How NYC Artisans Keep Historic Real Estate Like New

From Brooklyn to the Bronx, and all the brownstone and mansion studded boroughs in between, owners of historic homes know they need a little help when it comes to renovations and upkeep of their historic properties.

Especially if their home is officially designated historic by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, which recognizes buildings with “special historical, cultural, or aesthetic value and that (are) an important part of New York City’s historical and architectural heritage.”

The Commission, which was created in 1965 in response to the destruction of historically significant buildings, designates individual buildings as well as entire neighborhoods.

According to the Commission’s website:

To help protect the city’s landmarks from inappropriate changes or destruction, the Commission must approve in advance any alteration, reconstruction, demolition, or new construction affecting the designated building.

But New Yorkers don’t maintain historic properties just because there are rules and regulations. People who own these properties want to preserve a small piece of history, indulge in the luxury of having a gently used, but still beautiful, home.

Of course, there are the practical problems associated with old homes: plumbing; HVAC and electricity. For that owners need licensed, insured, technicians with a great reputation.

But once (or while) those dollar-draining issues are dealt with the enticing details that lure people into purchasing historic properties—stained glass windows, wood floors, ornate plaster ceilings, tile- demand attention.

Fortunately, in New York, there’s plenty of help available, according to a recent article in the New York Post. There are large firms, such as EverGreene Architectural Arts, which can handle multiple aspects of a restoration project from mural restoration to recreating ornamental plaster.

Not just any handyman can handle the job of restoring, or even duplicating, the gorgeous architectural flourishes of past eras. It takes artisans with years of training and experience.

The Post article quotes two men who began learning their craft as teenagers. Vincent Battiloro, of The Finest Brownstone Wood Restoration, learned to work with wood as a teen in Italy while Larry Feldman, of Feldman Stained Glass, began working in window repair at local antiques shops while growing up in Greenwich Village.

Battiloro’s story exemplifies the evolution from starving artist to in-demand artisan. According to the Post “he moved to New York in 1960 — a time when preservation was less popular — and picked up odd jobs like repairing wood furniture in hotels.

“The business changed when young professionals realized that instead of paying $1 million for a studio in the city, they could buy a brownstone in Park Slope,” Battiloro says.

Today he mainly restores high-end woodwork in townhouses—much of which gets painted over or varnished from decorative fretwork to carved doors to elaborately detailed staircases.

Like Battiloro and Feldman, many of the artisans who focus on restoration and historical preservation are craftspeople who operate small, independent, businesses. That means their work isn’t cheap, but the end results can be priceless.

Deborah Mills, a custom wood carver based in Long Island City, is quoted in the Post article, admitting her skills “are pricey but valuable.”

But, she said, her firm is “up to any task, including recreating mantels, cornices and friezes for homeowners.”

One of the best resources for finding an artisan is the “Find a Professional” page on the New York Landmarks Conservancy website. The artisans aren’t vetted, but dozens of professionals are members of the organization (for instance, there are 10 who consult about stained glass.)

With resources like that available, it is possible to own, maintain and even improve historic houses in the boroughs of New York. It’s not easy, and it certainly won’t come cheap, but for those who love the idea rest assured, it’s do-able!

By |2018-10-31T18:29:25+00:00July 18th, 2017|Culture, Urban Planning|

Bodegas in New York City: Convenience for the Ages

It’s not completely a convenience store, not completely a deli, you know one when you see one, but they’re not a total cinch to define. Uniquely of and representative of New York City, the bodega is a place every New Yorker regularly visits for their day to day needs. Whether for a daily coffee and bagel or an emergency 2 AM cereal run, the local bodega is a neighborhood cornerstone.

But where exactly did these places emerge from? As with many traditions, a combination of various ethnic traditions led to what we know know as a bodega. In a city as richly diverse as New York, it comes as no great shock that our corner stores contain the legacies of several generations of immigrants.

For one, it would appear that the post-WWII influx of migrants from Puerto Rico established the foothold that allowed modern-day bodegas to multiply. Rooted in the Spanish word for “storeroom” or “wine cellar” (but eventually coming to mean “grocery store”), many of the early examples simply advertised themselves with that one word splashed across a sign out front. Their customers knew what they’d find inside.

