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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Dyker Heights Lights

This was originally posted three years ago, but I've had a couple of requests for it again. I haven't been to Dyker Heights yet this season, but the houses that have the huge displays stay pretty consistent year-to-year. As such, I imagine this map is still pretty accurate. I'll update it if I notice anything different next time I'm there. 

You don't have to go to Dyker Heights to see crazy Christmas displays – pretty much any neighborhood with the magic combination of detached houses and Italians will do the trick. Houses at Westervelt and Pelham Parkway in the Bronx, Beach 144th and Neponsit in the Rockaways, East 93rd street and Flatlands in Canarsie, and 81st street at Colonial in Bay Ridge all easily rival the big displays of Dyker Heights.

But Dyker Heights has quantity along with quality. I've included a handy-dandy map of the highlights below. The map is for the heart of the area - surrounded by 15th Avenue, 86th street, the Gowanus Expressway, and 79th street - but you'll find lights well beyond these borders.

Now, keep in mind that pretty much every block in this area has at least one house that would take the cake on whatever street you live on. With that being said, red blocks are streets that are especially worth a stroll down, while blue blocks are can't-miss. Green points mark exceptional displays, and bathrooms (Nathan's and Bklyn Pizza) are indicated by the familiar symbol. The area's about equidistant from the R at 77th street or 86th street on the west, or the D at 79th street or 18th Avenue on the east.

View Larger Map

As you walk around, the displays start to seem a bit repetitive. You notice the same sparkling reindeers, inflated ferris wheels, and Christmas Countdown clocks. For the really big boys (and some of the smaller guys) I'm pretty sure the lights remain a labor of love, but for others the yard signs proclaiming designs by B&R Decorators and V&J Lighting show that the Dyker Heights lights are mostly about the social pressure of keeping up with the customs of the neighborhood.

No, no pictures – go see them for yourself. If you can't take the schlep, check out Gothamist or Flickr.

Tracts Walked: B140, B144, B146, B148, B150 (every street in tract), B186, B184, B170

Monday, November 7, 2011


There are many neighborhoods in New York where I'm reminded of my Grandparents - huge swaths of Southern Brooklyn, half of Queens Boulevard, a few scattered blocks of the east Bronx even. There should be. My grandparents are part of one of largest, and most culturally influential groups ever to hit New York - part of the great wave of immigrants and their children from the shtetels of Eastern Europe. Even today, almost 100 years after it ended, that culture has remained. The people who make it up may not be so numerous anymore, but it still has a while before it fades completely from the neighborhoods it once dominated

There are fewer neighborhoods where I'm reminded of my parents - middle-class liberal boomer Jews. You'd think that would be a big demographic in New York, one which has left a sizable imprint on the city as a whole. And it has - but it's an imprint that's not really rooted in specific geography, one where the residents have transmitted a character that's stuck to the streets. Most neighborhoods where you would think it might be encountered have either remained with that feeling of my grandparents' world, or been transformed into a kind of generic yuppiness. One of the few places (small parts of Flatbush being the only others that comes to mind right away) I've found it has been in Riverdale.

I never thought I'd like Riverdale - because the combination of its name, middle-class residents and relative suburbaness, it was always put out there in the public consciousness as kind of a souless and uninteresting contrast to the rest of the Bronx - a simplistic and inaccurate narrative for both sides of the divide, but one which I fell for.

It turns out I do like Riverdale, very much. Part of it is because it reminds me of a world I know and love, part of it is because it's one of those neighborhoods that feels like it retained its same basic character for the last 30 years as the city has changed dramatically around it -one of the few neighborhoods in New York where you don't feel like you're just seeing a snapshot of a state of flux. But most of it is because walking around it is interesting. It's one of the only neighborhoods where you can turn a corner and not really know what's next: a cliff, a high rise, a mansion, the Hudson River. Greater Riverdale - essentially the Bronx west of Broadway - looks small on a map but feels vast when you walk it. The topography is a big component of this - the area houses both the highest and lowest points in the Bronx. The lack of any real street grid is another part. But it's the variety of use that really does it. There are streets that would be at home in Scarsdale, and others that would fit right into Washington Heights. There are parks of the woodland variety and ballfield variety, two colleges in its borders, sleek highways and horribly maintained winding asphalt. The Bronx itself is like this - it's the borough that's most patchwork, where you're most likely to find a wood-frame house, 1970s concrete tower, pre-war art deco building, and recent Fedder-crap condo all inhabiting the same block.

But throughout all this physical diversity, a certain character to the neighborhood remains. A character where I'd be not the least but surprised to turn the corner and see my mother or father walking the dog or shlepping home a bag of groceries.

Neighborhods: Riverdale, Fieldston, Spuyten Duyvil
Tracts Walked: Bx285, Bx287, Bx289, Bx293, Bx295, Bx297, Bx301, Bx307, Bx317, Bx319, Bx323, Bx329, Bx333, Bx339, Bx341, Bx343, Bx345, Bx351

Monday, September 26, 2011

Jamaica Bay

Three years ago I took a rowboat with Marie Lorenz out to North Brother Island, the most desolate census tract in New York. Last month we took the same, albeit slightly more beat up, rowboat out to the second most desolate census tract in New York - Jamaica Bay. Check out the pics and commentary here.

