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.

Birth of a museum

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…

The Fascinating History of NYC’s Bridges

The Fascinating History of NYC’s Bridges

There are roughly 2,027 bridges in all of New York City — far too many to list in a single blog post. Of these, ten are considered historic landmarks: The Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, Queensboro, Washington, University Heights, Carroll Street, Macombs Dam, George Washington Bridge, Highbridge, and Hell Gate Bridge. Each possess unique histories that make the Big Apple’s infrastructure exceptional.

NYC’s first bridges

King’s Bridge, later called Kingsbridge, was built first in 1693. It earned its name by charging everyone that crossed money, save for King’s soldiers. The wooden bridge was rebuilt in 1713 and allegedly demolished in 1917, though some maintain that it remains buried in the landfill between the Southern Bronx and Manhattan where Spuyten Duyvil Creek once was.

New York City’s oldest still-standing bridge, on the other hand, is the High Bridge, also between the Bronx and Manhattan. It was was built in 140 feet over the Harlem River in 1843 to carry water as part of the Croton aqueduct. Use of the bridge for water supply ceased in 1949, and it remained out of use for decades. In 2015, the High Bridge was renovated and reopened for pedestrian usage.

The oldest vehicular bridge in New York City is the Brooklyn Bridge, built in 1883. At the time (and even still today) the Brooklyn Bridge was considered an architectural wonder — it was the largest extension bridge in the world at a stunning 1595.5 feet long. When the Williamsburg Bridge was built in 1903, it overtook the superlative for length at 1600 feet.

The Brooklyn Bridge and Williamsburg Bridge are two of the four major bridges built along the East River between 1870 and 1910. Both the Queensboro Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge were completed in 1909.

Bridges today

Further into the 20th century, the George Washington and Verrazano-Narrows Bridges were completed, the former in 1931 and the latter in 1963. Both overtook the title of longest suspension bridge at the time of their opening — the Verrazano, at 6,690 feet, remains today the longest in America and the 11th longest in the world.

The George Washington Bridge is the most heavily trafficked bridge not only in the city, but the world. In a single year, the bridge accommodates over 51 million cars, trucks, and other vehicles, or 280,714 a day as of 2010.

Today, 21 major bridges connect to the island of Manhattan, with thousands more within and connecting the five boroughs. Though many claim Pittsburgh has the most bridges (as it may, per capita), New York City is otherwise only beat by Hamburg, which has as many as 2500 bridges, in total number.

Though over a century has passed, New York City’s bridges — especially the historic and record-breaking ones — remain beautiful, iconic and integral to the city. For hundreds of thousands that cross daily, treated to a spectacular view of the skyline and Lady Liberty, it’s the saving grace of their commute.

Featured image: Thomas Hawk via Flickr

Springtime Festivals and Events in Brooklyn Neighborhoods

Springtime Festivals and Events in Brooklyn Neighborhoods

Though both meteorologists and the groundhog agreed spring would come early this year, after a brief warm spell New York City is experiencing an unseasonably chilly early April. Still the flowers are blooming and the sun is out — the temperature, surely, is not far behind. And even a brisk 50-something degrees is fine enough for New Yorkers to get out of the house and start enjoying longer days, brighter skies and fresh-aired adventures.

For Brooklynites, there are an abundance of events right in the borough that either celebrate the season or compliment it.  Here’s a sample of some of the most notable events taking place in various Brooklyn neighborhoods.

Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

The brilliant pink and white trees known as cherry blossoms bloom in New York in April every year. There is perhaps no better place to view this spectacle than the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, its 52 acres located just east of Prospect Park touching Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Crown Heights and Prospect Heights in length.

2016 marks the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens’ 35th anniversary of the festival, called Sakura Matsuri for its celebration of traditional and contemporary Japanese culture. The festival takes place on Saturday April 30 and Sunday May 1, offering 60 events and performances. Tickets cost $25 for adults and are free for children under 12.

Cherry blossom trees change at different rates by the day, so you can check them out at BBG and elsewhere during surrounding dates. To track bloom process, simply check out the website here.