Of course, the idea of a small corner store didn’t start exactly there. Earlier sandwich shops in Jewish enclaves held the same position as an indispensable neighborhood establishment. However, these shops and grocery stores in those days hadn’t evolved into the self-service stores we visit today. Most still were run by the “grocer” who would find your items for you, and many more were sit-down eateries. It took a few decades before things sped up to the satisfaction of all New Yorkers.

Another example of such is the Dominican enclave of Washington Heights, where the old-country tradition of the colmado is an important part of the bodega’s local role. These convenient stores also function as a meeting place, where locals can meet up with neighbors and friends in a relaxed atmosphere. Groups of people chatting in folding chairs outside the store is a not very unusual sight. The same can be found not only in Washington Heights but in bodegas across the city. Their position as impromptu meeting points underscores the importance of bodegas to their communities.

More recently, a growing number of bodegas are operated by immigrants of Middle Eastern origin. As the latest set of arrivals to set down entrepreneurial roots in the city, these owners face the same challenges as those who came before them, along with a few unique ones. The idea of selling pork products or alcohol is for many Arab bodega owners a source of conflict, but many have assimilated and accept this practice without partaking in it themselves.  

No matter who they are owned by, bodegas survive by serving their community. More and more frequently this means offering healthy options alongside the usual snack cakes and sodas. New, so-called “organic bodegas” offer up kombucha and organic pasta to their customers looking for hip, nutritional fare in their neighborhoods. City leaders have gotten in on the act as well, with several initiatives aimed at improving access to healthy food in all communities.

Beloved by all New Yorkers for many years, it’s hard to imagine the city without these ultra-convenient quick-shopping stores. Whether you’ve been here all your life or are new to the city, it’s easy to understand the appeal of the neighborhood bodega.

By |2018-10-31T18:15:55+00:00May 16th, 2017|Culture, Urban Planning|

How NYC’s Public Sector Is Tackling Innovation

In New York City, the goal to merge innovation with government is apparent on various fronts. This objective has been about a decade in the making, and while we’re only scratching the service of its potential, NYC has made great strides.

For various reasons, the public sector often lags behind when it comes to technology and innovation. While some of such reasons are valid, the tendency can be overcome. Opportunities aplenty lie in wake, especially on a city level where governments have more autonomy.

Partnering with the private sector is the best strategy thus far for bringing innovative solutions to public sector issues. Following are some of the most notable ways NYC’s public sector is bringing innovation into its governing, and what this means for the future of city government.

NYC’s Office of Tech and Innovation

In 2014, New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Tech and Innovation (MOTI) was launched. According to their website, the office “facilitates citywide coordination and collaboration on technology issues, serves as a catalyst for and advises agencies on innovation, and interacts with the wider New York City technology ecosystem.”

The office was started by Mayor De Blasio, who made it his mission to help New York City become the most innovative city in the world. Whether you love or hate De Blasio, this initiative has already made a measurable impact in its creation of tech-driven public initiatives.

The idea, according to the Mayor’s office, is to “expand economic opportunity and reinvent government for the 21st century.” MOTI’s website continues, “We will continue to attract the top talent to New York City, deepen our efforts to grow and foster local talent through education and workforce development programs.”

It should be mentioned that New York City has been leaning into private-public partnerships long before De Blasio. As one example, NYC BigApp competitions have been happening annually since 2009, challenging “developers, designers, and entrepreneurs to create functional, marketable tech tools that help solve pressing civic challenges.”

Innovative Projects

What BigApp has been accomplishing for seven years is similar to what MOTI is currently undertaking in different city departments. The city puts out calls for innovation (CFIs) and accepts proposals from individuals, startups, and companies.

CFIs are “an open solicitation of ideas and proposals that aims to help define the urban challenges facing our city.” There are currently several CFIs: two from the New York City Housing Authority, seeking solutions for electrical and heating issues, one from the NYC Department of Education, seeking data models for public schools, and one seeking ideas to bring broadband internet to all New Yorkers.

