An Age Old Tale: Ads vs Art in New York City

An Age Old Tale: Ads vs Art in New York City

New York City is a city with many reputations, not all of which fit neatly in a box. The restless metropolis is both a financial and artistic capital, known as much for Time Square’s neon ad-space as it is a canvas for renowned creators from poet EE Cummings to muralist Banksy.

Walk down a street and you’ll see a flashy Apple billboard on one side and street art on the other. Jump on the Q train, and you’ll see a Seamless campaign on the wall alongside a poem by Walt Whitman. New York has managed to allow ads and art to share space, even when the former is not as financially viable. How can this be, and can there be harmony between the two—and just as importantly, those behind them?

It’s important to begin by prefacing that ads and art have a lot in common. Overlap exists in the skills used to create them, and in their impact: catching the eye, heart, or mind’s attention, or eliciting a certain emotion. The difference is all in the intent: art isn’t selling anything, except itself or an idea from time to time.

New York City’s history as an artistic hub is well-known. To this day artists flock to New York City for its vibrant art scene, though the barrier to entry—not to mention the rent—has gone up since the days of beat poets and starving artists. Home to some of the world’s best art museums, like the MoMA and the MET, New York City is an artistic mecca in all fields: music, theater, writing, painting, you name it. And why not? With a rich history, diverse populace, and colorful culture, the streets are steeped in inspiration from the Bronx to Brooklyn.

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Still, as much as artists are drawn to its lights like moths to a flame, New York has always been about the money first: think Wall Street, Upper West Side mansions and TriBeca penthouses. A beacon of hope in theory, the city of opportunity is also incredibly cut-throat. These days, “making it” means making money. And one way to do that? Go commercial.

Advertising is far from the only field that has commercialized art, but it’s certainly notable from an aesthetics perspective. The site of the hit AMC show Mad Men and the real life ad scene that inspired it, New York has also been an international hub for advertising for over a century. Among others, New York is home to the Omnicom Group, the second largest ad agency in the world with an annual revenue of over $15 billion.  

Times Square is the most obvious, visual representation of NYC’s ad status. As early as WWII, the area has been a major intersection and prime vision of ad-space since the late 1800s. The first electrified advertisements appeared in 1904 and grew significantly in the 1920s. Though it declined and rose with the city over the years, especially following the Great Depression, WWII, it’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in the world to this day. This is stunning when you consider that people are traveling across the world to essentially see advertisements in bulk.

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It’s worth noting that Times Square isn’t a godless vacuum of cheap Elmos, naked Cowboys, and Coca-Cola ads: it’s also the heart of New York City’s theater district. Broadway has been a safe haven and love of artists for decades, but it’s also a multi-billion dollar industry, much like other forms of entertainment: music, movies, etc.

Is it surprising, then, that you can walk down the street in New York and still consume art for free? As Jordan Seiler, founder of the Public Ad Campaign,” told the New York Times, “Advertising frames the public environment as being for sale but public space is not inherently commercial.” New York has always valued art and will always have people in the public and private sector pushing to showcase it.

Seiler’s project, Public Ad Campaign, advocates for artists taking over public ad space. It also promotes an app called “No Ad” that uses augmented reality to transform ads into a “curated digital art experience” — among other partnerships, tools and exhibitions. The idea is for artists and art-lovers alike to resist ads in favor of artistic messages.

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This renegade approach may not be wholly necessary, because it appears that New York is already on board with not-for-profit ads; the two coexist and not compete. People who work or study advertising, for their part, often create their own art on the side (there’s a reason the industry attracts writers and illustrators). More importantly, public projects commissioning local artists to decorate subways and “beautify” neighborhoods are proliferating. Heck, the MTA’s “Poetry in Motion” was even brought back by popular demand.

This just goes to show that people like art for art’s sake, and the city knows that. It’s in their best interest to keep this in mind in order to attract residents and keeping commuters happy. For this reason, we can expect to continue seeing artists given a seat at the table, even if they’re sharing elbow space with Don Draper.

Will Ride-Sharing Vanquish NYC’s Yellow Cabs?

Will Ride-Sharing Vanquish NYC’s Yellow Cabs?

The concept of ride-sharing, exemplified by popular services Uber, Lyft and their corresponding apps, is still a fairly fresh transportation trend. Unlike regular planes, trains, and automobiles, ride-sharing apps constitute startup business models that have the potential to disrupt entire transport ecosystems—especially in regards to the already robust taxi fleets in major cities like New York.

