The Industry-Changing Tech Used By Real Estate Insiders

The Industry-Changing Tech Used By Real Estate Insiders

Slowly but surely, technology is digitizing the real estate market in ways we may never have guessed possible at the turn of the century. Instead of leafing through hefty paper listings, a new web of opportunities has surfaced at tips of our fingertips. These innovations are changing the game for buyers, renters, agents and developers, for better or for worse.

As it is, 68 percent of real estate agents are under 35, while 32 percent are under 25, meaning over half are millennials. They grew up with technology, and the best among them are utilizing their tech-savvy upbringing to cultivate successful careers in the industry.

Here are some of the top apps and services, born from technology, that are giving real estate insiders — as well as those that buy and rent from them — an edge:

Zillow & The Big Three

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There’s a new way to find apartments, and while it sometimes goes by the name of Zillow, it’s a wider spread phenomenon with various names and faces — all of which live online.

“I spent hours on Zillow when looking for my current apartment,” said Brooklynite Jackie of her experience. “The map feature is particularly useful, because it compares costs and physical locations all at once.” Jackie was eventually able to find a great deal in Crown Heights.

Zillow is one of several leading rental-finding websites out there. The company owns StreetEasy, known for its quirky NYC subway ads, and Trulia, another serious force in the market (together, they can be considered the Big Three). Before these crop of startups became popular, Craigslist was a popular go-to for renters especially.

Before finding Zillow, Jackie and her boyfriend Matthew used Craigslist to find apartments to extremely mixed results.

“It’s much dicier,” Jackie says of the process. “People can put whatever they want on there, and it’s not always accurate. My mom was scammed once that way, so I definitely don’t trust it anymore.”

Now, the marketplace is rather crowded. Alongside the Big Three there’s Zumper, Lovely, Movement, and Urban Compass, PadMapper, RentHop, Naked Apartments, and plenty more. Many share the map layout, filters, and other search and listing features boasted by Zillow and its acquisitions.

According to BrickUnderground, even the Big Three differ in their algorithms and approaches, so it’s tricky to know what’s best, or even what’s most accurate. Whatever the case, the diversity of options gives renters an edge in finding what they are looking for, and both brokers and agents can find prospective tenants through the platforms. Other than that, it comes down to taste. Jackie says some of her friends use three or more to compare prices.

Of course, some realtors don’t like these services, and there are good reasons for their reservations.

Samuel Wood, NYS Licensed Salesperson for Island Beach Realty on New York’s Fire Island, does not use Zillow or its ilk. “Most of the information and addresses are incorrect,” he said, adding “I don’t regard any of their advertising impressions or views as legitimate leads.”

For other individuals in development and sales, it can potential buyers find their properties, and gives a sneak peak at the pricing of competitors in the neighborhood.

E-Signing

Paper is becoming increasingly unpopular, and worse, burdensome to the real estate industry. When you have to meet in person to sign or mail a document, that’s an extra barrier to entry.

“If I had the choice between two apartments that were equally nice,” Queens resident Ryan said, “I would definitely choose one that had the option of e-signing.” Ryan works long hours and has precious free time to spend. He also needs to move out of his current apartment and into a new one quickly, and can’t afford a delay.

“Once a landlord wanted me to go all the way to his office in the Bronx to sign a lease. That just seemed so unnecessary,” he said.

He’s not the only one, and many realtors and even landlords know it. It’s also easier for them make a deal if they don’t have to track down parties and deal with messy paperwork, after all. Digital signatures have been shown to improve turnaround-time by 80 percent.

Some of the leading e-sign platforms include DocuSign for realtors and DotLoop for brokers. Once this type of technology is adopted fully, paperwork will become much less of a pain, and perhaps fade entirely into obscurity.

Samuel Wood uses Adobe’s E-Signature for family vacation rentals. “Tenants can execute a lease by signing a document with their finger on a smartphone or tablet,” he said. “We receive positive feedback for making the booking process simple and instantaneous.”

Social Media & Marketing

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You may still see flyers and magazines here and there, but by and large advertising real estate and real estate services has moved to the web. Getting listings out to buyers and renters, therefore, needs to happen primarily on the online where it can reach the most eyes.

As cofounder Bennat Berger of Novel Property Ventures wrote on his blog, “Disseminating your advertising onto different digital platforms…ensures that the listing isn’t overlooked. It also means that those browsing will have all the answers they want up front in terms of price and amenities, speeding up the process from first sight to lease-signing.”

For this reason, it’s important to take quality photographs of spaces for sale, writing clean and engaging copy, and even better, establish and maintain an online presence. Building your brand identity on Twitter, Facebook, and other high-trafficked social media platforms can help realtors and developers interact with potential customers and show off their expertise. Marketing teams can be huge assets on this front.

For the prospective buyer or renter, the more they can learn about and trust that the offerings meet their needs, the more favorable the entire experience will be.

It’s most helpful for those on the sales sade, however. According to Samuel Wood, the analytics are what make social media worthwhile. “You can create specific ads that target particular demographics, age groups, locations and interests….Digitally-savvy clientele love to get data traffic feedback from their listings.” Essentially, the analytics from social ads can inform whether to raise or lower listing prices.

It’s certainly true that technology has seeped into the industry for good, and it’s only a matter of time before it fully saturates. While disruptions like this will always have their downsides, industry insiders that follow the lead of digital trends are likely to generate the most leads in the end.