Hot Sauce Festival at the Brooklyn Expo Center

The weather might not be hot just yet, but that doesn’t mean you mouth can’t be. Hot sauce enthusiasts flock from near and far for the Hot Sauce Festival, held at the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint, Brooklyn on April 24th and 25th.

Dozens of local vendors participate in numerous categories, including Louisiana style, chipotle, fruit-based, jalapeno, habanero, all-natural, chicken wings, spicy salsa, and even best label art. Attendants can sample a wide variety if their taste buds can handle it. General admission is $10, while $55 can get you five beers and a lunch platter and $100 can get you an all-access pass.

If lovers of spice miss this one and are willing to wait out the summer, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s annual Chili Pepper Festival is right around the corner on October 1.

Pop Music Festival

If you’re not into BBQ or cherry blossoms, music is a near-universal attraction. There are, of course, hundreds of music events during any given season in the city that never sleeps — one needs only throw a stone at the nearest bar. For those specifically interested in indie pop, the Pop Music Festival may be the springtime event for you.

Also hosted at several Manhattan venues, Brooklyn locations include Baby’s All Right, the Knitting Factory and Littlefield, where a stellar lineup of up-and-coming bands will rock out from the afternoon to the evening, followed by after parties into the wee hours of the morning.

Who knows? Your next favorite band may be there, prepping your next warm weather jam.

The Brooklyn Flea

There’s nothing quite like an open-air flea market. After months of stuffy indoor fleas, the Brooklyn Flea gets some fresh oxygen: starting in early April, the popular flea market celebrates its ninth outdoor season.

You can find the Brooklyn Flea in various neighborhoods across the Brooklyn borough. The Fort Green Flea is open every Saturday, and the DUMBO Flea every Sunday. An offshoot of the Brooklyn Flea called Smorgasburg occurs every Saturday in Williamsburg and Sunday in Prospect Park, featuring culinary vendors of all flavors.

Mermaid Parade

This Brooklyn event may require a long subway ride south, but it makes up for distance in nautical nonsense. Coney Island’s annual Mermaid Parade takes place on June 18th, at the tail end of the season (the summer solstice is June 20).

Began in 1983, the Mermaid Parade honors the early 20th century Coney Island parades: like Mardi Gras, but with flippers. Floats, groups, and individuals are showcased in the parade, and even onlookers get in on the action by dressing as close to marine life as their closets and budgets will allow.

Even better, admission is free! Just be prepared to swim through some fishy crowds, and possibly get a little wet and glittery in the process.

Featured image: Katie Killary via Flickr

 

NYC’s Holland Tunnel, Then and Now

NYC’s Holland Tunnel, Then and Now

For many, it’s the gateway to New York City: the Holland Tunnel, an underwater channel through which cars disappear, endure a hellscape of dimly lit traffic, and eventually emerge whole on Canal street into a sea of other vehicles.

Though not ideal for claustrophobics, the Holland Tunnel is widely considered an extraordinary feat of engineering — especially considering its age: 89 years. The 1.7 mile tunnel was begun in 1920 and completed in 1927, and bears the name of first chief engineer, Clifford M. Holland, who unfortunately did not live to see its completion.

For centuries, the only way one could travel across the lower Hudson River was by ferry. Considering the amount of traffic that pass through the tunnel in the 21st century — 34,698,000 vehicles a year in 2007 — it’s obvious why a ferry would not cut it, especially as automobiles gained prominence.

Tunnels proved a feasible solution after several railways were successfully built beneath the river. In 1906 New Jersey and New York commissioned jointly to build a bridge, before shifting to plan for a tunnel in 1913 due to height concerns.

An engineering triumph

Several design proposals for the tunnel were passed on before Clifford Holland’s was accepted. Both Holland and his engineering successor, Milton Freeman, would die before the tunnel’s completion in 1927. Ole Singstad oversaw the completion of the tunnel and also designed its innovative ventilation system.

A mile and a half long tunnel, you see, is more difficult than it seems — and the claustrophobic among us should be especially grateful for ventilation technology most of us didn’t know we needed. The Holland Tunnel in particular is an early example of mechanically ventilated design, and the first ever mechanically ventilated underwater vehicular tunnel.