The Jamaica Bay islands are actually split between Brooklyn and Queens - as a result they're divided into three different tracts: the populated part of the islands (which is Broad Channel, Queens), the unpopulated parts of the Queens side (which are home to Cross Bay Boulevard and the Jamaica Wildlife Center), and the Brooklyn side. The Brooklyn side has no residents, no industry, and no land connection, save for a tiny sliver of the island that hosts Cross Bay Boulevard. I'm calling it the second most desolate tract because, unlike North Brother, it's legal to visit most (but not all) of the islands, and we also actually ran into a guy walking his dog on one. When we asked how often he saw people out here, his answer was "hmmm... the last time was probably about a year ago."

Altogether we visited one Brooklyn island, one Queens island, and one split between the two boroughs (mostly in Queens, with a small sliver in Brooklyn). We also made two stops on the Rockaway Peninsula: once right past the CrossBay Bridge, where we grabbed a beer at a bayfront bar and lunch at Rockaway Taco (this was a weekday, so thankfully minus the lines); and once at the end of the trip on the tip of Far Rockaway, where we ditched the boat and hoofed it back to the A-train. If we had just gone a slight bit further, we would have landed in Nassau, making it a three-county boat trip. Oh well - next time.

The most interesting thing about Jamaica Bay is how shallow it is. We literally walked through the bay from one island to another.       

Neighborhoods: Jamaica Bay, Far Rockaway, Rockaway Park, Seaside
Tracts Walked: B703.03, Q1702.02, Q942.02, Q1008

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Numeric Extremes Walk - Part II

39,038. This is as high as you can go in Five Boroughs. And we’re going to walk there. From 1.

Meet this Sunday, September 18th, at 9:45 AM at the Southeast corner of 1st Avenue and East 1st street in Manhattan - which, at 1, is the lowest product of two intersecting streets in the five boroughs.

20 miles later we’ll hit the corner of 262nd Place and 149th Road in Rosedale, Queens. Multiply those together and you get 39,038, the highest product of any two intersecting numbered streets in NYC.

A warning - this walk is doubling as me knocking off another 24 tough-to-reach Queens tracts. I've arrainged the route so it's not adding any distance to the walk, but this will be your answer for all "why are we turning here" type questions.

After our destination, we’ll have a about a mile walk to the LIRR, which will cost you $3.75 to get back into town.

For those of you for whom 20 miles is a bit much, we'll be hugging the subway through about mile 5, and then staying reasonably near it through about mile 11. It's 2011 - bring a five-borough atlas or a smart phone if you're planning on ditching early and need to figure out how to get to the train. No time to give directions - we're walking here!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Frames of Reference, cont.

Following up from the last post, I want to address some of Alec Baldwin’s specific claims regarding the Upper West Side. It turns out, by the letter of the law, he’s generally not really that far off. For instance, his claim that "The Upper West Side, particularly above 86th Street, has a lot of public housing,” is pretty accurate. The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) houses about 7,500 people between 86th street and 106th street on the West Side. This is about 1/12th of the slightly less than 90,000 people total who live in the corresponding area. To provide some perspective, NYCHA houses about 500,000 of the slightly more than 8 million New Yorkers, or about 1/16th of the population. (NYCHA has an interactive map of developments here).

But his main contention involves the class composition of the Upper West Side. To his credit, he’s not trying to claim that he himself is middle-class, or his building is middle-class, just that “the Upper West Side is the most middle class part of Manhattan where I have lived.”

Now, given that Baldwin later goes on to state he’s lived between Central Park and the Hudson River for the last 25 years, I don’t really know what he’d be comparing it to, so instead let’s take his other claim, that “in terms of what I see, day to day, in Soho, TriBeCa, Upper East, Chelsea, the West or East Village, Flat Iron, the UWS is more middle class than any of those areas.” As I mentioned in the previous post, I’m going to give Baldwin the benefit of the doubt and extrapolate this to mean Manhattan including and below the Upper East and Upper West Sides.

There are six Public Use Microdata Areas (PUMAs) that make up this geography: 3805 (Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island), 3806 (Upper West Side), 3807 (West Side and Midtown between 14th and 59th) 3808 (East Side between 14th and 59th), 3809 (East Village, Lower East Side, part of Chinatown) and 3810 (The rest of Manhattan below 14th). And the Upper West Side, in terms of income, is smack dab in the middle of these – two PUMAs (3809 and 3807) have lower median incomes, two (3805 and 3810) have higher, and one (3807) is not different in a statistically significant way. Average per capita income and median family income are much the same, except that in each case there’s one PUMA that’s higher and two that aren’t different in a statistically significantly way. So I suppose, in the data set Baldwin’s using, the Upper West Side could be considered middle-class. After all, the median family income for the area is just $169,815 as opposed to the hoity-toity Upper East Side’s $180,289.

The Median Income for “212” – the island of Manhattan – is $79,522. For the United States it’s $62,363. For the Five Boroughs of New York it’s $55,562.

