Thursday, January 29, 2015

Amazing Pastrami in Newark!

Molly Rose Kaufman, Provost of the University of Orange, leads food expeditions all over Northern New Jersey. Today she took Rachel Bland and me to Bragman's, a deli and catering establishment in Newark. Bragman's is old-time Jewish food from back in the day when Weequahic and other sections of Newark were heavily Jewish. After the riots many moved away, to suburbs, taking the synagogues and the delis with them. Bragman's stayed. And oh my God, the pastrami!!!! While some say there is better pastrami, what I want to say is, how great does it have it get? On any given day that I could eat that pastrami, I'd be so happy -- as I am today! We sat on the sturdy chairs at the friendly deli table and ate -- I mean Pechter's Rye and Dr. Brown's Cream Soda and Utz Potato Chips. In the half hour we were there, the line never got short. One guy placed himself in the wrong position and then was cranky when he was skipped over. "I been here half an hour." It wasn't true -- I'd been there half an hour. But we all enjoyed his complaining and the way it was ignored by everyone. Outside, it looks a bit bleak. Bragman's is anchoring a street that is more unemployed than employed. But its constancy is the stuff of legends.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"No one goes there anymore; it's too crowded"

What does Times Square fear? Maybe it's ferocious success. According to today's NY Times, Times Square is so choked with visitors that regular people -- like office workers and New Yorkers who like the theater -- don't want to go there any more. The situation brought to mind the famous Yogi Berra quote, "No one goes there anymore; it's too crowded." David Chapin, Hirofumi Minami and I strolled Broadway a couple of years ago, and we spent an hour at Times Square. It was pretty empty of people, so we got to study the billboards, and the crowd amusements. There are other spaces like that, I've found. The Ramblas, in Barcelona, can get so packed with people it's hard to move. Even the small street where I lived one summer in Paris -- St. Andre des Arts -- could get so full of folks going back and forth that it was hard to move. St. Andre des Arts has been packed with people for as long as Paris has been a city -- it was the route from the center to a market that was just outside the walls. That market was tax-free which attracted shoppers. There is still a market in the same area, now swallowed up by the city. The history of the enceinte, obscured by time, lives in the ways people use the street. Times Square has a different history and a different dynamic, but appeals to the same instinct to be with the crowd. Except for the paradox that we don't always want to be with the crowd. Nobody really wants to go to work through the crowd. We want the crowd for special occasions, like New Year's Eve, but not every day. So the crowd is not the people who live or work in the area -- it's the tourists. My friend and colleague, David Jenkins, lived near Times Square as it was making the transition from red light district to Disney. He was exhausted by the growing crowds, and eventually moved away to Philadelphia. Apparently others are making moves out of the area as well. When the good folk who support the everyday move away, the character will begin to change again, the hustlers growing in number and power, attracted to the crowds and the dreams of crowds. Times Square, then, might change again, its spaces claimed for new uses and new celebrations. Cities swing between this crazy abandonment to the needs of the crowd and the more quotidian respect for the lives of the inhabitants. Cities need both -- but they can easily let one or the other slip away, creating imbalance and danger.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

YIKES! My neighborhood is gentrifying!

Thanks to Khemani Gibson for passing along this article from The Root, Eleven Signs Your Neighborhood Is Being Gentrified. He mentioned it as we were driving by the new 7-Eleven, which opened right opposite the well-established and beloved Krauszer's. Once you look at the list, it's impossible not to check off others -- "Yup, we have that, we have that. We don't have that." Happily, the interminable recession has given us time to rethink the whole convert-the-factories-to-lofts-and-become-a-suburb thing. An urban design firm, Designing the We, has been working with us to consider how we do economic development, including putting some of those old factories back to work as, well, factories. Somebody wants to make something that could easily be made in Orange, NJ. Doesn't "Made in Orange" kind of make you just feel good? Orange -- great color, great fruit, great drink -- all healthy. Let's NOT gentrify and say we did. Let's PEEL OFF (ha ha) and go in another direction. What do you think?

Monday, January 5, 2015

What were we thinking?

On this remarkable website, you can see before and after of American cities by playing with overlays of aerial maps from 60 years ago and today. Rodrick Wallace as aptly titled this process the "desertification of the American city." The conversion from tight urban fabric to urban desert is shocking. It underscores that our cities aren't simply food deserts, many of them are just deserts. And as they are being reinvented, the threat of gentrification grows. Much to do as we work for inclusive and effective urban restoration.

Are malls main streets?

Malls and main streets are often mentioned in the same sentence, so the relationship needs to be sorted out. I have been thinking about the proposition that a mall is to a department store what a main street is to general store. This is possibly true, but it is insufficient to get at the difference. As I've noted in earlier posts, main streets, as centers of commerce and social life, have to be understood as a box, circle, line and the America people. Malls don't function on all of those dimensions. And, thinking about it that way, I am really really happy that we don't refer to the American people as "The Mall." Malls, because they are a monoculture created for shopping, are ecologically fragile. What makes main streets work, among other factors, is the manner in which they are embedded in cities. Malls, by contrast, are ringed by parking lots and can't possibly be interwoven. That doesn't mean that they might not be useful. When it comes to variety, there's more stuff at Home Depot than at the neighborhood hardware store on my neighborhood main street -- sometimes I need to go to Home Depot. But I can't walk there and I don't know the guys there and I don't catch up on local gossip when I go there. It is interesting to read in the NY Times that quite a number of malls are dying, especially those for middle-class shoppers, those who've been hit hardest by the recession, and are still waiting for the recovery. But, in the meantime, the 1% have taken so much of everything, recovery for the rest of us is slipping further away. Short Hills Mall will survive, Livingston Mall will struggle. In sum, malls are malls, not main streets. Both have their uses. Main Streets occupy a better niche for long term survival.