New geological research warns that the weight of New York City’s skyscrapers is actually causing the Big Apple — whose more than 1 million buildings weigh nearly 1.7 trillion pounds — to sink lower into its surrounding bodies of water.
Given the innovations that helped give rise to all of these buildings, can we expect innovative solutions to the consequences of all that weight? One approach would be to create barriers between the surrounding waters and the habitable areas. However, that does not fully address the weight and the ground under the buildings. Are there ways to prop up large structures?
In reality, the region the Big Apple comprises most of is far and away the safest part of the U.S. mainland when it comes to gun violence, while the regions Florida and Texas belong to have per capita firearm death rates (homicides and suicides) three to four times higher than New York’s. On a regional basis it’s the southern swath of the country — in cities and rural areas alike — where the rate of deadly gun violence is most acute, regions where Republicans have dominated state governments for decades.
But, the data could be interpreted in another way. Rates are expressed in the number of occurrences per a set amount of population. What do the absolute numbers say about gun deaths? One compilation of data from The University of Sydney shows 804 gun deaths in 2019.
Or, here is a 2022 article in the New York Times looking at shootings in the city:
Shootings are twice as high as in the years preceding the pandemic, and the burden falls primarily on Black and Latino neighborhoods. More than 1,800 shootings were reported annually in the past two years after dropping under 900 in 2018.
The absolute numbers sound high and can contribute to perceptions:
But fresh anxieties have driven warnings about a return to New York’s “bad old days,” when there were many years with more than 2,000 murders. To some, the resemblance between the periods lies not in the crime or the data, but in the coverage.
Rates are often used because they help make comparisons across communities with different population sizes. New York City has more shootings but it is also the largest city in the United States by a lot. There will be more crimes to possibly report on in a larger city but that is in part because of having a larger population.
Of course, if we are at a point where people just want to find a statistical interpretation that fits their perspective, we have bigger problems on our hands than simply discussing what numbers best reflect realities.
Emotional stories speak louder than facts, perhaps especially in a city as storied as New York. Writing of the city’s crime narratives during a much more dangerous era, Joan Didion wrote of observers’ “preference for broad strokes, for the distortion and flattening of character and the reduction of events to narrative” — in other words, the nearly universal desire to make stories out of feelings, and then believe them. And when people ask me if “New York is safe,” they don’t want to know about numbers. They’re asking about feelings.
How people perceive crime, and how politicians represent it to the electorate, has less to do with data and more to do with vibes. In October, while fact-checking the claims of rising violent crime that drove many midterm campaigns, the Pew Research Center’s John Gramlich noted that “the public often tends to believe that crime is up, even when the data shows it is down.” Data from the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that there’s no increase in violent crime across the board in the US, and yet for most years in the last three decades, the majority of America adults thought there was more crime nationally than the year before, even though the opposite was true. Indeed, over three-quarters of those polled in October by Politico/Morning Consult said they thought violent crime was rising nationally and 88 percent said it was increasing or remaining the same in their own communities.
This is why sociologists and others need to study not just what is happening, the facts, and the real numbers. Perceptions also matter and may matter more so as they can drive emotions, behavior, and policies.
This is clear consistently in the area of crime and violence where what people think is thinking may not match reality. For decades, particular perceptions about crime have influenced actions. See, for example, how it plays out in suburban settings. Instead of zooming out and looking at the big picture, certain narratives can prove powerful and persistent.
Thus, presenting facts is not always an effective approach. In this particular case, what would be an effective narrative that would better match the figures?
“The problem is that, particularly in New York, congregations are housed in large, historic properties, with large amounts of deferred maintenance,” nonprofit leader Kate Toth told Religion News Service. “At the same time, membership in most religious communities is declining. Those are two difficult trends to square.”
But Toth has a solution to offer. Enter Venuely, a space sharing website launched this month. The interfaith platform borrows from other space sharing models like Airbnb to match houses of faith in New York Citythat have surplus space to short-term renters in search of a deal. It’s also founded by two nonprofit organizations (Bricks and Mortals and Partners for Sacred Places) that aim to develop capacity for faith communities, not line their pockets…
“We’re turning (the space) into an outreach mission for theater community, and because we’re nonprofit we can offer the space at a very good price,” said Hutt. “Churches have a lot of unused capacity. It makes a lot of sense for that space to be available for other organizations, especially when you have a mission match like we do with the theater community.”…
Looking ahead, St. Luke’s plans to use Venuely to rent its stained-glass adorned sanctuary as well as a multipurpose room to members of the arts community. For Strasser, opening the space up for nonprofit arts groups is an extension of what the church does on Sundays.