Top 5 Speakeasies in New York City

Top 5 Speakeasies in New York City

To choose the top five speakeasies in New York, it’s probably a good idea to first define a speakeasy, since the term is perhaps too liberally applied to bars throughout the city. Speakeasies arose in the 1920s during the Prohibition era and served dangerously bootlegged liquor. Any alcoholic watering hole needed to be kept hush-hush: thus, the passwords, hidden entrances, and eccentricities commonly associated with speakeasies.

In a voyeuristic city like New York, where one can bird-watch one’s neighbors through the two-way mirror of parallel apartment windows, secrets and exclusivity rare, sought-after commodities. So it’s not all that surprising that, for the past decade or so, modern “speakeasies” have experienced a surge in popularity–so much so that composing a top five list requires setting certain criteria. Below are the best five speakeasies in New York City for history, entrance, location, atmosphere, and drink menu.

The Original: The Back Room
Lower East Side: 102 Norfolk St. between Delancey and Rivington

The Back Room is the real deal, because it actually was a speakeasy open during Prohibition. The entrance is a testament to its history: turn off the sidewalk, descend a staircase, traverse an underground alley beneath a storefront, emerge into a courtyard of fire escapes, climb a back set of stairs and enter a large, dimly lit room, furnished à La Belle Époque. Order a classic cocktail from the bar, which you will drink from a teacup, to give you plausible deniability in case of a police raid.

The bar is laid out in 2 levels: the bar strip is set slightly below a larger platform featuring a fireplace, a piano, bookcases, and cozy armchairs and couches. (And yes, one of those bookcases conceals a hidden room, giving double meaning to the bar’s name.) The Back Room can claim patronage by gangsters, thespians, and movie stars of the day. It has also been featured in Broad City’s “Hashtag FOMO” episode, where Abbi’s alter-ego Val makes an appearance.

Best Entrance: PDT
East Village: 113 St. Mark’s Place

PDT (Please Don’t Tell) is accessed through a phone booth within a Crif Dogs establishment in the East Village. Enter the phone booth, pick up the phone and dial ‘1’ to check in with the hostess on the other side of the wall. If granted entrance, your party will parade through the phone booth, to the confusion of Crif Dog patrons. For Doctor Who fans, just pretend the phone booth is blue and the experience takes on an added dimension: “It’s bigger on the inside!” On the other side, you’ll be treated to high-end cocktails accompanied by most excellent hot dogs – a winning combination.

Best hidden: The Campbell Apartment
Midtown East: 15 Vanderbilt Ave. entrance of Grand Central station

How can a speakeasy be tucked away in one of the most trafficked thoroughfares in New York City? Well, the best-hidden things are often hidden in plain sight. Perhaps you never knew of a gorgeous space located directly above the hustle and bustle of Grand Central Terminal: the Campbell Apartment.

This lofted bar is truly stunning, somehow resembling a medieval hall with its high ceiling, windows, and fireplace, along with the iconography and hieroglyphic patterning seen in the Egyptian wing of the Met. Formerly the office of 20s tycoon John W. Campbell, who had an “in” on high-end office space through his friend Vanderbilt, who financed the station’s construction, this space is a welcome respite from the hectic scene below. Also–and this is important–the Golden Age cocktail is served in a golden pineapple.

Best atmosphere: Gallow Green
Chelsea: Take the elevator at 542 West 27th St. for Gallow Green, or enter at 532 West 27th St. for the Manderley Bar

One thing you won’t usually get in a speakeasy is a view. Gallow Green is one of the most atmospheric bars in New York City: unsurprising, considering the creative forces behind Sleep No More are housed in the same building. Located on the roof of the McKittrick Hotel, Gallow Green boasts a beautiful view of the city and is decorated like an imagining of Midsummer Night’s Dream: a fairy garden complete with fairy lights. There’s also–inexplicably–a train car on the roof.

In the winter, take shelter from the cold in “The Lodge at Gallow Green,” redecorated to resemble a cozy, rustic winter cabin. If roomy rooftop bars aren’t secret enough (though many New Yorkers would beg to differ–a good rooftop bar is hard to find), check out the Manderley Bar a few floors down: a jazzy lounge at the entrance to the interactive, immersive performance of Sleep No More.

Best Cocktails: Raines Law Room
Chelsea: 48 West 17th St.

As a precursor to Prohibition, in 1896 New York City passed the Raines Law, which limited the Sunday sale of alcohol to hotels only. To bypass the law, bars hastily became slapdash “hotels.” Raines Law Room is named for such, but the name isn’t displayed outside the unmarked black door, behind which you’ll discover a sophisticated parlor with armchairs and couches, arranged to accommodate parties and cordoned off with curtains. Pull a lamp string on the wall to summon your waiter and order a delicious cocktail – everything on the menu is excellent.

Coliving in the City: Ancient Concept, New Trend

Coliving in the City: Ancient Concept, New Trend

For many, it seems that “living the college life” is retaining popularity post-graduation.

Through dormitories, college students gain social experiences and a sense of community: they love having a common area in their living quarters to meet new people, live steps away from restaurants or coffee houses, and can being sociable whenever they choose. These perks aren’t limited to the campus anymore, having carried over into the real world through a living arrangement called coliving.

The lifestyle is a mix between student housing and hotels: a community designed to foster relationships while still maintaining a sense of privacy. It’s an ancient concept that, before physical privacy, thick walls and houses became standard, might have been considered plain old “living.” As recently as the late 80s the concept was adopted from Denmark and is flourishing in the United States today. Shared living spaces are becoming increasingly common in major cities across the country such as Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. The trend is also spreading internationally in Seoul and London.

According to James Scott, COO of London-based coliving developer The Collective, this concept is booming is because many people, Millennials in particular, value experiences over possessions. With rental services for transportation, movies and mobile phones, the generation is trading ownership for experiences. This living arrangement is all about the experiences, making it a great fit for young people.