Besides from CFIs, MOTI has over a dozen innovative projects underway already. One of these is LinkNYC, “a system of 7,500+ high-tech public communications structures that….will each provide completely free, ultra-high speed encrypted Wi-Fi service (up to 1 Gigabit in speed) out to a radius of 150 feet….[and] provide free domestic phone calls, free emergency 911 calls and non-emergency 311 calls, and free cell phone charging stations.”

Other projects include the Department of Transportation’s Midtown in Motion, a program meant to improve traffic using sensors and data collection; the NYPD’s IdeaScale pilot project, which allows neighborhood residents submit issues they want addressed by their local precincts; and the Department of Education’s Short Cycle Evaluation Challenge, which lets educators pilot new edtech products.

Looking to the future

As we push further into the future, technology is quickly, and inevitably, following suit. We will all be in good shape is the government stays as up-to-date as possible. When innovation is saturated in both the public and private sector, and the two work together to public benefit, the economy and people will thrive as a result. NYC is a great example of this theory in action, and hopefully other cities will follow its example.

By |2020-05-07T19:09:37+00:00March 21st, 2017|Culture, Technology, Urban Planning|

What New York City Could Learn from Toronto About Sustainability

When it comes to cities, the word sustainable comprises much more than the environmental connotation acquired in recent decades. As any cement-pounding city dweller can attest, sustainable applies to basic living conditions, as well as environmentally-friendly practices. So it makes sense to assess cities’ sustainability in terms of residents. After all, what qualifies a city as a city, if not for the people?

Cities must not only retain but attract people: to persist and grow, to pay for services provided, and even to turn a profit. So it also makes sense to score cities on financial stability.

And beyond its residents and economic standing, cities have to adapt. In the current climate, that urban adaptation often takes the form of environmental policy.

So while cities have been coined green and smart, what really makes a city sustainable?

Recent surveys generally give scores in three categories: people, planet, and profit, according to Arcadis’s Sustainable Cities Index, assembled by the London-based Center for Economics and Business Research. No city has managed to perfectly balance these three tentpoles yet. As more and more people gravitate toward urban centers, that sweet spot remains a moving target. Factors like population growth and climate change affect a city’s sustainability score from year-to-year, and though circumstances seem to primarily impact one target, the three are closely intertwined. Hence, the Sustainable Cities Index, intended to reflect a city’s overall health: “not to create a hierarchy of elite cities,” emphasizes John Batten, Arcadis’s Global Director of Water and Cities, “but to indicate areas of opportunity.”

The necessity of comparison brings us back to examination of the term city. Although you can compose a checklist of characteristics that constitute a city, no entity of that name will reflect those characteristics in quite the same way. In a column tracking minimum population, for example, you may see similar numbers, but not the wildly varying demographics they represent.

Again, John Batten puts these statistics in perspective: “‘Cities have unique identities that are heavily influenced by their cityscape, economy and culture. Some cities, particularly established European cities such as Zurich which tops our index, are positioned within a moderate climate and have an economically balanced population which gives them a clear advantage when it comes to their sustainability. Others have to deal with issues including extreme climates, rapid urbanization and lack of financial resources which can hold them back.’”

So, with all these disclaimers about awarding cities of all shapes and sizes with number scores that constitute a somewhat arbitrary measure of sustainability, how can these cities take cues from each other? Specifically, what can the relatively high-scoring New York City learn from the similarly successful Toronto?

The Sustainable Cities Index operates on a scale from 100, and Zurich tops the charts with a score near 75. New York is ranked overall 26th out of 100 cities surveyed, and Toronto comes in at 33rd. However, the cities’ scores are not far off from each other: New York scored 62.9% overall, and Toronto 61.7%. And while New York earned the title of most sustainable North American city for 2016, Toronto held that title in 2015, for the first Sustainable Cities Index report.

