my inquiry about my custom ZOOM XC USA running shoes. Although I commend you for your prompt customer service, I disagree with the claim that my personal iD was inappropriate slang. After consulting Webster’s Dictionary, I discovered that “sweatshop” is in fact part of standard English, and not slang. The word means: “a shop or factory in which workers are employed for long hours at low wages and under unhealthy conditions” and its origin dates from 1892. So my personal iD does meet the criteria detailed in your first e-mail. Your Web site advertises that the NIKE iD program is “about freedom to choose and freedom to express who you are.” I share Nike’s love of freedom and personal statement. The site also says that “If you want it done right . . . build it yourself.” I was thrilled to be able to build my own shoes, and my personal iD was offered as a small token of appreciation for the sweatshop workers poised to help me realize my vision. I hope that you will value my freedom of statement and reconsider your decision to reject my order. Thank you, Jonah Peretti

From: Personalize, NIKE iD

To: Jonah H. Peretti Subject: RE: Your NIKE iD order

Dear NIKE iD Customer, Regarding the rules for personalization it also states on the NIKE iD Web site that “Nike reserves the right to cancel any Personal iD up to 24 hours after it has been submitted.” In addition it further explains: “While we honor most personal iDs, we cannot honor every one. Some may be (or contain) others’ trademarks, or the names of certain professional sports teams, athletes or celebrities that Nike does not have the right to use. Others may contain material that we consider inappropriate or simply do not want to place on our products. Unfortunately, at times this obliges us to decline personal iDs that may otherwise seem unobjectionable. In any event, we will let you know if we decline your personal iD, and we will offer you the chance to submit another.” With these rules in mind we cannot accept your order as submitted. If you wish to reorder your NIKE iD product with a new personalization please visit us again at www.nike.com

Thank you, NIKE iD

From: Jonah H. Peretti

To: Personalize, NIKE iD Subject: RE: Your NIKE iD order

Dear NIKE iD, Thank you for the time and energy you have spent on my request. I have decided to order the shoes with a different iD, but I would like to make one small request. Could you please send me a color snapshot of the 10-year-old Vietnamese girl who makes my shoes? Thanks, Jonah Peretti

Nike did not respond to this final missive. But its spokespeople did confirm the exchange—while stressing the company’s efforts to do away with sweatshops and child labor in its Asian plants. Many labor advocates, of course, would argue with those claims.

As would Peretti, a graduate student at MIT. Peretti was moved to perform this personal brand of culture jamming by what he called the “terrible irony” of the Nike iD program, which trumpets the consumer’s ability to make their own shoe. “In reality,” says Peretti, “you’re just sending a to-do list to some workers so that they can make your shoes for you under these truly horrible conditions.”

Peretti is quick to note that he’s no hard-core activist—that there are more committed people out there fighting the good fight and fighting it hard. True enough, but for getting the word out there in creative and compelling fashion—the exchange is now making the rounds on the Internet via mass e-mailings—we salute Mr. Peretti.


Squash in the Box

Squash in the Box The accumulation of the city’s scattered pockets of squash nerds all convened at Vanderbilt Hall—the side concourse in Grand Central Station—last week for the CSFB-Direct Tournament of Champions, featuring the top squashers in the game. Under one of the hall’s massive bronze chandeliers, a clear acrylic box was assembled to enclose the tiny court, and bleachers that held 450 people rose up against the stone walls.

But the real scene was at the front end of the court, which faced the untold thousands of Metro North commuters who, shambling their way to the train, found themselves just a few feet from the action. “Big squash town,” confided one gent out of the side of his mouth as we surveyed a crowd of pedestrians taking in a match.

The men’s final brought the much anticipated matchup between Peter Nicol of Scotland, and Jonathon Power of Canada, ranked one and two in the world. The trim, quiet Nicol plays Borg to Power’s more clamorous McEnroe. Power is famous for his “whingeing”—English slang for incessant complaining.

Unfortunately, the high walls of the box effectively muffled the players’ voices when contesting a call. So much so that, throughout the tournament, Nicol or (especially) Power would have to open the door at the rear of the court to give the ref a more direct earful. The time involved in fiddling with the slide bolt to unlatch the door tended to drain tension from the moment, which in turn made the players seem more solicitous than angry by the time they came out of the box to whinge. Amid this ongoing comedy, Nicol won (15-9, 15-12, 13-15, 13-15, 15-11).


Contributors: Alisa Solomon, Ramona Debs, Sinclair Rankin Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman