A vision of Hudson Yards. Source: KPF (fair use).

This story is consistent with what I’ve been hearing, and it suggests that the growing unionization of the New York metropolitan workforce is being driven by strength in the real estate sector.

It’s going to be a strong few years for new construction in the Tri-state area. Hudson Yards is now seriously getting underway; the Cornell-Technion project is gaining momentum; and the redevelopment of the World Trade Center continues. Add to these the residential booms in Northern Brooklyn and Western Queens; the blue-collar renaissance of the West Bronx; de Blasio’s push for more affordable housing units, citywide; the commodification of NYC residential units, and the sliverscrapers it has spawned; and the potential upzoning of East Midtown; and it’s hard to miss seeing that New York real estate is entering a significant phase of expansion. If confidence fades, this could change, but a lot of these projects are already approved and financed, and right now the momentum remains strong.

This, right now, is a heyday for New York City. America may still be in moderately bad shape, post-2008, but New York City has never been wealthier, safer, more polished, or more in demand. The uptick in local construction activity is creating a lot of new union jobs in Greater New York, which is good for working people’s incomes — and it signals their growing political clout, as well.


1928 plan.

The MetLife North Building is situated at 11 Madison Avenue, between East 24th and East 25th Streets. Begun in 1928 as the new headquarters of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., it was annexed to the historic MetLife Tower (completed in 1909, and modeled on the Venetian Campanile de San Marco) just next door, at the corner of East 23rd. Note the grand entryways at each of the four corners of the block, and the layers of stepbacks — quite a bit of design detail for an awkwardly proportioned, 29-story building.

It seems that the MetLife North was originally slated to be the tallest building in the world when ground was broken. Here’s a scale model of the original design (right), with 100 floors. But construction was stopped abruptly in 1933, as the Great Depression settled in and New York real estate ground to a near halt. After the war, the building was wrapped up at its current height — the tower was never built.


432 Park Av., NYC.

New York magazine has a good, long-form article about the trend toward using New York City residential real estate as a place to park — and sometimes clean — capital. I can’t help but think this is a bubble, in which the investment trend, itself, is beginning to drive the market more than the actual parameters of real estate supply and demand. But the trend is strong, and shows few signs of burning out in the near future. This statistic blew me away:

And so New Yorkers … compete for scarce inventory with investors who may seldom even turn on a light switch. The Census Bureau estimates that 30 percent of all apartments in the quadrant from 49th to 70th Streets between Fifth and Park are vacant at least ten months a year.

Incredible. Overall, it was a very interesting piece, and well worth the time it takes to read.

LED lighting at fountains in Trafalgar Square, London. Photo: David Iliff, License: CC-BY-SA 3.0.

LED lighting in Trafalgar Square, London. Image: David Iliff (CC-BY-SA 3.0).

Fast Company has an article about the future of LED lighting, and its potential to alter the settings in which it’s used. The piece seems like a bit of a plug for Philips, and its Hue platform, but the substance is really on the cutting edge. One could easily imagine complex and creative lighting schemes becoming a major component of of the design and aesthetics end of urban planning. International Dark Sky Association already has a model lighting ordinance; the potential for outdoor mood lighting, productivity lighting, and safety lighting just adds to the scope of the artificial lighting questions that will inevitably be considered and mediated by land use laws. And it will dovetail quite nicely with other aesthetic components — what I would call mood-zoning (color palettes, scent design) — that can permit very creative distinctions between planned places. This piece is sure to get anyone’s imagination going.

The WSJ has a neat documentary about Hong Kong’s late, great Kowloon Walled City, which was torn down just about 20 years ago this spring. The KWC has intrigued me ever since I saw a late-night documentary about its imminent demolition when I was about 10 years old. The KWC’s legal history is an interesting factor in how it came to be: The tiny plot of land that housed the neighborhood was a no-man’s-land of disputed territory, technically Chinese, though ungoverned by China or the Crown colony during British rule, until 1997.

The absence of a sovereign legal authority led to an almost purely laissez-faire development pattern, which, in the midst of an intensely competitive land market like Hong Kong’s, meant extreme density and a lack of both sunlight and adequate sanitation. But in addition to its infamous depravity, the KWC also spurred some incredibly resourceful activities, inexpensive shelter for a lot of people, and an intense attachment by many of its residents. Ultimately, the creativeness and mystery of KWC strike me as its most interesting elements.

What’s there today? A park.

Above is some video that I took of the September 11th Memorial around 5 pm yesterday. It was my first time seeing it, and also my first time walking through what used to be called Tobin Plaza, since 2001. What can be said? The architects and planners did good work. I thought the external Memorial’s effect was powerful, without being overtly depressing. I found it interesting that while the new Trade Center buildings are asymmetrical in design, the elements of the memorial Plaza — the pools, of course, but also the seating, the paving stones, the ivy beds, the lamps — are all very symmetrical, like a series of subtle echoes of the Yamasaki buildings that were lost. I don’t know yet if I’ll visit the museum, which opened this week to some, and opens soon to all.

Here are some still photos of the Plaza. The North and South Pools correspond to the footprints of the former towers, respectively: