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.

7 Unconventional Date Ideas for Offbeat New Yorkers

7 Unconventional Date Ideas for Offbeat New Yorkers

As anyone on the planning end of a date knows, breaking away from the typical dinner-and-a-movie narrative can be a bit overwhelming. In a city like New York, where urbanites can find almost any activity available in some corner of the city or boroughs, how do you choose the right activity and set the tone for an impressive date that shows off your offbeat interests? If you’re out of ideas, check out the list below for some novel date excursions for you and your special someone.

For sports lovers

For an unusual venue and unconventional sport, check out the Royal Palms Shuffleboard club in Gowanus. You don’t have to book a cruise to get your deck game kicks: this Brooklyn hotspot features 10 shuffleboard courts, DJs, board games, in-house food trucks, and–of course–bars. If you don’t know how to play, court time comes with a free lesson.

For movie lovers

For an old-timey movie date, buy tickets to Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg. Thanks to its own legislative lobbying, Nitehawk Cinema legally serves food and a wide selection of alcohol–including handcrafted cocktails and local beers–during performances. Short of a drive-in, this may be the most romantic dinner and a movie you can find in the city.

For magic lovers

For a delightful dining experience, book two tickets to A Taste of Magic at Gossip restaurant. Roving magicians entertain diners between courses with sleight of hand and magic tricks.

For meditative lovers

For a truly thoughtful and energizing experience amidst a tumultuous time, take your significant other to meditate at MNDFL Mindful Meditation. Mediation can reduce stress, induce calm, and improve your outlook. Together you and your partner can form a new healthy habit and resolve to live more consciously in the new year.

For dance lovers

For a truly one-of-a-kind experience, head on down to Jebon Sushi in the East Village. The St. Marks establishment is home to a weekly show hosted by Kaeshi of Bellyqueen, a professional belly dancing troupe. Along with drinks and food, take in the Arabic, Turkish, and Flamenco fusion jams, enjoy the performers, and show off your own dance skills on the open floor!

For history lovers

For a look at love out of time and an appreciation of how matchmaking and meeting people has changed, take a trip down to the Lower East side. The Tenement Museum offers a peek into early twentieth century courting rituals and the love stories of boarders at 97 Orchard Street in its Love at the Tenement tours on February 10.

For animal lovers

In a truly unique romantic gesture, the Bronx Zoo lets you name a Madagascar hissing cockroach after your special someone, whether an entomophile or an ex. You can also add on chocolate and a plush cockroach for bonus points. The experience of meeting their unlikely namesake on a trip to the zoo is something your significant other won’t forget anytime soon.

NYC Real Estate: Is the Market Softening, or Just Correcting?

NYC Real Estate: Is the Market Softening, or Just Correcting?

As reported by Bloomberg, what began as a softening of the luxury real estate market in New York has expanded to lower-tier properties. The top 20 percent of apartments are now experiencing price cuts.

Changes in real estate values tend to make investors and homeowners break out in a cold sweat, much like swings in the stock market. But, the current trend in New York isn’t anything to panic about. 2016 wasn’t anything like the crash of 2007-2008.  

According to Bloomberg, the luxury market and the tier just under that market (again, the top 20 percent of properties) saw price drops in the 5 to ten percent range.

The definition of a stock market correction is a ten percent drop. The drop, unlike real estate, is often hard to predict, but it’s still considered business-as-usual and not a crash.

In order to keep perspective, it’s important to understand why the real estate market is softening. What’s causing the current dip in New York property prices?

First, 2015 was a “record year for residential building permits in New York City”, according to Slate.

In December 2016, the magazine ran an article that stated, “With developers pressed by expiring loopholes, the city authorized nearly 35,000 new units in the second quarter and nearly 10,000 more in the fourth. Total permits topped 50,000—more than any year since the early 1960s. And many of them aren’t done yet—according to the U.S. Census Bureau, about half of all multi-unit projects take more than 13 months from the permitting date to be completed.”

Translation: the permits issued in 2015 created projects that were being finished in 2016 and early 2017. With those units on the market (or soon to be there), basic supply and demand theory indicates that residential real estate prices will drop.

Yet, New York is still an expensive place to live. Even with the building boom, finding affordable living options is still a challenge.

According to Fortune, “more younger folks are finding themselves attracted to medium-sized cities, which may not have the same professional opportunities as their larger counterparts, but provide housing affordability. Cities like Raleigh, N.C., and Fort Collins, Colo., have seen building permit issuance soar over the past six years as they attract younger adults seeking cheap rents and lower asking prices. Expect the trend to continue in 2017.”

Younger professionals whose wages haven’t kept up with the cost of living are moving to smaller, more affordable cities. So, when they do get to a point that they can afford to buy, they’re not buying in New York. Ironically, that could drive down the housing prices. Fewer buyers and potential buyers means more competition for the buyers that are still in New York.

Finally, there are truly only so many people who can afford high end, luxury, housing, even in New York.

Curbed’s sales market report states, “In 2016, contracts to buy Manhattan houses priced at over $4 million were 21 percent fewer than in the same period in 2015. And the properties that sold sat on the market an average of 291 days, or 54 more days than in the same time last year.”

A $4 million home, with a 20 percent down payment ($1 million) has a monthly mortgage of $21,099.  According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in the first quarter of 2016 Manhattan’s average weekly wage was $2,783.