Will taxi fleets be a thing of the past, lost by the wayside like horse-drawn carriages? New research out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests that, if passengers get on board with the car-pooling elements of ride-sharing services, New York City’s transportation network could be supported with just a quarter of its current 14,000 yellow cabs. As few as 3,000 vehicles, researchers say, could service the entire metropolis.

Because the remaining vehicles could be Ubers, Lyfts, Junos, Vias, Getts, or other black car with an app attached, New York City could in theory pull a whopping 85% of its yellow cabs and still service 98% of commuter demand. This would come with huge consequences, both good and bad. As an obvious negative, thousands upon thousands of drivers would lose their jobs. As a positive, congestion could clear up significantly along with pollution.

Of course, these predictions are still largely speculative. They operate on the assumption, first of all, that commuters would be willing to use ride-sharing apps and, importantly, share their cars with other people. Since many people choose cabs to avoid sharing space with strangers, this assumption may be a stretch.

Researchers also factored the rise of autonomous vehicles into the equation. Their algorithms suit autonomous vehicles best, as this technology would in practice plan routes most efficiently. The whole point is that less traffic, smarter vehicles, and ride-sharing would make cab-hailing (and even driving) unnecessary. Without autonomous vehicles, you still get traffic and accidents, meaning more drag-time on the road.

It’s true nonetheless that autonomous technology is progressing rapidly, with investments in the field growing too. But the fact remains that most Americans are simply not interested in autonomous vehicles, and cite a lack of trust as a big reason.

But assume that autonomous cars do catch on in a big way. PBS speculates that this would simply lead to more congestion and emissions, as people would choose go about their professional or personal activities enroute. If people are willing to work, eat, and sleep on the road, this is certainly a possibility. So the question becomes, are New Yorkers more likely to get comfortable in a driverless car for a grueling but hands-free commute, or rub up against strangers for a fast one?

Whatever the case, New York City’s taxi drivers appear to be bracing themselves for change, whatever magnitude it may be and however soon. Though researchers claim that limiting fleet number would be an improvement—the same amount of money for shorter shifts—not everyone is convinced.

The shift is well underway, and taxi drivers are feeling it. According to the New York Times, taxi medallions are going for half of the $1.3 million recorded just three years ago, and the average number of daily taxi trips has been reduced by 100,000 in comparison to six years ago. As more people grow comfortable using apps to catch rides, the decline of yellow cabs isn’t just inevitable. It’s already happening.

In a way, the vanishing of taxis, if and when the time comes, will be the end of an era. Yellow cabs have become synonymous with New York life: a quintessential flash of color in a sometimes gloomy cityscape. It’s hard to imagine the city without them. But nostalgia can’t erase the fact that ride-sharing is cheaper, easier, and more efficient than sticking your hand into the street and hoping to catch a car at random.

If taxis become obsolete, is transport system run by ride-sharing startups ideal? Judging by the recent backlash against the Uber, perhaps not. Ride-sharing companies, still only about decade old, have a lot of kinks to work out in order to prove that they are in the drivers’, employees’ and customers’ best interest. Given the fierce competition, we’ll likely see adjustments in the market to meet the demands and preferences of the public. If the result is black instead of yellow, so be it.

Check Out NYC’s Vintage Holiday Subway Line

Check Out NYC’s Vintage Holiday Subway Line

A lesser-known holiday tradition for New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is to put vintage subway cars–usually on display at the New York Transit Museum–back in service, but for a limited time only. The “Shoppers Special” operates annually on Sundays between Thanksgiving and Christmas, departing several times a day from the 2nd Ave. station and making local stops along the 6th Ave F/M line to Queens Plaza.

This special 8-car train consists of R1/9 “City Cars” that ferried passengers throughout the city from 1930 to 1970, along unrecognizable lines like the AA, BB, CC, EE, and H. As the MTA puts it, “The jazz composer Billy Strayhorn would have taken a City Car to Sugar Hill when Duke Ellington told him to ‘Take the A Train.’”

This special subway ride will transport you in more ways than one: the train cars are decorated with era-appropriate ads, as documented here by Business Insider. And the cars themselves are a nostalgia trip, with “rattan seats, ceiling fans, incandescent bulb lighting, drop-sash style windows, and roll signs” (MTA). Swinging metal hanging “straps” help brace standing riders: the swinging lets you sway more with the motion of the train than the parallel grab bars in their modern counterparts. The light bulbs overhead consistently flicker offfor one thrilling momentbetween stations. The antiquated emergency brakes, relatively low ceiling fans, and insistently closing doors all mark a charming but less foolproof era.

