Tag Archives: Manhattan

New York City’s Final Frontier: Underground

Stuart McAlpine via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Doing construction in New York City is dangerous and expensive. Cut the pavement in the wrong place and crews can rupture gas lines. Hit a water main, short a backup generator. These sorts of mistakes cost the city $300 million each year. Worse yet are natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy — where floods caused a three-day blackout and left two hospitals without power — and threats like buried chemical tanks and national security issues. In Bloomberg Businessweek, Greg Milner follows the people who are creating the city’s first three-dimensional subsurface infrastructure map to create a safer city that can self-regulate and grow more efficiently, and where agencies and private utilities can coordinate. In a very real sense they are pioneers, of a frontier that lays below our feet. Detailing pipes, cables, sewers, wires and electric lines, even soil types, the map will be the first of its kind, and if it works, it could make New York a model for the world’s future smart cities.

Because of data from satellites, we can now map the world down to about 6 inches. We’ve almost reached the point Jorge Luis Borges describes in his short story “On Exactitude in Science,” in which cartographers built “a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it.” But the world beneath our feet remains shrouded in darkness. “Light and radio waves don’t go through dirt like they do air,” says George Percivall, chief technical officer for the Open Geospatial Consortium, which is helping to develop global standards for underground mapping. “The next frontier, in both a literal and figurative sense, is underground.”

New York City’s daunting infrastructural labyrinth is like the “Here be dragons” decorating ancient maps. Underneath the 6,000 miles of asphalt and concrete road lie thousands of miles of water, sewer, gas, telecommunications, and electrical infrastructure. And let’s not forget the 500 miles of underground subway tracks or Con Edison’s 100-mile steam delivery system. In its entirety, it’s known to no one. The individual details of the vast underground are hoarded and guarded by the various stakeholders. Con Edison has its electrical map; the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) keeps track of water and sewer pipes; the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) could tell you where the transit tunnels are; and so on.

Imagine the city as a living organism, a body consisting of various systems—respiratory, nervous, skeletal—that share the same space and even intertwine. Now imagine surgery performed on that body by a surgeon who knows the location of only one system, who looks at the body and sees only blood vessels or bones. This is the odd condition of New York—a body subject to what, viewed through a wide lens, looks like perpetual triage. Each year, for repairs or to facilitate construction, the streets are sliced open 200,000 times—an average of almost 550 cuts per day, or 30 per street mile every year.

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New York in the 1970s Gave Us Hip Hop, Madonna, and the Chip on Trump’s Shoulder

Image by Bin im Garten (CC BY-SA 3.0)

New York’s chaotic 1970s — when the city was on the brink of bankruptcy and crime rates reached record highs — have been mythologized as the last great period of unfettered, gritty creativity before yuppies, and later hipsters, ruined everything. It’s a complicated narrative, and the election of Donald Trump, a city-hating city-dweller, makes it even more so. Here’s a man who’s unquestionably among the most provincial New Yorkers of all time, yet he’s just as unquestionably an iconic one. And his rise to prominence came about right at that moment when New York was (supposedly) at its worst and at its best. Michael Kruse, writing at Politico, dives into what we might call Trump’s Studio 54 period, the years when desperate politicians allowed Trump to build an impressive real estate portfolio underwritten by huge tax breaks, and when public (specifically, Manhattan elite) derision shaped his politics of resentment for decades to come.

If he had expected New York to grant respect the way it had handed out tax breaks and opportunities for sheer publicity, he was mistaken. Critics in the pages of the Times called him “overrated” and “totally obnoxious.” It bothered him that he could put up such a glossy building and still be so readily dismissed as an arriviste. “If I were Gerry Hines in Houston,” he told Marie Brenner for a profile in New York magazine in 1980, referring to the billionaire real estate entrepreneur in Texas, “I would be the most important man in the city—but here, you bang your head against the wall to try to get some nice buildings up, and what happens? Everybody comes after you.”

But Trump attacked New York, too. He had, for instance, valuable art deco friezes jackhammered off the face of the Bonwit Teller building during its demolition—even after he had promised to donate them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was a literal and visceral assault against the exact sort of New Yorker who found him so distasteful.

They were “nothing,” Trump said. They were “junk.”

They were not, said a man from the Met. “They were irreplaceable architectural documents.”

