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kottke.org posts about NYC

How an Architect Redesigns NYC Streets

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2022

In this video, using before-and-after satellite imagery, Claire Weisz of WXY, an architecture and urban design firm, explains how her company helped redesign three of NYC’s unruliest intersections: Astor Place, Cooper Union, and Albee Square. Unsurprisingly, the redesigns all involved taking space away from cars and giving it to larger sidewalks and more green space, to benefit people other than drivers.

Life Advice from NYC Chess Hustlers

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2022

Anne Kadet interviewed some chess hustlers in Washington Square Park about their chess work in the park and what they’ve learned about life playing chess.

If you want a game, I say one game, five dollars, five minutes. So we play a five-minute game for five dollars. If you said you don’t want no clock, I might say I give you one game, $10, because without the clock, it’s longer. You’re wasting time.

Some people say $5 to the winner. That means, we play each other and whoever wins gets the $5. That’s tricky, because I don’t know how strong you are. You might beat me and I lose $5. I’ve wasted time AND I’ve lost money! So I’m one of those people who don’t say $5 to the winner.

I’ll give you a lesson, a half hour for $20. I have some children that come just to see me once a week and I give them a lesson — $20 for a half hour. And there’s a lot of NYU students that come by, we give them a discount for being students. One hour for 40 bucks.

Marcel A. offered this advice that applies to nearly any situation:

The one thing I tell my students is that when you get to a confrontation of any type, you have to remain calm. When you remain calm, you can see the board a lot clearer. You can see the person you’re playing or arguing with a lot more clearly, for who and what they are. So you don’t even have to entertain that shit. You understand?

Nathaniel W. shares what he’s learned about people:

They timid, they’re not willing to take a chance. See this? [He moves a pawn forward one space.] That means sometimes people don’t want to be hurt. They have a fear of losing.

And E.G.G.S. offers perhaps the wisest advice of all:

I’m stuck right now. I can’t give any life advice.

The whole thing is worth a read.

See also The Last Chess Shop in NYC. (via fave 5)

Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2022

painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat with text that says 'King Pleasure'

painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat that features two large figures accosting a smaller figure

Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure is a new exhibition of the life and work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, curated by his two younger sisters, Lisane Basquiat and Jeanine Heriveaux. It opened this past weekend in NYC and includes a bunch of work that’s never been exhibited before. From the NY Times:

The show, “Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure,” features more than 200 artworks and artifacts from the artist’s estate — 177 of which have never been exhibited before — in a 15,000-square-foot space designed by the architect David Adjaye. Providing perhaps the most detailed personal portrait to date of Basquiat’s development, the show comes at a time when the artist’s market value continues to soar and his themes of race and self-identity have become especially resonant. (The mayor’s office is to proclaim Saturday, the show’s opening, Jean-Michel Basquiat Day.)

“They’re literally opening up the vaults,” said Brett Gorvy, a dealer and a former chairman and international head of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s. “These are paintings I’ve only seen in books.”

This looks great; definitely hitting this the next time I’m in NYC. Tickets are available here. (via pentagram, who did the identity for the exhibition)

Overseen Text Messages

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 05, 2022

a photo of a text message chat between two people who miss each other

a photo of a text message chat about the future and strawberries

#nyc is photographer Jeff Mermelstein’s collection of photos he’s taken on the streets of NYC of text messages on people’s phone screens. From a review of the book at LensCulture:

At once detached and intimate, we are offered a collection of fragmentary texts that register the daily life events and feelings of a city’s occupants, a raw vox pop assortment of broken and interrupted and incomplete messages. We watch users reading, texting and even editing on their phones. There are texts about break ups, declarations of love, dreams, lusts, illnesses, affairs, abortion, pregnancy, death, sexual proclivities, money, as well as recipes, cooking, dirty shower curtains and roach traps. Some messages remain unfathomable and enigmatic: “The nun said, ‘That’s OK…”

I wonder about the privacy aspect of this, but it’s always fascinating to see how other people communicate.