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To ensure subway riders don’t play a game of chicken with the subway doorsas current cars allow and present-day commuters routinely testMTA operators are stationed in every car of the Shoppers Special. The ceiling fans and air vents provide excellent ventilation and a whoosh feeling of truly traveling that is missing from the current enclosed subway cars. That may be in part because the doors between cars are left open on the Shoppers Special, to encourage riders to cross over and continue their journey between eras.

While most of the train cars are from the 1930s and 1940s, one car looks noticeably different: because it was designed to look noticeably different. Car No. 1575 looks more contemporary because it was a prototype, meant to replace the older cars that compose the rest of the throwback train. It’s still a noticeable departure from the current subway car, however.

Commissioned for the Independent Subway System (IND) and operating for over 40 years, the R1/9 cars that comprise ⅞ of the Shoppers Special are the basis for the current subway car R160 model, and even the upcoming R211 cars. The durability of the R1/9 model cars is evident in their long run, and in the smooth ride enjoyed by modern straphangers: a mixed bag comprised of surprised New Yorkers, New Yorkers in the know (some even dressed for the occasion in period wear), tourists, and many delighted children.

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The popularity of this yearly tradition demonstrates the public’s avid interest in an older New York, documented by projects like the Tenement Museum. The New York Transit Museum gives a good glimpse of what commuting might have looked like in the early or mid-20th century. This photo tour by Business Insider serves as a quick introduction. Articles by Smithsonian and Untapped Cities describe additional hidden wonders and subway secrets:

  • abandoned subway stations/platforms/levels
  • the underwater graves of subway cars
  • a long-running subway beauty pageant
  • a pneumatic subway car that stretched one city block
  • armored Money Trains that carried subway fare money to a secret room in Brooklyn for counting
  • a fake Brooklyn townhouse that functions as a ventilation shaft and emergency subway exit
  • the Signal Learning Center at 14th Street station
  • a small, subway-accessible NYPL branch
  • the entrance to the historic Knickerbocker Hotel in Times Square station
  • the Masstransiscope art installation at the abandoned Myrtle Ave subway station
  • a bedecked private subway car–every commuter’s fever dream

Interest in such an integral New York institution will never abate. So the next time you’re riding the subway, consider that your car may host a nostalgia ride 50 years from now…

The Empire State Building in Photography and Film: A Storied History

The Empire State Building in Photography and Film: A Storied History

The Empire State Building is an iconic pulse of the New York City skyline, standing apart from the cluster of skyscrapers in the Financial District. It serves as a helpful directional signpost for residents and tourists, who simply have to look up to tell if they are walking uptown or downtown. And for decades the building’s tower lights have broadcasted significant events through color schemes projected against a stark, starless sky. How can a simple patch of land–originally a farm, then the site of the Waldorf Astoria, then the base of the tallest skyscraper in the world, for a time–become one of the most recognizable mastheads of New York City?

Screen Shot 2016-11-29 at 1.15.01 PMEven while under construction, the Empire State Building was a favorite subject of the visual medium. Photographer Lewis Wickes Hine was hired to document the historic project in 1930. Famous for his socially progressive portfolio, which helped lead to child labor reform, Hine documented an interesting angle of his assignment. He brought the skeletal building to life on film through the crew of 3400 construction workers–mainly immigrants from Newfoundland and Scandinavia, as well as Irish-Americans and Mohawk ironworkers from the Kahnawake reserve near Montreal. To match the fearless competence of these men “‘”strolling on the thin edge of nothingness,’” as described by C. G. Poore in the New York Times, Hine had to take extreme measures. His remarkable, floating photographs–now available online in the NYPL digital collection–do not reveal the lengths the photographer went to in order to capture the laborers’ daring feats. “In order to obtain the best vantage points, Hine was swung out in a specially designed basket 1,000 feet above Fifth Avenue.”

Less than two years after it was opened by President Hoover in 1931, the Empire State Building was immortalized in the 1933 classic movie King Kong. Juxtaposing the animal kingdom with an urban jungle, the mammoth gorilla meets his end perched atop the Empire State Building, swatting planes from the sky and clutching his delicate human prize. Although the original and remakes use footage shot on soundstages and rely heavily on special effects, King Kong helped to embed the Empire State Building in people’s minds as a permanent fixture in the New York City skyline.

Even after the World Trade Centers surpassed its height in the early 1970s, the Empire State Building went on to have a long, storied film career. Synonymous with the Big Apple, the structure has become representative of American prosperity and ambition.