“Obviously,” huffed an editorial in the Times, “big buildings do not make big human beings.”

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A Very Brief History of Americans Playing Softball with Their Co-Workers

Americans have been playing softball with their co-workers since the game grew out of several variants of baseball in the late 19th century. In 1895, Louis Rober, a lieutenant in the Minneapolis fire department, organized games of “kittenball” to entertain firefighters between runs. Blue-collar company teams proliferated over the next half-century. Office workers joined in later, in the 1970s and ’80s.

Ira Boudway writing for Bloomberg Businessweek about how the High Times Bonghitters (yes, that is the team’s official name) became “the Yankees of New York media softball.”

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Heroin and French Fries in Manhattan

“The tourists don’t know anything,” said Nichole, 29, a former heroin user who lives in a shelter and goes to the McDonald’s regularly with her boyfriend. “I love when they walk in here and look around and everybody is nodding out on a table. Because they have no idea what’s going on. They’re like, ‘Why is everybody sleeping in here?’ ”

Why there? Because within a three-minute walk there are a clinic that dispenses methadone, the substitute opioid used to treat heroin addiction; two outpatient substance-abuse programs; and a needle exchange. The neighborhood has few cheap options for hanging out. The White Castle allows only paying customers to use the restroom. The management at a Subway and two Dunkin’ Donuts claim their bathrooms are out of order.

Kim Barker writing in The New York Times about the overt drug culture at a particular McDonald’s in Manhattan.

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Mr. and Mrs. B

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad

Alexander Chee | Apology Magazine | Winter 2014 | 19 minutes (4,822 words)

 

This essay by novelist Alexander Chee first appeared in Apology magazine’s third issue (Winter 2014). Apology is a semiannual print journal of art, interviews and literature, created by ex-Vice editor-in-chief Jesse Pearson. The fourth issue is available for preorder. Our thanks to Alexander Chee and Apology for allowing us to reprint this essay here.

* * *

How could you, my friends would ask, when I told them. How could you work for someone like him? Do you ever want to just pick up a knife and stab him in the neck? Poison his food?

You would be a hero, one friend said.

I did not want to stab him, and I did not want to poison him. From our first meeting, it was clear, he was in decline. And as for how could I, well, like many people, I needed the money. Read more…

How the Modern Modeling Agency Came to Be

Photo by FordModels.com

This was a precursor for what would become the protocol by which models were paid for the rest of the century, but as Natálie [Nickerson] put it to Eileen [Ford] in their late-night Barbizon conversations, the system was back to front. According to Eileen, Natálie told her, “Models were treated as if they worked for the agencies, instead of the agencies working for them. There was too much sink-or-swim. Models needed to know exactly where they had to be for a job, and what they were supposed to bring with them, and the big agencies were not efficient in making sure their girls knew even such simple things. There was no career planning, no special training or care, no help with hair or makeup—no real system at all.”

So the two women decided to work out a system together. Eileen would act as secretary and booker to Natálie and to another model, Inga Lindgren, a Swedish beauty with high-arching eyebrows and meticulously manicured nails. Each model would pay Eileen $65 per month for her secretarial assistance and for making phone bookings, while Natálie would act as a discreet publicist and drummer-up of business, quietly recommending the energy and efficiency of Eileen’s services to other models. “I realized,” Natálie explained to Michael Gross, “that for any new operation to be successful, they had to have at least one top girl, and I was the model of the moment.” Natálie beat the bushes well. Eileen started working for her and Lindgren in the fall of 1946, and by March of the following year Natálie’s word of mouth and Eileen’s proven efficiency had attracted the signing of seven additional successful models—high-flying women who were all fed up with how men were handling their business. Each newcomer paid Eileen a further $65 for her services, which took her monthly income to almost $600—some $7,000 per year.

Robert Lacey writing in Vanity Fair about the history of Ford Models. Started by a pair of newlyweds in post-World War II Manhattan, Ford Models quickly became one of the most powerful agencies in the business and helped “launch the era of the supermodel.” Lacey’s Vanity Fair piece is adapted from his forthcoming book, Model Woman: Eileen Ford and the Business of Beauty.