So is the Upper West Side the most middle class of the Manhattan neighborhoods Baldwin is referring to? Sure, insofar as it’s also the most suburban, and most Mormon, and most Senegalese of these neighborhoods.

At the heart of this whole thing though, is that it really seems like Baldwin somehow wants props for not living in Scarsdale or Greenwich or the Upper East Side, or maybe the 7th arrondissement, even though he could afford to - instead opting for the "middle-class" Upper West Side. OK. But he should realize that even if the Upper West Side were middle-class, this is still the equivalent of buying a Rolls-Royce to drive to work and then noting he's chosen to take the "middle-class" way to the office because hey, he could have flown there in a helicopter.

All income numbers are from five-year (2005-2009) American Community Survey Data.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Frames of Reference

Over on the Huffington Post, Alec Baldwin attempts to make the argument that where he lives (The El Dorado, located between 90th and 91st on Central Park West) is in a middle-class neighborhood. In doing so he uses a lot of phrases like "appears to have" and "seems to me" and not of lot of actual evidence (to his credit, Baldwin does admit to not being "an expert in the field of the economic and social demographics of NYC").

I'll be examining some of his specific claims up close in the next post. But for now, I want to address his frame of reference. Two quotes are telling:

"While I have lived in the area from CPW to Riverside Drive and 96th Street to 72nd Street, the Upper West Side appears to have a more visible diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, diversity of income, and age than any other part of 212."

" terms of what I see, day to day, in Soho, TriBeCa, Upper East, Chelsea, the West or East Village, Flat Iron, the UWS is more middle class than any of those areas."

First off, what Baldwin "sees from day-to-day" is the much different from "212." I will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume a broader definition of what he means when he says "any of those areas:" namely Manhattan south of and including the Upper East and Upper West Sides. 1,040,938 people live in this area, which is two-thirds of the 1,577,385 people eligible for a 212 area code. I encourage you to visit the other third and see for yourself if it has more "visible diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, income, and age."

Second, and more importantly, if Alec Baldwin was considering a run for Manhattan Borough President, I would say his take on the "212" might be worth half a Huffington Post column. But Baldwin is not considering this office - according to the NY Times "Mr. Baldwin seemed focused on the mayor’s office but allowed the possibility that he would consider other positions. He is clearly aiming high, however, dismissing the idea of serving as a local judge or in the House of Representatives." Being the Mayor involves being elected by the 8,175,133 people who live in the 5 boroughs of New York City.

Would you vote for someone for mayor whose frame of New York City was limited to the Bronx north of the Cross Bronx Expressway (population 1,010,751)? Or the swath of Brooklyn from Bed-Stuy down to Canarsie (1,078,524)? Or Queens east of Flushing Meadows Park and the Van Wyck Expressway (929,404)? Could you imagine how the media would treat someone who said " terms of what I see, day to day, in Douglaston, Hollis, College Point, Flushing, Jamaica or Jamaica Estates, Rosedale, Bayside is more middle class than any of those areas?"

Or to put it another way, how about someone whose frame of New York City was limited to Non-Hispanic Asian and Pacific Islanders (1,030,914)? Or people who drive to work (1,049,396)? Or women over 55 (1,084,349)? Or kids in Brooklyn and the Bronx (1,021,836)? Or people making less than $25,000 (1,054,140 - wait a minute, I probably would vote for this person).

Baldwin is considering enrolling in a master’s program in politics and government. I think this is a great idea. I'd like to also suggest a parallel educational path for the next two years. Go get to know the places where the people whom you're asking to vote for you live.

All data is from the 2010 Census, except journey-to-work and income date, which is from the 2000 Census.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Walking from Heathrow

Last month I flew to London, landed at Heathrow, and started walking. 19 miles and 8 hours later I reached the center of town. You can read about the walk over on Polis.

Afterward I met a bunch of weirdos and spent the night in a storm drain under Hyde Park, where I finished second in the first-ever Bazalgette pull-up challenge (photo by Luca Carenzo).

But that's another story for another time.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Tract 1237

Following up from my last post, out of the 16,000 new white residents that have arrived in Bed-Stuy in last decade, which this NY Times article references, 4,569 (28.5%) - of them are concentrated in just one census tract: Brooklyn Tract 1237. 1237 is bounded by Taffe Place, Nostrand Avenue, Flushing Avenue, and Myrtle Avenue.

View Bed-Stuy and Tract 1237 in a larger map

Take a walk through this area. You will find a lot of new apartment buildings with scores of small balconies jutting out awkwardly. You will find a lot of signage written in a strange, but somewhat recognizable alphabet. You will find a lot of guys dressed in black suits, a lot women dressed in long skirts, and a lot of children running on the sidewalk. You will not find very many people like the Jazz musician Arthur Kell, or Lawyer and Coffehouse owner Tremaine Wright, or anyone else the Times references in the article.

The Times quotes four white residents who have moved to the city in the last decade, one black resident who they imply, but don't outright state, is a lifelong resident, three academics (one of whom is also a resident of the neighborhood who is black, although it doesn't say when he moved there), a local real estate agent, the Community Board chair, and the neighborhood Assemblyperson.

