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09/23/13 10:17am

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  • Image via NYC Bike Maps

On the off-chance the city hasn’t yet added in bike lanes exactly where you want them, just painting some in yourself seems to work pretty well. At least, that’s the takeaway from this Times write-up of Right of Way, a group responsible for spray painting in new bike lanes in midtown over the weekend, extending lanes on Avenue of the Americas from their endpoint at 42nd street all the way up to Central Park.

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“We’re doing something for the public good,” one of the group’s founders told the paper. “So I think it’s O.K., even if it’s illegal.” And other than a lone driver who took took the time on Saturday night to yell at the group (“You know what you’re doing is wrong.” Burn!), no one really seems all that bothered by the lanes, which were partly inspired by the incident in the area last month in which a taxi veered onto the sidewalk during a dispute with a cyclist, severing the leg of a tourist.

As of Sunday afternoon, the lanes were still in place, and were being used by some cyclists, and flagrantly ignored by some drivers. Just like the official ones.

Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.

09/20/13 1:35pm

Nice bow tie.

  • Nice bow tie.

In case you thought that Bloomberg’s comments in that New York magazine interview a little while ago were anomalous, think again. Just to recap, Bloomberg asked interviewer Chris Smith, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get all the Russian billionaires to move here?” At which point everyone in the city who is not a billionaire felt a sudden chill, as if a pair of ghosts had tweaked their nipples or something similarly as perverse and inappropriate as wanting all the Russian billionaires to move to New York. It was terrible. But, maybe Bloomberg was speaking hyperbolically? Maybe he didn’t really mean it? Maybe he does want to preserve some of this city’s integrity and diversity?

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Haha. No. Not at all! Bloomberg said in his weekly radio show this morning that “if we could get every billionaire around the world to move here, it would be a Godsend.” A Godsend! Bloomberg, who was talking about the recently released census results which revealed that New York City has the highest income gap in the country, said that he doesn’t think that the extreme wealth disparity here is such a bad thing. He commented, ““While there are still people at the bottom struggling, we’ve made a lot of progress, the problem in the income gap is not at that end. The reason it’s so big is at that higher end we’ve been able to do something that none of these other cities can do. And that is attract a lot of the very wealthy from around the country and around the world.”

Yeah. That’s what we do well here in good old New York, attract billionaires from all over the world by pushing the middle-class and lower-class residents out of their neighborhoods and making Manhattan a playground for foreign investors and getting rid of the character that used to define New York. Not to be all nostalgic for times long gone, but it used to be a selling point that New York attracted creative types. Now it’s a selling point that it attracts foreign billionaires. That’s the Bloomberg legacy, I guess.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

09/20/13 11:20am

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  • Image via Townhouse Experts

When we complain about the financial ramifications of gentrification and over-development, and the visceral fear of being rapidly priced out of the place you have chosen to live—which is all the time!—it’s easy enough to see the problem as sort of an abstract bogeyman, some rich, faceless guy in a well-tailored suit, flipping brownstones for far too much money and whispering in the ears of business owners that yes, of course people will pay $15 for a cocktail, really, it’s a bargain. But, like everything else, this actually did come from somewhere specific, and somewhere surprisingly loving and well-intentioned.

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In large part, it came from Evelyn and Everett Ortner, two of Park Slope’s earliest and most enthusiastic adopters, whose longtime brownstone in the area just hit the market for $4.8 million. When the couple bought it in 1963, it cost $32,000 (or the equivalent of around $240,000 in 2013). Part of the price hike can be attributed to the fact that they painstakingly fixed the place up over the years, all as they very publicly extolled the virtues of moving into the neighborhood’s beautiful, often neglected homes. Per Evelyn’s 2006 Times obituary (Everett had continued living in the home and passed away last year), the couple were “among the first, the most vocal and the most effective champions of the brownstone revival that spread from Brooklyn to the rest of the country” and “did much of the historical research that persuaded the New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee to designate the Park Slope historic district in 1973.”

But of course, their renovations don’t account for most of the home’s massive new price tag. Most of that comes from the neighborhood’s meteoric, well-documented rise in both popularity and expense, a shift the Ortners actually saw coming. Everett, an editor at Popular Science (can you imagine a magazine editor buying or even renting an entire building in Park Slope now? Aaaaah!), once said, “Never again, never again, never again will houses of this quality be built for the middle class of the city.” And he was right. In a way, these houses were too good to be true, and people figured it out pretty fast. Supply and demand, essentially. Still, it’s hard not to get a little depressed and sentimental about a time when a pair of middle class history geeks could afford a beautiful home, and happily stay there for decades. A time that’s not coming back.

Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.

09/20/13 10:24am

Ah, autumn romance.

  • Ah, autumn romance.

You know what’s a really nice thing about fall? Besides artificial pumpkin flavor and bulk halloween candy (like these Cadbury “Screme” Eggs, which apparently now exist)? Going on a date and not having to worry that you’re sweating through your shirt, or getting all weird and puffy from mosquito bites. If for that reason alone, autumn is genuinely underrated as a really good time of the year for dating.

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And even if it weren’t, what, were you just gonna hole up, depressed and alone, only looking for love and fulfillment from May through August? Oof. No need. There are a lot of great ways to date in Brooklyn this time of year, whether your thing is whiskey, Al Pacino, tarot card readings, or all of the above.

09/20/13 10:15am

Don really needs a book. Thatd cheer him right up.

  • Don really needs a book. That’d cheer him right up.
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There is almost nowhere I like better to read than in a bar. Perched on a stool, book in hand, glass of wine or bourbon on the rocks or gin and tonic or pint glass just within reach—it’s the perfect way to while away an afternoon. While reading is generally a solitary pursuit, reading at a bar serves the purpose of getting me out of my apartment, affording me the possibility of striking of a literary conversation with the bartender or one of my fellow bar-goers (but only if I feel like it, I’ve found burying my head in a book to be the world’s best pre-emptive conversation killer), and just feeling like a part of a larger community instead of like a hermit (which is what I usually feel like). But, as easy as it might seem to just grab any old novel and hit any old bar, you actually want to be reading exactly the right book at exactly the right bar in order to enjoy your literary/drinking endeavor to the fullest degree. And so, after much consideration, I’ve come up with a list of the ten perfect books to read at ten Brooklyn bars. Happy reading, and happy drinking!

09/20/13 10:00am

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So you’re all going to the Brooklyn Book Festival this Sunday, right? Right! But so, have you seen the line-up of events? It’s overwhelming. It’s overwhelming in the best possible way, but still. There’s a lot to choose from. And so we thought we’d help you by highlighting what we think are the must-see events at this year’s Book Fest. Beyond our recommended panels and readings, don’t forget to spend ample time wandering around, checking out all the booths where some of our favorite small publishers and lit magazines are set up. Last year, the good people from Electric Literature were giving away temporary tattoos that looked like psychedelic electrical outlets. It was pretty cool. We hope they do that again.

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09/20/13 10:00am

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Authors&#8212the good ones, anyway&#8212breathe life into their characters so they become three-dimensional beings who we see when we close our eyes and hear when we flip through the pages: real people who have mood swings, who overspend on things they want but don’t necessarily need. They watch too much TV. On good days, they finally get six hours of sleep. They listen to music as a means of coping with or intensifying feelings. This is key. Everyone’s life deserves a soundtrack. And so we chose 10 iconic fictional characters and gave them just that, while supplying you with accompanying Spotify playlists. Because you know Holden Caulfield isn’t going around listening to light jazz on his iPod these days.

09/20/13 9:30am

Walt Whitman cocky pose

  • Original Hipster
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I emailed a few poets I know and asked them what the poetry hotspots to know in Brooklyn were—and most of them told me they pretty much just read in Manhattan. Is our borough really so poetry negative? Not really: a bookstore devoted to the form will soon open in DUMBO, and in the meantime there are regular open mic nights from Williamsburg to Dyker Heights (most of which I heard about through Ricardo Hernandez, a regular on the circuit who impressively memorizes all of his poems). This is by no means exhaustive: there are always new ones popping up, one-offs and seasonal events, like a recent reading by the water in Bay Ridge; share what we missed in the comments.

09/19/13 3:58pm

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Well, we already how racist he is. At least, according to Bloomberg’s increasingly erratic exit interviews. So of course it makes sense that on the same day they publish tenuous evidence that a city without stop-and-frisk is a city where all of us will die in a hail of gunfire (and on the same day the Daily News reports on New York’s ever-widening income gap, by far the largest in the nation), the Post decided to take on Bill de Blasio for a so-called “war on minorities.”