How Two Boys Stowed Away on a 747 from London to NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2022

Ahh, the 80s — when children were given much more freedom than today, an autonomy that two Irish boys used in 1985 to travel from their house in a Dublin suburb all the way to New York City — via two trains, a ferry, and then stowing away on a JFK-bound 747, with nothing more than a few coins in their pockets.

When the boys arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport, in New York, they tried to bypass a security checkpoint with a sly bit of street smarts, saying to the officer, “Our ma’s just behind us.” It aroused suspicion, but the pair ran when the airport official turned his head away. They then spent a few hours in the airport before wandering outside, astounded by yellow cabs and lofty skyscrapers. A policeman, Kenneth White, stopped them and asked where they were headed. After they lied to White about how they were meeting their mother at the center of town, White pressed further, and Byrne and Murray admitted that they were alone. White radioed for a supervisor, and Sergeant Carl Harrison came to assist him. After more questioning, the two boys were placed in the back of an N.Y.P.D. car and driven to a precinct, where they were held in a room for several hours — they eventually confessed what they had done. After calling other overseas jurisdictions and the boys’ parents, the police officers fed the boys chips and soda, and unloaded their own guns and let the boys play with the firearms. Air India put Byrne and Murray up in a gigantic suite at a five-star hotel and plied them with McDonald’s and movies. “I was never in a hotel before, so it was brilliant,” Murray says. The next day, the security guards who were tasked with supervising the boys asked them why they had come. Byrne and Murray told the officials that they wanted to meet the character B. A. Baracus from “The A-Team.” The guards then brought the boys on sightseeing tours throughout the boroughs, gave them some cash, and bought them “I Love New York” T-shirts.

What a story! It’s wonderful to hear the two men talk about their now long-ago adventures with a mischievous twinkle in their eye — and the old footage of Dublin, Heathrow, and NYC is a great accompaniment.

A Walking Tour of Slavery & Resistance in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2022

a map of a walking tour of slavery & resistance in NYC

Activist and educator Mariame Kaba has created a walking tour of NYC (alternate version digitized by Claire Goldberg, Anna Wu, and Fatima Koli) that focuses on activities around slavery and resistance from 1626 to 1865.

The Atlantic Slave Trade was the largest forced migration in world history. Twelve million Africans were captured and enslaved in the Americas. More than 90 per day for 400 years. Over 40,000 ships brought enslaved Africans across the ocean. Though New York Passed an act to gradually abolish slavery in 1799 and manumitted the last enslaved people in 1827, it remained an intrinsic part of city life until after the civil war, as businesspeople continued to profit off of the products of the slave trade like sugar and molasses imported from the Caribbean.

I’m doing this walk the next time I’m back in NYC. I’ve been to some of the places on the tour before, but haven’t considered them through the lens of slavery.

Exposing the Slavers of New York

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2022

sticker that says 'John van Nostrand was a slave owner'

map of New York City places named for slave owners

A group of activists called Slavers Of New York is working to educate people about the prominent New Yorkers who lent their names to the city’s geography (Nostrand, Bergen, Rivington, Stuyvesant, Lefferts, Boerum) and were also slave owners or traffickers. From the NY Times:

Just a few months before, while scrolling through social media, Mx. Waithe had stumbled upon records from the nation’s first census in 1790, which listed well-known New York families like the Leffertses, the Boerums and the Nostrands. To the right of those names was another category: “slaves.”

According to the census, the Lefferts family enslaved 87 Black people throughout New York City (Prospect Lefferts Gardens and an avenue in that Brooklyn neighborhood were named after them). The Boerums owned 14 slaves (the neighborhood Boerum Hill is named for them). And the Nostrands (of the eight-mile-long Nostrand Avenue), enslaved 23 people (this number would nearly double by the beginning of the 19th century).

The discovery sparked Slavers of New York, a sticker campaign and education initiative dedicated to calling out — and eventually mapping — the history of slavery in New York City.