The cities’ sub-scores reveal a more detailed makeup: in the people category, Toronto actually beat New York, with a sub-score of 62.3% compared to New York’s 53.4%, placing them 40th and 77th out of 100 cities. They scored similarly in the planet section: Toronto at 68.1% and New York at 66.1%, ranking 28th and 33rd in this category. The profit category explains why New York outranks Toronto on the Index: New York scored 69.3% in this category and Toronto scored 54.8%, leaving them at 8th and 38th in this section.

So if New York is to look to Toronto for ways to improve its sustainability score, the planet and particularly the people sub-scores give some indication. Each city’s rating in the people sub-section is comprised of scores in several sub-categories: education, health, demographics, income inequality, affordability, work-life balance, and crime. The biggest discrepancies between Toronto and New York can be found in income inequality (10.7% > 6.5%); crime (13.2 % > 10.1%); and affordability (7.1% > 0.2%).

The planet sub-score is based on environmental risks, green spaces, energy, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, waste management, drinking water and sanitation. The most significant differences between Toronto and New York here are environmental risks (9.9% > 7.6%); energy (8.6% > 6.5%); and air pollution (13.4% > 12.1%).

Toronto has been especially successful in energy efficiency, waste management, and water. Toronto is one of the top three cities for ensuring a robust, effective, and healthy water supply, while New York’s resources are considered more vulnerable. Indeed, the report highlights some of New York’s perceived weaknesses, including poverty, an overburdened transportation infrastructure, and rising sea levels forecasting more storms, flooding, and other natural disasters.

Toronto, on the other hand, will have to deal with a 25% population increase expected in the next 15 years. “According to a report presented by the city, Toronto has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 25% since 1990 and expects to improve that number to 30% by 2030 even amid the city`s population growth, which has seen the metropolitan area swell to six million as of February 2015.”

Hopefully these sustainability assessments and metrics encourage cities around the globe to learn from each other and the myriad issues faced by such complex cosmopolitan organisms in the coming century.

By |2020-11-05T19:51:51+00:00November 17th, 2016|Technology, Urban Planning|

Hudson Yards Development & The Future of Smart Cities

When the historic Hudson Yards project joined forces with Constantine Kontokosta and NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) in 2014, the topic of smart cities came to the fore. Hudson Yards is a real estate endeavor unprecedented in the modern era for many reasons: the land developed is west of Midtown West in Manhattan, home to the some of the hottest real estate on the market; the project spans many city blocks, essentially comprising its own neighborhood; and the complex will recycle organic waste, collect and reuse rainwater, and host a power generator onsite. Add the fact that Kontokosta and CUSP are outfitting the site with thousands of sensors, and you have a truly groundbreaking development, what many have termed a “smart city.” Smart cities powered by “user data” have the potential to be safer and certainly smarter, but the methods and application of data gathering deserve attention.

The myriad uses of this sensor system are still being explored, but certain essential energy efficiency and environmental factors will undoubtedly be addressed with the data gathered: air and noise pollution, for example. Hudson Yards’s emphasis on sustainability as well as “resiliency, redundancy, [and] future-proofing” is in part an answer to natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy and to energy initiatives launched by the mayor’s office. In 2009 Local Law 84 came into effect in New York, mandating that larger properties collect and submit information about buildings’ energy and water usage. Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to harness that data in the 80 x 50 effort, aiming to cut New York’s greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050.

For a developer’s perspective, the Observer spoke to David Brause, president of family-owned Brause Realty: “His firm is comfortable investing in green features that might take 20 years to pay off, because his company’s strategy is to buy and hold long-term. He’s honest though that beyond energy cost savings, the economics of green treatments have yet to be entirely proven. […] For existing buildings, even the economic case for updating systems can be tough to make for building owners who aren’t able to work on a 20-year time horizon like large owners can.” However, regulations like Local Law 84 and initiatives like 80 x 50 make it in developers’ best interests to retrofit their buildings with energy management systems and to design green buildings going forward, especially as New York is not the only city to enact such legislation, and more is likely to come down the pipe in coming years.

A open source project called Array of Things has set out to gather urban data similar to that collected at Hudson Yards. By deploying 500 nodes attached to traffic poles and streetlights throughout Chicago, this project will “initially measure temperature, barometric pressure, light, vibration, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone, ambient sound intensity, pedestrian and vehicle traffic, and surface temperature.” Data is transmitted to the Argonne National Laboratory, and measures have been taken to ensure the privacy of passersby.

This issue of privacy, along with security and equality, will need to be addressed in the creation of any smart city. The internet of things – the concept of a network of physical objects collecting data and contributing to a kind of matrix of physical information – is an easy connection to make when visualizing the thousands of sensors placed around Hudson Yards. CUSP brands this idea as a “quantifiable community,” but that raises the question of who can afford to live in the Hudson Yards community, and who may be left behind in the age of smart cities.

An urban neighborhood built from the ground-up, like Hudson Parks – complete with commercial and retail spaces, a school, and a hotel – is almost unheard of, especially in New York City. Most city neighborhoods are deeply rooted in culture and history, even those that undergo controversial growth spurts like gentrification. Even cities that underwent large scale reconstruction, like Chicago after the fire of 1871 or San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake, still grew organically, shaped by residents and experiences. Can smart cities be considered “cities” in the traditional sense if they are too engineered, and not by their own residents, but by management companies and city planners with a wealth of data at their command?

Kontokosta emphasizes that personal information about residents’ health and activities will only be gathered voluntarily. Such personalized data could be incredibly useful from a city planner’s perspective, but when does it become invasive or even Orwellian? And how is all the information gathered to be secured against cyber attacks? As Kontokosta admits in this Bisnow article, “There will be a lot of challenges dealing with the fire hose of data this is going to unleash, but we’re hoping this will eventually become a model for how cities think about this type of informatics infrastructure going forward.”

For more information, listen to WNYC’s summer 2016 segment: The Future of the Smart City. Find further reading in Anthony Townsend’s book Smart Cities and in Adam Greenfield’s shorter piece Against the Smart City.

By |2018-10-31T17:51:14+00:00October 24th, 2016|Technology, Urban Planning|

The Skinny Skyscraper: More Than Just a Trend?

The Manhattan skyline is marked by several skyscrapers and buildings with unique architectural designs, in addition to which we’ve seen an explosion of super-skinny towers in New York in recent years. The slender, compact design of these buildings gives them an edgier, futuristic look and many are now used as high-rise apartment complexes and business offices. Experts are claiming that this is almost a new phenomena in architectural trends, a combination of economics and engineering, according to professor of architecture at Columbia University, Carol Willis, who is also the founder and director of the Skyscraper Museum.

Are skinny skyscrapers, also called pencil towers, more than just a trend? Here’s a closer look at this emerging architectural design and what we can expect in the construction and design world in the oncoming years:

Notable Skinny Scrapers in New York

According to City Lab, the number of skyscrapers in New York City that are 1,000 feet or taller are going to increase significantly. Today, the skyline features just seven of theses super skinny buildings but there are already several multi-million dollar projects underway for new construction buildings that will transform the area around Central Park and Billionaires row, reports City Lab.

What’s most significant about these buildings is their structural aspect ratio. Willis explains that some are built with extreme of a 1:23 base-width to height ratio which means the building is an architectural feat — and certainly a sight to behold.

The tallest residential tower in the Western Hemisphere is located at 432 Park Avenue. It was designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects and stands 1,396 feet tall with a height to width ratio of 15:1. The building was completed in 2015 and boasts nearly birds-eye views of New York. It’s a welcome addition to the bustling streets of New York City since it doesn’t take up much space on the ground. The tower looms high above many New York buildings, changing the famous New York City skyline.
Another iconic building in New York City is The Icon, a 43-story residential tower on West 48th Street. This was the first skinny skyscraper in New York and also has a height to width ratio of 15:1. Residents of this building enjoy views of the Hudson River, Midtown and Central Park.

Skinny Skyscrapers Push the Boundaries of Architectural Design

Skinny skyscrapers and super-slender buildings certainly push the boundaries of modern design, architecture, engineering, and real estate. In cities like New York where space is a commodity, it would seem the skinny skyscraper is the perfect solution for saving space on the ground while increasing available space above.

