Trip to NYC

"Where Chili Pepper Lights
Meets Christmas-tree Lights."

I’ve recently returned from spending five days in NYC for meetings with colleagues, the people I work with online but only see once a year or so (and in fact, I met a few of them in person for the first time). We’re political activists with tech backgrounds who do web programming, mostly for nonprofits and unions, and volunteer for worthy causes on the side. It’s a neat concept and I’m glad the group’s back together under new management. I like my job these days.

NYC is quite a town but I still wouldn’t want to live there, I think. The continuum of pace and stress levels which one observes increasing from small towns to largish cities like mine is at its most obvious in a huge city like that. Anyways, it’s fun to visit. Other people go for the theatre district or upscale clothing; me, I head for the radical bookstores and what may well be the world’s best knishes. I would have enjoyed hitting the museums too, but my work meetings pretty much swallowed up all their opening hours. I did manage to meet Alex in a café, despite her being very busy with papers all due at the end of term, so that was nice.

We had most of our work meetings at an anarchist cultural centre where my NYC based colleagues volunteer. The centre’s saving up for renovations but for now the boiler is apparently in sketchy condition so we decided to huddle in sweaters rather than risk it blowing up on us; good thing it was unseasonably warm. We held a small get together with some clients, too, but that was in a well-lit community centre a few blocks away so the sketchy bathrooms wouldn’t scare them off. (Really, though, the one splattered with decades of ink stains in the screen printing lab is a work of art in its own right.)

One interesting idea from the weekend: one colleague and his friends are planning to buy a small plot of land in the city, then live on it in a pile of shipping containers. Thanks to the US trade deficit and the fact that it’s cheaper to buy a new container in China than to ship an empty one back, there’s a glut of them in many port cities, and people have been using them as living spaces. A group of architects who built a container city in the London Docklands in 2000 now specializes in advising people who want to do the same, and there are even companies that sell little spiral staircases designed to fit into the corners and things like that. It’s certainly a set up from his current $900/month for 290 square feet of squalor in what was until recently a poorer part of town. (He tells me this is half of market rent — apparently he got there before the hipsters moved in, thus motivating the police to kick out the junkies and dealers they had been ignoring, and thereby pushing rates up.) I googled habitable containers, and found satellite imagery of a 0.7 km² market near Odessa, Ukraine made of them. Pretty impressive.