There are no quotes from longtime white residents, or new black arrivals, or any other type of resident. There is no mention of the quarter of the people in the neighborhood who are neither black nor white. While this could perhaps be forgiven, given that the article is specifically about the growth of the white population and the decline of the black population, there is not even a passing mention of the role the Hassidic Community played in this, much less an attempt to interview any about the changes in the neighborhood. When you only talk to certain people, it's not a surprise when you construct a certain narrative. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

What's Really the Story?

Two NY Times articles:

Under 18 population in NYC is becoming more white

Bed-Stuy is becoming more white

As I've written here before, I appreciate Sam Roberts and the NY Times' demographic coverage, which is much more intensive and in depth than you find in most other large papers. That being said they very, very often report with a strange set of blinders on.

First of all, the Times completely misses a gigantic factor in both these stories, which is the growth of the Hassidic population Brooklyn (and in Northern Bed-Stuy between Myrtle and Flushing as it specifically relates to the Bed-Stuy story), in favor of their general gentrification narrative.

But more importantly, the Times seems to think the story of the city is that of young, white people with disposable income and their varying migration patters, and the impact of these migration patters on the rest of the city (the flaws of which I wrote about here). While this is certainly A story, it is not THE story. It is not even a large story.

Check out the map showing white population change in the last decade. The areas where there is high growth of the white poplation are small and very specific parts of the city, limited to about half of Manhattan, a quarter of Brooklyn, the south shore of Staten Island, and a few other isolated census tracts. And many of these have nothing to do with the Hipster/Yuppie gentrification pattern - they're growth in the Hassidic, other religious Jewish, Eastern European, Central Asian or other populations that are pretty far from the MacLaren stroller-pushing couple or fixie-riding hipster that the Times seems to think are so important.

I would love the next story about Demographic change in the city to be about the growth of the South Asian community in Ozone Park and East New York, or the Korean population in Bayside, or the diversification of the North Shore of Staten Island or Jamaica Estates or Bensonhurst. Or just something other than this same old story.

Sometimes you have to look at the NY Times more like one of New York's ethnic newspapers - their ethnicity being, essentially, "Yuppie." Once you look at it like this, the biases in these types of stories become understandable and less frustrating. Still, if you're going to call yourself the "New York" Times, you should try to focus on the citizens of "New York," about 3/4 of whom live well beyond the geographic and social confines that the Times' demographic reporting has been limited to so far.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


A recent walk in Forest Hills Gardens took me over the three-quarter mark. 1668 out of 2217. Forest Hills Gardens is a really pleasant walk - heading by the West Side Tennis Club, which hosted the US Open until 1977. The main stadium has been abandoned for a while (and is the subject of preservation fights). It would be a great candidate for inclusion in the Open House New York weekend.

3/4 seems like a lot, but the reality is I've already collected all the low-hanging fruit. The hardest part of this project isn't walking the tracts - it's getting to the tracts. Most of the ones I have left are in Eastern Queens and Staten Island - areas that will take me an hour+ to get to on bicycle or public transportation.

Still, I'm confident I'll be done with the other three boroughs this summer or early fall. And then maybe I should move to Hollis next year.

Neighborhoods: Forest Hills, Forest Hills Gardens
Tracts Walked: Q717, Q709, Q711, Q713.02, Q725, Q727, Q729, Q731, Q733, Q735, Q757, Q769.01, Q769.02, Q771.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Mysterious Case of the Ghost Zip Code

In doing our walk from the lowest zip code in New York (10001 in Midtown) to the highest (11697 in the Rockaways), we came up against a problem – one member of the group had heard of an even lower Zip Code: 00083, which is Central Park. I had never heard of Central Park having its own Zip Code, and decided to look into if this a little deeper. Evidence is mostly negative. To note:

1) Looking up all Zip Codes for "New York, NY" on the United States Postal Service Zip Code Lookup doesn't return 00083.

2) Downloading the GIS shapefile for NY State Zip Codes clearly shows no separate Zip Code for Central Park, instead dividing it up amongst several different Upper East and Upper West Side Zip codes.

3) The NYC Parks Department Headquarters, which is actually within Park boundaries, does not use the 00083 zip code, instead having Zip Code 10065. Likewise, the NYPD Central Park Precinct uses 10024. Others places, like the Central Park Boathouse and Central Park Zoo don’t list zip codes at all.

4) Entering “00083” on Google Maps, Yahoo Maps, Mapquest, or yields nothing.

5) Googling “New York, NY 00083” yields 290 results, most of which are property listings through Real Estate Websites on Central Park West or South, which are obviously not correct. To contrast, Googling "New York, NY, 10001" yields about 28 million results.

The only mitigating evidence I can find in favor is that if you enter "00083" on OasisNYC it directs to Central Park (I don't know what base files Oasis is using for Zip Code data). To a lesser extent, there are also a few websites (,, that list places in Central Park as having a "00083" zip code.