Many religious buildings are constructed with the idea that their spaces are sacred or can become sacred or are imbued with the sacred. They are physical buildings constructed by people yet when people of faith come together and experience fellowship and worship, the building is something different. My colleague and I wrote a book about this.
What then happens when the building is used for a different purpose? The religious congregation itself may do this; not all of their activity may be sacred in the same way or draw on sacred themes. There may be more profane activities in the buildings as well such as cleaning or people engaging in more mundane activities inside.
For some religious traditions and congregations, the arts is a relatively close domain to religious sacred space. Through music, art, theater, and other forms, the arts can invite creators and audiences to consider big questions and reflect on life. This all can be enhanced by a physical space that works with the creation. (Other religious traditions might be less open to this. Evangelicals, for one, are not known as a group that encourages the arts and may not want to share spaces.)
It will be interesting to see how Venuely does and how congregations, creators, and audiences respond to the possible venues.
A. R. Bernard, pastor of the largest evangelical church in New York City, has been working on a plan for more than 10 years. Now the proposal to build a $1.2 billion urban village and revitalize the struggling neighborhood around his church is progressing through the city’s approval process and closer to reality. The Christian Cultural Center (CCC) hopes developers could break ground in Brooklyn next year…
On 10.5 acres of church land, the proposed village would include thousands of units of affordable housing, a trade school, a supermarket, a performing arts center, 24/7 childcare for night-shift workers, senior living facilities, and other amenities designed to revitalize the East New York neighborhood…
“I’m a big Jane Jacobs fan, when it comes to understanding the urban landscape. And community means amenities are within a 1,000-foot walking distance,” Bernard said, referring to the urban planner who is famous for saving lower Manhattan from a highway and for her ideas on smaller-scale urban development focused on street life. “She was a genius. Absolute genius.” He sees this plan as a counter to the influence of the infamous urban planner and Jacobs nemesis Robert Moses, who had a history of dividing communities economically, including in this part of Brooklyn…
The church hopes this village can be a model for other cities and it could be scaled up or down, Bernard thinks. But he added that a church must be large enough, like CCC, to pull such a plan off.
But, some congregations have the resources and community presence to pursue projects like this and it might be difficult for others to propose and pull off the same plan. Affordable housing is needed all over and it sounds like the other parts of the project would also provide helpful facilities and services.
It would also be interesting to see how the congregation might serve as a physical and social anchor of a sizable new development as it matures.
The good news is the city finally has plans to restore 11 blocks of Park Avenue north of Grand Central to a semblance of its former glory, Bloomberg reports, expanding the median from a useless 20 feet to a potentially-rejuvenating 48 feet. That redesigned street could include bike paths, walking paths, and generally more space for things other than cars or pretty things for people in cars to look at as they drive by.
The bad news is many if not most of the people currently living and working in New York will not be around to enjoy it once it’s done. It will take 20 years to redesign these 11 blocks, according to the city’s Department of Transportation. Yes, you read that right. The project to redesign 11 blocks of a Manhattan street will not be completed until 2042.
But there is no mistake, according to both DOT and Kaye Dyja, Powers’s spokesperson. As Dyja explained, “The reason the construction is going to take a long time is because they’re improving the underground railroads leading to Grand Central, as well as redoing the ‘train sheds.’ This entails that they’re digging up the ground, so the construction will have to take place in stages which will end up taking many years to complete.”
The project Dyja is referring to is a massive $2 billion renovation of the Metro North infrastructure underneath Park Avenue from Grand Central to 57th Street. Park Avenue is a bridge over those tracks, and like many of the U.S.’s bridges, this one is falling apart, too. The project will involve ripping up sidewalks and the median of Park Avenue a couple blocks at a time, going section by section, down the stretch of Park Avenue. It is expected to cause more or less permanent disruption to the Midtown East area, to varying degrees, over the next two decades.
As a kid, I remember reading books with cross-sections of underground Manhattan. Seeing all of that infrastructure needed for modern urban life – pilings for skyscrapers, subways, water pipes and sewers, etc. – was fascinating.
The flip side of that is the work it takes to make significant changes to such a system. It takes time (and money) to work around what is there and complete the work.
The time is one factor but I wonder about how the budgets will work over a 20 year period. Large American infrastructure projects can have a tendency to stretch in terms of time and budget as the work is underway.
