Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Metapost: NYC rent finally dropping?

So says The Real Deal...

The average rent for a studio, two- or three-bedroom apartment in Manhattan was down in the first quarter, compared to the year before, according to a quarterly report from brokerage Citi Habitats. Only the average rent for a one-bedroom home increased.

A three-bedroom apartment in Manhattan had an average rent of $4,665 per month, a 7.6 percent fall from the opening quarter of 2007. The average rent for a two-bedroom showed a smaller drop, down 4.9 percent to $3,648 per month over the same period.

The average rent for a studio in Manhattan fell 2.1 percent to $1,849 per month last quarter, from $1,890 per month in the first quarter of 2007.

The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment posted an increase of 3.7 percent to $2,608 per month in the first quarter of the year, compared to $2,515 per month a year earlier.

Meanwhile, the residential rental market's vacancy rate reached 1.30 percent in the first quarter, up from 1.13 percent in the fourth quarter of 2007 and 1.12 percent in the first quarter of 2007.

The average price of a studio is $1849? Yeesh. I can't even think of a witty sarcastic remark.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I rode my bike and survived

No pads, no helmet, no fear.

I enjoy thrill-seeking. Mountain climbing? Check. Bungie jumping? Check. Racecar driving? Check. But there is one thrill that seems too dangerous even for me: bicycle rides on New York City streets.

It seems like I'm being dramatic but I don't think I am. I've seen enough bike vs. taxi accidents to know. Bike messengers, delivery people and the like are truly a special breed with no fear of death. You never know when a taxi's going to swerve; a car door's going to open or a manic pedestrian will try to run across the street. And there's plenty more to worry about. It's quite the sensory overload. At least in a car you have protection. On a bike, it's optional helmet and pads against concrete. You tell me who's going to win that battle.

This whole situation was on my mind much more this week because my friend A gave me her bike! I have upped my activity level now that spring is here and biking the Central Park loop is on my to-do list. Or you can participate in the 5-Boro Bike Tour. And apparently they have bike lanes in some areas of the city. Somehow I think it's a little different than when I used to bike in Colorado. But I digress.

A was kind enough to traipse all the way to the UES from the LES with her soon-to-be-my bike. When the bike was ready, I realized I'd have to ride it home. I was not looking forward to it. I went to the bike place in the early evening to pick it up when traffic was lighter. I wondered what a bike shop in the city would look like. Turns out, just like one anywhere else. I guess biking in the city is more popular than I thought. When I picked it up I seriously deliberated just walking it home. But then I thought about how stupid that would look -- who walks a bike? So faced with the decision of either potential death or looking strange I of course chose potential death.

It's been a couple of years since I rode a bike regularly but like they say you never forget. I got on, waited for the light to change so I'd have plenty of road to work with and then set off down 2nd Ave. After a couple of blocks, my confidence picked up. That was, until I saw the bus partially blocking the safe far right lane I'd chosen. Taxi to my left, bus to my right. Ack! So I did the only sensible thing -- I stopped. Once the taxi cleared the bus started to pull out and I was able to sail by on the right. Impending disaster averted.

A few blocks later I was safely home and fumbling inside with my bike, which is now safely locked up in my backyard. Until we meet again, city traffic.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Ikea strikes again

The newest addition to my wall.

Ring, ring. That's the sound of New York City slowly waking out of its winter slumber. I can tell because all of a sudden my friends want to hang out -- and I want to hang out with them. The warmer weather puts everyone in good spirits.

Then again, laziness occasionally prevails. On Sunday afternoon I was chilling out, watching some NASCAR and slowly recovering from two late nights. I had ignored my phone most of the morning, not on purpose but because I was asleep. By the time I checked my phone I had three messages -- which never happens. Of the three, the last message was the most interesting. It was S calling with an invitation to the Brooklyn Flea Market.