WeLive’s 110 Wall Street in Manhattan boasts fitness classes, an arcade, cleaning services and potluck dinners included in the rent. There is also a digital social network exclusively for the community that can schedule meetups and events via an app. The community is designed for young professionals constantly on the move and features fully furnished, month-by-month apartments with studio, one- and two-bedroom units.

This lifestyle reflects the changing times, as millennials are constantly on the move from job to job. “The way work is changing,” said Brad Hargreaves, founder of Common, a coliving community with many locations in New York. “It needs to be a little easier for people to move without a traditional 12-month lease.”

In addition, millennials are delaying big milestones, such as purchasing property, to later in their lives; little surprise, seeing as they’re saddled with an average of $26,600 in student loan debt. Combine that with job-hopping and the desire for experiences, and you have the perfect storm for young people to flock to these coliving arrangements.

Although many millennials are accustomed to this living arrangement from college, coliving is not strictly for young people, and not only those who’ve gone to college. Depending on the surrounding environment and the nature of its tenants, some communities, such as WeLive and Common, attract older professionals and entrepreneurs. Other spaces are suited for families, singles, and retirees.

The Market Common in Myrtle Beach, S.C. has a mix of residential and commercial space that attracts families and retirees. The urban village features a variety of shops, entertainment and dining experiences while maintaining a sense of community with its residents. There are walking trails, a central playground and playing fields. A co-living community in Berkeley, California has strictly residential space, but fosters a community with shared meals, carpooling, movie nights and shared parenting life. The proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” accurately describes life in this Berkeley community.

Whether it’s a high-rise complex in the middle of Manhattan or a small community in a suburb, coliving is starting to become the next big trend in real estate. Since we are now all accustomed to spending time by ourselves in front of a screen, maybe it’s time to get out into the world and experience a new lifestyle. One that encourages us to bond with communities could be the panacea to our digital woes and price concerns alike.

8 Secrets of the MoMA Only Insiders Know

8 Secrets of the MoMA Only Insiders Know

Every landmark has its secrets, and with one as rich as New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, the stories are almost certainly boundless. While the MoMA’s greatest secrets might always be just that — secret —  we’ve rounded up some incredibly obscure and interesting facts about the museum. These tidbits of knowledge, while mostly limited to the minds of curators and tour guides, can help the everyday museum-goer understand the space with new context.

Here are six surprising facts of the Museum of Modern Art that you’d probably never guess at first glance, and how tuning in can enhance your experience.

1. John D. Rockefeller loathed modern art, but the museum was largely founded by his wife Abby.

Abby_AldrichRockefeller’s wife Abby Aldrich Rockefeller was largely responsible for the founding of the Museum of Modern Art. You’d think that being the wife of a famously rich man, the job would be an easy one. On the contrary, her husband hated modern art, meaning Abby had to raise the funds without his help.

2. The MoMA is a microcosm of Manhattan itself.

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The MoMA has had several homes and various expansions since its opening on 53rd street in 1939. The museum acquired more and more real estate over the years, and in 2002 expanded even further, retaining at its heart its pivotal sculpture garden. What many don’t realize is that the museum reflects the city as a whole.

“The model for MoMA is Manhattan itself,” architect Yoshio Taniguchi told New York magazine for a feature by Alexandra Lang. “The Sculpture Garden is Central Park, and around it is a city with buildings of various functions and purpose. MoMA is a microcosm of Manhattan.”

3. Two of Monet’s “Water Lilies” paintings were destroyed by fire.

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One of the MoMA’s most iconic paintings is “Water Lilies” by Monet, positioned in front of a bench for relaxation and contemplation — as was the intent of the painter, who created them while suffering from cataracts as a “refuge of a peaceful meditation.” They were dismissed for many years as the product of a man past his prime.

Then, in 1958, a fire disrupted the art’s tranquility in the museum and destroyed two of the “Water Lilies” painting. The imminently popular triptych on display now was purchased as a replacement from Monet’s son.

4. Before landing at the MoMA, a taxidermied bald eagle caused a host of legal problems.

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America’s bald eagle, while a striking symbol, is one not normally physically included in art — largely because it’s a protected species. So when Robert Rauschenberg put a taxidermied eagle in his 1959 masterpiece “Canyon,” it’s fate was relegated to limbo for a while because it was illegal to sell, despite its valuation of $65 million.

The feds agreed to drop the matter so long as “Canyon” be sold where it could be publicly displayed, which is how the work found its home at the MoMa.

5. One artwork, a fur-covered mug, was snuck in years before it was approved

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Among the fifth floor painting and sculpture galleries is a fur-covered cup and saucer called Object by Meret Oppenheim. The idea was conceived by the artist while at lunch with Pablo Picasso, who remarked that fur could be put on anything.

This installation has a peculiar history: after debuting in Paris, it was purchased by the MoMA’s director for $50 of his own money in 1936, even though the trustees disagreed with its inclusion. Ten years later the trustees changed their tune; unbeknownst to many it had been in the museum all along labeled as an “extended loan.” Said chief curator Ann Tempkin for TimeOut NY, “It’s one of the great stars of our Surrealism collection; to think that our director had to sneak it in!”

6. A long-term exhibit in MoMA PS1 can only be seen through a floorboard.

The MoMa also has a branch in Queens called PS1, home to more abstract works of art, dubbed “contemporary.” The art of the contemporary is that it’s sometimes easy to mistake for non-art, and often difficult to grasp in meaning.  