The group detailed how they started where the project is headed in an interview in Guernica:

Mainly, our goal is to just educate people about the legacy of slavery and how it persists in the present day. We don’t advocate for changing the names in any way. We hope that, if people feel so inclined to change names, they create their own groups and engage in political action. I definitely think there should be more context available in public places. When Maria and I went to Stuyvesant Square in Manhattan, a statue of Peter Stuyvesant was there in the middle of the park, glorified, and there’s no information about his slave-owning history.

What’s really interesting is that some of the naming of places for slavers happened more recently than you would imagine. Boerum Hill wasn’t called “Boerum Hill” until 1964 or so, when that name was resurrected as part of the gentrification of Brooklyn. You can see, directly, the entanglement of the history of slavery and gentrification. Bringing this man’s name back into the neighborhood is a symbol of violence. The persistence of these names and links carry this space through history.

You can keep up with the group’s efforts on Twitter and Instagram and support their mission on GoFundMe. (Map above courtesy of The Decolonial Atlas.)

Decoding Manhattan: Island of Diagrams, Maps, and Graphics

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 23, 2021

pages of a book called Decoding Manhattan with maps, charts, and other graphic representations of the city

Well, I’m not sure this book could be any further up my alley; I mean:

The life and legend of New York City, from the size of its skyscrapers to the ways of its inhabitants, is vividly captured in this lively collection of more than 250 maps, cross sections, flowcharts, tables, board games, cartoons and infographics, and other unique diagrams spanning 150 years. Superstars such as Saul Steinberg, Maira Kalman, Christoph Niemann, Roz Chast, and Milton Glaser butt up against the unsung heroes of the popular press in a book that is made not only for lovers of New York but also for anyone who enjoys or works with information design.

Honest Weights, Square Dealings

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2021

A test printing pattern from Tekserve

Ahhhh, The Verge has published an excerpt of Tamara Shopsin’s LaserWriter II, “a coming-of-age tale set in the legendary 90s indie NYC Mac repair shop TekServe — a voyage back in time to when the internet was new, when New York City was gritty, and when Apple made off-beat computers for weirdos”.

Joel explains that the LaserWriter II was discontinued almost ten years ago. But Tek always encourages people to fix them. Always. LaserWriter IIs are tanks, one of the most solid printers Apple ever made. The printer has only one design flaw, one thing that consistently breaks, and that flaw takes ten years to surface. Joel pauses for breath. Claire is on the edge of her seat.

He concludes, “The fan blades warp a little over time and suck in dust. This dust eventually gets into the optics and causes pages to ghost.”

Claire prints a test page from the LaserWriter II. The edges of the paper are bright white. They stipple to a black stripe of text in the center, in a kind of reverse ice cream sandwich.

Ghosting is a term used to cover a host of printing problems — double images, an image seen through the backside of the paper. Here Joel uses “ghost” to describe printing so faint it has not actually printed.

I recommend reading LaserWriter II, as well as Shopsin’s memoir Arbitrary Stupid Goal.

Frenchie’s Castle of Iron

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2021

In 1976, Santos “Frenchie” Ramos opened a gym in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Every day of his life from that point forward was dedicated to that gym and to his members. In the gym’s 43-year history, Frenchie only missed two weeks of work; now that’s dedication.

“Art Is Everything”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2021

In this wonderful short documentary by Lydia Cornett, we meet Yves Deshommes and observe him moving through his many responsibilities and interests in life, including being an NYC concierge, art dealing, raising his daughter, playing the violin, and helping his home country of Haiti.

Deshommes, who grew up in Haiti, came to New York on a student visa in 1985. He was seventeen years old, and when his visa expired he became undocumented. He lived with an older brother and took classes day and night and through the summer in order to finish high school in two years. “I became a man the moment I set foot on U.S. soil, full of responsibility,” he told me. He started playing the violin a few years later, with teachers at the Harlem School of the Arts. He was soon practicing several hours a day and working long shifts at Pizza Hut. He felt that he was too old to train as a professional, but his practice had become central to his life: “Music was the escape, music was the goal. Music was what made me achieve great things,” he said. “The violin gives me a discipline where I feel I can conquer anything.”

