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.

The Impact of Decreased Car Ownership on Real Estate Markets

The Impact of Decreased Car Ownership on Real Estate Markets

Ridesharing and carsharing services like Uber, Lyft, and Zipcar are already decreasing the need for car ownership, particularly for people living in crowded urban areas. Uber and Lyft are also simultaneously building an autonomous fleet of self-driving cars, further reducing the car requirement. Taken together, these trends will drastically change the face of transportation and commuting in a country currently heavily reliant on cars. If both ridesharing and driverless cars seriously undercut the once unquestioned obligation of car ownership, what impact will this lifestyle shift have on the real estate market?

Transportation historically triggers growth. Cities have grown up around major ports of call, with transportation extensions unfurling outwards from these hubs. People have organized their lives around access (to work, school, food, entertainment, nightlife, etc.), but time and convenience have borne the cost. So once the issue of access has been addressed in favor of time and convenience, what options open up for commuters?

The availability and affordability of ridesharing, combined with driverless cars, will likely lead to expanded urban sprawl. Workers will no longer need to invest in expensive urban real estate when they can simply move farther away. The accessibility of remote working technology can even monetize their commute. Rush hour is no longer a threat, since you can capitalize on the extra time in the car by working, communicating, organizing–even eating, sleeping, or exercising!

Ridesharing and driverless vehicles may eventually be preferable and economical in terms of comfort, efficiency and even the environment, compared to urban and regional public transit options. This Chicago Tribune editorial compares the outcome of driverless cars to the evolution of the smartphone, extending that analogy beyond providing a digital footprint to solving for in-person appearance.

Once commuters arrive at work, they surely will not miss the extra hassle of parking their car–it will either park itself or pick up another fare. This means parking lot space and restrictions will be drastically reduced, freeing up real estate–especially expensive urban real estate–and precipitating development. Businesses and apartment tenants will also be off the hook for financing parking levels in their buildings. Real estate development will, likewise, have less to worry about once building codes reflect minimized parking requirements.

Even homeowners will directly feel the effects, as ridesharing and self-driving cars free up garage space for storing, living, redecorating, and renting. TechCrunch predicts the self-storage industry could take a hit and Airbnb could see more business, as homeowners reclaim an estimated 15% of living space.

The revolution doesn’t stop at recovering precious time and square footage: former car owners will also save a tremendous amount once they eliminate insurance premiums, car repairs, and maintenance costs. This increased spending capacity will certainly influence other industries in unforeseen ways.

However, the revolution is still a decade or two in the future. The rate of urban versus rural transition will certainly vary, determined by infrastructure, regulation, and demand. And self-driving cars have a ways to go, to account for safety, economy, reliability, and availability. But when all the pieces align, the real estate market will inevitably be stimulated, and people may finally regain that most elusive commodity: time.

How Food Trucks Give Real Estate a Delicious Boost

How Food Trucks Give Real Estate a Delicious Boost

We are all aware that the way of shopping is changing: more people are opting to shop online and sales in brick-and-mortar stores are suffering. Closures of JCPenney and Sears have threatened to close entire malls, since these anchors – otherwise known as key tenants — tend to drive traffic to the rest of the mall.

Surprisingly, even Macy’s flagship store in New York City considered selling its space. Although e-commerce may be driving consumers away from malls and shopping centers, food is reeling them back in.

From Necessity to Obsession

This growth may have something to do with the newfound food obsession taking over social media. Just think about the number of “food porn” posts, enticing recipe videos from BuzzFeed’s Tasty, and the unique “how it’s made” videos from INSIDER food you see daily. In addition, millennials now value experiences — such as eating interesting and unique foods – over owning material items. And according to The Pew Research Center, millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation, meaning this is the core group advertisers want to appeal to the most.  

So, what type of food is bringing people back to shopping centers? You would expect that it might be trendy fast-casual restaurants like Shake Shack or Panera that are bringing people in. However, it’s the fast-changing and diverse population of food trucks that are bringing crowds back to these shopping locations.

Why Food Trucks?

“Food trucks are basically the pop-ups of the restaurant business,” said Melina Cordero, CBRE’s head of retail research in the Americas. “They come in, they can set up, they’re low cost, and they’re constantly changing.”

Today’s consumers are craving diverse options of specialty ethnic foods that are prepared and served quickly. However, food trends change so rapidly that it’s hard for brick-and-mortar restaurants to keep up. This is a perfect storm for food trucks. It’s a low-cost and fast way to give consumers what they want, and restaurateurs who don’t want to take a big risk can still cash in on the restaurant business. The trends and trucks change and move so frequently in fact, that this website tracks where food trucks are based on your zip code or the type of cuisine you’re looking for.

With all these amazing “blink-if-you-miss-it” opportunities to experience a diverse array of food, people want to try it as soon as they can so they don’t miss out. So let them focus on eating at a specialty food truck that’s parked outside your store – because these customers might wander in to take a look at, and maybe even purchase, your merchandise.