Some of these hidden gems, like “Selbstlos im Lavabad (Selfless in the Bath of Lava)” by Pipilotti Rist. Peek through a hole in the lobby floor to view the video, which presents the artist crying “I am a worm and you are a flower!” as she swims nude in an incandescent lava bath. Easy to miss, impossible to forget.

7. You can watch videos privately in the media lounge.

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On the second floor of the MoMA, there’s a space where you can enjoy art in privacy if you aren’t up to walking among crowds. It’s a media lounge in which visitors can choose from the museum’s extensive video collection to view artwork on their own or with a small group.

The Media Lounge is also a piece of art in and of itself. Designed by artist Renée Green, the installation consists of colorful, expandable walls that can be shifted to create a viewing environment that fits the audience. 

8. The only “free” work in the museum is the @ symbol

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One of the most peculiar acquisitions in recent history by the MoMA is the @ symbol, a design both ubiquitous and singular, free and priceless. The symbol is public and dates back to the sixth or seventh century, though Ray Tomlinson chose the symbol for the first e-mail, imbuing it with new meaning and creating a symbol of the computer age.

Says the MoMA website, “We have acquired the design act in itself and as we will feature it in different typefaces, we will note each time the specific typeface as if we were indicating the materials that a physical object is made of.” Notes senior curator Paula Antonelli for TimeOut NY, “[The one] we show in the museum is silk-screened on the wall in American Typewriter font. You should think of it as a shadow of the design.”

The Best Neighborhoods for Students in NYC

The Best Neighborhoods for Students in NYC

As evidenced by the plethora of apps and housing services that have cropped up in the past decade, NYC real estate is an industry unto itself. These companies have generated lots of data on a market that changes drastically from year-to-year. So if you’re approaching the NYC apartment hunt from a particular standpoint — for example, as a student — you can hone in on key variables and find the neighborhood that’s right for you.

For students, those key variables tend to include affordability, proximity, safety, subway access, and space. As a student, you may not need to be on campus everyday. Depending on your schedule, you may also be able to travel at off-peak times, which can be good for crowded train lines, but bad for catching an express. Or you may want to stick close to campus, to take advantage of the library, gym, and other facilities. You may be looking for a more spacious apartment if you intend to study at home, or for an area with lots of local coffee shop options. You might strongly prefer to live alone, to make studying easier — or you may be OK living with roommates, which will save money.

Whatever your situation, here’s a place to start — a list of some up-and-coming and tried-and-true neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn:

East Village/Lower East Side

In Manhattan your options are limited, mostly due to price. That said, the most viable downtown spots for students are the East Village and the Lower East Side. The Lower East Side is south of the East Village, but both are marked by older tenement walk-up buildings and a booming bar/restaurant/gallery scene.

While the Lower East Side and the East Village have a rich nightlife and history, compared to other neighborhoods, they lack options for basic neighborhood staples: food stores, gyms, etc. The Lower East side is most easily accessible by the J/M/Z/F/B/D subway lines, and the East Village by the 6/N/R/F/L.

Inwood/Washington Heights

At the opposite end of the island, you have Inwood and Washington Heights. Similarly old pre-war buildings in these neighborhoods provide more space this far north. Inwood is north of Washington Heights, and both are well north of Central Park, which might give some commuters pause. The rest of Manhattan is available by the A express train, however, and there’s nothing quite like the rush of entirely bypassing Central Park during rush hour.

Residents this far north have access to their own green space, and plenty of it. Inwood is quieter than Washington Heights, but both are relatively calm communities.

Clinton Hill/Prospect Heights

Clinton Hill and Prospect Heights are both old neighborhoods located north of Prospect Park–Brooklyn’s answer to Central Park. Clinton Hill is closer to the water while Prospect Heights is more south, closer to the park. Both have history, charm, and great food. Both are relatively quiet and safe and allow easy access to Fort Greene, Park Slope, and other surrounding neighborhoods.

Clinton Hill is slightly less accessible by the A/C/G lines, while Prospect Heights boasts access to the 2/3/4/5/B/Q lines.

Crown Heights/Bedford-Stuyvesant (Bedstuy)

Crown Heights and BedStuy are the Eastern counterparts of Clinton Hill and Prospect Heights, with BedStuy hugging the water and Crown Heights bordering Prospect Park. These neighborhoods are booming: both are culturally diverse and have lots on hand for food and entertainment.

As with Clinton Hill and Prospect Heights, Crown Heights has access to the 2/3/4/5 lines, and BedStuy to the A/C/G lines.

Greenpoint

For North Brooklyn, consider Greenpoint. Located above Williamsburg, Greenpoint similarly boasts great food and coffee. The sticking point is the impending 18-month shutdown of the ‘L’ train in January 2019, which will severely inhibit travel to Manhattan. The rest of Brooklyn is accessible via the G train.

Depending on how long your degree takes to earn, Greenpoint might be off the list or might actually be a cheap choice. Williamsburg has seen an influx of renters over the last decade, with prices rising accordingly, but the L shutdown could reverse that trend. Assuming enough viable travel alternatives to Manhattan — bus, ferry, Uber — Greenpoint could end up being a deal in the long run.

This list encompasses just a few of the perennial and newly minted options in Manhattan and Brooklyn, without even covering Harlem, Hamilton Heights, Murray Hill, Yorkville, Bushwick, Flatbush, Sunset Park, and Bay Ridge.

This still leaves us Queens, perhaps hottest borough right now in terms of real estate. Beyond Astoria, there’s plenty to consider with Sunnyside, Ridgewood, Woodside, Flushing, Jackson Heights, and of course, Long Island City. Check out Kingsbridge and Riverdale in the Bronx, as well as St. George on Staten Island.