I returned his call and he chastised me for being too late. I was pretty bummed because I do want to hit the Flea but it will have to be another weekend. He was on his way back and offered to drop by and say hello.

And that's where I got him! (Insert evil laugh here.) After offering him some water, I looked longingly at my poor Ikea Premiär poster propped up in the corner. It was supposed to be on my wall by now. What is that, S asked. I explained the situation to him. He shuddered when I said Ikea. I'm still recovering from last time I helped you with Ikea, he said.

But he's a nice guy so he agreed to help me out. The first part was pretty easy -- we assembled an aluminum frame. Then we had to stretch the canvas by wrapping it around the frame and pressing plastic dowels into place to hold...not as easy. Again, Ikea had only one picture to show how easy the step should be but in practice not so much. There was a piece included to push the plastic pieces in, but it hurt our hands after awhile.

"Get me...an ovenmitt!" S demanded. I did, and what a brilliant idea it was. The process was much smoother after that. With the canvas stretched, S observed that it kind of smelled. And it did. Like freshly printed canvas. It was making us a bit high off the fumes.

After some air we were ready to hang the canvas. We attached the hangers to my wall, but they weren't really in there tightly. No studs. So the first couple of times we tried to hang the canvas, we failed. But on the third try we got it. I backed away from the wall with a smile.

It looks pretty good, S said. I had to agree. The canvas is ridiculously huge and it really takes advantage of the high ceilings. I wonder if it's a little too much NYC inside my apartment but I'm hoping to get away with it.

Plus, I'm not gonna lie, every time I look at the Flatiron Building I think 'Daily Bugle.' My canvas might soon have a little Spider-Man addendum to it.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Make way for the Pedestrians

These feet were made for walking.

I swear the New York Times and I are on the same wavelength lately. My friends J and G were in town from Denver so last night we met up for dinner at Bobo. I arrived on time but they got caught up in traffic and we almost lost our reservation. Luckily the host was quite understanding. My friends were quite frustrated on arrival.

It would have been quicker to walk here, J observed as we pondered our wine choices. I sympathized -- I can remember a couple of mornings where I was late for work and so I hailed a cab thinking it would be quicker. 40 minutes later I was often still in the cab stuck in midtown traffic. I told my friends that with the warmer weather I'd started walking home from work. It took about an hour to make it all 50+ blocks but it was well worth it. Taking a different path everyday had revealed some new city secrets that I wanted to photograph and some places I wanted to try out.

Initially I'd tried walking to work, but the foot traffic in midtown was impossible. Whether it was Park, Madison, 5th or even 3rd Ave, it was always the same story: crowded. I like to walk fast and the suits were holding me up. The sidewalks are not nearly wide enough to handle all the traffic.

We started talking about Colorado's many pedestrian malls. With the warmer weather it's more conducive to outdoor space -- from the 16th Street Mall to Pearl Street to Flatiron's Outdoor Plaza area. But New York City isn't always cold! Why not incorporate some of that here? I was at Worldwide Plaza earlier in the week to visit a client and they have a lovely walking area. Better yet, why not close off some streets to cars entirely? Where I live, it seems like not every street needs car access. So cut off the cars. Take out the pavement and being back some cobble stone ways...or better yet, some greenways.

Enter the New York Times. Today their city section has an article about similar ideas to increase pedestrian space in the city. It's a great time to try this. The green movement is becoming ever more popular.

Really, the pedestrian movement comes down to three things:
  1. Reducing the amount of traffic in Manhattan. We're hopefully already moving in that direction with the congestion pricing proposal.
  2. Giving children more safe places to play. Children need less structured playtime that Astroturf provides. Imagine neighborhood baseball games in the street. Block parties. Block-long strips of lawn and gardens.
  3. Providing safe areas for bicycles, joggers, dog-walking, etc. Bike lanes around the city are mostly a joke. I've seen so many near-misses. The only options are to make barriers between the car-bike areas or to make bike-only streets. I'm all for the latter.
One of my favorite ideas mentioned in the NYT article was closing 42nd St to cars and making it pedestrian-only (mentioned on page 2 of the article). The article also suggested building a light-rail there so that commuters arriving in Grand Central could still get around. I think it this brilliant for a few reasons. Since Park Ave rises and splits to go around the Helmsley building there there would be less impact to traffic patterns. And the area is already populated with a good mix of residential buildings and shops -- the perfect test area for a Pedestrian Mall. Building a light rail encourages the movement.

Of course, the city's infrastructure would need to support this urban acupuncture. First, a deeper mass transit system would be needed...increased frequency of subway trains, shorter buslines with more buses running them, a more developed local-to-express balance, and increased service to the boroughs. The police force would need to be expanded to support extra foot, bike and horse patrols. And the city's parks department would require additional staffing to care for the new green areas.

The investment is completely worth it though. Air quality would increase and people would be healthier. We'd be further encouraging an active, healthy lifestyle. And it would increase the community aspect. All too often my friends and I discuss how hard it is to meet new people here. I don't know modern technology has made it harder or easier for mine than previous generations, but I do feel that there's a social aspect of New York City that is missing. Perhaps it is naïve. I would love to find out.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

First Friday

The crowd at First Friday @ the Guggenheim.

When my original plans for this weekend got scrapped, I thought I was in for a lazy time. Not even close. New friend M invited me to attend First Friday at the Guggenheim. The museum opens after-hours with a DJ or two, a bar and free rein to explore the exhibits. When I found out Stretch Armstrong was one of the DJs this time around I was sold.

M called at 9 to say he was heading over with his friends but I waited more than an hour to meet them. The week had exhausted me and I needed to recoup a bit. When I finally made it over at 10:30, the line was around the corner onto 89th St and drifting back towards Madison Ave. A bit defeated, I texted M to say it would be awhile before I got in. Luckily, he told me has was at the front of the line and if I hurried I could make it in with them!

After a minute of confusion I found M and friends K and A just about to get into the door. They were all ready to leave, having waited almost 2 hours to get to that point. No way, I said! You're so close. And I'm glad they agreed to wait the last two minutes, because WOW.

The museum was quite crowded. It was $25 cash-only to get in, but then you had to buy tickets for alcohol (lame). It took us awhile to find the bar. But it was the exhibits that really drew me in. I didn't think I was a fan of modern art but the more I've seen the more I've liked. Right now the Guggenheim is featuring several installations by Cai Guo-Qiang. I knew him for his firework art -- literally setting off carefully choreographed explosions by large canvases. But the main dome area featured several cars with light fixture arms extending out. It represented a car bomb exploding. It was at once disturbing, chaotic and beautiful, and whether intentional or not it was the perfect backdrop for the music and scene.

Cai Guo-Qiang's Inopportune: Stage One
installation at the Guggenheim.

Drinks were only allowed on the bottom level so we downed a glass of wine each and headed up the rotunda. There were several more of Guo-Quang's exhibits and all were pretty amazing. The third level featured 90+ wolves running from floor to ceiling and the front of the pack crashing into a glass wall. The next level up featured New York's Rent Collection Courtyard, many life-sized clay figurines modeled after a similar collection from China. The clay figurines had not been kilned so they were cracked and yet so lifelike at the same time. Many of the figurines were still in construction and so we got to see the wood frames underneath. I was pretty much in awe.

We headed to the top where we got a killer view of the party from above. One of the cars was so close we could nearly touch it, and K tried reaching out for it. We stopped after a nasty look from a security guard. But that was another thing -- I was amazed at how close the staff let us get to everything. Had we wanted to touch one of the clay figurines, we could have. Everyone was relatively well-behaved.

Almost close enough to touch.