To keep automobile fumes from polluting the air inside the tunnel, Singstad came up with a practical solution. It works like this: four ventilation buildings, two on each side of the Hudson, house 84 fans that provide a change of air every 90 minutes. Thanks to this solution, air quality in the tunnel is kept well within safety limits. This way in the off-chance you do need to leave your car in a particularly bad bout of traffic, the air is plenty fresh.

At the time of the tunnel’s opening, the press declared that the air in the tunnel was fresher than many open-air streets in the city.

Opening and operation

The tunnel was opened to much aplomb by President Coolidge, who ceremonially triggered the event from his yacht, as giant brass bells rung at either end of the tunnel. It was an immediate success as a portal from New Jersey to New York City.

The tunnel has needed very little updating over the years: a testament to its solid design and construction. There have been notable moments in time and history that mark the tunnel’s evolution as the City of New York grew up and outward.

In 1930, control was transferred to the New York and New Jersey Port Authority, which continues to operate it today. In 1955, a narrow, one-man electric car was designed for police officers to maneuver in case of emergencies.

This emergency protocol makes since, because over the years the Holland Tunnel has weathered some especially nasty events, like fire aboard an electrical truck in 1949, and severe flooding during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. It’s considered one of the most high-risk terrorist targets in the United States by government officials.

There have been close calls in this regard: Following September 11 attacks, the tunnel remained closed for a month. The FBI uncovered a plot they believed the Holland Tunnel was the target of in 2006, though it turned out to be aimed at the New Jersey PATH.

Today, the tunnel remains key to entrance and exiting of the Big Apple. Though tolls have gone up, its function remains the same, and its legacy grows with every year.

The Holland Tunnel was made a National Historic Civil and Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil and Mechanical Engineers in 1982 and a National Historic Landmark in 1993 by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Featured image: Noud W. via Flickr

St. Patrick’s Day in New York City: Centuries of Celebration

St. Patrick’s Day in New York City: Centuries of Celebration

Every year in cities across the US, an emerald horde flows between pubs, imbibing Guinnesses through faux-ginger beards and raising noise levels by many decibels. March 17th is St. Patrick’s day, an Americanized celebration of Irish heritage that has somehow turned the potato into a coconut candy and shamrocks into milkshakes.

Today’s parades and bar crawls may not resemble St. Patrick’s Day as it has ever looked in Ireland: in fact, the holiday was a solemn Catholic feast day. But in America, and New York City in particular, the holiday dates back to the days of Irish immigrants marching in solidarity to preserve their heritage.

That’s right: the parades and traditions most of us associate with St. Patrick’s Day aren’t really Irish at all. Instead they largely began in America, and have steadily evolved into the green tide of a leprechaun fever dream that descends upon the nation with ferocity every March.

The first parades

On March 17th, 1762, Irish soldiers serving in the British Army held the first parade in honor of the Irish feast day. The celebrations were quieter affairs at first, but that changed when record numbers of Irish immigrants emigrated to the United States a century later. The wave came as a result of the Great Famine in Ireland, which forced many to relocate in the mid-to-late 19th century.

As the Irish population grew in America, the celebration grew as well. Since the Irish were initially subjected to unfair treatment and xenophobia in the States, the celebration was one day they could come together to honor their roots in spite of discrimination. Falsely characterized as drunken and violent by outsiders and scorned for their Catholicism by Protestants, the holiday let them show pride in their hybrid identity as Irish Americans with a stake in both the past and present.

Before long, Irish-Americans began to dominate American demographics: Irishmen made up about a quarter of New York City by 1890, and they even outnumbered the population of Dublin at one point. As Irish societies and organizations emerged in New York City, the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade grew even larger. Before long it was the largest in America, and for a time the largest in the world.

The popularity of America’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration inspired Ireland to mimic the revelry back home with military parades, though pubs were closed that day until the mid-1960s. Celebrated as a religious feast day since the 17th century, the holiday didn’t become a public one in Ireland until 1907.

Modern day

Like most other major holidays, during the 20th century St. Patrick’s Day became a great commercial opportunity complete with greeting cards, streamers, treats and T-shirts. By this time the celebration was no longer limited to Irish-Americans, either: it was ubiquitous, a testament to the strength, power, and enormous number of Irish Americans.