All of these neighborhoods have lots to offer, but it’s best to start out with a list of what factors are most important to you, because the apartment hunt in New York city always demands some sacrifices. Good luck!

Which Blocks in Brooklyn are the Greenest of Them All?

Which Blocks in Brooklyn are the Greenest of Them All?

Featured image from the 300 East 25th Block Association’s Facebook Page

In the spring and summer, Brooklyn’s lush greenery, flowering lawns, and tree-lined streets brighten the borough’s landscape with bursts of color and fragrance. For many of the dedicates Brooklynites that tend their gardens with care, this it’s more than just a hobby: it’s a competition. Every year, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden (BBG) holds its Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest to determine which block is the greenest of them all.

So which blocks were the greenest this year? After careful determination, the BBG’s panel of horticulturists and other experts bestowed the residential title upon E. 25th St. between Clarendon Rd. and Ave. D in the Flatbush neighborhood.

300 East 25th Block Association in Flatbush has entered the contest every year for almost two decades. Its residents take great pride in the win they’ve worked toward — and their lawns speak for themselves, too.

The greenest commercial block went to Fulton Street between South Portland Avenue and South Elliott Place in Fort Greene.

The Greenest Block in Brooklyn Contest has been a recurring event since 1994. Since, it’s inspired greening activities on over 1,600 Brooklyn blocks, with community growth improving steadily over the years. In its 22 years of existence, it’s estimated that over 600,000 Brooklynites have been involved in greening and beautification efforts.

Community greening brings communities together and demonstrates the transformative qualities that gardening and landscaping can have in any neighborhood. The contest brought neighborhood and block associations back to life and inspired the creation new organizations too.

Blocks are judged on a variety of criteria, which include color, total vision, citizen participation, variety of plants, soil condition, street tree care, and all around best practice. First place winners are awarded a $300 check prize.

Beyond greenest blocks, of which there are second and third places along with honorable mentions for both residential and commercial, other awards include:

  • Greenest storefront: Rose Water Restaurant in Park Slope
  • Best street tree beds: Stuyvesant Avenue between Bainbridge and Chauncey Streets in Bed-Stuy
  • Best community garden streetscape: Pacific Street between 4th and Flatbush Avenues in Park Slope

As the summer wanes and fall draws nearer, these blocks may lose their color for several seasons. If this contest is any indication, however, their community spirit won’t be fading soon. 

Can the MTA Fix NYC’s Troubled Subway System?

Can the MTA Fix NYC’s Troubled Subway System?

At over a century old and over maximum capacity, The New York subway system is in desperate need of an upgrade. Each weekday, over 5 million riders enter train cars built to withstand approximately 70,000 daily riders, and rely on them to safely and swiftly reach their destination. While MTA-related issues seem to pile up with each passing year, renovations require a great deal of both money and time, not to mention the patience of anxious commuters.

So how does the MTA keep operating trains and tracks safe and functional when it comes time to repair others? It’s a complicated story that has to do with money, population growth and aging infrastructure, among other factors.

Here’s what you need to know about how the MTA plans and executes their major renovations, how long they might take, and what to expect for the future of the NYC subway.

The MTA is still fixing and fortifying, years after Sandy.

To understand how the MTA works, it makes sense to look at its past and ongoing projects. When Hurricane Sandy slammed the east coast in 2012, much of the city was spared — but the subways have ceased to be the same. The ensuing “Fix & Fortify” campaign by the MTA is still ongoing. It’s next focus will be on repairing the L train, a highly trafficked cross-borough line.

This project won’t begin until 2019, but when it does, managing the commute to or from the Williamsburg and Bushwick areas won’t be easy. The MTA predicts either a complete 18-month shutdown or three years of limited service in order to repair the line’s Canarsie tube, which was severely compromised by flooding.

Sandy repairs are typically accomplished on weekends and nights to minimally impact highly-congested workday commutes. Tunnels like the Clark, Rutgers and Cranberry tubes are among those subjected to weekend repairs, to the inconvenience of F, 2 and 3 train riders.

Record numbers of riders mean more repairs and more delays.

Even before Sandy, the MTA’s struggles were real — and challenging enough that the MTA has been compared to Sisyphus in his quest to roll a boulder uphill. Increased crowding and aging infrastructure means more repairs and more funding is necessary just to keep up with average wear and tear. The prospect of future hurricanes only ramp up the gravity of the situation.

Unfortunately, the MTA isn’t in any position to accomplish these fixes immediately. This is in part thanks to record ridership, which has risen to nearly 6 million people a day up from about 4 million in the 1990s. This crowding, in turn, has lead to a swelling delays, which have quadrupled since 2012 to about 20,000 a year.

Thanks to debt and budget constraint, the MTA is in financial straits.

Another obstacle preventing the MTA from immediately acting on repairs is their delicate financial situation. The city and the state split the cost of the MTA’s budget, the rest of which is made up by riders’ fare prices, but Albany has not been eager to help fund the agency. Only when the MTA uses up its resources from the prior round of funding will the state’s contribution be “anticipated” rather than “mandated,” meaning necessary funding could be delayed even further.

Next, let’s not forget the MTA’s massive debt of $34 billion, which is greater than 30 of the world’s countries combined. In the 1980s, the MTA began borrowing from banks to fund luxury projects; now, raised rider-fares are paying back the extravagant ideas of the past. This model is especially unsustainable considering revenues are rising 1.5 percent each year, while costs rise 5.5 percent, according to NY Mag.

It could take 50 years to fix all subway’s issues.

