Saturday, June 27, 2009

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street...Barclays Center?

I was stunned to learn that Brooklyn’s Atlantic-Pacific subway station, a giant underground maze that connects 10 different lines and the Long Island Railroad, is not even among the top ten busiest stations in the City (it ranks 29th in all of NYC with 9,643,487 riders in 2007). In fact, it’s not even the busiest in Brooklyn—that’s Court Street/Borough Hall, which connects only six lines.

No, the busiest stations in New York City are all in Manhattan, and “busy” is measured simply by how many riders pass through the turnstiles. Times Square is the busiest station, with 58,506,230 riders in 2007 on its 12 lines.

Measured by how many lines run through a single station however, Atlantic-Pacific is number two in size. This is what gave me the impression that it was so busy, and of course transfers from line to line -- certainly a logical measurement of busy-ness -- aren't accounted for in the turnstile figures.

All of these thoughts ran through my head as I learned yesterday that Barclays, a London bank that I know nothing about, bought the rights to name the Atlantic-Pacific station from the MTA. Barclays bought Lehman Brothers last year, so their U.S. holdings are growing, but the bank does not have a Brooklyn office. The MTA, which has apparently trying to sell off the names of its stations for years, convinced the bank to buy the station name because it had already bought the rights to name the proposed New Jersey Nets basketball arena near the stop in Brooklyn.

But as the architecture blog BLDG BLOG points out, the $4 million, $200,000/year for 20 years price tag is awfully low. As a measure of how many eyes will see the name, associate it with the bank, and see it as a sign of financial strength and legitimacy, the price seems modest. It seems like the MTA (which is dying for money and will be raising fares from $2 a ride to $2.25 as of June 28) could have asked for more. It is, after all, selling the name of a piece of public property to a private (and foreign) entity.

Blogger Jason Kottke points out that many stations already have brand names, some of them quite old:
Rockefeller Center
Columbia University
JFK Airport
Museum of Natural History
Lincoln Center
Hunter College
Yankee Stadium
Aqueduct Racetrack
Times Square
Herald Square
NY Aquarium
World Trade Center
Brooklyn Museum
It’s interesting to note though that when the New York Mets opened their new stadium, Citi Field (for which they will pay $400 million over 20 years), they passed on buying the nearby subway stop (which is currently called Mets/Willets Point).

Were it not for the difficulty the MTA has had in selling off station names (the Times says the MTA has been trying for five years), one would be concerned for all stations.

No one is saying yet what exactly the station will be called—maybe it’ll just be named after the basketball arena. Some have been speculating that the Barclays name will just be tacked onto the existing name, making it longer and more awkward.

I think what offends New Yorkers about the whole thing the most is the fleeting nature of stadium names and endorsement deals these days. To all Americans, it seems as capricious as new celebrity products (for example, rapper 50 Cent is coming out with his own cologne. The late Ed McMahon had a vodka.).

I remember when the Utah Jazz basketball arena was called the Delta Center, after the airline. As of late 2006, it’s called the EnergySolutions Arena. It changed when Delta decided to cancel their 15 years contract. EnergySolutions, which describes itself as “a world leader in the safe recycling, processing and disposal of nuclear material,” stepped in and apparently paid at least as much as the reported $1.3 million a year as Delta was shelling out. At the time, The New York Times reported that fans were already making fun of the new sponsors, coming up with nicknames for the arena like: The Glow Bowl, the Isotope, the Dump, ChernoBowl, JazzMat (“short for Jazzardous Materials”), the Big Bang, the Tox Box, the Fallout Shelter, and the Melta Center.

When these things are bought and sold like this, it lends an air of impermanence to what should be stable landmarks. But then, they don’t build arenas and stadiums like they used to.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Ice Cream

Via Utne Reader, a Russian ice cream ad featuring our new president.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Further Proof That America is Crumbling

This breaking medical alert from a Yahoo fashion and beauty page: "Why not to wear skinny jeans: nerve damage." OMG! That's like frightening. According to Yahoo, which is according to MSNBC and CBS,
"One skinny jean wearer, Parmeeta Ghoman, went to her doctor because it felt like she was like 'floating' and she couldn't like feel her legs. 'It felt really, like, strange — it felt like my leg had gone to sleep,' says Ghoman. Another woman from this CBS report said her jean pain was so bad that her doctor now has her taking anti-seizure medicine to control her symptoms."
(All likes mine, inserted for realism.)

“I’m the kind of person who buys shoes two sizes too small just because they’re cute — and they’re on sale,” admitted the hapless Ghoman.

But wait, there's more! Says MSNBC, "And in the 1970s, rumors circulated of snug jeans causing infertility in men and yeast infections in women." Somebody should do something.


Against the Green

Without totally missing the point of John Cloud’s Time Magazine article Competitive Altruism: Being Green in Public, I’d like to take issue with a few minor items. The article begins,
“Many people on both the right and the left like to portray environmentalism as sacrifice — denying oneself some kind of pleasure (a heated pool, extra space in an SUV, the convenience of dry cleaning) in order to help save the planet. Conservatives do so partly because they believe pursuing self-interest in the form of material pleasures is necessary for the proper functioning of markets. Liberals do so because they believe rampant materialism can distort the proper functioning of democracies (and because "Yes We Can" T shirts don't need dry cleaning anyway). But what if environmentalism didn't really involve sacrifice in the first place?”
He’s not going where I though he was going, which would be something like, “hey, green products are getting so good that...” or “manufacturers and consumers alike have been discovering that they save money in the long run.”

