Monday, December 8, 2014

RIP Clinton Apothecary

Sad news as we lose another local small business to rising commercial rents.  From a local listserve last night, which generated a flurry of comments:
I just heard today that Clinton Apothecary, a local pharmacy that has been around for 80 years, is closing its doors as of Tuesday night because the landlord is raising the rent to a point they could no longer afford!   If you have patronized Clinton Apothecary and have your prescriptions there, all your records will be transferred to Rite Aid on Smith and President.  I'm truly saddened by this news and just wanted to pass it along in case you have not heard.  The neighborhood is pricing out its long time residents.  It's just not right!
I wonder what comes next.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Pope Francis To Visit NYC In 2015

Just a few years ago this is not something that would have gotten me excited.  But Pope Francis has been a breath of fresh air to the Catholic church, and his message has been inspiring.  Millions will be looking forward to his visit to NYC.  
On Thursday, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the head of the Holy See’s permanent observer mission to the United Nations, told the Associated Press “if he comes to Philadelphia, he will come to New York.”
The 70th anniversary of the U.N.’s founding would be “the ideal time” for a papal visit, the archbishop said Nov. 13. Next year also marks the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s 1965 visit to the U.N., the first such visit from a Pope.

The Pope is now confirmed for Philly, so . . . maybe Brooklyn this time?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Not Just Carroll Gardens - Privatization Vote In Mitchell-Lama Buildings Rends Community

The board members of the Southbridge Towers, on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge in downtown Manhattan, have voted to leave the program.  From the Times:
In a neighborhood like the financial district, where the average sales price is $1.1 million, according to CityRealty, the temptation to cash in is hard to resist. With so much money at stake, tensions flare. The Southbridge offering plan anticipates that a shareholder selling a one-bedroom apartment for $550,000 could walk away with $325,000 cash after paying substantial fees and taxes. The largest unit, a three-bedroom with a terrace, could sell for nearly $1 million.
“It’s really torn the community up,” said Charles Chawalko, 26, who moved to Southbridge as a child. “People think that you’re taking money out of their pockets if you want to support Mitchell-Lama.”
“If you saw what’s been going on here, the acrimony, this place will never be the same,” said Paul Hovitz, 68, a retired special education teacher who has lived in Southbridge for 30 years with his wife, Denise, 61.
Privatizing assumes financial risk, particularly for the type of tenant the program was designed to serve — someone who can barely afford the current costs. No longer eligible for tax abatements, Southbridge would have to pay at least $8.1 million a year in real estate taxes, significantly more than the $1.64 million it now pays. The development could also be on the hook for a $27.77 million transfer tax if the New York State Court of Appeals rules in favor of the city in an ongoing case involving a former Mitchell-Lama development in Coney Island that privatized in 2007.
The resource curse strikes again.

Landing On A Comet

I tip my hat to the engineers and astronomers behind the Philae mission.  I consider myself a smart guy, but what they accomplish just blows me away. The lander has been in space for over 10 years!  Talk about long term planning.


Friday, November 14, 2014

As Carroll Gardens Old-timers Age and Pass On, Next Generations Cash In - Observer

I've been in the neighborhood ten years now, and Mrs. Firstandcourt for fourteen.  Everybody knows a story like this (at least one) from their block.  It's not a story unique to Carroll Gardens, though the astonishing rise in property values here certainly has increased the pressure.  The fallout for families results from a sort of resource curse in a microcosm, not so unlike a developing nation that discovers oil riches.  From the Observer (via mcbrooklyn):
The typical conflict involves a home where a group of siblings grew up together, with most eventually marrying off and decamping for Staten Island, New Jersey or farther flung locales. Meanwhile, one sibling stays behind to care for the aging matriarch or patriarch, or both. Once the parent dies, “the whole thing can crumble very quickly,” says Ms. Kelly.
Like Anthony, the sibling who stayed, his or her caretaking duties done, is now an obstacle to putting the house on the market, as their siblings—who from a distance have been clocking the ever-rising seven-figure sums being fetched by neighborhood homes—are often in a sweat to do. So leverage is applied, and not always gently.
“That person is considered a liability, because they’re sitting on a goldmine and they won’t leave it,” says Maria Pagano, the president of the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, who says she’s seen “many, many of these types of stories.”
With prices in the multimillions, buying one’s siblings out is rarely an option. And in any case, “often they don’t make enough to take out a mortgage,” notes Mr. Levine. So they’ve got no choice but to leave, cut off not only from their lifelong home, but also from the family that forced them out.
In fairness, the desire to get one’s piece of a $3 million asset is easy to understand. But what’s striking is the extent to which flashing dollar signs seem to blind people to familial considerations.
I'm grateful that some of the "old-timer" Italians on our block have taken us in and treated us like family over the years, even though we are "the liberals".  Change is a constant.  But I hope to share their company for a long time to come.

Side notes - I have never heard, not even once, a "newbie" refer to long time residents as "leftovers.  Never.  So there is that.  And a minor quibble Red Rose is not the only red sauce joint on Smith - Vinny's of Carroll gardens has been our go-to spot for years, and that's an old neighborhood family too.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Encouraging Stance From Obama On Net Neutrality

If the corporate powers that be are able to gut net neutrality we are well and truly fucked.  So I was gladdened to hear President Obama restate a commitment to continued net neutrality this week:
An open Internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life. By lowering the cost of launching a new idea, igniting new political movements, and bringing communities closer together, it has been one of the most significant democratizing influences the world has ever known.
“Net neutrality” has been built into the fabric of the Internet since its creation — but it is also a principle that we cannot take for granted. We cannot allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas. That is why today, I am asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.
. . . . 
The FCC is an independent agency, and ultimately this decision is theirs alone. I believe the FCC should create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online. The rules I am asking for are simple, common-sense steps that reflect the Internet you and I use every day, and that some ISPs already observe. These bright-line rules include:
  • No blocking. If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it. That way, every player — not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP — gets a fair shot at your business.
  • No throttling. Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others — through a process often called “throttling” — based on the type of service or your ISP’s preferences.
  • Increased transparency. The connection between consumers and ISPs — the so-called “last mile” — is not the only place some sites might get special treatment. So, I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.
  • No paid prioritization. Simply put: No service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth. So, as I have before, I am asking for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.
 Professor Juan Cole lays out just why this is such a vitally important piece of policy:
A tiered world wide web would restore some of the lost ability of the wealthy to control the spin put on news. We know what that spin typically is. There are no labor reporters at any major metropolitan newspaper. Major labor actions are often not reported on at any length. Nor are union workers much featured in the mass media such as television. Wars benefiting munitions corporations are reported on positively. The dangers of fossil fuel consumption are discounted. In a business-class world, it is people with capital who matter and on whom reporters are told to concentrate. We’ve all heard of Donald Trump or the Koch brothers. Richard L. Trumka and Linda Chavez-Thompson of the AFL CIO are, let us say, less prominent. Even less prominent are climate scientists like Michael Mann. And, of course, northern Europeans are generally more newsworthy than people originating in other parts of the world. Race and class are not evenly distributed in the informational world of US corporate media.
A lot of you have said how much you benefited from my own analyses of the Iraq War during the Bush administration. But in the 20th century I might not have been able to present that analysis to the public. I had trouble getting my op-eds published in newspapers in the old days. I wasn’t mainstream. This blog would not have existed without net neutrality, and if net neutrality ever goes away, probably so will the blog.
. . . .
In the American system, the best guarantor of liberty of access to the internet and liberty of accessible publication on it is the rise of powerful economic interests that benefit from it. Thus, the guy in a white hat here is Netflix. In contrast, Comcast and other ISPs shot themselves in the foot by throttling Netflix and shaking it down, creating an ally for bloggers and civil libertarians. Senator Al Franken, with his ties to the entertainment industry (I remember when he was a comedian on Saturday Night Live), likewise has taken a powerful stand in favor of net neutrality.
It's impossible to overstate the importance of net neutrality to our democracy.  As it is, our discourse is dominated by what I like to call a billionaire-owned vanity press.  But mere domination is never enough fpor these people.  They need to shut out our voices altogether.  We can't let them.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Fulton Street Transit Center Opened Today

Entering from the A/C mezzanine.  A far cry from the old days.
The Fulton Street Transit Center opened at 5:00 am this morning, and it is magnificent.  The retail spaces are not yet occupied, but this place should definitely become a major part of downtown life. In my imagination, an Apple store would be an incredible use of the upstairs retail space.

Of course, this place took forever to build and was perhaps not the best use of scarce transit dollars.  But the MTA should not be the primary target for criticism of the decision to allocate those dollars here.  As for the delays and cost overruns, the MTA was forced to preserve and restore the Corbin Building (which is beautiful) and to construct the Dey Street underground passageway to the R/PATH/Chambers Street station.  Those decisions, which were completely out of MTA's hands, drove significant delays and cost overruns.  In the end, they accomplished worthy goals that would not have been priorities for a transit agency: preservation of an early NYC skyscraper and a weather-proof connection to another downtown hub.

Personally, I hated the old station here with a passion.  It was a depressing urine-soaked dungeon and I'm glad that we took the opportunity to turn it into a place that inspires.  I don't think we give enough weight to the quality of life of people that spend a portion of every working day passing through the system.  But whatever you may think of the utility of this project, life just improved immeasurably for every person who uses this station.

Second Avenue Sagas has more photos and analysis.