I would love to say I will check in on this in twenty years but that is a long commitment…
This was City Climb, an attraction opening Tuesday at 30 Hudson Yards, one of the city’s tallest buildings. It gives thrill-seekers a unique perspective on New York that no observation deck could hope to match: No walls, no glass windows, no railings. Just skyline…
Climbers are equipped with specially designed safety harnesses that let them ascend an outdoor staircase, from the first lookout known as the Cliff, to the top platform called the Apex, located 1,271 feet (387 meters) above 10th Avenue.
There, they can lean out over the edge and look down at the Empire State Building. City Climb will operate rain, snow or shine, but will close if the temperature drops below 23 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 5 degrees Celsius) or if there is dangerous weather in the area…
Then, she leaned back, arms stretched out, hanging over the city as a cable tether kept her from falling to the streets below.
I find two features of this striking:
The quest for humans to conquer obstacles and/or natural forces in two ways. First, the goal of building tall structures that stretch far beyond the size of people and many natural features. Second, the willingness of many to test their limits, conquer their fears, to try something new. And do it all on one of the tallest buildings in a city and country known for stretching these limits. What comes after this?
The ongoing commodification of the skyscraper experience. Skyscrapers emerged because of a land for space where land was limited and expensive. With the rise of skyscrapers came sky decks and seeing from such a great height. Then came new experiences, ranging from glass floors to tilting parts to now being outside. People are used to seeing the world from the air – airplanes offer even better views – and also desire new experiences. All of this for $185 a person.
Classis Hudson, the regional governing body of the CRCNA, will vote on Tuesday on whether to authorize an interim committee to figure out the future of the congregation. The Queens church officially has only 27 members, according to the denomination’s website, and no full-time CRC pastor. The church’s founder, Paul C. H. Szto, led the church until he died in 2019 at the age of 95…
The Queens church raised its own funds to build a church building next door in 1968. It is believed to be among the first—if not the very first—Chinese congregation to build its own church building in the US. With the church building in place, and a new wave of Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants pouring into the country, the Queens CRC became a waystation for Chinese American Christians and a center for Reformed thought in the Chinese American community…
Pastor Szto, who had studied under the Dutch Calvinist philosopher Cornelius Van Til at Westminster Theological Seminary and under Christian existentialist Paul Tillich at Union Theological Seminary, turned the space into a lecture hall, seminar room, and theological library with more than 18,000 books. According to The Banner, an official CRCNA publication, Szto and his wife housed and hosted more than 2,000 students, immigrants, and refugees in his home…
Mary Szto would like to see the parsonage become a museum and cultural center to carry on that legacy and tell the story of her father’s life’s work and the history of Chinese American Christianity in New York City. She notes that Chinese American church history tracks closely with real estate laws and business ownership restrictions that limited where Chinese families could buy property until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.
At this point, it sounds like the fate of the building is still under conversation among particular involved actors. Not all congregations last forever and making decisions about what to do with their buildings can be difficult.
Additionally, Queens is an important site for religious activity, particularly in the post-1965 era when immigrants arrived in the community in larger numbers. For more, see the work of historian R. Scott Hanson on religious pluralism in Flushing, Queens.
I am struck in this case by the relatively recent construction of the church building. Historic preservation conversations about churches can often consider much older structures. This building is just over 50 years old but it is also socially significant. The church building in an alternative form – museum and cultural center – could serve as a reminder of the efforts of the religious congregation that once gathered there as well as its impacts.
New York had its first climate-related wake-up call nine years ago, when Hurricane Sandy brought a storm surge that flooded low-lying areas and, yes, subway stations. Since then, the city has spent almost $20 million on climate-proofing the city, according to the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency. But some of that funding went to solving a different problem than the one presented by Ida: water coming from the rivers. This week, all the wet stuff fell from the sky, threatening even areas above sea level…
Now, after years of updates, 60 percent of New York City has a combined sewer system, which uses a single pipe to carry both wastewater and stormwater to treatment plants. During heavy rainstorms, the system can get quickly overwhelmed. The detritus of city living—trash, plants, general gunk—clogs drains, further gumming up the works. “So if you get a really big kahuna like this, I don’t think it really has a shot at draining that out fast enough to avoid flooding,” says Farnham.
The city has worked to separate those combined sewer systems and to clear clogged drains, especially when storms threaten. It has raised and in some cases eliminated subway grates, which were built to allow fresh air to flow down to dank underground spaces but which now look like holes to let more water in. In some places, the MTA constructed flood-proof doors, which can close when the water gets too close.
More generally, cities like New York can create more green infrastructure to help with their water problems—basically, less pavement and more dirt. You might, for instance, create roadside green spaces where water can percolate before moving into stormwater drains, removing trash and pollution in the process. Los Angeles has been doing this to catch rainwater. “This is a long-term thing,” says Horodniceanu. Retrofitting cities to deal with what’s coming, and what’s already come, will take gobs of one of the scarcest resources of all: much more funding.