On the surface, it looks like there's nothing official about 00083 at all, but that it somehow has gained a toehold in the general public consciousness. If anyone wants to look into how Central Park got an Urban Legend Zip Code, it’d be an interesting story.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Numeric Extremes Walk, Part I

This Sunday, June 19th, I’ll be leading a walk from the lowest zip code in the New York, 10001 in Midtown, to the highest, 11697 in the Rockaways. In doing so we’ll also walk the length of Flatbush Avenue, the second longest street in Brooklyn. We’ll end at the beach in Ft. Tilden Park, so bring your bathing suit. 15 miles. We should be done around 6, where the options will be eating, drinking, swimming, going home, exploring Ft. Tilden park (there's some cool stuff in there), or joining me in walking Queens Tract 916.01 through Breezy Point to the tip of the Rockaway Penisula.

Meet at 11:45 at the tip of Herald Square (the intersection of 34th, Broadway, and 6th Avenue).

I'll be doing at least one other "Numeric Extremes Walk" this summer, maybe more if I can think of them.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Leading a recent walk through Queens, we passed through Meadowmere, a tiny area of four streets nestled at the end of a long finger of land belonging to Queens which snakes around the East side of JFK airport. Take a quaint wooden footbridge over Hook Creek and you're in Meadowmere Park, Nassau County. 

I told the group that this was the "most remote neighborhood in New York."  But upon being challenged, I couldn't really substantiate the claim. It's not the furthest neighborhood from Columbus Circle, where New York's mile 0 is (that would be Tottenville). It's not the neighborhood furthest from any other in the five boroughs (that would be City Island). It's not the neighborhood furthest from public transportation (that would be Breezy Point, although it wasn't between 2008 and 2010 when it had Ferry service). It's not even the neighborhood with the worst city infrastructure - unlike this area, it finally got sewers and drainage a few years ago - although each household had to pay $5000-$10,000 for the privilege.

It is the neighborhood furthest from any other in the five boroughs that isn't an island. But that seems like a pretty big caveat. Still, the feeling of remoteness is greater than in any other area I've been to. If you find yourself there, grab dinner or drinks at the Bayhouse Restaurant (actually in nearby Warnerville), displaying it's proud "A" rating from the New York City Board of Health and Mental Hygiene, which proves it is indeed still in the five boroughs. If you've got a boat, you can kick it under the Crossbay Bridge and up the head of Jamaica Bay, and tie if up right on their patio.

Neighborhoods: Meadowmere
Tracts Walked: Q664

Sunday, May 29, 2011


I have a deal with Tarcher (an imprint of Penguin), to write a book which will be out Fall of 2012.   It's a travel memoir, mostly about me and this guy's urban exploration adventures around the world, but will have lots of other observations on cities and generally funny and interesting stories. A few of these, which will probably find their way into the book in greatly expanded form, can already be found by digging around this site but most can't. I have no good title yet - if you come up with something brilliant please let me know.

I have a good story to tell, and am pretty excited to be able to do it. But to use a baseball analogy, when it comes to the international urban adventure game I've always kind of thought of myself as a decent hitting backup utility infielder - just one that's lucky enough to play on the 1927 Yankees.  I've been along on a great ride, and will give myself credit for managing a home run or two along the way, but really - you should check out some of the All Stars.

So anyway, in addition to actually writing the thing, my job now (or so I've been told) is to build a "platform."  This is industry shorthand for "try to be as famous and popular as possible by the time the book comes out."  Since we are currently living in the age of social media fascination, this means everyone is focused on twitter followers, facebook likes, and website hits. These three things are now taken almost as a sort of currency. Someday pretty soon someone is going to make a ton of money by offering a pay-service setting up fake Twitter accounts to follow you. Seriously - get 10,000 Twitter followers and apparently the world is yours.

As such, you'll notice there's now a Twitter feed on the righthand side of the blog.   So follow me on Twitter! I truly, and sincerely, apologize to everyone for the preceding sentence.

It was suggested to me to do live Twitter updates from Urban Exploration sites. This will not be happening with anything too extralegal for obvious reasons. Still, I will try to make the feed as interesting as possible.

Second, be my friend on Facebook! I can't quite bring myself to do the "like me!" thing as opposed to a regular facebook page though. You'll just have to get my updates on local politics and obscure European soccer teams also (Viva Rayo! Congratulations on promotion to La Liga! Vallecas siempre!)

Third, I'll be blogging more here (RSS link on the right), mostly just about places and topics of interest to me.  Sometimes that's getting to hidden or off-limits places by a variety of means, both in New York and wherever else I happen to be, but a lot of times it'll be about demographics or other urban planning topics. As an aside, you might have noticed that the "Stories" tab has been changed to "Explorations and Adventures." I figured that as this site is linked from a lot of Urban Exploration sites, I should probably make it easier for the people who come here to find that part of the site instead of a post about what the 2010 census says about the changes in Ozone Park or something.

One more housekeeping thing - if you are currently wondering "hey, am I going to be in this book?" and haven't heard from me, the answer is almost certainly "I'm not sure yet." If it looks like you will be, I'll be in touch.