Not nearly enough to cover the mortgage on a luxury home. So, maybe it is time for a little bit of market correction?

New York City’s Incredible Almost-Buildings

New York City’s Incredible Almost-Buildings

Although New York City is always changing, it’s hard to imagine to imagine it as anything other than what it is. But change is part of New York’s identity. It is manifest in the crowds of people swept up and spilled out of the island metropolis. Even evidence of New York’s history–in the recreated apartments of the Tenement Museum, for example, and the old City Hall subway station–still feel folded up in this vision. New York has endless layers: you can ascend seventy floors in an elevator to get to your office or descend four stories on the escalator to ride the subway.

To imagine another New York–a different New York, rather than one that has previously existed or secretly exists–is a different matter. It rings of an alternate timeline, so anchored is this city’s iconic skyline in its urban identity. Sam Lubell and Greg Goldin have documented just that, though, in their book Never Built New York. By canvassing architectural firms and archives when available, the authors have unearthed designs and plans for a New York that might have been. Not only could these designs have become a reality, but they might have taken the place of other now iconic architecture in the city.

Some projects were closer to inception than others, but many would have radically altered the cityscape. A gigantic dome over Midtown and a floating airport on the Hudson seem some of the more far-fetched ideas, as does an ambitious extension of downtown Manhattan into New York Bay. As the authors point out, however, these ideas may not have seemed so extreme when first proposed. “’It was a time when people really believed in the power of technology,” Lubell says. ‘And they thought, you know, we can do kind of anything. … We’re building spaceships that go to the moon, why can’t we build a dome over Manhattan to get rid of all this pollution, get rid of all the problems of weather?’”

Credit: Stanford University Libraries va pri.org

Credit: Stanford University Libraries va pri.org

That’s all well and good, but what about Frank Lloyd Wright’s proposal to transform Ellis Island into a bubble city? And his plan might have been preferable to the immediate alternatives: a prison or a resort. Ellis Island wasn’t in use for long after WWII, so it makes sense the city would want to develop it. No landmark is sacred, as proved by the demolished old Penn Station. And Grand Central Station isn’t still standing for lack of trying.

Many city landmarks might have looked very different if, for example, City Hall had been rebuilt as a “neo-Egyptian pile” in the style of Scottish architect George Ashdown Audsley around the turn of the turn of the twentieth century. And the Federal Reserve Bank could have been made of glass and elevated many stories above the ground via steel columns!  Speaking of columns, residential towers were once considered for use as supports of bridges spanning city rivers.

Although some of the designs may sound impossible, some would have undoubtedly complemented the city, like Edward Larrabee Barnes’s 1974 biosphere. Some might have improved the skyline, like a Columbus Circle building for ABC designed in 1963 to take the shape of a flower. There’s also the proposed 2004 Olympic Village, situated on the now booming Queens waterfront…

To help New Yorkers and visitors imagine a Big Apple that might have been, the authors are working with the Queens Museum to reconstruct atop the museum’s existing model of the city. The exhibit will open later in 2017.

Featured image: American Weekly via pri.org 

Will Fresh Food-Loving New Yorkers Embrace Urban Agriculture?

Will Fresh Food-Loving New Yorkers Embrace Urban Agriculture?

For all of Central Park, Prospect Park, and the many other parks scattered throughout the city’s boroughs, green space still feels scarce in New York City. Living in a city ironically nicknamed the Big Apple, people all too easily become disconnected from nature and forget that their food–particularly fresh food–must be imported from outside the city limits. How can a city renowned for its cuisine maintain its reputation with such limited access to green space? Farm-to-table takes on a new meaning when the nearest farm is miles and miles away.

Luckily, city dwellers are celebrated for making the most out of small spaces. New Yorkers are famous for it, living as they do in one of the densest cities in the world. But even making the most of space does not guarantee that green things will grow when and where you want them to, particularly in polluted urban conditions. Sustainable rooftops are in development throughout in the city; vertical growing and gardening is also a popular green space saver.

Urban agriculture and green space expansion are increasingly popular investments with offices and residential complexes. They can add significant, long-term value to a real estate holding and heighten the appeal for other investors and buyers. Developing urban agriculture in the form of sustainable rooftops, vertical plant walls, and other designs is also planting a stake in a community, essentially underwriting people and their connection to nature and to each other.

Curbed profiled Gwen Schantz, who fell into the New York urban agriculture landscaping scene as it gained popularity over the past decade. Schantz points out that the disconnect between city dwellers, food sources, and green space makes environmental education even more urgent. “’It can be very difficult for New Yorkers to make connections between themselves and the source of their food,’ Schantz explains. ‘We don’t really connect a lot with nature, we don’t connect a lot with farming, but it’s really important for people to know where food comes from.’”

Urban Land Magazine quotes Sibella Kraus, head of Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE) in Berkeley, saying that “urban agriculture is not just a way to grow vegetables, but also a way to strengthen communities.” Kraus points to cities developing “greenprints” for urban agriculture growth as a strong sign of people’s priorities.

In addition to fresher food, urban agriculture can teach urbanites about the environment and how to better preserve it. “Out of sight, out of mind” cannot hold sway in an age when more people than ever are gravitating toward cities, but the environment is simultaneously suffering a decline caused by human intervention. Now, when we can appreciate fresh food more than ever, we need to take steps to ensure our access and implement sustainable environmental measures. Recognizing urban agriculture as an asset to real estate development aligns business interests and conservation efforts.