As cities expand and change, fixing the infrastructure already there to incorporate new technologies and grow the capacity is a difficult task. How disruptive will the efforts be? How much will it cost? It could be much easier in the long run to anticipate these issues way ahead of time and proactively make changes rather than only act after a major issue is exposed.
Water is particularly destructive as much of modern life depends on the fact that water will be excluded from the system. Residences, businesses, mass transit, electronics must be dry to function well. If there is an overwhelming storm or a breach of the water defenses, water can quickly wreak havoc both in the short-term and long-term. Cities require a lot of things to go right to properly go about their business but water can quickly disrupt this operation.
The recent events in New York City and New Orleans also remind me of the planning that can go into highways and parking lots: they can be constructed with peak use in mind. The parking lot needs to be large enough to handle the biggest crowds, hence the shopping mall parking lots that can handle Thanksgiving weekend shopping but are not fully used throughout the rest of the year. Or, the highway that needs more and more lanes to handle rush hour traffic while there are many hours when that capacity is not needed. Sewers need to handle really big storms or events. But, in each case, can the largest need be forecast correctly? Adding lanes to roads can increase the traffic. Right-sizing parking lots can be tricky. And planning for the rare storm is hard, particularly if conditions are changing. Similarly, people will not be happy in these cases if there is not enough capacity and there will be calls to fix the problem afterward.
What Curran either didn’t know, or wanted to erase, was the fact that up until the late 1890s, cities like “New-York” and “New-Jersey” were usually hyphenated to be consistent with other phrases that had both a noun and an adjective. In 1804, when the “New-York Historical Society” was founded, therefore, hyphenation was de rigueur. The practice of hyphenating New York was adhered to in books and newspapers, and adopted by other states. Even the New York Times featured a masthead written as The New–York Times until the late 1890s.
It was only when the pejorative phrasing of “hyphenated Americans” came into vogue in the 1890s, emboldened by Roosevelt’s anti-hyphen speech, that the pressure for the hyphen’s erasure came to pass.
Writing in 1924, several years after Roosevelt’s speech, Curran accused New York society of being overly judgmental, noting that “it is Ellis Island that catches the devil whenever a decision comes along that does not suit somebody. Of course, we are now in the midst of the open season for attacks on Ellis Island. We have usurped the place of the sea serpent and hay fever. We are ready to be roasted.” For the next twelve years he served as commissioner of immigration, Curran became more staunchly anti-immigrant, and his hatred was fueled by the anti–hyphenated Americanism espoused by people like Roosevelt and, later, Woodrow Wilson.
Curran was outraged that his beloved city would appear hyphenated, and he continually insisted that Morris call a meeting to pass a law that barred the use of a hyphen in New York. Meanwhile, curators, historians, and librarians banded together with antidiscrimination and immigrants’ rights defenders to defend a hyphenated New-York. Curran could not win this time, they insisted. The curators and librarians at the Historical Society bravely stood by the hyphen in their name, confirming that they had been founded in 1804, that the hyphen was in the original configuration of New-York, and that, no, this hyphen would not be erased. Hyphenated Americans and activists throughout New York City worried that this erasure would signal that they would not be welcome in the one city that was supposed to be a bastion of openness in America…
In the end, much to his chagrin, Curran lost this contest. No law was ever passed outlawing the hyphen, and it remains to this day, etched in stone on the building of the New-York Historical Society, a homage to the journey of the city and the hyphenated individuals who fought the good fight to keep the hyphen—and its many meanings—alive.
While it might be easy to dismiss this as a language debate from long ago, this excerpt highlights how language is not just about grammar or particular words: all of it is tied to how people see and understand the world. It sounds like the hyphen in place names followed conventions for the day of separating adjectives and nouns that went together. As hyphens later helped demarcate identity, they generated controversy.
Would New York be a different place today if it were New-York? Perhaps it might work like this. The hyphen implies a more hybrid identity than the solid “New York” together. Would this point people back to the original roots of the city, not as an American place but a British territory and before that a Dutch city? All of this could help put together contradictory ideas including American individualism and capitalism, colonialism, slavery, and pluralism. Add to that the immigrant history of New York from a variety of countries at numerous time points and perhaps the hyphenated version would help highlight the bricolage that is the city of five boroughs, numerous neighborhoods, and uncountable different experiences. “New-York” is still being shaped, “New York” already exists.