Between debt, hurricanes, and overcrowding, the MTA certainly has its work cut out. And while crucial repairs will need to be made, some say we’re likely to be half a century before we see it all completed. That’s according to the Citizens Budget Commissions, which estimates that stairs, platforms and pillars in 280 of New York City’s 668 stations won’t be fully fixed until 2067.

52 years is two-thirds the human lifespan — far too long to wait for necessary updates to keep riders safe and the subway running smoothly. Still, gradual repairs are certainly better than none at all.

The MTA is still prioritizing tech and expansion projects.

Repairs are necessary on the day-to-day, but above all, the MTA has the future in mind. While it’s easy for daily riders to assume the MTA should focus solely on repairs, it’s critical to think ahead. As the city’s population flourishes and ridership grows, expansion will be needed just to free up space and stop the strain on current lines.

“At a time when growing ridership is leading to crowding and delays, we must pursue expansion projects,” MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz told the NY Daily News.

Recent expansion projects have been less than fruitful so far, with projects like the Second Avenue expansion delayed indefinably.

Technology projects are moving along much better, with all underground stations set to be fully equipped with WiFi by 2017. Subways will soon begin accepting contactless payments, too, and new countdown clocks and subway cars will also be added gradually. The clocks we can expect on lettered lines in 2018, and the cars we may see replacing the old C, J and Z trains by 2022.

Creative solutions for consideration

With public services that New York’s residents and economy rely on, cutting costs and downsizing in a fashion similar to a business would only make matters worst. Revenue and a large labor force is vital to completing projects, but continuing to raise fare prices is not exactly fair to cash-strapped commuters.

The Daily Dot has suggested that the MTA could benefit from an ultra-useful train-tracking app with a one-time fee for users, as well as WiFi and solar panels for diversified revenue streams. NY Mag suggests cutting bloated administrative costs, privatizing buses, selling and leasing MTA-owned real estate, and raising toll prices for drivers. The Move NY plan in particular would collect  $1.35 billion a year in revenue from bridge tolls, congestion pricing, and taxi surcharges.

It’s a complicated situation, and no solution will come without losses of its own. But in order for the subway to keep running at the quality and speed at which we need it, we need the MTA to keep its head dry amidst a storm of gnarly obstacles.

14 Amazing Facts About the Metropolitan Museum of Art that Only Guides Know

14 Amazing Facts About the Metropolitan Museum of Art that Only Guides Know

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, known colloquially as the Met, is the largest art museum in the United States and one of the most visited in the world. With a permanent collection of over two million art works, the nearly century and a half-old museum’s secrets are as rich as its history.

The best way to learn about the Met is to visit and take a tour. Tour guides spend day in and day out exploring and touring the majestic space, understanding its evolution, and become acquainted with the timeless objects curated with care throughout its many galleries.

Here are 14 amazing and surprising facts about the Metropolitan Museum of Art straight from the individuals that know it best: New York City’s tour guide experts.

1. The Met is the brainchild of a Founding Father’s grandson, and many other prominent New York figures.

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According to @Discovering_NYC, a writer, historian and NYC tour guide popular on Twitter, the idea for the Met came from John Jay, the grandson of lesser-known Founding Father, also named John Jay.

In 1869, a committee of 300 met in 1869 to organize the museum, including many prominent New Yorkers involved with its creation: Andrew Haswell Green, John La Farge, James Lenox, Frederick Law Olmsted, Alexander Stewart and Rutherfurd Stuyvesant, to name a few.

2. The Met was not always located in Central Park.

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The Met’s first location was in the Dodworth building at 681 5th Avenue, a simple brownstone building, then in a mansion at 128 W 14th street. The Central Park location was secured in 1969 thanks to cooperation from the Central Park Commissioners (many of whom were involved with the Museum) and opened in 1880.

3. The original red Gothic building is still visible if you to know where to look.

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The original red Gothic building was designed by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould. It still stands, and one great view is from the European Sculpture Court, according to Discovering_NYC.

Since the Met expanded outward, the building can be seen at its center, which is called Medieval Court. “The Met is like a giant onion; they just keep building more stuff onto it,” says Museum Hack, a leading provider of fun, unconventional tours at the Met and other museums. The 1880 building is totally encased, and the best places to spot it is in the Petrie Court Sculpture Gallery and the Lehman Wing.

4. Since the first collection opened, objects have risen in number from less than 200 to 2 million. That’s an average of over 13,000 new artworks every year.

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The first collection opened on February 20th, 1872, before the Met had its permanent home, including just 174 paintings and a few sculptures. Now, it contains two million objects celebrating mankind’s artistic endeavors spanning a quarter of a mile and 20 buildings.

5. The Museum’s front facade has been incomplete for over a century.

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One of the numerous additions to the original building, the magnificent facade facing 5th Avenue was built in 1895, designed by Richard Morris Hunt, one of the founders of the American Institute of Architects. Hunt’s design included four columns supporting allegorical statues of architecture, sculpture, music and painting, but they were never finished because the funds didn’t allow for it. (Discovering_NYC).

6. The Met includes a beautiful uptown complex called The Cloisters.

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Not everyone knows that there is more to the Met than its on-site art collections. Situated in Fort Tryon Park, the complex includes five Medieval cloisters and an incredible collection of Medieval art. John D. Rockefeller bought the collection for the Met, and also purchased land on the side of the Palisades to preserve the magnificent view. (Discovering_NYC)

7. The best bathrooms are in Gallery 207, not the Egyptian Wing.

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According to Museum Hack’s insider knowledge, the bathrooms in the Egyptian Wing can be “packed and smelly.” To avoid this, take the Grand Staircase and high-tail it to Asian Art, where the Gallery 207 bathrooms are impressive, crowd-free and nice-smelling.