Every year since 1991, the entirety of March has been declared Irish-American Heritage Month (in addition to Women’s History Month, of course). St. Patrick’s Day itself is not a federal holiday in the US, but it’s still marketed as a major holiday and as such you’ll see signs of it everywhere, from Chicago’s green-dyed river to the White House’s fountain and the Empire State Building.

The annual parade in New York City has evolved too. Once just an informal gathering of homesick Irish immigrants, the parade is expected to have about 200,000 people marching up 5th Avenue. The largest turnout was in 2002 with 300,000 marchers, parading in honor of 9/11 heroes.

Though much has changed, commercialization chief among deviations, some things remain the same: for example, the marching past St. Patrick’s Cathedral, wearing green, and the performance of traditional Irish tunes. With 39.6 million Americans today claiming Irish heritage — seven times the entire population of Ireland — it’s easy to see why the holiday is more popular than ever, shamrock shakes and all.

Featured image: gigi_nyc via Flickr  

The Museum of Natural History’s Massive, Fantastical Architectural Expansion Plan

The Museum of Natural History’s Massive, Fantastical Architectural Expansion Plan

One of the largest museums in the world is about to get larger and a lot more surreal. The American Museum of Natural History, situated across the street from Central Park in New York City’s Upper East Side, has plans to add a new wing to its already impressive 27-building facility.

The design, described as “part Dr. Seuss, part Jurassic Park” by the New York Times, comes from the imagination of architect Jeanne Gang, who won a competition for the honor. Gang, founder of the Chicago firm Studio Gang Architects, offers a unique vision for the building, expected to open in 2019 in celebration of the museum’s 150th anniversary.

At once futuristic and historic, the design concept mimics the structure of natural caves and glacial formations to create towering halls and circulatory pathways within a wondrous, abstract building. The design is at home with the museum in subject matter of magnificent creatures, science, and peoples of the past, but diverges in regards to structure, which is more reminiscent of a theme park than a traditional museum.

The theatrical quality of the design may be the perfect direction for the famed museum. With half a million school-children visited yearly and thousands of teachers trained, the fantastical form reinforces the museum’s its reputation as a fun and educational destination for people of all ages. The imagination it encompasses could spur in today’s youth scientific interest and curiosities to last a lifetime, ultimately shaping the future of the sciences.

150 years in the making

It has taken nearly a century and a half of growth and development for the American Museum of Natural History to reach this point. Established in 1869, the museum was first housed in Central Park’s Arsenal Building before today’s facility began construction. The museum’s founding realized the dreams of naturalist and student of zoology Dr. Albert S. Bickmore, who lobbied tirelessly for a natural history museum.

The first building was constructed in 1874 and opened in 1877, after which more were added over the course of many decades. With architecture ranging from Victorian Gothic to neo-Romanesque and Beaux-arts, the museum is a magnificent hodgepodge of science and history outside-in.

The museum’s many buildings were built and connected over time, and not always with rhyme or reason. One of the purposes of the new expansion will be to add additional connections between levels across buildings to alleviate confusion and congestion.

Little has been added to the museum’s exterior since the 1930s, though in 2009 its south front was cleaned, repaired, and renovated, and in 2012 the North Hall of Mammals was refurbished.

The upcoming addition will add to the museum’s facade a contemporary, silvery exterior made of stone and glass, in stark contrast to the red brick of its neighbors.

Dissent and cooperation

Not everyone was initially keen on the expansion, as it will encroach (however slightly) upon the beloved and historic Teddy Roosevelt Park. After its announcement in Fall of 2015, over 200 locals gathered at a town hall meeting for an organization called “Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park.”

The $325 million project will take up 218,000 square feet or new space, 116,000 of which will be parkland: about a quarter of an acre. But planners are eager to please locals, especially in the wake of their protests. To limit obstruction, three buildings are being taken down to make room for the new one so it does not protrude much onto treasured park space. Neither will it protrude vertically: the six-story building was designed carefully not to extend higher than existing buildings.

The “Defenders,” as they call themselves, successfully secured a 50 percent reduction in parkland lost to the expansion as of March 10. They were even invited to help redesign the park to ensure it matches or surpasses the space lost to the expansion.