Living Coastlines of Oyster Reefs Can Protect Against Coastal Erosion

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2021

Because of humans, most of the world’s oyster reefs have disappeared over the last 200 years. Now, some groups around the world are trying to put some of them back. In addition to providing water filtration and habitats for other animals, offshore oyster reefs can help slow long-term erosion by acting as living breakwater structures that partially deflect waves during storm surges.

In the last century, 85% of the world’s oyster reefs have vanished. And we’re only recently beginning to understand what that’s cost us: While they don’t look incredibly appealing from the shore, oysters are vital to bays and waterways around the world. A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water every day. And over time, oysters form incredible reef structures that double as habitats for various species of fish, crabs, and other animals. In their absence, our coastlines have suffered.

Now, several projects from New York to the Gulf of Mexico and Bangladesh are aiming to bring the oysters back. Because not only are oysters vital ecosystems; they can also protect us from the rising oceans by acting as breakwaters, deflecting waves before they hit the shore. It won’t stop the seas from rising — but embracing living shorelines could help protect us from what’s to come.

(via the kid should see this)

Update: Check out the Billion Oyster Project if you’d like to get involved in returned oysters to New York Harbor. (via @djacobs)

Dancing NYC Subway Mosaics by Nick Cave

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2021

NYC subway mosaic pattern by Nick Cave featuring dancing figures

NYC subway mosaic pattern by Nick Cave featuring dancing figures

Oh, I really like this new NYC subway mosaic installed in the corridor between Times Square and Bryant Park designed by Nick Cave.1 It’s based on Cave’s Soundsuits project, full-body suits that “camouflage the shape of the wearer, enveloping and creating a second skin that hides gender, race, and class, thus compelling the audience to watch without judgment”. From a NY Times piece on the mosaic:

The Soundsuits have always been an amalgam of cultural references, Cave explained: the concepts of shamans and masquerade, obscuring the race, gender and class of the wearer and forging a new identity. They contain ties to Africa, the Caribbean and Haiti.

“It’s very important that you can make references, you can connect to something,” Cave said. “In one of the mosaics in the corridor, there’s a sneaker. So that brings it to this urban, right-now time.”

From beneath a pink-and-black cloak of raffia, carefully crafted out of glass shards, pokes a contemporary sneaker in shades of salmon, white and maroon. Cave likes the play that’s happening here: The form is sometimes figurative, sometimes abstract. “Sometimes it’s identifiable and sometimes it’s not,” he said. “But that’s the beauty of it all.”

(thx, caroline)

  1. No, not that Nick Cave.

Everyday Paparazzi

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 17, 2021

a man dressed in a wide brimmed hat, vest, and black boots walks down the street

two women walk arm in arm down the street

a man and a woman walk arm in arm down the street

Johnny Cirillo photographs people on the streets of New York in the style of paparazzi (half a block away with a long lens) and posts them, with permission, to his Instagram account. From an interview with Cirillo in Vogue:

I decided early-on that if I was going to shoot candids of New Yorkers, I didn’t want it to be with a wide lens, up-close in their faces. I started using a 200mm lens so that I could be half a city block away from the subject. It’s similar to the way paparazzi shoot, and all my subjects are celebrities to me, so it’s fitting in that respect.

(via life is so beautiful)

Track Star Races the NYC Subway

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2021

BuzzFeed enlisted NYU track athlete Jon Diaz to help answer a burning question: Can a fast runner beat an NYC subway train from one station to the next? I don’t want to spoil the answer, but they probably wouldn’t have made the video if he’d failed, right? (via clive thompson)

Update: See also subway races in other cities like London & Paris. (via @philipkennedy)

Stand Here for Dance Party

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2021

Since 2001, performance art group Improv Everywhere have been staging events in public, aiming to “surprise and delight random strangers through positive pranks”. Their latest endeavor takes place in NYC, perhaps the best place on Earth for exposing random strangers to positive pranks. A man in an orange vest places a “Stand Here for Dance Party” sign on the ground and then walks away. A brave soul steps onto the sign and, well, you might guess what happens next.

