Tag Archives: New York City

(407) Sign of the times: your holiday blues killer right here

Sign of the Times is the recent project of a New York City artist/activist named Andres Serrano.  Mr. Serrano went around the Big Apple asking to purchase the cardboard signs used by people begging in the street.  The result is this: a rather profound short movie.

The point is that any approach to poverty worth anything requires creativity and respect.

I Bought Signs Homeless People Use to Beg—Here’s What Happened. 200 signs told the story of poverty in America and in the worldAlterNet

image: via YouTube

(327) Cyclonomics

bikonomicsBoing Boing posted a link recently that led us to a New York Department of Transportation study that found that bicycles are good for business.  Specifically, dedicated main street bikeways attract a steady stream of local spending in the form of shoppers.  So that means bicycle infrastructure can be added not just to the fun-and-fitness file but to the economic development file.  A two-wheeled tool for ameliorating poverty, keeping money in people’s pockets which they can spend locally, reducing environmental harm, …what kind of crack head mayor goes against that idea?

Bike lanes led to 49% increase in retail sales  Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing

Do Cyclists Make Better Customers?
A Portland, OR blogger looks at cycling and local retail where the issue is atmosphere and social opportunity as much as spending, with links through to a number of documents from Portland Bureau of Transportation.

What are the financial benefits of cycling?
See the large variety of links to reports on the economic considerations of cycling from the site of a Canadian cycling advocacy group’s site.


(274) Illegal apartments

800px-Bungalow_(PSF)A form of second class citizenship results from having a bad landlord.  It is remarkably stressful for working people when a property owner is outside the law regarding the state of repair, provision of heat in winter, increases in rent, fire and electrical safety, lighting, ventilaton, crowding, cleaning, and snow removal reasonably expected by a rent paying tenant.  Anecdotes about bad landlords and substandard/illegal apartments, particularly in the basements of houses designed for single family living, are never hard to come by.  Students, immigrants, low income workers, the mentally ill and retired persons often find themselves in substandard housing because they are economically vulnerable.  Exaggerated real estate values also compel property owners to consider shoddy installations of poor quality suites and basement apartments at least as much as simple greed does.

Even a casual use of Internet search terms such as “illegal apartments” followed by virtually any North American suburban place name yields a peek into a massive social change for the worse taking place in North America. This is true from Vancouver to Boston.  Such a change represents the mainstreaming of substandard housing and is another feature of poverty associated with traditional urban social difficulty now fully rooted in suburbia.

To wit: Brampton, Ontario, Canada.  In 1998 Brampton banned basement apartments.  They were cited as unsafe and not appropriate to the single-family ideal of a fast-growing, low-density suburb.  Basement apartments were said to be fire hazards that also bring an unwelcome increase in vehicle parking, create unplanned demand for schools, police, libraries, parks and garbage removal.  Extra basement-dwelling tenants are even cited for lowering water pressure at certain times of day!  There is truth in all these things but the story does not end there.  Brampton is now thought to have about thirty thousand illegal basement apartments.  Some houses have had such apartments for decades.

Brampton’s situation can hardly be unique.  Suburbs all over North America are being forced to adapt to change.  A basement apartment represents a cheap, unimaginative, fast, minimalist approach to keeping people housed.  The single-family home-based suburb is obsolete. Super-sized monster homes and rooming houses encroach on moderate homes and the result is uneasy.  Thing is, where is the alternative?  We have barely begun to conceive of what it might look like.

Brampton residents battle over basement suites-which are illegal, apparently
Toronto Life

Jan Wong: the simmering class war over basement apartments in Brampton
Toronto Life

Brampton, to the northwest of Toronto, has just over half a million people and is one of Canada’s fastest-growing communities.  In the early 1970s much of it was still agricultural land.  Older Queens, New York, home to more than two million, finds the issue of illegal apartments similarly tough.  To crack down on all the illegal housing in Queens would make life harder for many tenants who need cheap, basic places to live.  At the same time, the illegal units can be burdensome.  They represent unsafe conditions, can be crowded, their owners are not paying proper taxes, and tenants may be exploited.  What to do?

Housing: illegal conversions
Queens borough president official illegal conversion page

Fire Reveals Illegal Homes Hide in Plain Sight

How about the introduction of the rule of law to basement land and substandard landlords?  Respect for tenants is already enshrined in the law in Canada and the United States.  Slack standards and a lack of inspection endanger people.  We have the meltdown in the British and American banking systems to remind us that market-driven openness can be taken too far.  A tenant is not a colony to be exploited, they are in a buiness reationship with their landlord.  A little more balance at City Hall would help tenants get value for their money.

Landlords have rights and concerns yet many may be in a position to legalize and improve their suites with relative ease and at reasonable cost.  Others will need to be shut down, tossed in jail even.  The system must enforce existing, reasonable laws.  After that, a little imagination and a lot of investment, public and private, should be leveraged to support good housing alternatives.  Right now, it seems like North Americans can’t even imagine how to economically house themselves for a world of cultural changes, super storms, global warming, financial difficulty and energy scarcity.  This will change one way or another.

image: Scott Forseman via Wikimedia Commons

(272) Brooklyn by the numbers

Brooklyn BridgeA place index was added to suburban-poverty.com recently.  The idea was to encourage clicks, spread the word.  We also got some insight into the blog’s field of vision.

The most represented place on suburban-poverty.com is the Greater Toronto Area.  That makes sense – our office complex is located there.  We didn’t expect to see so much of Vancouver.  It’s a somewhat sleepy, expensive big city constantly rated highly by visitors and in global online media rankings of urban quality of life.  Haven’t they been to Surrey lately?  What’s with that Vancouver?

Chicago, Detroit, and London are probably present in reasonable proportion to their size.  Paris, is not.  We were rather struck by our minimal coverage of New York City.

With this ommission in mind we came across a detail rich map of poverty in Brooklyn, the largest of the five boroughs composing New York City.  Brooklyn contains mature urban areas as well as suburbs and housing types of nearly every kind.  Apparently you can spend $74 dollars on artisanal horseradish in Brooklyn or live below the poverty line on food stamps around the corner.

Poverty in Brooklyn: block by block analysis 

Tale of two worlds
NY Daily News

image: Williamsburg Bridge looking toward Brooklyn by Joeinbrooklyn via Wikimedia Commons

(201) Sandy and the food stamps

…and so we see that Sandy has affected New York City in ways differentiated by neighbourhood and class structure.  Firstly, without electricity people cannot access benefit programs delivered via swipe cards.  That puts bottled water, batteries, candles, food out of reach of many of the poor experiencing this emergency.

Without Electricity, New Yorkers on Food Stamps Can’t Pay for Food

Word all over the Internet seems to be that working class suburbs have borne the brunt of the storm’s physical damage.  AlterNet just posted a three page article gathering impressions from  Staten Island, Red Hook, Breezy Point and Long Beach.  Emergency aid and the restoration of services are simply not happening there as fast as they reasonably ought to be.  It looks like a series of cold, mini-Katrinas edges New York City today.

“Please Don’t Leave Us!” NYers Desperate for Help — Latest Sandy Updates, What You Can Do  AlterNet

photo: John Herve Barbie via Wikimedia Commons