Showing posts with label urban density. Show all posts
Showing posts with label urban density. Show all posts

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Walk Through Chinatown

I want to digress from religion bashing for a bit. For the past year or so I've been focusing intensely on counter-apologetics. I've been trying to take on the toughest arguments theism has to see if they hold any water. So far they don't. But it's always fun demonstrating so in the process, and one of the roles this blog plays is for me to share counter arguments with the skeptic community and have a repository available when I get into online debates with theists where I can simply copy and paste many of my arguments.

But since this blog is also about the city, I also want to share some of the doings about my city, New York. I recently took a walk in Chinatown in Manhattan and snapped a few pics. I loved Chinatown growing up. I remember my dad taking me there when I was a kid. I remember back in the day buying illegal fireworks there around July 4th with my older friend Jimmy so that we could  put on a show for the neighborhood folks, while nearly blowing it up in the process. The neighborhood has become a bit gentrified like all Manhattan neighborhoods, but it still retains most of its essential character.

I'm not sure if this is Confucius, arguable China's greatest and most well known philosopher, or someone else. This park used to be the site of Collect Pond, which was New York's water supply in the days when New York was a small town. See here.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Walk Through Midtown

I had to have dental work in Midtown Manhattan the other day. I took a few pictures on my way out.

This building above under construction is 432 Park Avenue and is slated to be a 90 story residential tower that will be 1,398 feet tall. That's taller than the Empire State Building and the new Freedom Tower. It will be the second tallest building in America and tallest residential tower in the Western hemisphere when completed. See here. I'm not crazy about the boxy design but its height is stupendous.

This is the famous Citicorp building.

Looking down Park Avenue towards the Metlife building.

Some kind of street art. Hopefully it is recycled material.

I love how Gothic this building is.


I agree.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Tokyo For Foreigners

Watching a few documentaries recently on YouTube about the experiences of culture shock of Westerners in Japan got me thinking of the time I visited Tokyo in 2010. Now I love to travel, but I truly hate that experience you get when you're in a foreign land and cannot speak the language. It almost turns you into a toddler, unable to communicate the most basic of needs and wants. I once got terribly lost in the Tokyo subway system and asking people for help was virtually futile as hardly anyone spoke English. Nonetheless, the Japanese people I asked were very nice, and they tried their best. I somehow eventually found my way.

So what was my experience like in Tokyo? Well, I remember the first night in Tokyo I went to the Shibuya district, which is kind of like Tokyo's Time Square. It's a very trendy district and full of Japanese hipsters. I felt a bit out of place because I wasn't stylish enough. I hadn't really brought any stylish clothes with me because the main destination that I was going to was Bali, and Bali is a tropical resort where you really have to dress as minimally as possible because of the heat and humidity.

And so I spent the night ogling at the people...

Now I come from New York, and we have plenty of Asian people, so being around tons of Asians is not something new to me. But in Japan it's a different story. I was on their turf, their land, where their history goes back centuries, uncorrupted by strong Western influence. Although Japan was occupied by America after World War II, the Japanese, being a very secretive people, and living on an island, have been able to retain a strong core to their cultural identity. Whatever American or Western influences you see there are mainly on the surface.

So of course I headed over to Starbucks for a drink.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Moment or two on Urban Sociology

I have written on this blog quite extensively about cities, most notably New York City, where I live. New York is where I've lived almost all of my life and in a way, how I look at the world is from the perspective of New York City. As an urban dweller and lover of city life, I am often awestruck by the loneliness and desolation of smaller cities, towns and suburbs.

Arguments For and Against Suburbia

I've been addicted to this site called, where I have been watching on most of my free time for the past few weeks, documentary films about religion, history, science, and society. This one documentary about the cause and effects of suburban sprawl called Radiant City, mentions all the philosophical, societal, and statistical facts of why I already hate the suburbs. Mainly that (1) suburbs, designed around the automobile, disengage people from having to interact in person with others, and foster a cocoon so to speak, of social isolation. (2) Reliance on the automobile creates a culture of laziness, where people don't walk to where they have to go, and this results in further social isolation. (3) Suburbs also force people to live further away from their jobs and where they shop, increasing commute time. And finally, (4) suburbs are typically bland, homogeneous, and decentralize their urban spaces.