Huge thanks to my agent Alyssa Reuben of Paradigm and my editor Sara Carder of Tarcher for believing in a first-time author with somewhat less than 10,000 Twitter followers.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Finally, a good article on the undercount that has some attempt at serious investigative journalism, instead of making up ridiculous headlines based on the probably misquoted conjectures of a City Councilwoman (may I suggest this shirt for Diana Reyna?).

It would be interesting to see if the undercount is more of a New York phenomenon - in which New York-centric things like illegal subdivisions would probably be the culprit - or if the undercount is consistent among cities with high immigration (and especially looking at similar immigration patterns as New York), which would point to immigrants becoming even more reluctant respond to the census in the wake of increased immigration enforcement since 2001.

The Times article itself also focuses on a third culprit though - mistaking occupied apartments for vacant ones. This one is kind of strange, and apart from the "possible processing glitch" explanation that Census provides (we'll see if that's it when the review is conducted next month) the only culprit I can come up with immediately would be simple laziness on the part of the Census' field staff.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Oh well

My dream house was sold at auction today.  It was Penthouse A in the Williamsburg Savings Bank tower - suggested retail price 3.75 million. This is the apartment with the abandoned observation decks that I wrote about here and here. My little fantasy was always to buy it and open the decks back up to the public. Unfortunately I did not win the lottery in time to throw a bid in there.

I hope whoever did buy it knows he or she got a small piece of history and one of the most interesting spaces in New York City, not just another overpriced downtown Brooklyn condo with a nice view.

UPDATE: Congrats to Olivia Tandon. From the Times article:

“I was very swayed by the terraces,” she said, which used to be private observation decks for the bank president and bear plaques retelling the history of the battle of Brooklyn. They were an important feature for her daughter, Olivia Tandon, a public school teacher for whom she is buying the apartment as an upgrade from a smaller apartment Ms. Tandon owns in the building.

This makes me happy. I hope she takes her students.

Friday, May 13, 2011

So it goes

Claudio looks like he's going. From the NY Times:

Mr. Caponigro said the landlord, Hong Kai Lin Realty, told him that he could stay only if he agreed to a rent of $1,650, almost triple what he is now paying.

The 15-by-15-foot space, the landlord told him, might be turned into a takeout Chinese restaurant. Yat T. Man, a lawyer for the landlord, said his client was a “mom-and-pop landlord, not a Donald Trump,” and could not afford to keep Mr. Caponigro so far below the market rate.

Another victim of a flipped building and huge commercial rent increase. It's nobody's fault - this is New York City. Our strength and weakness has always been that our driving force is the chance to turn one dollar into two.

This barbershop has gotten a lot of press over the years - some for the old-schoolness of it, some for the supposed mob connections, some, as always, for the celebrities who've frequented it (J-Lo once filmed a video there). By far the best article on Claudio and the neighborhood is here.

I've been a faithful customer of Claudio's for a while now. And what I want people to know about him is that he is a great, great barber. He does all the little things. He'll trim your eyebrows, apply some combination of about 8 different tonics with names like "Eau de Portugal" at various times during the cut, and when he's done he'll have you looking like an extra on Mad Man. And the straight razor shave? I'd trust him to do it blindfolded with a razor dipped in arsenic.

Claudio is not a hustler. He charges 10 bucks for a haircut and 5 for a shave. Despite the press, the place is not really busy - usually one or two people are in there, and often there's no wait at all. One time when I was in the seat, and there was one other person waiting, someone came in and asked innocently "how long's it going to be?" "There's a barbershop around the corner" was Claudio's dismissive reply. You want a good haircut, no problem. You're more concerned about time, there's plenty of other options. I don't think the fact that he gave away 10 bucks even crossed his mind.

But like it or not, money eventually catches up with everyone in this town, even at 81 years of age. There might be place in New York City for someone who just wants to do their job well on their own terms, and make a modest but comfortable living doing it. But it's a place that ultimately exists on borrowed time. So it goes.

Claudio's is on 116th street and First Avenue. Drop by for cut this month, he'd be glad to see you.

Neighborhood: East Harlem
Tract Walked: M188

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Census story you won't hear

Most Census stories will be about how New York has changed – after all, headlines like "proportion of New Yorkers who are white declines by 1%" or “population of Queens stays the same!” aren't really much of a story. We look for the neighborhoods and demographic indicators that have changed, find the interesting stories, and write about those.

But the real interesting story – and something you won’t read about - is that from a demographic perspective, there is a very good argument that this is the single most stagnant decade in the history of New York City - at least dating back to 1790 when the decennial census was first conducted.

To start with, absolute population increase or decrease is the single greatest driver of change in the urban environment. At its core, a city is a physical structure designed to support human beings in their lives. As such, the number of human beings is 95% of what determines the physical structure of the city. From 2000 – 2010 the population of New York City grew (officially) by 2.1%.