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And I mean, fair enough! He has been spending all that time on the campaign trail espousing a strict white power agenda and chattering away about cutting important social safety nets, like paid sick days and minimum wage! Or, wait. I guess what he’s been talking about are things like ending unconstitutional racial profiling of New York’s citizens, supporting public schools and broadening early education, and making sure employed New Yorkers are actually earning enough to live on. Whatever. Here’s the Post:

“De Blasio clinched the Democratic primary for mayor in large part by promoting his inter-racial family and, notably, his son’s prominent Afro. His “two cities” mantra is meant to suggest he’ll fight for the have-nots — minorities. In a new poll, African-Americans say they back him over Republican nominee Joe Lhota by a whopping 86 percent to 3 percent — that is, near-unanimously.

Yet de Blasio’s positions on all the key issues — crime, jobs, education — will hit minorities hard. At the same time, despite his attacks on the “1 percent,” he’ll leave wealthy New Yorkers relatively unscathed.

Putting aside the assumption that de Blasio has been coldly employing his own family as a calculated promotional tool (as opposed to just bringing his family to events like every other political candidate for every other political office), the op-ed goes on to re-frame all his pet issues as patently anti-minority: the end of stop-and-frisk means “hamstrung cops” and “to put it bluntly, more dead blacks and Hispanics;” fewer charter schools mean minority “kids will remain imprisoned in rotten traditional schools;” plans for paid sick days and living wage laws will “price out” employees and encourage companies to move operations out of one of the biggest, most crucial business hubs on the entire planet. “Kids like de Blasio’s son Dante (or, rather, kids like Dante whose dads aren’t powerful) will be hurt most,” writes the Post.

In other words, a lot of magical thinking about trickle-down economics, and general concern trolling of minority voters who clearly aren’t educated enough on the issues to even know how to vote in their own interests. Which, to be fair, is sort of representative of the current ideological chasm between mainstream conservative and liberal policy thinking, albeit re-framed in feverish, New York Post-y terms. Now that the democratic primary is behind us, this conversation was sort of inevitable. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could get through it without starting hysterical “wars,” and calling each other racists? Just a thought.

Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.

09/19/13 3:17pm

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  • c/o npr.org

I will take just about any excuse to incorporate Leonard Cohen song lyrics into a headline, but using these particular song lyrics gives me no joy because they’re pretty depressing, if not surprising. The New York Times reports today that recently released census data reveals “that even as the recession has ended, the city’s poverty rate continues to inch up and the gap between the rich and poor remains stubbornly large.” So, just in case you thought that maybe your experience of struggling to pay rent despite having a job, and also having lots of friends who are in similar situations was just anecdotal and perhaps didn’t apply to New York City at large, well, guess what? You were wrong. New Yorkers (some of them anyway) really are still struggling to get by, despite the fact that the recession is technically over. But what do you win for being right? Uh, nothing really. Other than the fun, fun prize of living in a city with the biggest income gap in the country, which, that’s not much of a prize at all, is it? No. It’s not. It’s really, really not.

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Anyway. The census data reported that the city’s “poverty rate rose to 21.2 percent in 2012, from 20.9 percent the year before, meaning that 1.7 million New Yorkers fell below the official federal poverty threshold. That increase was not statistically significant, but the rise from the 2010 rate of 20.1 percent was.” But was there any news to mitigate the fact that more than one in five New Yorkers are living below the poverty line? Sort of. Deputy mayor for health and human services, Linda I. Gibbs tells the Times that “Since 2000…the city has gone to 13th highest from 6th highest among poverty rates for the 20 biggest cities.” So, that’s better than going in the opposite direction, we guess. But it still doesn’t address the gross inequality between the bottom fifth of earners in this city, who take home a median income of $8,933, and the top fifth, who take home an income of $222,871, with the top 5 percent making $436,931, which, the Times helpfully points out is “about 49 times as much as those with the lowest income.”

Now obviously this news is unsurprising, but it is something to keep in mind as we prepare to elect a new mayor, and say goodbye to Bloomberg, who so recently said that nothing would make him happier than “if we could get all the Russian billionaires to move here?” Hopefully, the next mayor (De Blasio, almost definitely) will focus not so much on Russian billionaires, or even New York City billionaires, but on the millions of people struggling to get by, people without health insurance or enough money to put food on the table for their children. Because “Everybody Knows” is a great song, but it kind of sucks to be living it.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen