The area above Madison Square Park in Manhattan is in a condo- building frenzy. Of course all of Manhattan (and Brooklyn and Queens) is in a condo-building frenzy. But above Madison Square Park there is a particularly feverish keenness to the activity, as the glamor of the Flatiron District moves north to a zone that was formerly best known for its gaudy wig and cheap lingerie wholesalers.
The richie rich are buying, and who can blame them? Proximity to Madison Square Park and the chic shops south of 23rd Street makes for an elegance that is almost Parisian—or at least suggests the possibility of such a way of life.
Huge signs affixed to newly rising high-rises and condo converted prewar office buildings trumpet the glory of living here. But there are other signs, as well.
Barely noticed in the builders’ gold rush, the poorest poor, pushed off the benches of Madison Square Park, take shelter in the very construction sites that signify their doom. When this building is finished, the rich will sleep here. ‘Til then, it’s the poor who do so. And what do they dream?
Had I known that there was an explosion in midtown Manhattan near where my wife works, and that my wife and daughter were out in the ensuing chaos, I would have been far more anxious during my train ride home from Philadelphia last night.
I had gone to the city of brotherly love on business. One of our party misplaced her iPhone, discovering the loss as we were about to board the train back to New York. The odds against her recovering it would kill a game in Vegas. But it is her only phone and she is about to leave the country, so she stayed behind in hopes of locating it. Anxiety on her account, and some guilt at having boarded the train without her, kept me plenty busy on the ride home.
One emerges from the current Penn Station as from a none-too-clean public bathroom.
On emerging from Penn Station as from a none-too-clean public bathroom, I overheard people discussing 9/11. That seemed odd. New Yorkers don’t talk about 9/11; we leave that to politicians. When I reached home, fifteen minutes’ humid walk later, my doorman was also muttering about 9/11. Odder still.
I expected to find my daughter asleep. Not so.
“Can you tell something happened?” my wife asked.
She had seen the explosion while standing about a mile north of it (just as, on September 11th, 2001, she had seen the twin towers on fire from a position on Fifth Avenue about two miles north of the disaster) and asked two firefighters who were also gazing in its direction if the intersection where it had occurred was known. 41st Street, they said. Reassured that our home had not blown up, she went on to the rendezvous where she was to pick up our daughter from her baby-sitter. Our daughter and her baby-sitter were not there. I can imagine my wife’s reaction to that absence. (I knew nothing about it, sitting in a crowded Amtrak car, discussing a client project, and worrying about a missing iPhone.)
Finally our daughter arrived; her baby-sitter was put in a cab; and my wife and daughter attended a birthday party for one of our daughter’s friends—a younger girl who had just turned two. Pizza and cupcakes were served.
At seven, the party ended, and, as at all children’s parties in New York, the guests were shooed out.
Philadelphia is 100 miles from New York. I made it in an hour. It took my wife and daughter two hours to traverse the single mile home. The subways were out, two avenues were closed, the whole world was taking buses or walking north, away from the disaster. Just below the cutoff and oblivious to it, I walked home knowing nothing except that I had had a good meeting in Philadelphia, and had perhaps overdone it on the huevos rancheros at Honey’s Sit ‘n Eat Restaurant.
A steam pipe installed in 1924 ruptured in a thunderous explosion shortly before 6 p.m. today, sending steam, water and debris shooting outward and sending clouds of smoke and dust billowing through Midtown Manhattan at the height of the evening rush. One person died of cardiac arrest, and more than 20 others were injured. The authorities ruled out any criminal activity, saying the explosion was apparently caused by a failure of antiquated infrastructure.
If you live in NYC, or if you’re visiting next week, don’t miss urban futurist Adam Greenfield’s free lecture in the Great Hall of the Cooper Union, “The City Is Here For You To Use: Urban Form and Experience in the Age of Ambient Informatics.”
Monday April 9, 2007 6:30pm
The Great Hall of the Cooper Union
7 East 7th Street, betw. 3rd & 4th Aves, NYC
Free to the public
The Cooper Union School of Art is the only private, full-scholarship college in the United States dedicated exclusively to preparing students for the professions of art, architecture and engineering. The Great Hall is where Abraham Lincoln, with a single speech, transformed himself from an obscure candidate with no chance of becoming president to the hope of a nation. The space itself merits a visit. And it is the perfect setting for Greenfield’s talk on the collaboration between architecture and computing:
Over the past few years the “computer” has begun to disappear into the fabric of everyday life, its power to collect, store, process and represent information diffusing into the objects and surfaces around us. Things as ordinary and seemingly familiar as running shoes, elevators and lampposts have been reimagined as networked devices, invested with unexpected new abilities. Meanwhile, the phones we carry have become ever more powerful “remote controls for our lives.”
Proponents and enthusiasts argue that no domain of human behavior will be untouched by this transformation, but relatively little thought has been given to specifically how these changes might unfold at the scale of the city. How will the advent of a truly ubiquitous computing change our urban places—both the way they’re built, and the way we live them? In this new talk, everyware author Adam Greenfield tries to wrap his head around this dynamic set of conditions, to clarify what’s at stake and to offer some potential frameworks for building humane and livable cities in the age of ambient informatics.
Adam Greenfield is a writer, consultant, and instructor in Urban Computing at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunication Program. His 2006 book everyware: The dawning age of ubiquitous computing, has been acclaimed as “groundbreaking,” “elegant,” and “soulful” by Bruce Sterling, and “gracefully written, fascinating, and deeply wise” by Wired’s Steve Silberman. Before plunging entirely into futurist consulting and writing, Adam was lead information architect at Happy Cog.
Adam’s Cooper Union presentation will be followed by a panel discussion exploring these issues, with participants whose work lives at the very edge of this change: Glowlab’s Christina Ray; Soo-In Yang and David Benjamin of New York architectural practice The Living, and area/code principal Kevin Slavin.
The talk is hosted by The Cooper Union School of Art and The Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography, and organized by Mike Essl, Assistant Professor, School of Art and Emily Roz Saskia Bos, Dean, School of Art.