In defense of suburban living, many argue in favor of cleaner, safer and quieter streets, better schools and friendlier neighbors. Mind you that cities do not have to be dirty, and dirty city streets are largely a result of their neglect by their residents, and local, state and federal governments due to the absence of the middle class tax base, which was a direct effect of suburbanization. Cities can be clean and vibrant places to live, if society has enough interest to care for them and is willing to devote necessary capital. The unfriendliness or urbanites, characterized by the stereotypical jaded New York attitude is largely a result of the size of the city: with millions of people living in one place, you can expect that most people will be strangers who you will never get to know, and you cannot be on first named basis with all of them as you can in a small town or suburb. It might also be unwise to even smile and gesture at fellow pedestrians on the street because there are simply so many of them.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The City

For some reason I am still obsessed with New York City. I have this romanticized notion of New York, similar to Woody Allen's character in Manhattan. To me, New York is Metropolis and Gotham all in one. It has been leaving its impression on millions and millions for hundreds of years.

I've dated many girls who have moved here from small towns and suburbs. I love that cliche of the small town girl who dreams of life in the big city. She finally realizes her dreams and is overwhelmed by all its audacity. In the U.S. we have this anti urban attitude. We put this emphasis on small towns and suburbs, the quintessential American dream of a house on a quiet suburban street. We've neglected our cities unlike many other countries who celebrated them. New York remained for so long seen as an eyesore in the fold of the American landscape. Americans hated it, mocked it, were afraid to go to it. They called it a cesspool or urban decay. And New York lost population for the 50 years as did virtually every other large American city. Only recently has the trend reversed.

For me growing up in New York, there was never a dream of a house in the suburbs. I liked my high rise apartment with the view of the skyline out my window. Why would I ever want to replace that with a bunch of suburban houses and trees? The city to me was a place of excitement. It has life and energy. Taking the train into Manhattan and emerging out into a "Metropolis" of sorts gave me the impression of what Clark Kent might have felt when he left Smallville, although not quite as dramatic. Suddenly you are in a giant city and you realize how small your are in this world. This allure has attracted many a small town folk, and I think I'd be one of them if I had such a past.

What does New York represent to me? It represents an American dream, American ingenuity, American diligence. Not long after New York was founded (then of coarse New Amsterdam), there was a great migration to move out west where people settled in mostly in small, sparsely situated towns. This gave birth to the rural lifestyle that is so characteristic of early American life. This rural, small town lifestyle somehow became the "real" America, that so many patriots and politicians try to use as their badge of American authenticity. The big cities back east were already becoming over populated cesspools of filth, disease and of coarse, immigrants. This can't be the "real" America. No "real" Americans live in a log cabin, in a tiny town, they know their neighbors and go to church on Sunday.

So there I be, in the big city. You might see me riding the subway, or stretching my neck to see the top of a new skyscraper. You might see me jaded and blue, or you might just be lucky enough to see me crack a smile.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

New York: A Love/Hate Relationship

I'm going crazy because of work. I am working 11 hour days and getting barely half of that in sleep every night. Everyday I commute into the city, packed into to a train like a Sardine. I take an elevator up to the 23rd floor. The view from up there isn't as spectacular as you would think. Then I do the same routine on the way back home.

I know that in New York you have to work hard. I love this city but the amount of time you have to work is draining me on my life and energy. I almost long for a slower paced, hippie retreat in the middle of nowhere.

But, I still love this city. I still love its energy. Maybe the reason I have no energy is because the city is absorbing all of mine? I was watching some old newsreels about New York. They're fun to watch. Newsreels were shown in movie theaters during the intermission. It's interesting to watch these old newsreels to see how things were way back when.