I found this via Rob Walker’s newsletter about his book, The Art of Noticing. I love what he wrote about it:

Now that you’ve seen it, you know that once someone did stand on the decal, a squad of Improv Everywhere operatives, with boom boxes and impressive dance moves, converted the public space into (as promised) an open-air dance party. Very fun.

But here’s what makes this work: Not just the planning and the expert performers and the slick choreography and the clever subversion of social-distance design. None of that matters unless somebody stands on the decal. What activates this entire operation is curiosity.

He continues, describing the woman who gets the party started:

This woman is my hero! I love everything about her, her body language, her openness, the thrilling sense she radiates that anything could happen and she’s up for it. And if you’ve watched the video, you know that she in fact unleashed an experience that she (and many strangers nearby) will never forget.

What’s not in the video, but we know is true, is some huge majority of people not even noticing, or actively ignoring, the invitation to an impromptu, on-the-spot dance party. As always, attention is the first step.

Curiosity. Attention. There are those words again, the universe trying to tell me something.

The Freedom to Be: Black Surfers in the Rockaways

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2021

This short documentary takes a look at the Black surfing community in the Rockaways. These surfers are members of the Black Surfing Association (East Coast branch), which Surfer magazine profiled last summer:

“When you talk to kids here at Rockaway, they think of a surfer as John John Florence — blonde,” says Harris. “When I say, ‘Hey, I’m a surfer,’ they’re shocked. We’re trying to reach every kid, but we’re really trying to reach the kids that wouldn’t otherwise get the opportunity.

We just want to keep kids busy and active, and spread the message and spread the stoke of surfing, and go into schools and talk to kids about water safety.”

“There’s no racism out there”, says Harris of the ocean. “When you come out of that water, of course you go back to your life. But you lose yourself when you get into the waves.”

Summer of Soul

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2021

Stevie Wonder. Mahalia Jackson. Nina Simone. Gladys Knight & the Pips. B.B. King. Sly and the Family Stone. Over six weeks in the summer of 1969, all of these legendary artists (and more!) performed at the Harlem Cultural Festival in NYC, drawing an estimated 300,000 people. The festival was filmed and broadcast on a local TV station, but the footage was never commercially released and so unlike that other 1969 festival, this event largely slipped from public memory.

Now, the Harlem Cultural Festival finally gets its due in the form of Summer of Soul, a forthcoming documentary directed by Questlove that uses that old footage to great effect. I’ve heard nothing but good things about this movie — it won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Summer of Soul is out in theaters and on Hulu July 2.

An Iconic Prince Guitar Solo, Reborn

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2021

In a career filled with iconic performances, one of the standout Prince moments came at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony for George Harrison. On stage to play While My Guitar Gently Weeps were Harrison’s son Dhani, music legends Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Steve Winwood, and Prince. At about 3 minutes and 30 seconds in, Prince absolutely rips the place apart with a 3-minute guitar solo for the ages. If you’ve never seen this, make sure you watch all the way to the end.

Video of the performance has been available online for years, but producer Joel Gallen recently uploaded a recut version (embedded above) that focuses more on Prince during the solo. As with all things Prince, Anil Dash shared some context for the performance, including this amazing detail about what happened to the guitar that Prince threw into the air: “long-time guitar tech Takumi Suetsugu caught the guitar & handed it to Oprah”. AS YOU DO. Dash also shared this photo by Afshin Shahidi of Prince walking, guitar in hand and seemingly unnoticed in NYC, to rehearsals for the Hall of Fame ceremony in question.

Prince walking in NYC with his guitar in hand

Update: This is a great oral history of the ceremony written in 2016.

Tom sort of went over to him and said, “Just cut loose and don’t feel sort of inhibited to copy anything that we have, just play your thing, just have a good time.” It was a hell of a guitar solo, and a hell of a show he actually put on for the band. When he fell back into the audience, everybody in the band freaked out, like, “Oh my God, he’s falling off the stage!” And then that whole thing with the guitar going up in the air. I didn’t even see who caught it. I just saw it go up, and I was astonished that it didn’t come back down again. Everybody wonders where that guitar went, and I gotta tell you, I was on the stage, and I wonder where it went, too.

Desus and Mero Go to the Met Museum

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2021

After months of lockdown and closure due to the pandemic, Desus Nice & The Kid Mero go to the Met Museum in NYC to take in some art. Would 100% take a tour of any art museum with these two astute cultural commentators.

Proposed Post-Pandemic New Yorker Covers

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2021

Tomer Hanuka asked his third-year illustration students at SVA to “come up with a post-pandemic New Yorker magazine cover” and posted some of their wonderful & thoughtful work to Twitter. Here are a few that caught my eye:

New Yorker Post Pandemic

New Yorker Post Pandemic

New Yorker Post Pandemic

New Yorker Post Pandemic

The second cover down, by Katrina Catacutan, is probably my favorite (the body language of the woman answering the door is just perfect) but the last image by Amy Young hit me like a ton of bricks. The New Yorker should run all of these covers for an issue of the magazine in a few weeks — collect them all!

The Artifact Artist

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2021

The Artifact Artist is a short documentary about urban archaeologist Scott Jordan, who, over the past 50 years in NYC, has dug up all sorts of historical objects that date back decades and centuries, even all the way back to the Revolutionary War. The trailer is above and you can watch the entire short film on Vimeo.

Uprooted from the forests of Connecticut to move to New York City, 9 yr. old Scott Jordan declares “I won’t be a city kid!” 45 yrs. later Scott is an urban archeologist. An Indiana Jones in Gotham. Hand digging out centuries old privies, cisterns and landfills across the five boroughs Scott is uncovering artifacts and preserving New York City history by creating artifact art with the treasures he discovers.

Portraits of New Yorkers in Their Apartments

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2021

Sally Davies

Sally Davies

For her forthcoming book New Yorkers, photographer Sally Davies (Instagram) captured portraits of people inside their NYC apartments. I love the creativity of these living spaces, many in styles you just do not see in contemporary design magazines. You can preorder New Yorkers at Bookshop.org — it comes out April 1.

Between the Places Where I Have Lived

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 23, 2020

In 1980, Sol LeWitt created a piece of art called The Area of Manhattan Between the Places I Have Lived Is Removed where he cut out the area between all the places he’d lived in NYC on a satellite image. Matt Miller whipped up an app on Glitch that allows you to make your own map according to those rules. Here’s my Between the Places map:

Between the spaces

Here is LeWitt’s original map:

The Area of Manhattan Between the Places I Have Lived Is Removed by Sol LeWitt

Looks like Miller’s app doesn’t optimize for solid, filled polygons — I suspect if I’d been a little more careful about entering my addresses in the correct order, mine would look more like LeWitt’s. But still a fun exercise!

Private Views

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2020

Private Views

Private Views

Posing as young apartment-hunting Hungarian billionaire, artist Andi Schmied was able to gain access to more than two dozen luxury apartments in Manhattan and photograph the views from them. The resulting project is called Private Views and you can see some of her photos in this portfolio. Christopher Bonanos interviewed Schmied about the project for Curbed. Regarding the banal sameness of rich people things:

Did you discover anything interesting about the apartments themselves?

They are all the same! I mean, really! For example, the layout of the apartments are essentially identical. You enter, and there’s a main view, always from the living room — in the case of Billionaires’ Row, everything’s facing the park. The second-best view is from the master bedroom, which is usually the corner. Then there’s the countertop, which usually a kitchen island in the middle, and there’s different types of marble but there’s always marble — Calacatta Tucci, or Noir St. Laurent, or Chinchilla Mink, and they always tell you, “It’s the best of the best,” from a hidden corner of the planet where they hand-selected the most incredible pieces. After five of these, it’s incredibly similar, all of them. Also they put a lot of emphasis on naming the designer.

The branding.

Yes. And there’s a big competition for amenities, who has the craziest amenities. Of course there’s the pool and all of that, but one of the newest things in the past two years in every single development is the golf-simulator room - it’s just the standard now.

Private Views is performance art as much as it is about photography and architecture. I love the details about how she conned her way into these buildings by using the eagerness of real estate brokers against them.

