Thursday, January 31, 2008

Thursday Evening Eye Candy:
Williamsburg Bridge Sunset

williamsburg bridge sunset

From Schaefer Landing, Williamsburg.

Full-size image [Flickr]

Union Rats are Made in a Non-Union Shop

rats 2

Go figure.

On a rare trip to Midtown East for a meeting Wednesday morning, we spied an all-new yellow "union rat" peering into the second floor windows of an office building undergoing a (presumably) non-union renovation, and got curious about the nasty-looking inflatable critters and where they come from.

Turns out they're made in a (according to a 2003 Fast Company article) non-union shop based right in the midst of Big Union Country: Chicagoland.

Big Sky Balloons & Searchlights, a Plainfield, IL manufacturer of cold-air inflatable advertising balloons, offers a line called "Rat Pack / Union Balloons" that besides giant rodents, includes "Greedy Pig", "Cockroach", "Union Skunk" and a "Corporate Fat Cat", clutching a helpless construction worker in its meaty corporate paw.

Interestingly, we always assumed the airbrushed patch of boils and sores that appears on the loins of many of the blow-up rodents was a vague "scab" reference. But according to the same Fast Company piece, Big Sky's owner Mike O'Conner added the "pink belly with festering nipples" at a union member's request for a meaner-looking beast.

The Inflatable Union Rat

Rat Pack / Union Balloons []

Thursday, January 10, 2008

At Northside Piers, a Pier Appears;
Can it Save East River Ferry Service?

northside pier

Back in July, we served up a modest proposal to bring NY Water Taxi service to Northside Williamsburg by building a temporary floating dock at either the foot of North 7th Street or within East River State Park, giving 'Burg commuters an alternative to packed L-trains, and offering the struggling ferry service access to a much larger pool of riders.

We're still waiting for appreciative phone calls from Mayor Bloomberg and NY Water Taxi owners Tom Fox and Douglas Durst. Actually, since we posted the suggestion, we've determined that NY State Parks is barely amenable to opening the Kent Avenue park for park-goers; the chances of them providing access to Water Taxi riders is probably a pipe dream. The MTA's financial black hole is unlikely to start coughing up grants to private-sector competitors any time soon. And most disappointing: in December, NY Water Taxi itself announced a five-month suspension of East River service due to high fuel costs and lack of ridership.

But one positive development could provide incentive for an early return to the East River Route: down at the foot of North 5th Street in Williamsburg, a large red crane has quietly been unloading prefab concrete slabs from waiting barges the past few months - and out of sight of residents, development bloggers, and construction sightseers, a long concrete pier is quickly taking shape.

Readers will be quick to point out that a mile down the Williamsburg shoreline, the Water Taxi stop that formerly put the landing in Schaefer Landing, is now closed - despite having been touted as an amenity to prospective buyers. To that we have three rebuttals: 1. Location 2. Location 3. Location.

Schaefer Landing is halfway between the Navy Yard and the Williamsburg Bridge, and despite the large Hassidic community nearby, the immediate neighborhood hasn't seen the massive influx of residents that the Northside neighborhood has. And based on the thousands of new housing units coming online in the next two years - that trend will only continue. Indeed, Schaeffer Landing itself has been unable to attract buyers and retail tenants, due at least in part to its remote location.

Toll Brothers should actively woo NY Water Taxi to its new pier at Northside Piers. The site has a newly-planted, pedestrian-safe walkway that leads to its sales office. That walkway could easily be extended to the new pier, and create significant foot traffic to the showroom as the developer sells units in two upcoming towers. Manhattan realtors could encourage midtown and downtown commuters to take the ferry to open houses at the site. And Toll Brothers would gain first-mover advantage toward permanent Water Taxi service at Northside Piers - an amenity that's currently being promoted by neighboring Williamsburg Edge.

Access to Northside commuters - and weekend sightseers from Manhattan - could be the key to making the East River ferry route economically viable.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Williamsburg Container Port

williamsburg container port

Who says cargo port operations are nearly extinct in Brooklyn? The volume of containers handled by the curious lot at 59 North 6th Street recently doubled, when the three iconic blue and green containers that have been there for at least three years were joined by three new rust colored twenty-footers, presumably fresh from a Chinese ocean freighter.

We wonder if that makes the Northside block eligible for Homeland Security dollars?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Congressman Eyed Bushwick Inlet
for 1896

bushwick inlet 13

We had a chance to shoot some photos around the Bushwick Inlet property (Kent Avenue at North 14th) recently, and in poking around online for some history of the site, we came across an article in the NY Times archive, dated March 6, 1896, in which the Grand Street [Brooklyn] Board of Trade discusses the "wretched pollution" and "pestilence" caused by terrible smells emenating from Bushwick Creek inlet. The problem was significant enough to warrant Congressman James R. How's return from DC to attend the meeting.

What we found particularly interesting, however - given recent moves by the city to begin acquiring the surrounding properties for a future park - a was this line:

[Congressman How] also suggested that the city authorities should be asked to purchase the territory around the creek for park purposes.

The creek was eventually filled in, leaving the inlet surrounded by fuel processing and storage operations. And 111 years later, the city is taking Congressman How's advice, making initial moves to exercise eminent domain proceedings and move forward with the park. The wheels of change do turn slowly indeed...

The former creek and present-day inlet do have a storied past, including having been the birthplace of the US Navy's first ironclad warship, the USS Monitor. If you have a few minutes, hit the links below.

Bushwick Inlet photoset

Greenpoint History []

The Condition of Brooklyn's Streets and Houses - Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 9, 1885 []