Saturday, May 18, 2013

Disgruntled New Yorker

Standing in line with other responsible citizens.
I was certainly a disgruntled New Yorker on Friday. If you register to vote in Queens county they send you a questionnaire to fill out, with eight questions asking for your birth date, whether you are a citizen - basic stuff. I don't remember receiving the questionnaire, and I certainly didn't expect to receive a questionnaire because I've never had to fill out a questionnaire like this for any other county I've lived in. Everywhere else I've lived had you automatically pegged for jury duty just from voting. No need for a questionnaire. So imagine my surprise when I get a subpoena in the mail from Queens informing me that since I didn't fill out the questionnaire I had to appear in person at the Queens courthouse to hand it in.

I immediately went online and filled out the questionnaire, but that wasn't good enough for those bureaucrats. They informed me that once you get the subpoena you're done. You have to show up.

Lucky for me I have a salaried job because it was a huge pain in the butt to show up at 9:30 am and then stand in a line that was at least four city blocks long to wait to hand in your form. I feel sorry for the people who get paid hourly and had to lose at least two hours for this extreme bullshit.

They couldn't just let a cop walk along collecting forms. Oh no, you had to wait in line, and then wait in the waiting room to be called and then wait in another line to go through security and then wait in another line so that you could personally hand in the questionnaire to a person at the counter while showing your photo ID.

Why? Why is this necessary? They don't ask for photo ID when you mail the questionnaire back to them, or fill out the form online. The only possible reason I can figure is for punitive purposes - they want to make sure you are personally inconvenienced for your failure to comply with their questionnaire demand, instead of having a friend bring it for you, along with their own.

The Queens county bureaucrats wouldn't be happy until thousands of responsible citizens were inconvenienced over this idiotic questionnaire.

I am all in favor of voting of course, and the jury system. I've never tried to get out of jury duty - not only is it an important component of the justice system but I find it rather interesting. But this is ridiculous. They could do what every other jurisdiction does and ask you these questions after you're summoned for jury duty. But no.

So I was not in a mood to deal with all the subway hassles, with the construction and the switching problems and the sick passengers.

Utterly bleak with no place to sit.
And then I met up with my daughter where she works and the plaza outside her building is one of those "privately owned public spaces" (POPS). And there was absolutely no place to sit and I was tired from walking around the city, not to mention standing for hours in god-forsaken lines in Queens.

I started to do some reading up on the subject.

Jerold S. Kayden said in the NYTimes in October 2011:
Since 1961, the City Planning Commission has used zoning laws to give developers the right to build over 20 million square feet of extra residential and office floor space in return for providing more than 500 public plazas, arcades and indoor spaces. On paper, it reads like a great deal that, at little cost to the city, has given it enough additional public space to cover 10 percent of Central Park... 
...the events at Zuccotti Park highlight the continued inadequacy of the laws regarding privately owned public spaces. Other than the requirement that this space remain open 24 hours a day, the owners were left to promulgate their own rules; the only limit is that they be “reasonable.” 
...The absence of anything specific in the zoning text, coupled with almost no monitoring of owner conduct, has benefited self-interested management. Having visited every privately owned public space in the city, I write from experience. Guards, sometimes accompanied by dogs, have from time to time stopped me from taking photographs or speaking into a handheld recorder.
One of the stunning things I learned from reading up on POPS is that until Kayden wrote a book about it in 2000, the NYC bureaucrats did not have a list of all these POPS. Once his book was published they used it to map the POPS. The NYC.GOV web site admits it here.

Although much attention was given to POPS thanks to the Autumn 2011 Occupy Wallstreet protests in Zucotti Park, apparently the 2000 Kayden book lit a fire under the city planners enough so that by 2007 there were new rules for what a POPS had to provide - a big provision was made for seating:
The provision of abundant, well-designed, and comfortable seating is one of the most critical elements of public plaza design. Plaza designers should carefully consider the variety, dimensions, location, and configuration of seating with the intent to maximize opportunities for comfortable and convenient seating that emphasizes social interaction.  
Variety: There are six types of seating that may be used to satisfy the seating requirements for public plazas:  moveable seating, fixed individual seats, fixed benches, seat walls, planter ledges, and seating steps. 
All public plazas are required to provide two of these seating types, while plazas between 5,000 and 10,000 square feet are required to provide three types.  Plazas greater than 10,000 square feet are required to provide moveable seating as one of the three required seating types.
The owners of the plaza in front of my daughter's office building have been required since 2007 to provide seating in their public space. So why is there still no place to sit there?

Jerold S. Kayden has created a POPS web site which details all the POPS. Although I haven't found any explanation yet for why the 919 POPS is still seat-free after six years.