But after a while I realized that it absolutely doesn’t matter what I wear: From their point of view, you’ve passed the access, and you can do anything — anything is believable. For example, all the pictures were taken with a film camera, which is [gestures broadly] this big. I’d just ask, “Can I take some pictures for my husband?” which is a very obvious and normal thing to do. There were a few agents who noticed that it was a film camera, not a digital camera, and those who noticed asked, “Oh, wow, is it film?” And I’d always say something like, “Oh, my grandfather gave it to me — to record all the special moments in my life.” And they’d just put me in this box of “artsy billionaire,” and would start to talk to me about MoMA’s latest collection. So anything goes.

For a taste of the real estate banter, you can watch videos that Schmied recorded of her visits in a talk she gave early last year. Schmied is crowdfunding a book based on the project — you can back it here.

Maps of Alternative Histories

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2020

map showing the USA with 124 states

For BBC Future, Sam Arbesman writes about “maps that plot alternative worlds to our own”.

These are the “what if” stories that ask us to imagine our world on a different path: what if a battle, election or assassination had gone the other way, or a pivotal person had never been born? Some of these stories involve time travel to make the change, but many alternate histories are simply imagined differences. What if the Nazis had not been beaten, as in the novel The Man in the High Castle, or what if the Soviets had landed a man on the Moon first, like in For All Mankind?

The map above was created by Andrew Shears and shows what the United States could have looked like if various state partition plans had come to fruition.

One of my favorite alternative history maps not covered by Arbesman is Melissa Gould’s Neu-York, a map of Manhattan after a hypothetical conquest of the United States by the Nazis in World War II (which I blogged about way back in 2003, when kottke.org had comments!)

partial map showing what Manhattan would have looked like if the Nazis had successfully invaded the US

See also Alternate Map of the Americas Features “Long Chile”.

Aerial Photo of Manhattan, Circa 1931

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2020

Aerial Photo of Manhattan, Circa 1931

This is an aerial photo of Manhattan taken circa 1931. You can see all the way from 125th Street in Harlem down to the tip of Manhattan and beyond. That tall spike 25 blocks south of Central Park is the Empire State Building, which was completed in 1931. Also visible in the photo to varying degrees: Central Park’s Hooverville, the Statue of Liberty, several of the East River’s bridges, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Governors Island, and the much more uneven shorelines on both the Hudson and East River sides of the city. See also this aerial map of NYC from 1924, which is also available at NYCityMap (click on “Map Type” in the upper right) and a 1931 aerial photo of lower Manhattan.

Note: I tried and failed to track down the source and exact date of this photo. The earliest instances I could find were uncredited posts on Reddit and Facebook from a couple of years ago. Any idea where this came from? Would love to properly credit the source and nail down the year. (via @marinamaral2)

A Secret to Vermont’s Pandemic Success

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 19, 2020

For Vox, Julia Belluz takes a look at the approach that’s made Vermont more successful than most other US states in combatting Covid-19. The big thing? State officials recognized that those most at risk needed more support.

There’s a fatal flaw embedded in the basic Covid-19 test, trace, and isolate trifecta used around the world: It doesn’t account for the fact that the coronavirus is not an equal-opportunity pathogen. The people who are most likely to be tested, and to have the easiest time quarantining or isolating, are also the least likely to get sick and die from the virus.

From the United Kingdom to Sweden to Canada, we have evidence that the virus preys on people employed in “essential service” jobs (bus drivers, nurses, factory workers), which don’t allow for telecommuting or paid sick leave; people in low-income neighborhoods; and people in “congregate housing” like shelters, prisons, and retirement homes.

People of color tend to be overrepresented in these groups — but there’s no biological reason they’re more likely to get sick and die from the virus. Simply put: They tend to work jobs that bring them outside the home and into close contact with other people, live in crowded environments ideal for coronavirus contagion, or both.

The state then directed efforts, resources, and money to nursing homes, the unhoused, prisons, and essential workers to make it easier for those folks to stay safe.