No. Instead, he’s turning a negative—essentially that people like environmentalism for the wrong reasons—into a positive: look at the status you gain by being green! Green is the new expensive!

So that sacrifice he mentioned is actually still there. I’m still losing space in my SUV, I’m still swimming in a cold pool and my clothes still aren’t clean. But my neighbor is trying to out green me by removing his pool, wearing stinky clothes and trading his Prius for a lousy Honda Insight. (Photo of stretched Prius via:

This competitive mechanism is alarming when you apply to something less benign than environmentalism. When I hear crap like this, a curmudgeonly contrarian side of me comes out, sneers, and starts to mutter misanthropic oaths.

Would I, as Cloud suggests many do, buy a florescent bulb out of some smarmy desire for status among my poor friends? Oh, I hope not. No, I’ll keep my hot, wasteful incandescents because the light they cast can be dimmed and because it doesn’t give me headache or make my friends look ashen and wan. You know what’s green? My tiny apartment and the fact that I’m not home very much.

Cloud writes, “Evolutionary psychologists have a cynical term for cooperative, procommunity behaviors like buying a Prius or shopping at Whole Foods or carrying a public-radio tote bag: competitive altruism.”

I’ll start with the Prius. Many of us already knew of this “competitive altruism” business because of the smug way so many Prius owners have been carrying themselves since the homely hybrid came out. How else can you explain why people would waste money and perfectly good used cars to acquire a car that falls so short of green expectations?

And yes, we’re all familiar with the damn public radio and TV totes. They’ve been the bag of choice among backslidden hippies for decades. It’s the awful “I’m NOT a Plastic Bag” totes he should have referenced. This microtrend caused a pretty quick and much deserved backlash: the “I’m NOT a smug twat” bag.

For people like me who use those plastic bags from grocery stores and bodegas as trash bags (and don’t buy other trash bags, thus saving a few bucks), the smugness was particularly irritating. The answer must be biodegradable shopping bags that don’t break down as soon as something wet (like garbage) hits it.

Finally, the Whole Foods issue. I’ve refused to shop at Whole Foods since the first Minnesota outlet opened on Grand Avenue in St. Paul about 12 years ago. Initially, I avoided it because it was callously anti-union, unlike other local grocery stores, and not employee-owned/run like local co-ops. The problem with Whole Foods is that it rides on the affordable and sustainable reputation of co-ops, and yet it is neither. It’s more like a grocery Wal-Mart gone upscale and green, and to think that shopping there is in itself some sort of responsible green action, as Cloud suggests, is ludicrous and offensive.

I still won’t shop at Whole Foods, not just because I cannot afford it, but because I am reacting to my friends who still ask me with furrowed brows, “Why is it again that you won’t shop there?” As if I’m punishing myself. No, dammit, I’m taking a tiny stand, and the more people ask me the more vocal and indignant I become. Call it competitive contrarianism.

The most interesting thing about Cloud’s piece is the studies that he cites about competitive altruism. To me it’s less about the altruism and more about the social competitions we apparently engage in instinctively. As long as this works toward a beneficial end, like promoting more sustainable manufacturing methods, habits and products, it’s a good thing.

Quote of the Day: Michael Bastian

“It’s crazy, I can’t even afford my clothes.”
Poor Michael Bastian. The designer of $600 cut-off shorts told The New York Times' David Colman that in an otherwise glowing article this week.

Bastian's menswear is made in Italy, and he told The Times that it may not last if his manufacturer can't cut costs by 30 percent. “Right now, it hurts a little too much. It should hurt a little, but it shouldn’t kill ’em. That’s the law of designer clothes.”

As the economy continues to tank and schadenfreude sets in, it's awfully tempting to dismiss the over-grown luxury sector. But.... But what? I'm sorry I have no sympathy if you can't sell a $425 dress shirt, not now, not in any economy. Such grotesquely priced apparel should never be more than a miniscule niche market. Come on. I can get a beautiful dress shirt made exclusively for me to my exact specifications by American workers right here in the New York area for half that.

While Bastian's designs are lauded for being wearable right off the runway (a relative rarity even in menswear; Bastian says, "The easiest thing is to create something no one has ever seen before. There’s a reason no one’s ever seen it — because someone tried it, and it didn’t work in the real world.”), wearable should not be confused with affordable. It's still a brand and it's still very high-end. Ultimately, Bastian's customers are spending on Italian fabrics and construction, but also on his name. Standard mark-up in the apparel world is more than double, which is why retailers can still make a profit after big sales.

However, the luxury apparel market is beginning to see that it may have suffered a permanent loss. The simple fact is that we got too greedy. The first sign of the retail apocalypse was when Chinese knock-off accessories (handbags, sunglasses) became acceptable among otherwise scrupulous women. As a cultural demand for luxury outpaced middle class pocketbooks, the culture compensated by allowing imitations and forgeries. Stories would circulate that these fake Chanel shades were made in the same factory as the real ones -- they were only fake because they weren't sanctioned by Chanel.

We've been forced to re-examine what luxury is and who deserves it. Is it merely exceptionally high-quality goods? Or is it just arbitrarily expensive goods? Is it gauche to show logos? Should we hide our purchases in plain bags? Does anyone give a shit? Is saving money right now and paying down debt un-American?


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