NYC Postmortem

April 28, 2010

So I step in after my colleague’s hard crash, like a child coming back down hard to earth after a mad sugar rush, he could be out for days by the look of it, to wrap up our New York City sojourn.

As any good trip away should, we return home with a heightened appreciation of where we live. At least, most of us do. Acaphlegmic went missing Monday night, staying aboard the uptown bound N train as the two of us hopped off at our stop. He had a plan, he said, that did not include us. With that, he was gone, destined for the upper regions of Manhattan or, quite possibly, Queens.

In terms of vibrancy and self-assurance, there really is no other place that compares to New York. It is the centre of the known universe and is well aware of that fact. To bask in its aura even for just a few days, is to acquire a taste, ever so fleetingly, of what it is like to wield true power.

That’s fun for awhile but the responsibility becomes a bit much for us mere mortals to bear. We make our way back home with the knowledge that we are not, ultimately, made of the sterner stuff needed to survive a serious go in such an unforgiving environment. Failure is not an option, as the movies tell us, so we retreat to our slightly more humble surroundings.

Where we have a little more space. A little more tranquility. Where the food is just as good and less pricey and precious. Where we have long since abandoned the idea of building subways.

Did you know that New York City is still building subways? How is that possible? I thought our American neighbours took it in the economic cojones much harder than we did. Especially at ground zero of the meltdown, home to your Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs. So how are they going about such extensive public transit infrastructure spending while we fiddle and fart over extending LRTs?

Then I came across this little tidbit in the Wall Street Journal yesterday at the airport:

Top New York real-estate executives and the City Council speaker will make an 11th-hour push Wednesday to persuade the White House to back federal funding for a second subway station as part of the extension of the No. 7 line in Manhattan.

Officials from the Real Estate Board of New York, a trade association, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn will meet in Washington with Vice President Joe Biden’s staff in hopes of securing hundreds of millions of dollars to build a station at 10th Avenue and 41st Street.

What’s that then?! A New York City councillor and some members of the real estate association have an audience with the US Vice-President, the second most powerful man in the world, trying to secure federal funding for one subway station!? I mean, wasn’t he just over in Israel trying to kick start peace in the Middle East? Remember when Toronto was trying to secure some federal infrastructure money last summer and were told by the Honourable John Baird, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to go fuck ourselves because we hadn’t crossed our Ts and dotted our Is to their satisfaction?

Maybe cities get the respect they deserve. As long as we continue to grovel at the feet of senior levels of government, begging them to pony up cash they took from us in the first place, we’ll continue to be second class citizens. By taking seriously would-be mayoral candidates who call financial negotiations with the province ‘going cap in hand’, Toronto is simply acknowledging the fact that we’re an after-thought, a voter rich zone with little actual power and zero influence.

I’m not proposing we be like New York. That’s impossible and undesirable. What I would like, however, is to occasionally strut like New York, swing some serious pipe like New York. To simply stop acting like we’re not worthy to be treated like a world class city by the very politicians we elect to serve us. I’m not alone in appreciating where I live. It’s time to demand our elected officials do the same.

stridently submitted by Urban Sophisticat


A One Way Discussion

April 24, 2010

Sitting on a patio at the corner of  71st and 1st on the upper east side, taking a lunch time margarita for a test drive. What’s a lunch time margarita, you ask? Well, as far as we can tell, it’s just like a night time margarita only cheaper. A slippery distinction that’s difficult to pass up. 

Acaphlegmic’s in yet another lather. Truth be told, he’s been in some sort of lather or another since we arrived here in New York. First, it’s the ‘mallification’ of Times Square. You see, Acaphlegmic hasn’t been back to the city since around the mid-80s when, as an aspiring actor training at the Neighborhood Playhouse (alma mater of Jimmy Caan!), he prowled the mean streets of the East Village.

“In those days,” he tells us, “Times Square was gloriously seedy. Just like in Taxi Driver.” Apparently, you could buy yourself a cold beer from any squalid convenience store that had a bullet proof glassed enclosed cash register, pop it into a paper bag and then wander around, taking in the sights of open prostitution and live sex shows. “It had character,” we’re told. “Not just this soulless, neon lit commercialization.”

While we all agree on the latter point, Times Square is just another American strip mall, full of cheap souvenir shops and chain stores, there has to be some sort of compromise between that and the old stomping grounds of Travis Bickle. We’re called ‘cheap punk corporatists’ for that view. Another round of lunch time margaritas is then ordered as Acaphlegmic launches into a new day’s outrage.

Grid patterned numbered streets and avenues.

“Where’s the romance in that?”, we’re asked rhetorically. “You always know where you are. It’s impossible to get lost!” Huh?! Just when we thought an argument couldn’t get any loopier. The man tops himself. “In great cities, you always get lost. That’s what makes them great. By getting lost, you make new, unexpected discoveries.”

We’re going to find no common ground on this discussion. The utilitarianism of Manhattan’s numbered grid system is pure gold as far as we’re concerned. Not only do you know where you are but you know roughly how far it is you need to go to get to your next destination. Say, for instance, you’re drinking lunch time margaritas at 71st and 1st and you’re planning to head off to the Guggenheim. Its coordinates are 88th and 5th. That’s roughly 17 blocks north and 4 west (give or take a couple big name avenues that intrude. Like your Park and Madison Avenues). Your journey is about 25 blocks. Accordingly, you adjust the number of drinks you can have before heading off to get to the gallery before closing time.

Furthermore, we love the alternating one way street set up running both north-south and east-west. Odd number streets go west. Odd number aves head south. Or do evens go south? No, definitely odd number avenues travel south and the evens go north but even numbered streets flow… ? We had this all figured out before the lunch time margaritas.

Either way, it works well and a pedestrian catches on very quickly, within minutes realizing they only have to look in one direction in order to jaywalk safely. It’s not that Manhattan isn’t still congested but that’s a matter of there still being too many cars trying to fit into too little space rather than a badly designed traffic flow.

“Why don’t we have more one way streets in downtown Toronto?” Urban Sophisticat wonders. “Start south of Bloor. Leave it two way. Harbord-Wellesley goes west. College-Carlton east. Dundas travels west. Queen east. Etc. etc., all the way to Front Street. Same thing north-south from Parliament to Bathurst or so, leaving Yonge as a two way.”

Why not? With all the talk of bike lanes, transit and traffic congestion during this year’s municipal election campaign, where are the radical ideas? Anyone who’s traveled through the downtown core can tell you that the big one way thoroughfares, Adelaide and Richmond streets move more smoothly (not including the construction corridor between Bay and Yonge) than any of the other east-west roads. Granted, they don’t have to contend with streetcars using the two middle lanes but wouldn’t one way traffic on those streets that do help improve the situation? Turning vehicles would be off to either side not blocking the flow up the middle. Would the streetcars have to be uni-directional as well or is there a way to control having one lane coming the opposite way just for streetcars?

Surely there are traffic flow experts who have answers or solutions to these questions. Studies must have been conducted somewhere. So why isn’t there a discussion happening over bigger view ideas and grander visions for improving traffic congestion in Toronto?

“Because,” opines Acaphlegmic, noisily finishing off yet another lunch time margarita, “people are afraid of change.”

Truer words have never been spoken from drunker lips.

lubricatedly submitted by Cityslikr