In one called City of Magic from 1956, you can hear the narrator's enthusiasm for the big apple. I too carry that enthusiasm for New York tucked under my jaded expression. I know if I move away, I will get that longing for New York that I've had on extended trips away. New York was the biggest city in the world at that time, an unrivaled metropolis. It had to tallest building in the world, the Empire State Building. The city must have exhilarated so many imaginations and thrilled so many hearts back then, as it still does today.

Transportation in New York back in the 1950s:

Sunday, January 30, 2011


I am still obsessed with cities for some reason. Being that I live in one of the greatest, I love to compare it to others. One new sites I found allows you to take panoramic "virtual tours" from aerial shots of different point over New York City and other cities around the world. Check it out, it's pretty fun to play with if you're into seeing the city from above.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Urban Density

Continuing on my fascination with cities, particularly NY, it strikes me how much suburban sprawl there is in America. While making 3D buildings on Google Earth I noticed that a lot of European cities are much denser than almost all American cities. Most people live in apartments in Europe, even in the smaller cities and towns. In the U.S. most people live in detached houses. That's always been the American dream.

Americans like owning houses and Americans like their space. Space is what the pioneers found when they arrived in the New World: a giant near-empty continent, sparely populated by Indians. So they spread out from the cities of the east, to the great plains of the Midwest, eventually reaching the Pacific. What we have as a result is miles and miles of suburban sprawl, aided by the invention of the automobile, and the domination of the "big oil" companies. The epitome of this is Los Angeles. Many American cities and towns are built around transportation by automobiles. European cities are not. They were built years before automobiles and thus remain tightly compacted for easy transport. A few tiny parts of a few American cities resemble this, most notably the Wall Street District of Manhattan, and Boston's North end.

That tight density gives European cities their distinct flavor. It gives them their street life. Most American cities with several exceptions, have no street life because everyone is in their car. What you'll have is a few strip malls or a single commercial district, where people park their cars in go right inside to do their shopping. No walking, no motorbikes, or any bikes. I was in Portland, Oregon a few months ago and was shocked at how dead it was on a Saturday night, there wasn't a soul around. That's one of the things I hate about American cities: they're too boring and void of life. NY is the obvious exception to the rule here. NY has great street life, and not in just the Central Business District. That's one of the reasons why Europeans like it here. That's also why so many American tourists from other cities are shocked at how many people are out walking on the streets of NY.

In LA (which I loath) the rich want to live in the sprawling suburbs, whereas in NY the rich often tend to want to live in the city. They city, and city life is what draws people to NY. Who would want to live in the suburbs of NY? They are practically just like suburbia of almost anywhere else in the US. No, it's the city that people want. The exact opposite is true for many other cities in the US. Consequently most inner cities look like shit and many people have to drive 10 or more miles to get to work. I wish that we would, as a nation, move towards a more urban way of living, less reliant on the automobile, and reinvest in our cities. This is beginning to happen but the problem with this is that the poor who are living there, are often kicked out as a result. How can we balance this? Well for one thing even without investment, the poor can make their communities look better by not polluting and taking care of their environments. "Don't shit where you eat" comes to mind. You don't need massive capital investment to clean up a neighborhood. This concerns me since I may never get rich, and I don't want to get pushed out to the suburbs one day if I can't afford to live in the city anymore. In the end money almost always wins out, which is why I had a fall out with capitalism recently. But I have not embraced socialism fully as a result. I'm still trying to find the type of economic system that's perfect for me. It's like capitalism but with elements of socialism intertwined with it. That's really for another post anyway.

The bottom line is: suburbia scares me, and I want American cities to look more like Europe's.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Tokyo VS. New York

Well, I have to admit that I am a bit biased since I am a lifelong New Yorker, and have only been to Tokyo one time for a few days. My impression of Tokyo was lukewarm. It is an amazing city, the only problem I had was that it was not as tourist friendly as I thought it would be. Japan is notorious for not liking foreigners living there, but I thought it would be a little bit more friendly to tourists. There is a pretty decent amount of English language signs and announcements on the subways and in the airport. Contrary to what many westerners think, most Japanese speak little to no English. This is frustrating when it comes to negotiating directions and prices.

