Historical Preservation

I went on a Jane’s Walk yesterday through the Inwood neighborhood of Upper Manhattan, led by indefatigable local activist Pat Courtney. Pat knows a lot about Inwood, and this walk took us around to see some of the “contributing” buildings to the currently notional Inwood historic district. Buildings of historical interest are contributing; buildings without historical interest are noncontributing.

It’s nice to see that other people as well took time out of their weekend to go on this walk; we got to about 25 participants by the end, including local City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, who lives in the neighborhood. He stayed for the whole thing and was not accompanied by staff members, which counts in my book as an expression of legitimate interest in the subject. Most of the folks were older than me, of the empty-nest generation that doesn’t have conflicting activities scheduled for Saturday morning.

At the RING Garden, at the intersection of Dyckman St & Riverside Drive & Broadway, Sandra Hawkins of Transportation Alternatives got up and spoke about how Dyckman Street had been the site of traffic violence for a hundred years or more, back to the time of the first West Side ferry that stopped at the western end of Dyckman Street, where it meets the river. That kind of history is important to remember, but not so important to preserve.

As we walked along, we saw multiple groups of recreational bicyclists, mostly headed uptown. I assume that they were enroute to rides through the Bronx and Westchester, or perhaps returning from spins in New Jersey on the west side of the George Washington Bridge.

From the standpoint of advocacy, I would call the walk a success in how it brought together multiple people of different viewpoints and backgrounds to share for the afternoon a single point of view, that Inwood had a distinctive history, worth commemorating, and that this history was told in part through its buildings and physical form. The effect of historic preservation is in its ability to unite buildings with their neighbors and to maintain the form of a neighborhood; traditional development relies on individual landowners making decisions about their property one at a time, without regard to the gestalt of the area.


The Quislings of the Bicycle Advocacy Movement

It seems unlikely, but maybe most bicycle advocates are not chained to a desk all day, reading the current popular literature on urban planning issues. Sarah Goodyear’s interview with my guru, Dr. Steven Fleming, showed up on the Citylab website last week, and prompted a set of dismissive comments. Too stark and austere, they cry. No tolerance for other travel modes. Where are the human-scale buildings?

I think these people are missing the point, and I hope, perhaps in vain, that there is someone out there who does, but is just too busy to comment (kudos to my other blogging counterpart, dr2chase, who throws in some sensible comments toward the end).

Here is the point: if you are designing a city so that its citizens can take full advantage of bicycle technique, your designs may not resemble a city that has been designed so that its citizens can take full advantage of foot or horse. This is a feature. Fleming’s Velotopia is designed to take advantage of a bicycle in every aspect, down to having rollup refrigerator doors so you can open one and reach in while standing over a bike’s top tube.

The point of this exercise is to permit bicycle advocates to avoid treading the same ground that has already been trod by urbanists and livable streets advocates. The reductive, unidimensional, “Is this like Holland? Yes? Then do more of it” thinking doesn’t help anyone who would prefer not to consider Dutch cities and towns as the Platonic ideal of urban form. It is my opinion that in the effort to shift the azimuth of city planning away from the suburban ideal of cul-de-sacs and single-family quarter-acre lots, surrounded by arterial roads dotted with strip malls, a variety of different approaches should be considered, not just a simple rubber-stamping of the Delft plan.

And on the demand side, louder and clearer calls for cities to be constructed and expanded on the basis of bicycle transportation will help clarify the lunacy of bicycle advocates supporting city plans in which everyone is riding just a hair faster than walking pace. I doubt the attractiveness of a movement whose idols ride expensive bicycles slowly, and I think bicycle advocacy would be more energized if its adherents took care to appeal to people who choose bicycling because it’s a cheap way to go fast.

Stadium, statist-style, with flea-market stores underneath

Here’s a nice shot of the stadium here at the secret city. Can’t have a secret city without a sports complex, right? You can’t see the outdoor pool from here, but it’s behind the stands here.
Underneath the stands is a row of local-national shops selling luggage, bootleg videos, and sawdust-themed cigarettes. It reminds me of something out of that William Gibson novel where all the people are living on the Bay Bridge, in a community-theater-budget kind of low-key way.

Tree in courtyard, larger and more magnificent than the building itself

I came upon this building taking the shortcut to the tent from the refectory last night after dark. The building has a courtyard in the middle, but look at the tree! It would be even better if the current secret-city administration had kept up the landscaping of the last tenants, but I doubt that landscaping is really their strong point.

Hescos on pallets

Lucky chance, I saw these Hescos still on pallets. In the closeup you
can see how the spirals are preattached to fill about six large-size

Half-dozen close-ups of Hesco fastenings, sounds dry as old dirt, yes?

The latest in this week’s series of Hescofotos. Focus of this set is how they are
attached to each other. Jean points out that the spiral sections are
used to hook the flat lattices together. I went to check on the
nearest row of them, and what it looks like is that they come in
multi-section sets, so that you can put down eight or ten or twelve in
a row all at once. If you want fewer, you just attack them with the
wire cutters and shorten the row before putting in the bags and the


‘Tis true: you don’t see single Hescos around. They’re always in rows.

The “R – House,” Hesco living!

This doesn’t look bad, but it doesn’t look great, either. In my experience the problem with the Hesco as an interior wall is that it transmits dust. This R-house technique (see the cited website for more pictures) looks like it has the roof sealed somehow to the top of the walls.

I can’t tell from the pictures how this is a big improvement over a tent. There’s more insulation, but it’s easier to aircondition or heat a tent. For flood control it’s more economical to build a big wall around multiple tents.

Busted Hesco

Today’s Hesco snap: this one between the tent area and the street.
Perhaps something crashed into it on the street side.

Mini Maelstrom

This gallery contains 6 photos.

It’s not a doozy of a dust storm today, just a little one, the kind of atmospheric event that makes folks wearing facemasks look kind of foolish. The wind was coming from the south in the morning but over lunch switched to the north. Boreas, my an… Continue reading

Blast walls and Hescos

The blast wall, a 15-foot high concrete barrier, shaped like an upside-down letter T, is on the left. Its counterpart, the Hesco barrier, is on the right. A Hesco is a folding metal basket with a paper liner filled with dirt.

The advantage of the Hescos is that you can ship them broken down and fill them where you need them. The blast walls, on the other hand, are more durable and look nicer.

This picture is from right outside the recreation center where I am holed up afternoons to use the internet.