From 1790 until 1930, there was not a single decade that New York did not go without at least a 15% increase in population – and often more like a 50% increase. Think of the change in the city over the eighty years from 1850 – 1930, when the population increased tenfold, and the change over the eighty years from 1930 –2010, a period in which the population has stayed more or less steady at between about 7 and 8 million people. If you took someone from today and put them in the New York City of 1930, they could catch a game at Yankee stadium, and then ride the IRT down to Grand Central Terminal, before walking across the 59th Street Bridge to Queens. If you took someone from the New York City of 1930 and put them in the New York City of 1850, they’d meander through a farm before swimming across the Harlem River, walking a couple hours down a dirt country road and then waiting for a ferry to take them to John Jacob Astor’s country estate.

So the period we’re looking at is the period from 1930 – 2010. Out of these 8 decades, we can dismiss two that also had significant population changes: 1970 – 1980 (population decline of 10.4%) and 1990 – 2000 (population increase of 9.4%). This leaves our rivals for “most stagnant decade” as the periods from 1930 – 1970 and 1980 – 1990.

Now, in addition to overall population, we have to look at where this population was concentrated. Population shifts create areas of growth and decline, which means areas of development and abandonment. Manhattan has changed incredibly since the 1890s even though the overall population is roughly the same as it is now. This is because in the Manhattan of the 1890s almost all of the population and industry was concentrated in the southernmost quarter of the Island. That area has decongested, while the rest of the borough has experienced exponential growth.

In 2010, New York City has almost exactly the same distribution of population as it had in 2000. Each borough retained roughly the same proportion of the overall population - the largest change was Queens, which went from having 27.8% of the population to having 27.3%. The largest population growth was in Staten Island, which grew by 5.6%. In absolute terms, the largest growth was in the Bronx, which grew by about 52,000 people (but is still about 86,000 people short of its peak population in 1970).

Contrast this to the period from 1950 – 1960, a period of only a slight (1.4%) overall population decline, but which had a huge population shift from Manhattan, which declined by 261,000, to Queens, which increased by 258,000 people. Or the period from 1930-1940, period of relatively modest (7.4%) overall growth, but heavy growth in the Bronx and Brooklyn, which each increased by about 10%, and explosive growth in Queens, which saw a 20.2% population increase.

So this leaves us four decades: the 1940s, the 1960s, the 1980s, and the 2000s. We’ll take a closer look at these next post.

Monday, April 4, 2011

3 Census stories to view with a critical eye

In case you haven't heard, the 2010 Census data for NYC has been released, and DCP is letting you satisfy your census jones here . As always, big props to Joe Salvo and the true pros at the DCP Population Division for a super-quick turnaround. Perusing the data, I'm getting a good idea of stories that are going to come out of this. The big one is the undercount of course, which has dominated the initial reaction. Here are three others that are likely to come (or that have come already), how they'll be spun, and what you should know about them that might not be told.

"The black population has declined for the first time since the Civil War."

The spin: This will probably be presented in a gentrification narrative: white people moving into Harlem and parts of Brooklyn, displacing older black residents, or might be presented with a "black people are moving back to the south" angle.

What you need to know. The African-American population - by which I mean black people generally with roots in the Southern States of the US who came to New York during the great migration - has been declining in New York for 30 years. The reason the black population has grown slightly during this time is because of the influx of Afro-Caribbean immigrants, and (to a much lesser extent), African immigrants. The reason for the overall population decline in the black community has a lot to do with the decrease in immigration (and undercount) in the Afro-Caribbean community and the increasing suburbanization of the community.

"The white population of Brooklyn has increased for the first time since WWII."

The spin: Again, this will probably be presented as a gentrification narrative: educated, working-age white people from Manhattan or other areas of the United States moving to Brooklyn.

What you need to know: While this population has certainly increased, most of the increase is due to the Hassidic community. Not only do they have much higher birthrates than average, they also do not follow the normal pattern of leaving for the suburbs. This is easy to see - the greatest increase in the white population is in Borough Park and the Census Tracts around Flushing Avenue, both of which are heavily Hassidic areas. In addition, the growth in the under-18 population (6.8%) is much higher than the growth in the over-18 population (3.9%). That points to less MFAs in Prospect Heights and more Yeshiva students in Williamsburg. Immigration in southern Brooklyn from the former Soviet Union is also a factor, but less this decade than in previous decades.

"The Asian population tops a million for the first time."

The spin: In percentage terms, the Asian population has had by far the largest increase (over 30%) of any race or ethnic group in the last decade. This will probably be presented as a "milestone" with stories about the history of Asians in New York, or Asian cultural influence in the city, most likely focusing on the Chinese population.

What you need to know: While the growth of the Asian population is a significant point of interest, the real story is in the changing nature of the Asian population. In 2000, almost half (45.9%) of Asians in New York were Chinese (including Taiwanese), with Asian Indians (21.7%), Koreans (11%) and Filipinos (7%) the only other groups with more than 50,000 residents*. For 2010 the detailed Asian subgroup category hasn't been released yet, but when it is watch for a huge increase in the South Asian population, most significantly Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans, and a decline (in percentage if not absolute terms) of the Chinese and Korean populations.

But these three things are all subtopics of the story of the Census. There's one big story that I'm almost sure will go unreported - but that's for the next post.

*edit: I should probably also point out that many, and perhaps even a majority of the people in the "Asian Indian" category are Guyanese or Trinidadians of Indian decent.