I was pleased with the crowd...mostly young professionals like us. Despite the great music there wasn't much dancing going on. It was too crowded. That was disappointing. Also disappointing was the lack of mingling. We didn't really meet anyone new. But overall it was a very cool event. M and his harem, myself included, made it fun. Word is that it's less crowded depending on the DJ. I think I'll give this event another shot.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Small Cool update: I made the site!!!

What a lovely surprise this evening: just before leaving work I checked the Apartment Therapy site to see the latest entries in the Small is Cool 2008 contest. I was quite surprised to find that my little apartment had made it up! My entry confirmation said that AT would contact me before the post went live, but I'm certainly not complaining. In fact, I'm quite humbled by the response it's gotten.

You can see my entry, Roxy's Room to Grow on Apartment Therapy's site. In order to vote you must first register. To register, scroll down to the bottom of the comments, and click on the "Register to Comment" link in the login box. Even if my apartment is not to your taste, there are many amazing entries.

Besides my own, I am also in love with Jessie's Town Street Studio, which includes lovely dark tones and a keen eye for style. Turquoise pretty much rocks my world.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The cake is a lie

The IRS reminds you that failure to file
your taxes correctly will result in an audit.
As part of the required test protocol, the IRS
will no longer tell anyone how to correctly
file their taxes. Please file your taxes as normal,
and then there will be cake.

Tax time. I've had the worst luck with taxes so I always dread this time of year. And by luck I mean a combination of poor planning on my part, poor explanation of how taxes work to me by HR departments and a general fear of all things involving giving up my income for things other than shoes, clothes or video games.

Right after college I was facing huge student loans and no one else to help support me, so I took two jobs. I worked full-time during the day and had a part-time night job. Though I informed both jobs that I had two jobs, apparently I filled out my withholding incorrectly and I ended up owing $700. As a 22-year-old, $700 was a lot. Hell, it still is.

The next year my night job became my full-time job and still I managed to fill out my withholding incorrectly. I owed $350. Finally, in 2006 I got it right. I managed to get a refund for $1000, which helped fund my trip to Hawaii last year. This year I think I'm screwed again. Both of my previous jobs made me cash out my 401Ks (I couldn't roll over because I wasn't yet eligible for the IRA at my current job). Since the money helped me move to NYC I'm not completely bitter, but I know it will drastically reduce my refund. I always tell the person who does my taxes -- I don't care if I don't get a refund, just please don't let me owe.

I shared my stress with a coworker the other day and it opened up a can of worms at my office. Turns out my coworker wasn't withholding his taxes correctly either and owes $4000. Yikes. This is his first job in America and no one brought him up to speed on his taxes. Another coworker recalled the year she moved to NYC from California and got slammed in both states.

There's so many NYC-centric rules that no ones tell you. For instance, if you live in NYC your income has both state tax and city tax removed, which is SO lame to me. No wonder NYC wants to secede. There's also a high proportion of workers who live not just in another city, but another state. Take me last year. I worked in Manhattan but lived in Connecticut. That was fun on my taxes. I had to file in both New York and Connecticut.

But the worst part about tax time is there isn't a good resource for youngins like me. I can't afford a personal accountant and my former corporate HR was the opposite of helpful. In fact, I tried asking HR at my old job about how much I should have taken out, and the rep's response was "I can't tell you." You can't tell me? Isn't that, oh I don't know, your job? When I asked why she couldn't tell me she said the company could get sued if she gave me bad advice. So we had to play this dumb game where I 'told' her what I was going to do by guessing and she would say nothing if that was the right thing to do. My boutique now is nothing like that thank goodness but my Office Manager admits she's no tax expert. So now I'm on my own to figure everything out.

If you're a renter in NYC, the tax resources are a joke. The only city resources I could find deal with property, business and parking tax. How do I even figure out how much money is supposed to come out of my paycheck? I've tried just having as much taken out as possible in the past and still I've been screwed come the ides of April.

Oh weighted companion cube, if only they didn't make me incinerate you. Then I could have gotten a $1200 stimulus check instead of $600...