What This Means for Real Estate

Let the food trucks do the work for you to bring sales to your stores. If the truck is extremely popular and lines are always long, you can almost guarantee there will be a lot foot traffic – to both the food truck AND your store.

While people are waiting in line, they’ll look around at their surroundings. If they happen to be standing in front on your store, they might want to purchase the warm fleece jacket on display in the window. If you get enough people who plan to buy your merchandise while waiting in a food truck line, you’ll make a profit without having to put out any money yourself.

Although it might seem like a large crowd outside of your store can be a nuisance, this might be a sure-fire way to bring more foot traffic into your store, which will bring more money into your company’s pocket.

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.

Bike Lanes in NYC: The Good, the Bad, and the Congested

Bike Lanes in NYC: The Good, the Bad, and the Congested

There is a renaissance of cycling across the country, and New York is no exception. More commuters than ever are choosing to bike, a shift that collectively cuts down fossil fuel emissions and keeps urbanites active, if not a bit sweaty. To encourage biking and make room for its growth, many cities are implementing projects to become bike-friendly. In New York City, these have been more divisive than you’d expect.

Car-centric Manhattan has never been biking mecca like Denmark’s Copenhagen and likely never will be. While it did have its boom back in the late 19th century, at which time some major streets in Brooklyn were constructed with bikes in mind, the fad died out before long. After cars became affordable, most of the decades following streets were designed strictly for motorized vehicles. The main island’s narrow streets and heavy traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, have since made cycling a hazard.

Since 1990, biking in NYC has increased by 320 percent, and 68 percent between 2010 and 2014. Now that biking is returning in a big way, the trend has to reckon with cars’ legacy in an increasingly crowded city. Depending on who you ask, modern bike lanes are either a blessing or a curse, as balancing the needs of different types of commuters has proven more difficult than anticipated.

Veteran taxi drivers and residents will tell you how different city streets were just 20 years ago, and their opinions are by and large the same: bike lanes make things worse. While helpful for bikers and good for energy efficiency, they complicate the rules of the road. Drivers get confused, slow down, and traffic gets backed up. Smooth sailing? Not unless you’re a biker, and even then, you might still get hit: biking fatalities number in the hundreds each year, and even spiked in 2014.

Bike lanes should in theory make things safer, but anti-bike advocates have called their implementation “monstrous” and “truly offensive”, with some claiming that the Department of Transportation has vastly overstated their benefits. They take up valuable road space, cut lanes of car traffic from three to two and make it difficult for taxis to pick up customers without getting ticketed. Drivers say that in spite of lanes, many bikers don’t follow the rules.

Those in favor of bike lanes, including Mayor Bloomberg, who made them part of his legacy, argue that they don’t increase congestion and actually stimulate the economy, since pedestrians and bikers are likely to patron local businesses. Further, the implementation of Citi Bikes across the city has enjoyed immense popularity in spite of some problems.

It seems like drivers and bikers will never agree on the merits of bike lanes, but one thing is for sure: the city’s many pedestrians are neutral as long as there are no bikers on the sidewalk.

8 Insider Secrets of The American Museum of Natural History

8 Insider Secrets of The American Museum of Natural History

When you think of the American Museum of Natural History, you might think of taxidermy–still life–but not the spur-thighed tortoise brothers Mud and Hermes who live in the herpetology department, or the famous naturalist who inspired Indiana Jones.

For a museum about natural history, AMNH certainly has a long and storied human history, involving explorers, scientists, donors, researchers, visitors, and New Yorkers–even a turtle or two. The Night at the Museum movies show the exhibits coming alive, but the truth is the museum is already very much alive: pushing research through expeditions, spearheading conservation efforts, planting time capsules, hosting live animals, displaying meteorites and collecting stardust, awarding degrees, and bearing the marks of its city and citizens (as detailed by the Village Voice in its 2008 “Best of” edition).

Here are some sensational stories about one of New York City’s most interesting institutions.

1. A rocky start (pun intended)

Envisioned by Albert S. Bickmore and supported by influential New Yorkers, the American Museum of Natural History first manifested in 1871 as an exhibit in the Central Park Arsenal building. Just five years later, the museum garnered over a million visitors annually. In 1877 the museum upgraded to Manhattan Square in the Upper West Side. However, attendance dropped with the move, and the museum soon found itself in hot water with the purchase of costly collections.

In 1880 the museum nearly shut down, but founder Morris K. Jesup stepped in. Over the course of a quarter century, the museum’s third president grew the museum exponentially in terms of employees, exhibition space, and–crucially–funding.

2. “It belongs in a museum!”

Roy_Chapman_Andrews_50488rJesup also changed the way the museum acquired its artifacts by launching expeditions and sending specialists into the field. One of those specialists may have been the character inspiration for Indiana Jones: naturalist Roy Chapman Andrews. In the early twentieth century, Andrews worked his way up at the museum until he was “leading the historic expeditions through Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, where his team discovered many new mammal and dinosaur fossils, including the first nests of dinosaur eggs, according to the museum.”


The museum participated in and led other groundbreaking expeditions, contributing to the discovery of the North Pole and the mapping of unexplored areas in Siberia, Mongolia, and the Congo. “Though the pace has slowed, expeditions continue to this day. Among 2013’s expeditions were intensive fieldwork on scorpions in Israel and Jordan and finding new bioluminescent underwater species in the Solomon Islands.” The story behind the Whitney Hall of Oceanic Birds, chronicled by Jonathan Meiburg in The Appendix, is an example of one of the museum’s daring, grueling, groundbreaking expeditions turned exhibition.

3. Friends in high places

The museum’s founding was supported by movers and shakers like J.P. Morgan, Andrew Hasswell Green, and Theodore Roosevelt. Civil War general and U.S. president Ulysses S. Grant laid the museum building’s cornerstone, according to a New York Times article from 1874. Naturalist, New York governor, U.S. president, and wild game hunter Teddy Roosevelt donated animals to the museum, including an elephant that is now part of the herd of displayed in the Akeley Hall of African Mammals.

4. Jewel Heist

If you’ve ever thought of museums as stuffy, there may actually be a very good reason for it. A window in the Morgan Hall of Gems that was left cracked open for ventilation afforded acrobatic burglars entrance to the museum, and defunct burglar alarms allowed them to make off with incredibly valuable gems.

On October 29, 1964, after casing the place for a week, Jack Roland Murphy, or “Murph the Surf,” and Allan Dale Kuhn stole high-carat jewels like the Star of India, Midnight Star, De Long Star Ruby and Eagle Diamond. All but the latter were later recovered, and the robbers caught, but the heist made history.

5. The Blue Whale is not falling

According to senior project major Stephen Quinn in TimeOut, the workers who first installed the famous blue whale in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life in 1969 played a prank on a concerned manager. This manager used a piece of wood that fit between the floor and whale’s chin when standing. Every day, the manager would use the pole to ensure the suspended whale was not sinking. So workers extended the pole’s length slightly by gluing some sawdust on the end so that the manager would believe the whale was slowly falling.


6. Behind the scenes

At any given time, only about 3% of the museum’s collection (comprising over 30 million artifacts) are on display. If you’re picturing the endless warehouse into which the feds wheeled Indiana Jones’s prize find–the Ark of the Covenant–you’re on the right track. According to a backstage tour documented in a dramatically-scored found footage video by Tech Insider, “The museum’s collection is so extensive that audits have led to the discovery of unknown species sitting right on the shelves.”

The video reveals the skull of a dire wolf unearthed in the LA tar pits, an amber collection featuring a 20-million-year-old butterfly and a 100-million-year-old lizard, and “two prehistoric-looking fish have been sitting in alcohol since the 1950s. Scientists thought the coelacanth went extinct more than 65 million years ago.” If that’s not creepy enough, in an Interstellar-esque twist, the museum basement houses over 100,000 tissue samples preserved in liquid nitrogen, so that “if a catastrophe hit New York tomorrow, these specimens would remain frozen for 5 weeks.”

Mental Floss documented a similar scene behind closed doors, noting that the museum has a rare example of a great auk–a penguin-looking bird extinct since 1844–that was once owned by Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew. A 25-foot long giant squid accidentally caught by a New Zealand fisherman is also housed in the museum, though in pieces: the body is kept in a large tank and the beak is preserved in a jar sitting on the desk of the paleontology curator.

The 21,000-carat gem the Brazilian Princess can also be found at the museum. This jewel was cut in the 70s using specialized equipment, since it was the largest ever cut at the time. According to George Harlow, curator of the division of physical sciences, “‘[…] we had a plan that when the Statue of Liberty had its centennial, a jewelry designer was going to come up with a ring mount to go on the [statue’s] finger.’”

The museum also curates a vast library of over half a million texts.

7. Conservation

Despite its many taxidermied subjects (the museum no longer employs this still-life method), the American Museum of Natural History actively participates in conservation efforts, including launching the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation (CBC). “[…] The CBC has conducted site-specific conservation work in British Columbia, working with indigenous groups to preserve native wildlife such as grizzly bears in the Great Bear Rainforest; in the Solomon Islands working to improve land use and protect natural resources; and in inland Southeast Asia, where it discovered previously unrecorded species of amphibians, small mammals, invertebrates and birds.”

8. Continued Learning

The American Museum of Natural History is also the first museum in the country to grant advanced degrees: specifically PhDs in comparative biology. Accredited in 2009, the Richard Gilder Graduate School graduated its first students in 2013.