I also thought this bit was really interesting:

There’s a simple adage in public health: “Never do a test without offering something in exchange,” said Johns Hopkins’s Stefan Baral. So when a patient gets tested for HIV, for example, they’re offered treatment, support, or contact tracing. “We’re not just doing the testing to get information but also providing a clear service,” Baral added, and potentially preventing that person from spreading the virus any further. “This is basic public health.”

With Covid-19, the US has failed at basic public health. Across the country, people have been asked to get tested without anything offered in exchange.

“If we are asking people to stay home and not work, we have to make sure society is supporting them,” Baral said. “An equitable program would support people to do the right thing.”

“Never do a test without offering something in exchange.” To the extent that federal and state governments have been asking to people to stay home, get tested, and wear a mask, many of those same governments have been unwilling or unable to provide people with much in return for doing so. And so, here we are months into this, paying for that inaction with 250,000 lives.

Update: How NYC does “never do a test without offering something in exchange”:

You can access a free hotel room to safely isolate from your family, which include meals, Rx delivery, free wi-fi, medical staff on site, and transportation to and from hotel and medical appointments.

(via @agoX)

NYC’s New Digital Subway Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2020

NYC Digital Subway Map

New York City has a new digital subway map that reflects the current status of the subway lines. And you can even see the trains moving, right on the map. (Finally!!) Visually, the new map combines the styles of two past maps, each beloved in their own way.1Fast Company explains:

The first map is that by Massimo Vignelli, who simplified the snaking subway system into a clean diagram which traded geographic literality for graphical clarity. This elegant simplification turns the confounding subway into a logical system. But the main Vignelli map was scorned by New Yorkers because it wasn’t an actual map, and it was quickly replaced (though a permutation actually lives on as the MTA’s Weekender diagram, which signals weekend services). Meanwhile, the primary map the MTA uses today was created by Unimark International and Michael Hertz Associates. It’s more geographically accurate, but it actually condenses information that was in the Vignelli map. For example, it combines individual train lines such as the C, D, and E lines into singular trunks.

Here’s a video from filmmaker Gary Huswit that shows how the team came up with the new map:

Zooming the map in and out, you see different levels of detail, just like with Google or Apple Maps. I like it — a good combination of form and function.2

Update: A reader reminded me of designer Eddie Jabbour’s Kick Map of the NYC subway, which effectively melded the styles of the Vignelli and Hertz maps together more than 15 years ago.

Kickmap Nyc Subway

What’s interesting is that the MTA explicitly rejected and criticized the Kick Map but ended up doing something quite similar with the new digital map. I think Jabbour’s effort deserves to be acknowledged here. (thx, nicolas)

  1. I know as a lover of simplicity, beautiful design, and whatnot, I’m supposed to love the Vignelli map, but I never have. The Hertz map fits the utility of the NYC subway so much better.

  1. Although I will say that the website in Chrome absolutely hammered the processor on my computer. It’s probably smoother on mobile?

Xi’an Famous Foods Cookbook!

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2020

Xi'an Famous Foods Cookbook

I moved away from NYC more than four years ago, and I still think about Xi’an Famous Foods all the time. I miss going there and pondering the make-up of the mind-bendingly delicious sauces they ladled out onto their hand-pulled noodles — “What the hell is in here that makes it taste so good?” Xi’an is one of my favorite restaurants, but with the pandemic and all, the last time I ate there was nearly an entire year ago. So it’s not an understatement to say that I’m overjoyed to see that they are coming out with a cookbook: Xi’an Famous Foods: The Cuisine of Western China, from New York’s Favorite Noodle Shop .

CEO Jason Wang divulges the untold story of how this empire came to be, alongside the never-before-published recipes that helped create this New York City icon. From heavenly ribbons of liang pi doused in a bright vinegar sauce to flatbread filled with caramelized pork to cumin lamb over hand-pulled Biang Biang noodles, this cookbook helps home cooks make the dishes that fans of Xi’an Famous Foods line up for while also exploring the vibrant cuisine and culture of Xi’an.

Lemme just highlight the most important part of that paragraph: never-before-published recipes. YESSSSS. The cookbook is coming out next week, but you can pre-order it now from Bookshop.org and Amazon.