Best of 2009: “At the junction”

This was first published on June 24, 2009.

My first reaction when I saw this post on a blog called Infrastructurist (looks very cool) (via Boing Boing) was just to link to it on my Facebook page. I also lament the loss of these great — well, in some cases very large and grandiose, if not necessarily actually great — civic works of sculpture. I come to work, in fact, through the new Penn Station every day, and work in One Penn Plaza (yeah, me and those buildings!), overlooking (actually, straddling) the non-entity of a transport hub that now bears the Pennsylvania Station name as well as the depressing Madison Square Garden.

Pennsylvania Station

Then I went ahead and wrote this comment, and decided to recycle and touch it up a little here, for the benefit of my larger other audience.

To a large extent the manner in which the loss of these temples of transit compels so many of us is a testament to what we really think about a world ruled solely by utilitarian concerns. That latter, callous attitude toward the spiritual importance of environment on human existence, in the cities as much as anywhere else, is displayed by Alon Levy in the comments at the original post.

God help us in the soulless, bottom-line libertarian future that so many think they want!

Ironically, the utilitarian worldview is incapable of accounting for the long-term utility and welfare (in the microeconomics sense of the word) that derive from civic pride — the decline of which, from the 1950’s on, along with the decline in the quality of inner city life, surely must be linked to the decline of the humane in urban architecture.

And yet: As the (not so godless?) Alon says in a subsequent comment, “Ron Coleman, you’re the first person I see use the word spirituality to mean ‘preserving train station facades.’” Indeed: Many of these buildings were and are obsolete, and the cost of their respective upkeep, utility expense, restoration or retrofit, relevance to modern transportation need or all of the above would constitute a preposterous budget item for almost any public entity saddled with such costs. Only religious dogma, and perhaps theocracy, could justify such devotion.

Rail transport, despite its highly romantic appeal, is great for everyday commuting but is seldom of the choice of travelers from afar, for whom flying — even in its own diminished state as a culture and a humane experience — is a clearly superior choice. Most other travel remains, in America, highway-based, because Americans want to go where they want, when they want and with whom they want, and they want to get back home that way, too.

In addition, the cheap labor and lax or nonexistent building, fire, safety and access standards of the nineteenth century, which made it possible to erect and use these behemoths, are truly relics of a different age. So who is going to foot the bills to maintain these buildings as obsolete white elephants? Or is someone here volunteering for a special tax assessment so Detroiters can stare at their irrelevant grand terminal?

There’s the facts, Jacks.

I sure wish we had the old Penn Station here, though.

Comments at the original post.

West End Avenue

West End Avenue

I always wanted to live on the Upper West Side.

Beyond politics

That’s what Jon Stewart is, at least — at least regarding ACORN.

My favorite line:  “Your pimp outfit appears to be a fur coat on top of your Andover uniform.”

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Even Stewart is mocking that idea that this mere right-wing agitprop. As Glenn Reynolds (who I now see has also embedded this video) says in another post:

And you have to love this: “Robert L. Borosage, co-director of the liberal Campaign for America’s Future, called the tactics used to go after Mr. Jones and Acorn ‘McCarthyite,’ and said the critics were harping on minor failings.”

Yeah, it’s exactly the same. Heck, compared to Joe McCarthy’s famous pimp disguise, this kid’s an amateur.  . . .

My September 11th

This five-post article was originally posted on Dean’s World.

I work in New York City. That morning I was late on the way into the office. I had to stop off at what was then called the “AT & T Phone Store” to replace my cell phone. I chose the one just off Sixth Avenue in Midtown, near the subway stop before the one I usually got off at. This was around 53rd Street — a good two and a half miles north of the financial district, if you don’t know New York.

It was a very bright, pretty day — I remember noticing this as I got out of the subway. I went into the store and found a clerk, and he was showing me the different models. And then his own cell phone, clipped onto his belt at the hip, rang. He asked me to pardon him, and took the call. Then he hung up and came back to the counter.

“My wife. A plane crashed into the World Trade Center!”

“Oh, gosh,” I said. I thought of the time during World War II when a bomber returning from Europe slammed into the Empire State Building. “What a disaster.” I had taken my family to the observatory at the Twin Towers just a couple of weeks earlier, to look at the whole world from the top of a building. The salesman and I shared a “tsk” and chose a phone, and completed our transaction.

I decided to walk over the Fifth Avenue, where my office was at the time. Two “avenue” blocks, about ten minutes of a walk, into the Rolex Building on 53rd and Fifth.

I went into the entrance on 53rd, through the cool marble lobby, up to the 12th floor, where my office was at the time. The elevator opened into our library, and the receptionist looked up.

“Did you hear?” she asked?

“About the accident at the World Trade Center?” I asked.

“Both buildings — another plane!”

Both buildings?

Another plane?

This was not an accident.

I walked past her to my office overlooking 53rd Street and switched on the radio.

This was something altogether different.

Part two here.

It sets

Summer fades

September evening on 34th Street, New York.

Bitter, bitter, bitter

Yes, it’s getting right ugly for prospective lawyers right now — even the elite “Tier One” crowd. Here’s the article in the New York Times that has all the law-firm-associate blogs hopping; and here’s a sample hop sent to me by a Biglaw alumnus, now in house managing someone’s regulatory compliance, and who says “Thank God I’m not a lawyer any more.”  The definitive take, of course, is at Above the Law, which deems the story mere “dog bites man.”

Personification of Power, Newark historic courthouse

I can’t complain.  I have many times, but… I can’t.

Attorney Ronald D. Coleman