Felix Salmon

Felix Salmon smackdown watch, pensions edition

Many thanks to John Arnold for responding to my post about how he (and his foundation) should approach pension reform. We agree on many things, it turns out; but there’s one big area where we disagree, which is encapsulated most cleanly in the question of what exactly is going on in San Jose mayor Chuck Reed’s Pension Reform Act. I characterized Reed’s ballot initiative as “allowing governments to default on their pension obligations”, and “an attempt to renege on governments’ existing pension obligations”. Arnold says I’m entirely wrong about that:

When financiers align themselves against Wall Street

It’s more than 18 months since Mortgage Resolution Partners (MRP) first came to general public attention, and since I wrote three substantial posts explaining exactly why, as the headline of the first post says, “using eminent domain for liens is a bad idea”. The idea is still a bad one, but it lives on — and now Shaila Dewan has delivered a 2,500-word piece in the NYT about its status in Richmond, California — the town where it is closest to being enacted.

The new era of the New York skyscraper

The first time I ever visited New York, the bus from JFK dropped me off in front of Grand Central Terminal. I looked up, and up, and up, at the Chrysler Building towering above me, and I immediately fell in love with a city which so exuberantly celebrated its height and size and weight. Much as I love Chicago, New York will always be the home of the skyscraper for me; no other city has such spectacular examples from all eras, ranging from the Brooklyn Bridge and the Woolworth and Flatiron buildings, through Lever House and the Seagram building, all the way to the newest towers rising both downtown, at the World Trade Center site, as well as uptown, along 57th Street. One of the most awe-inspiring architectural experiences in the world is to visit the little-known but truly amazing top room of the art deco BNY Mellon building at 1 Wall Street, with its three-storey-high silver ceilings and its unrivaled views to the north, south, east, and west.

Why privately-financed public parks are a bad idea

If you want to find the most valuable land in the world, you have to look for two things. Firstly, find a rich, densely-populated city. Secondly, take a map of the middle of that city, and look for open space: parks, rivers, lakes. Look at the land bordering that open space, where offices and apartments can avail themselves of spectacular views — that’s where land is going to be the most expensive. Indeed, ultra-luxury condo developer Arthur Zeckendorf recently told the NYT that once he finishes the building he’s working on right now, he doesn’t have anything else in particular that he’d like to build: “We have looked at every single site in Manhattan, but we haven’t found one that meets our criteria to be on a park.”

When should we aid Detroit?

John Cassidy and Steve Rattner agree that the destruction which has been visited upon Detroit, in recent decades, is at least as devastating, and as worthy of federal support, as the chaos which was wreaked by Hurricane Sandy in richer parts of the country.

Citibike: A victim of its own success

There’s good news on the CitiBike front. The big problem I wrote about on June 5 — the way in which entire stations would regularly go dark, refusing to dispense or accept bicycles — seems to have been solved. This is true anecdotally: I haven’t encountered it in the past few days, and neither has anybody I know. And WNYC has now published empirical data showing the same thing. Here’s their pretty interactive chart of stations which have been inactive for more than 4 hours straight between 8am and 8pm:

The one big problem with NYC’s bikeshare

New York’s bikeshare program has gotten off to a successful start — finally. It’s worth remembering that before it was delayed by Hurricane Sandy, it was delayed by something else: the failure of its operator to have the requisite software lined up. Cody Lyon has a good overview of the chaos behind the scenes. The company with the NYC contract, Alta Bicycle Share, won the contract on the strength of software developed by a company called 8D Technologies. But then Alta and its Canadian partner, PBSC, abruptly fired 8D and decided they could develop their own software in-house.

Why America’s population density is falling

I’m not sure why it took me until yesterday to find Paul Krugman’s post from April 16 about population density, where he found a very odd fact buried in a new Census report. We know that the population of the US is rising, and we know that the population of the US is also becoming increasingly urban. As a result, urban density — the number of people per square mile — has to be going up.

How roads could beat rail

The best conference panels, like the best blog posts, are the ones which change your mind. And while I haven’t done a U-turn on anything, after yesterday’s panel on smart cars I’m now thinking very differently about the relative merits of various ways of improving how we move around where we live and travel. While I’ve generally been a fan of just about any alternative to the automobile, now I’m not so sure: I think that smart car technology is improving impressively, to the point at which it could be the most promising solution, especially in developed parts of the world like California.