Building developers and construction teams may also be able to save money on materials in both the short-term and long-term since they need to use higher-strength steel and composite structures to ensure the buildings do not collapse, and also so the building maintains its structural integrity and original design for several decades to come. We are already seeing this trend influencing construction and building design in Melbourne, Australia, and in London, United Kingdom where we are seeing a combination of skinny skyscrapers and sculpted buildings scheduled for construction in 2017 and beyond.

Optimizing Architectural Design and Construction of Skinny Skyscrapers

The effects of heavy traffic on roadways near the building, stormy weather and even strong winds can all shake a building from the foundation upward, causing vibrations and even structural damage. To counteract the impact of environmental factors in the bustling city of New York, architects are designing these buildings with additional features.

As The Lyncean Group of San Diego points out, slosh dampers can be installed to absorb vibrations on lower floors, something that many residents or office workers in a skinny skyscraper experience because of the construction of the building. Mass dampers can be placed on user floors to reduce the impact of wind forces. These technical and engineering modifications may soon become a necessary part of the design and building process of very high and slender buildings, something that is may not always have been required when building traditional skyscrapers.  

Architects working on skinny skyscraper buildings are now using advanced structural modeling techniques to determine how to optimize the design of the skyscraper to handle certain environmental effects, such as wind turbulence and heavy traffic, as well as the overall weight load of a building based on its use. For example, residential towers may have different structural requirements than a commercial use building. Mixed-use buildings may need to be designed with certain specifications to ensure they can accommodate for certain weight loads and activities.

Since they can be constructed for both residential and commercial purposes and take up less space than traditional skyscrapers and mixed-use buildings, skinny skyscrapers are likely more than just a trend. In some of the world’s biggest cities where space is increasingly limited, the skinny skyscraper may be the best solution for accommodating for a growing population. Architects that know how to use advanced computer technologies and modeling systems to create these buildings will able to render futuristic, edgy and awe-inspiring designs that are also structurally sound and meet local zoning laws.

Featured image: Richard Schneider via Flickr 

By |2018-10-31T16:20:39+00:00July 22nd, 2016|Urban Planning|

How Self-Driving Cars Would Transform New York City

Self-driving cars developed by the likes of Google and Tesla are generating a lot of buzz as their wheels are tested and designs refined. While it’s difficult to imagine driverless cars in a New York City — a city defined by its traffic jams and vocal drivers — all signs point to their eventual introduction. But what exactly would that look like? The vehicle and pedestrian congestion levels of NYC would make the adoption difficult, to say the least.

Self-driving cars universally raise questions regarding safety, legislation, mass transit, and environmental and human impact, not to mention their inevitable impact on gas prices. Add to that list the volume of foot traffic in New York City, the city’s well-established taxi fleet, and a massive public transit system, and you end up with an interesting conundrum.

Here’s a look at how self-driving cars would transform one of America’s largest metropolises, and what it could mean for urban spaces across the nation and world.

Safety

For self-driving cars to become commonplace, the cars first and foremost need to be safe. Early in 2016 Elon Musk claimed that Tesla’s Autopilot feature was “’probably better than a person right now.’” However, Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Google’s autonomous driving initiative, noted Autopilot’s limitations during test drives.

According to this New York Times article, “The Tesla performed well in freeway driving, and the company recently fixed a bug that had caused the car to unexpectedly veer off onto freeway exits. However, on city streets and country roads, Autopilot’s performance could be described as hair-raising.”

In fact, the first recorded fatality occurred in May of this year, when a Tesla car on self-driving mode failed to break as a tractor trailer ahead made a left turn. In a city, this type of incident could be even more likely — especially in New York City, where vehicle and foot traffic are perpetual problems. Still, human error being the main cause of accidents, driverless cars are likely to prevent many deaths and accidents.

In a tight city, that won’t be easy. The Midtown grid may be easy for Autopilot to navigate, but what about the twisting streets of the Financial District and the Village? Northeast weather conditions can introduce additional challenges.

Another big issue is the switch to manual control, as prompted by the Autopilot, which presumes close human supervision. According to John Leonard, an MIT mechanical engineering professor, “’The whole issue of interacting with people inside and outside the car exposes real issues in artificial intelligence.’”

Human error while operating large machinery is a known–if beleaguered–quantity. Although potentially safer, self-driving cars will probably be held to higher safety standards prior to widespread use, prompting a chilling question: will these self-driving cars and corresponding apps be susceptible to sabotage and hacking?

Despite precedent in features like cruise control, which automates some aspects of driving, people will undoubtedly want certain guarantees before giving up manual control.

Legislation

With continued funding, testing, and refinement, safety issues can certainly be improved upon, if not eliminated. However, that leaves the next hurdle of legislation.

Autonomous cars must be made legal state-by-state, which could be a challenge depending on the region and public perception. What will the inevitable transition period look like–the mix of driven and self-driving cars? How will issues of litigation be settled in the inevitable event of an accident?

If driverless cars are to become normalized, especially in big cities, all of the legal kinks will need to be worked out first.

Congestion

Beyond all these practical implementation concerns, how will these self-driving cars affect the New York cityscape? According to an article by Curbed, autonomous cars would eventually lead to a “shared vehicle ownership model, ” similar to Citi Bike or Zipcar, which would in turn lead to more efficient driving and parking practices, such as the reduction of parking spaces and roadways, which would mean the reclamation of public space.

According to Dr. Kara Klockman, “shared bikes” will also get a boost from this kind of transit model. Alain Kornhauser posits that autonomous vehicles will actually make regional transit and by extension urban public transit more accessible.

Essentially, if all cars (or even most) in NYC were to go the driverless route, it would mean less traffic and smoother roads.

Commuting

Still, one can’t help but ask if autonomous cars would be a preferred mode of transport over public transit. There’s the transfer to consider, as well as the costs of each mode of transportation (and the tally when combining them). Why not take an autonomous car all the way to work? Even with carpooling, we might see increased urban sprawl and an uptick in commute times.

As Dr. Kara Klockman notes, “’A big concern that I have for cities, states and regions is excessive travel. […] I think we’ll need a credit-based congestion pricing model.”

As the environmental costs of vehicular travel continue to be scrutinized, alternative modes of transportation are more likely to be prioritized, especially in cities like New York that have robust public transport systems already. But if driverless cars could operate sustainably, quickly and cheaply, they may play a chief role.

Human impact

The question of cost raises additional concerns. Gerry Tierney notes: “If we’re moving toward this autonomous, decentralized transit system, we need to make sure that it’s accessible to everybody, that there’s a social equity concept in the design.”

For people of lower income who cannot afford to live in the city center where they work, self-driving cars could be a real time-saver. But if these people are priced out of the service, we could end up with a very lopsided combination of public transportation systems and autonomous vehicle transit.

Another human cost to consider is the impact on labor. As this New York Post article puts it, “Chalk up another possible job victim of the Internet age — the New York City cab driver.” Mayor Bill de Blasio already signed an agreement with Google in April 2015 to add thousands of self-driving cars to New York’s taxi service.

The proposed 2016 White House budget included $4 billion for pertinent research funding. And Uber, along with its competitor Lyft, are planning to use autonomous cars, which–given the recent controversy surrounding Uber’s employer practices and the app’s controversial reception in many cities–could prove contentious.

Lastly, what of New York City’s finest, the NYPD? Traffic tickets add a consistent stream of revenue to police forces, and assuming self-driving cars limit (if not remove entirely) the possibilities of road violations, some estimates predict half of cops could be put out of work.

While this would be bad in the short-term for police officers, it could free up their time and resources to concentrate more fully on serious crimes.

At the end of the day, it’s tough to say what NYC would really look like if and when driverless cars are popularized in urban spaces. But we can say for certain they will play a part in the future, and that the impact on America’s infrastructure and the face of its most vibrant city will be drastic.

Featured image: DiAnn L’Roy via Flickr

By |2018-10-31T16:19:00+00:00July 11th, 2016|Culture, Technology|