Not many Americans speak Japanese either, but who should learn whose language? Both countries are rich self contained economies where the citizens don't have to really learn any other languages to make money. That's the reason why the Japanese don't need to learn English. It's understandable.

Some other differences between NY and Tokyo besides NY being more tourist friendly, and that its subways run 24/7, Tokyo's shut down at night. Tokyo is safer yes, and cleaner. The Japanese are pretty nice people who are pretty helpful when asked for assistance. New Yorkers are notoriously rude, but that attitude is dieing down. NY has diversity Tokyo doesn't. NY could teach the world a lesson on how to live multicultural, it's a microcosm of the world. There isn't even a "Little America" in Tokyo that I know of.

In terms of the cityscape I didn't really see enough of Tokyo to accurately judge. It is laid out more like LA in that it's spread out and a bit decentralized which makes navigation a bit intimidating. NY however, is nicely broken up into manageable pieces that allows the visitor to digest the city a little bit at a time. Tokyo's skyscrapers are clustered in several districts spread throughout the city, NY's are too in a way but are more centralized in various parts of Manhattan. There are a lot of nice areas in Tokyo that have trendy shops and what not, like NY. Tokyoites are among the most stylish in the world, but so are NYers. The Japanese do have an interesting distinct style about them, but again so do NYers.

Japan does have a lot of hot Japanese girls, but so does NY. Both are style capitals. I'd say NY does have a better skyline, and that will be even more true after the World Trade Center is redeveloped.

I was hearing that Hong Kong is better and more tourist friendly than Tokyo is to westerners. I will be in Hong Kong in a few weeks and I can't wait. I really want to compare HK to NY. Both are amazing cities. I can't wait.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


I love New York City. It's my hometown and the place of my birth. I'm so lucky to live and have grown up here. I know that if I was born somewhere else I would want to live here. To me New York represents the ideal urban metropolis. I mean when you think of a city, and of what a city should look like, with tall skyscrapers and busy streets, you think of New York. The center of New York is undoubtedly Manhattan. Manhattan is what people think of when they think of New York. Some people even think New York City is Manhattan and that the 4 other boroughs are perhaps its suburbs. I love Manhattan and have always wanted to live there, perched atop one of its thousands of high rise apartments. I'd love to wake up and see panoramic views of the cityscape, from within the city out my windows everyday. All the glittering towers, looking like a maze of concrete and glass.

To get the real experience of living in New York one has to live in Manhattan. There are parts of Queens and Staten Island and even the Bronx that feel like suburbia. Brooklyn has the closest feeling to Manhattan in terms of urbanization, although parts of the Bronx come close. Downtown Brooklyn is like the downtown of a mid-sized city. It would be the 4th largest city in the U.S. if it were an independent city. It's true that Manhattan overshadows the other boroughs just as how its many modern skyscrapers overshadow the stubby older buildings. I love the architecture of Manhattan. I've always loved skyscrapers, and if you like tall buildings Manhattan is got to be in your radar. It has historic art deco skyscrapers like the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building, it has the simple boxy international styles of the post-war years, as well as the post modern styles like the new Bank of America tower. The diversity of Manhattan's skyscrapers, with textbook examples of every architectural era being represented, are among its best feature. Other cities like Hong Kong have many nice modern high rises but lack the older art deco style ones. New York may not even be the high rise capital of the world any more, as other cities like Sao Paulo and Hong Kong have constructed more than New York in recent decades, but that doesn't bother me, I still love New York's skyline the best.

I love how Manhattan is an island physically separated from the rest of New York and the world for that matter. Entering it from the outside is a thrilling experience. The experience of driving into midtown across the 59th Street Bridge is one to remember, and it never ceases to amaze. At once you are transported in the heart of "the city" surrounded by skyscrapers everywhere, noise, traffic, pollution, the dense urban jungle that is Manhattan. In F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby, one of the characters describes entering into Manhattan from the Queensboro Bridge, "The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world."


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