8. Use the 81st street entrance for shorter lines, pre-admission bathrooms, and your own private gift shop.

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The main entrance on 82nd Street can be a madhouse, with long waits for coat check and admission. But if you simply stroll down to 81st and use the Uris Center for Education Entrance, Museum Hack attests, there will be shorter lines, a separate coat-check, pre-admission bathrooms and a private gift shop.

9. With over six million visitors each year, it is always crowded — but there are a few quiet spots.

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Though the museum is almost always full of people, there are some somewhat secluded galleries if one is seeking a contemplative spot, says NYC Licensed Sightseeing Guide Robin Garr says, who also works for the private tour group The Levys’ Unique New York.

These include the Astor Chinese Garden Court, where you’ll find a replica of a Ming Dynasty garden from Suzhou (2nd floor, Asian Art galleries); the Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art featuring 10,000 American decorative and fine art objects in open storage cases (2nd floor of American Wing); and the 20 historic-period rooms in the American Wing.

10. The Met holds the largest collections of arms and armor in the Western Hemisphere.

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Created within the museum in 1912, the collection comprises roughly 14,000 objects, of which more than 5,000 are European, 2,000 are from the Near East, and 4,000 from the Far East.

The first curator of the Arms and Armor department was, rather fittingly, a man named Helmut Nickel, Robin Garr says.

11. The museum’s first accessioned object was a Roman sarcophagus, currently on display in the Greek and Roman Galleries.

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A sarcophagus, which means “flesh-eater” in Greek, is an ancient Roman burial practice and art form by which elaborate designs are carved into limestone and marble containers. The Met’s Roman sarcophagus was a gift from J. Abdo Debbas, the American vice-consul at Tarsus (Southern Turkey) in 1870. It remains a centerpiece of the galleries of Greek and Roman art, says Garr.

12. The Met’s Egyptian collection holds the largest collection of Egyptian art outside of Cairo, and the oldest items in the museum.

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Mostly from private collectors, the Met is home to over 26,000 pieces of Egyptian art from the Paleolithic era to the Roman era, second only to Cairo in quantity. The oldest items in the museum are a set of Acheulean flints in this collection, which date from the Lower Paleolithic period — between 300,000 and 75,00 BC!

Notable artworks also include the Temple of Dendur, a stunning Egyptian temple built by the Roman governor Petronius in 15 AD. A gift from Egypt to the USA in 1965, the temple is illuminated in a sky-lit room with a pool meant to evoke the Nile river. (Robin Garr)

13. There is a resident florist at the Met that arranges humongous floral displays.

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You may see some beautiful floral arrangements during your visit to the met. According to Garr, the floral displays in the Great Hall niches were permanently endowed by Lila Acheson Wallace (co-founder and co-chairman of Reader’s Digest).

There is also a resident florist for the Met: “Floral Curator” Remco van Vliet is a third generation master Dutch florist. Floral arrangements are comprised of fresh, seasonal vegetation and can be as tall as ten to twelve feet.

14. You can’t see the Met in one visit.

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At two million square feet, it’s impossible to see everything the Met has to offer in just one day. Many visitors make the mistake of winging it only to miss the best parts because they didn’t plan properly.

Robin Garr suggests that visitors pick a few favorite objects, two periods of art, or two geographical/cultural areas they would like to see. Prioritize the ones that are most important, but don’t spread yourself too thin or you’ll be unlikely to enjoy the experience.

If it wasn’t already clear that they know the Met inside out, it goes without saying that a knowledgeable guide can help you make the most of your day or days at the Met, and share even more pearls of wisdom along the way.

Check out Discovering_NYC, Museum Hacks, Robin Garr and The Levys’ Unique New York for more of insight likely to escape regular visitors.
 

Featured image: Steven Pisano via Flickr

The MoMA and 53W53: Tower to Top A Historic Museum

The MoMA and 53W53: Tower to Top A Historic Museum

For about a decade, plans have been in the works to build a skyscraper adjacent to the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. Construction began in 2015 for the 1,050-foot tower, which will add to New York City’s skyline a two-peaked, 82-floor skyscraper designed by renowned architect Jean Nouvel.

The project, first called the MoMa Expansion Tower, Tower Verre and ultimately 53W53, will be the latest transformation to the area literally built upon the MoMA’s place and history in New York City. The 17,000-foot lot was sold by the MoMa to the real estate company Hines in 2007, and will be nearly the size of the Empire State Building.

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Though 53 West 53rd will soon be topped by a graceful and angular monolith, the lot would have been virtually unrecognizable at the time of the MoMA’s first occupancy on the block in 1939. (Though opened in 1929, the MoMA tested various locations before settling where it remains today.)

Still, the property was impressive for the time, designed in the “International Style” by modernist architects Philip L Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone. The multi-departmental structure devoted floors upon floors to various forms of modern art, adding departments for architecture and design, film and video, and photography to its existing collections of paintings, sculptures, drawings, and illustrated books.

The property underwent several renovations in the 50s and 60s; in 1958, a second-floor fire caused by smoking construction workers destroyed an 18-foot long Monet painting of water lilies, among other works.

Bold changes

The MoMA has undergone various expansions leading up to its latest vertical endeavor. In 1983 it doubled its gallery space and increased curation space by 30 percent, adding an auditorium, two restaurants, and a bookstore.

In 1997, Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi won the honor of redesigning the space: the project, completed in 2004, doubled the space with an additional 630,000 feet of space, expanding the scope of its educational and research abilities. Taniguchi’s renovation was overall considered a fine example of contemporary architecture.