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How Truman Capote Compiled the Guest List for His Famous Black and White Ball, According to Gloria Steinem

Vogue, January 1967, courtesy Yale Library

Truman Capote’s legendary 1966 Black and White Ball still stands as one of the greatest parties of all time. Hot off the success of In Cold Blood, Capote billed the party as an “all-time spectacular present” to himself, inviting everyone who was anyone and demanding they appear in masks and black-and-white attire, a color scheme inspired by Cecil Beaton’s Ascot scene for My Fair Lady.

What gave the Black and White Ball “its intoxicating piquancy,” according to Amy Fine Collins, was the fact that Capote’s guest list had “flung together, in a gilt-edged melting pot, the most alluring power brokers in the worlds of high society, politics, the arts, and Hollywood—disconnected universes that collided, if not for the first time that evening, then at least with unprecedented force.”

The Ball also found an unlikely chronicler in Gloria Steinem, an invited guest who had made Capote’s acquaintance after she interviewed him for Glamour the year before. Steinem wrote a feature on the party for Vogue in January 1967 in which she described the luminaries, feathers, masks, ball gowns, and jewels all whirling around the room: “The effect was like some blend of Hollywood, the Court of Louis XIV, a medieval durbar, and pure Manhattan.” (The full article is not online, but is excerpted below.)

Descriptions of unlikely collisions between worlds are one of the highlights of Steinem’s piece: the detective hired to guard the ladies’ jewelry asking Lee Radziwill to dance; Lynda Bird Johnson’s Secret Service men looking unmistakably Secret Service-y despite their black tie attire and requisite masks; and Beverly and Norman Mailer creating a dance move that involved balancing on an invisible tightrope. Also of particular interest is Steinem’s description of how the party’s legendary guest list came together:

The guest list of five hundred and forty—inscribed painstakingly and by hand, like all his writing, in a ten-cent lined notebook—reflected the full range of twenty years’ writing and travel: one Maharajah, a Kansas detective, half a dozen Presidential advisors, businessmen, editors, a lot of writers and performers, some artists, four composers, several heiresses, one country doctor, and a sprinkling of royalties, with defunct titles attached to very undefunct people. Thunderous publicity which leaned heavily on the Maharajah-heiress side of things, soon made it the Party of the Year—possibly of Several Years—leaving the host and everyone involved some combination of pleased and stunned.

As the day approached, there was a growing conviction—false but intriguing—that the invitation list was not just friends but a new Four Hundred of the World. Pressure from would-be guests became enormous, especially from those who were strangers to the host but felt their social status alone entitled them to go. Truman resisted, but the requests, even threats, finally forced him to cut off his phone and retire to the country.

The week before the party, international guests began arriving in New York like family-of-the-groom for a wedding and caused the same string of accommodation problems and pre-party parties. A whimsical rumor that we were all being called together for some purpose—probably the announcement of the End of the World—spread by magic or telephone. Jerry Robbins wondered if we weren’t the list of those to be shot first by the Red Guard. Kenneth Galbraith said no, not as long as he was on it.

See Also:

1. “A Night to Remember: Inside the Black-and-White Ball” (Amy Fine Collins, Vanity Fair, July 1996)

2. “A Brief History of Epic Parties: A Reading List” (Michelle Legro, Longreads, December 2013)

 

How Many People Does It Take To Power Times Square?

Times Square is one big, busy machine. Powered by American ingenuity and more than a few megawatts of electricity, these six square blocks stay bright 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You’ve seen Times Square in movies and on TV a million times. A lot of you have probably seen it in real life, teeming with chaos and glowing with capitalism. But how exactly does all that work? The shops and restaurants are one thing, but what exactly makes Times Square such a functional, perpetual spectacle?

That’s a complicated question. Obviously there are the workers themselves. Times Square supports some 385,000 jobs, a little over half of which are in that bright sliver of Midtown, while the other half are strewn across the country supporting Times Square operations from designing the content on the signs to keeping the power plants that power them on line. All together, they help generate about 11 percent of New York City’s economic output, or about $110 billion annually, according to the latest figures. These are the men and women who man the ticket booths, who sell the T-shirts, who clean the hotel rooms, and who keep everyone safe. And since about 350,000 pedestrians pass through Times Square on an average day—that number jumps to 460,000 on the busiest days—that’s no small task.

Adam Clark Estes, writing in Gizmodo about how Times Square—”New York City’s biggest gadget”—operates.

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Photo: Chalky Lives, Flickr