All in all, it seems that the expansion plans will be considerate of community needs, museum goals, and the future of natural history education. After 150 years, the new building should offer an apt 21st-century update that is respectful to the past, hopeful for the future, and earnest to keep the sciences fascinating and awesome.

 

Iconic New York City Parks Throughout The Years

Iconic New York City Parks Throughout The Years

New York City boasts 28,000 acres of parkland; from an aerial view, this greenery pops amidst a sharp grid of gray buildings and roads. The parks that characterize the Big Apple range greatly in size and shape, from Staten Island’s sweeping Greenbelt to Septuagesimo Uno, an 140 square foot park in the Upper West Side.

NYC contains within its boroughs over 1,700 parks, some dating back to the 1600s. Parks have played important roles in New York City since America’s origin, and throughout the years have experienced periods of both neglect and rejuvenation. Today’s city parks are cleaner and safer than ever in no small thanks to a robust Parks and Recreation Department.

Here’s a look at three of the city’s most iconic parks, and how they have evolved over the years from colonial times to present day.

Bowling Green

New York City’s oldest park has been in use for 400 years, beginning in the 17th century when Dutch and English settlers used it as a cattle market and parade ground. The area was made into a park in 1733, paved with cobblestones in 1744, and under the control of the British used as execution grounds for Revolutionary prisoners. A statue of King George III was erected there in 1770 before being toppled (and recast as musket balls) after the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.

The park was improved with trees and grass in 1784, after which it quickly became a gathering place for public meetings and events throughout the 19th century. Presidential mansions were built there for George Washington to reside before the US capitol was moved to Philadelphia.

Though Bowling Green suffered neglect after WWII, the city restored it in 1970 and it’s since become one of the highest trafficked plazas in New York City. The tear-drop shaped park is a Historical Site and its Charging Bull statue a key fixture of the Financial District.

Central Park

The most famous park in NYC hardly needs an introduction. Central Park, designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted with the help of Calvert Vaux, was the first public park to be built in America. Olmsted and Vaux won a design competition with a plan they called “Greensward Plan,” which profoundly shaped the most famous and frequently visited park in the world.

Central Park’s story dates back to New York City in the 1820s through 50s, when population quadrupled in a short period of time. When it became apparent that a public park would be needed for residents to escape the chaos of city life, the park was established in 1857. It was built on 778 acres of city-owned land, then expanded to its current 843 acres in 1873.

The park’s construction wasn’t immediately beneficial for all, however. The designated land had inhabitants at the time: free blacks and Irish immigrants who had built communities there complete with farms, churches and cemeteries. Some 1,600 people were evicted in the construction process overall.

Once built, Central Park would go through various phases of decline and revival. The park’s first decline came right after it’s construction and lasted through the turn of the 20th century before being cleaned up in the 1930s. In the 1960s Central Park became host for political and cultural events, and saw a second decline before undergoing renovation in the 80s, 90s, and early 21st century.

Prospect Park

Also designed by Olmsted and Vaux, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park has a history far older than its creation in 1867. Mount Prospect, located in the middle of the park, was forged by glacial activity over 170,000 years ago in the region. Much of the area was forested before European colonization cleared out a significant portion of woods.

Prospect Park was also the site of the Battle of Long Island during the American Revolution. Though the Continental Army lost this battle, they were able to hold off the British long enough to escape to Manhattan. Plaques honoring this event are part of the reason it was chosen to be preserved as a large park area.

Between 1915 and 1980, budget cuts and maintenance cutbacks saw Prospect Park decline to the point at which it was more of a hazard than a boon to residents in surrounding neighborhoods. When the Prospect Park Alliance was formed in 1987, an extensive restoration project was launched to carefully rebuild the original architecture.

Today, the 778 acre park includes a zoo, Botanical gardens, ice skating rink, waterfalls, playgrounds, bandshell, and ball fields. These quasi-modern additions make Prospect Park a mixture of historic scenery, quiet greenery, and activities for parkgoers of all ages.

Stay tuned for more information on NYC neighborhood parks in future blog posts.