Now, with the addition of 53W53, the MoMA will be changing its face once more. After acquiring the American Folk Art Museum, MoMA unveiled new plans by Diller Scofidio + Renfro to transform the space into a MoMA addition instead of demolishing it. The renovation will include a retractable glass wall, new gallery space, and free access to the first floor, including the sculpture garden.

This latest facelift coincides with the continued construction of 53W53; it will add 15,500 feet of space in the former Folk Art Museum, plus 39,000 in the new tower. Along with gallery space, the visually impressive skyscraper will include apartments of various sizes and hotel rooms.

It is expected to be completed by 2018.

 

Here Are New York City’s Tallest Skyscrapers Throughout History

Here Are New York City’s Tallest Skyscrapers Throughout History

New York City is steeped in the history of the skyscraper. Since the completion of the 348-foot World Building in 1890, the love affair NYC has had with iconic buildings has spanned over a century. With man’s desire to reach unyielding heights brought into view an ever-changing skyline.

The World Building (348 feet)

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Since 1890, eleven structures have been cataloged as the world’s tallest building. From the 1910s to the 1930s,16 of the city’s tallest buildings were built: the Woolworth, Bank of Manhattan Trust Building (The Trump Building – 927 feet), the Chrysler Building (1,046 feet), and the Empire State Building (1,250 feet) among them. At the time each of these skyscrapers were erected, they were the tallest of their day. Today, these high rises along with three of their contemporaries represent an iconography that’s unmistakably New York.

Woolworth Building (792 feet)

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A little known fact about the Woolworth Building:  The bicycle storage area in the basement once led into the NY subway system. According to Jason Crowley, a building tour guide, the doors led to a “[…] passageway under Broadway to the BMT and IRT subways. The BMT is now the City Hall R stop and the IRT is the now closed off City Hall stop where the 6 turns around.That passageway was completely filled in under Broadway and no longer exists.”

Designed by Cass Gilbert and completed in 1913, the Woolworth was named after its owner in 1910, F.W. Woolworth. Woolworth bought the site for $1.65 million. Built to resemble Gothic cathedrals, the building was nicknamed “The Cathedral of Commerce” by Reverend S. Parkes Cadman. The 800 light bulbs to commemorate the opening of the tallest building of its time were turned on by then President Woodrow Wilson to great public aplomb.

Since then, the building has been a National Historic Landmark since 1966 and a NYC landmark since 1983.

Bank of Manhattan Trust Building (now Trump Building – 927 feet)

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Now known exclusively as the Trump Building, the 927 foot structure was originally designed by H. Craig Severance et al. Construction of the Bank of Manhattan Building began in 1928, with a planned height of 840 feet. In an effort to be the tallest building in New York, the plans were designed specifically to be two feet taller than the Chrysler Building. Upon completion in 1930, the building was indeed the tallest, but the victory was short-lived once Walter Chrysler topped off the Chrysler Building with a stainless steel spire that had been secretly assembled. Once in place, the Chrysler Building’s height stood at 1,046 feet, defeating the Bank of Manhattan Trust Building for tallest.

Chrysler Building (1,046 feet)

 

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Though the Chrysler only carried the title as the world’s tallest building for less than a year, it remains the tallest brick building in the world. With its Art Deco design and steel frame, it is an undeniable nod to the automobile industry. The sleek, powerful design continues to cut a striking figure across the NYC skyline. Initially intended to stand at 807 feet, designer Van Alen’s designs proved to be too grand to stand at anything less than 1,046 feet. Van Alen’s vision and Walter P. Chrysler’s auto industry money collaborated to create a pinnacle in modern architectural design.

The Empire State Building (1,250 feet)

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The Empire State Building is synonymous with New York City. Like the Chrysler, the Empire State was built in the Art Deco Era fashion. Named as one of the Seven Wonders of the World by the Society of Civil Engineers, the building is a National and NYC Landmark often a favorite in Hollywood depictions of the NYC skyline.

The building was built in 1931 and was New York’s tallest until the erection of the North Tower in 1972 which stood at 1,368 feet. After the Twin Towers were destroyed during the 2001 terrorist attacks, the Empire State once again became New York’s tallest structure until the construction of One World Trade Center in 2012.

The Twin Towers (North Tower 1,368 feet, South Tower 1,362 feet)

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The entire World Trade Center complex consisted of seven buildings with the “Twin Towers” being the most visible. Upon their completion in the early 1970s, the towers were the tallest buildings in the world. Located in Lower Manhattan, the two colossal buildings shown as two giant figures of industry and finance with 3,400,000 square feet of office space. The two buildings were tragically destroyed after the 9/11 terrorist attack; the other buildings in the complex were all severely damaged by the collapse of the twin towers, and were eventually demolished.

One World Trade Center (1,776 feet)

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Also called One WTC or the “Freedom Tower”, the building has the same moniker as the North Tower of the original World Trade Center. One WTC is the current record holder of the tallest building in New York, the United States, and the Western Hemisphere, and the sixth-tallest building in the world. One World Trade Center began construction in 2006 and was completed in 2013. This skyscraper stands on the northwest corner of the World Trade Center.

The building takes up a 200-feet square, with an area of 40,000 square feet almost identical to the area the original Twin Towers inhabited. Constructed with glass and steel, the structure acts as a prism reflecting light and air across the skyline.

Today, New York is home to approximately 8.406 million people and 6,125 skyscrapers that stand over 600 feet. As of April of this year, almost 500 high rises are either proposed for or under construction in New York City.  Throughout history, New York’s reverence of architectural design and height have colored its skyline as one of the most unique and alluring in the world.

Curious about the list of New York’s tallest buildings today? Read on here…