It has featured in the destruction wrought by dystopian films, like Independence Day (1996) and Oblivion (2013), as a symbol of human achievement pitted against the destructive forces of alien invaders and Mother Nature. It has appeared in superhero films, like The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and Superman II (1980), as a hallmark of New York pride and perseverance. It has been depicted in movies like Elf (2003) and Muppets Take Manhattan (1984) as a signal for New York newcomers. It has figured into romcoms like An Affair to Remember (1957), When Harry Met Sally (1989), and–perhaps most famously–Sleepless in Seattle (1993), as a crucial rendezvous, a measure of long-distance relationships, and a metaphor for larger-than-life love. And since 9/11, the Empire State Building has become even more critical to the New York cityscape–as a sign of American endurance.

NYC’s New Statue of Liberty Museum Will Open in 2019

NYC’s New Statue of Liberty Museum Will Open in 2019

The Statue of Liberty is one of the most iconic landmarks in New York City, not to mention all of America and the world. A gift from France and welcoming beacon to immigrants, Lady Liberty has a storied history. It stands to reason that there should be a museum to honor her legacy and the many citizens she’s ushered into the United States.

This will be exactly the case on Ellis Island come 2019. A $70 million dollar museum is being built in devotion to the 130-year-old statue’s compelling past, present, and history. A groundbreaking ceremony on October 6, 2016 unveiled gorgeous renderings of the Statue of Liberty Museum, which will be designed by NYC-based architecture firm FXFOWLE.

The museum is a collaboration between the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation and the National Park Service. Entry will be included in the $18 ferry ticket price; this way, all visitors to Ellis Island will have access to what’s shaping up to be a stunning exhibit.

According to Business Insider, the 26,000 square foot museum will have four segments. First is the entrance way, featuring a mural comprised of 50-star sculptures made from iron bars donated by Gustave Eiffel, the architect of the Eiffel Tower. These bars supported the statue for 100 years, and will now serve as a gorgeous and patriotic embellishment for the new museum.

Further inside, a theater space will introduce visitors to the museum and the Statue of Liberty’s history. Past the theater, an area called the Engagement Gallery will take the experience further with interactive exhibits that detail the intricacies of the statue’s construction.

Lastly, a beautiful exit space will let visitors add their own photos and signatures to an interactive wall, allowing them a place in the Statue of Liberty’s living legacy. The entire museum will be constructed out of the same material as the statue—Stony Creek granite, bronze, and plaster—while a beautiful grass-covered roof keeps the space lush and green.

As New York City evolves, it’s always exciting to see our most treasured historic relics honored by new development projects. Many of us can trace our ancestry to Ellis Island, so its significance in American history cannot be overstated. In its early stages, the new museum appears to do our country, city, and ancestors proud. As this project comes to life, it will no doubt become another chapter in the Statue of Liberty’s incredible story, making the destination all the more memorable for tourists and New Yorkers alike.

Secret Rooms and Passages in NYC Real Estate

Secret Rooms and Passages in NYC Real Estate

When it comes to New York City real estate, most residents wish they had more space: to open up a wall and discover a whole extra room would be nothing short of a dream come true. But in a city with 27,000 people per square mile — the highest population density of any major US city — what you see is what you get, and usually what you pay for too.

But the idea of hidden rooms and passageways, even in New York City, is more than just the subject of millennial imaginations. A recent New York Times article tackled just that: hidden spaces, both new and old.

The older hidden spaces, surveyed by the Times, served practical purposes. In one Brooklyn church, for example, a stairway leads to a secret basement the size of a city block, once part of the Underground Railroad. Inside the Brooklyn Bridge, there’s a hidden Cold War bunker. Though you might enjoy the idea of secret passages for the novelty, many people have relied on them historically to stay safe.

That’s not to say secret rooms can only be bunkers. One couple in Brooklyn, for example, discovered a crawl space large enough to transform into a quirky playroom for their young daughter. Others pay contractors like Creative Home Engineering as much as $25,000 to build secret rooms into their homes for aesthetic or personal reasons.

In her three-bedroom apartment on 15th Street and Fifth Avenue, finance worker Sara Nainzadeh had a secret entrance built, opening up to a private office by a tug on a Shel Silverstein book. Asides from storing her safe, the room acts as a retreat from the world.

A couple in TriBeCa, the Watsons, have a secret room built entirely for books: a secret library that doubles as a guest room. Their Duplex on Warren Street is selling for $19.5 million.

Still, others have them implemented as a sort of long-term investment in an uncertain future. With the growing state of technological and government surveillance, many think a private escape is more than worthwhile. If there were needs in the past for such safe spaces, who is to say, 30 years down the line, they won’t be useful again?

Hopefully most of us will never need secret rooms for life or death reasons. But if such spaces do come back in style, why not run with it? A little intrigue in real estate is never a bad thing.