Data Source: You can download the race and ethnicity data for New York City (as well as for other American cities) for the period of 1790 - 1990 here. Spreadsheets are by State, with historic race and ethnicity data for the individual cities contains within. You can download race and ethnicity data for New York City from 1990 - 2010 from the NYC Department of City Planning website here.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Parisian Catacombs

Just got back from a lovely weekend in the Catacombs of Paris. A lot of people have asked me about visiting them, so I figured I should write up a quick FAQ for people who want to go check them out. It's over on the travel blog here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Queens Tribune Article

Short article about me by Nathan Tempey of the Queens Tribune. As an added bonus, included is this picture of me looking seriously bootylicious.


The stroll itself was nice - walking all of the New York Connecting Rail Road (and other freight tracks) is a loose goal of mine, and I was happy to get in a mile or so of that. Other highlights included an Albanian Mosque in Glendale, a nice view from a rickety old bridge over the railroad tracks, which you can see in the article also. Drawbacks included a 25-degree drop in temperature from the day before, and learning the M-train at Fresh Pond Road was out of service.

Neighborhoods: East Williamsburg, Middle Village, Maspeth, Glendale
Tracts Walked: B483, B455, Q535, Q595, Q603, Q607, Q633.01, Q623, Q625, Q627

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Are there really "not enough men to go around?"

Reading this piece by Patricia Park in the Times on Friday was an echo of a familiar refrain often heard from women about dating in New York: that the problem is simply in the numbers - there's just “not enough men to go around.” Ms. Park seemingly confirms this axiom by noting that women who are single, divorced or widowed in Greater New York outnumber the same men by more than 700,000.

However, what Ms. Park doesn't note is that this discrepancy is entirely a function of the fact that, on average, women live longer than men. If you look only at the single, divorced and widowed aged 18 - 49, there are actually 96,105 more men than women. This shouldn't be a surprise - Greater New York is a heavily immigrant area, and immigrants demographically skew toward working-age males.

Now, given, this is heavily imperfect information - "never married, divorced, or widowed" hardly transfers directly into "wants a relationship with someone of a different gender," but it's what we've got to work with. And it’s enough to deduce that for women, that there “simply aren’t enough men to go around” only really holds true if you're over 50.

So what accounts for this perception that there are not enough available men in New York? The answer is simple - due to the diversity and size of New York, criteria that we tend to think of as incredibly baseline - age, health, geography, language - actually narrow the pool of potential partners considerably. For instance, it seems hardly necessary to say that you expect your partner to fluently speak the same language as you. But if you’re a monolingual English speaker you’ve just eliminated almost a quarter of the people in the five boroughs. In short, we’re not considering “singles” - we’re really considering singles in or near our particular social grouping. We hardly expect a Uzbeckistani widow from Rego Park to date the quarterback for the Spotswood, NJ High School football team. Yet both are singles in the Greater New York Area.

And some of these subsets do have heavy gender skews - mainly due to different countries sending different types of immigrants to New York. Maybe the subset of "attractive, smart and succesful" folks that Ms. Park cites has a gender skew also, although there's not really a way to measure it.

And, of course, the reason you can't measure this is because standards of "attractive, smart and succesful" are incredibly subjective and relative terms. And if you find that you can't get a date, well, maybe consider either trying to expand your social circle or reconsidering some of these criteria instead of claiming there's "not enough men to go around."

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Future of Ethnic Neighborhoods

A pretty good article about recent Demographic trends from the NY Times. Again, it's important to note that this is not a snapshot of the city today, or even in 2010. This is survey data from 2005 - 2009, and has a sometimes very significant margin of error.

One passage in the article that is very important, and kind of gets glossed over, is the following: American Community Survey data released last month revealed a striking metamorphosis during the last decade. Traditional ethnic enclaves sprawled amoeba-like into adjacent communities.

This, in my opinion, is going to be the future of New York. We are very, very used to thinking of neighborhoods in ethnic terms - Bensonhurst is Italian, Bed-Stuy is African-American, Washington Heights is Dominican, and so on. We are also very used to thinking of ethnic change as neighborhood-based and total: Ozone Park was Italian, then became South Asian; Riverdale was Irish, then became Jewish; the Lower East Side was Jewish, then became Puerto Rican, then becamse hipster/yuppie. This process can be short (East New York turned over from Jewish to African-American in about 2 years), or long (the turnover of the West and South Village from Italian to Yuppie took almost half a century), but it always ends the same - one group moves in, displacing the other.

But the future may hold something different. Instead of smaller, more solid ethnic neighborhoods, I think we'll be seeing larger, less solid, ethnic neighborhoods overlapping each other. And instead of one group slowly or quickly replacing another, I think we'll see a few different groups achieve a balance throughout a neighborhood.

The hows and whys of this theory, in my opinion, are really interesting but need to be backed up with some migration data that I haven't dug into yet. We'll see if me or the Times gets to this first

Saturday, January 8, 2011


I'm currently taking down my 1998-esque main site and transferring everything over to the two blogs (NYC blog and Travel blog). All the old pages will eventually end up here, although it might take a bit.