May 2, 2010

Terrorism and T-shirt vendors.

"At 6:28 p.m.... a video surveillance camera recorded what was believed to be the dark green Nissan S.U.V. driving west on 45th Street. Moments later, a T-shirt vendor on the sidewalk saw smoke coming out of vents near the back seat of the S.U.V., which was now parked awkwardly at the curb with its engine running and its hazard lights on. The vendor called to a mounted police officer, the mayor said, who smelled gunpowder when he approached the S.U.V. and called for assistance. The police began evacuating Times Square, starting with businesses along Seventh Avenue, including a Foot Locker store and a McDonald’s."

Take a moment to appreciate street vendors. Think of the value of their alert eyes at street level in the busiest places. Let's reflect again on what Jane Jacobs wrote in her brilliant book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities":
A well-used city street is apt to be a safe street. A deserted city street is apt to be unsafe. But how does this work, really? And what makes a city street well used or shunned? ... A city street equipped to handle strangers, and to make a safety asset, in itself, out of the presence of strangers, as the streets of successful city neighborhoods always do, must have three main qualities:
First, there must be a clear demarcation between what is public space and what is private space. Public space and private spaces cannot ooze into each other as they do typically in suburban settings or in projects.

Second, there must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street. The buildings on a street equipped to handle strangers and to insure the safety of both residents and strangers, must be oriented to the street. They cannot turn their back or blank sides on it and leave it blind.

And third, the sidewalk must have users on it fairly continuously, both to add to the number of effective eyes on the street and to induce the people in buildings along the street to watch the sidewalks in sufficient numbers. Nobody enjoys sitting on a stoop or looking out a window at an empty street. ... Large numbers of people entertain themselves, off and on, by watching street activity.
The basic requisite for such surveillance is a substantial quantity of stores and other public places sprinkled along the sidewalks of a district; enterprises and public places that are used by evening and night must be among them especially. Stores, bars and restaurants, as the chief examples, work in several different and complex ways to abet sidewalk safety.
First, they give people -- both residents and strangers -- concrete reasons for using the sidewalks on which the enterprises face.

Second, they draw people along the sidewalks past places which have no attractions to public use in themselves... Moreover, there should be many different kinds of enterprises, to give people reasons for crisscrossing paths.

Third, storekeepers and other small businessmen are typically strong proponents of peace and order themselves; ... they are great street watchers and sidewalk guardians if present in sufficient numbers.

Fourth, the activity generated by people on errands, or people aiming for food or drink, is itself an attraction to still other people.
Thanks to the guardians of the street.


chickelit said...

Yes it's true: a reformed Karleton Armstrong probably help keep Madison's streets safe from terrorist bombings.

Still there's a trust issue. What would Karl say/do about Leo Burt?

ricpic said...

In other words free enterprise and safe streets go together. And leftist thugs HATE free enterprise. But leftist thugs stand for all things noble and true, true? 'Tis a conundrum.

jimbino said...

Enjoying streets full of people and vendors is one of the many things that make leaving the USSA so wonderful. Once you cross the Rio Grand, you can travel through more than 20 countries that are a lot more fun.

In contrast, you can drive A1A up the coast of Amerika and you will hardly see a person in the streets. You almost have to have a GPS, because there's nobody to ask directions of.

Johanna Lapp said...

Do remember, though, that this is the same busy street corner where an aggressive street peddler drew down on police back around Christmas time.

His automatic jammed after firing two rounds.

The police weapons did not.

Welcome to my neighborhood.

TWM said...

Are they using the "T" word now? As in terrorism not teabaggers.

pm317 said...

Wow, what a cool find that Jane Jacobs book. In a nutshell, a healthy economy with a number of stakeholders, big and small watching out for each other. Makes perfect sense. Extrapolate that to a healthy society that should include something about religion.

Opus One Media said...

ricpic said...
In other words free enterprise and safe streets go together. And leftist thugs HATE free enterprise."

Says Ricpic of a city that votes so democratic that republicans hardly bother to run.

Chef Mojo said...

Something nobody in the media, except in the UK, is commenting on. This all happened near Viacom's building. Viacom owns South Park.

Chef Mojo said...

Says Ricpic of a city that votes so democratic that republicans hardly bother to run.

The same city that has had a Republican mayor for 16 years? Yeah. That city.

KCFleming said...

Jacobs and Hayek share an astute recognition of the useful-but-ignored fact that spontaneous self-organization is superior to central planning.

Planned cities, urban planning, and public modernist architecture have with few exceptions been unmitigated disasters.

Their enormous failures were reviewed well in James C. Scott's Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed.

GMay said...

"Says Ricpic of a city that votes so democratic that republicans hardly bother to run."

Rudy Giuliani - D

But thanks for confirming that there are leftist thugs in charge where Republicans fear to tread.

Cedarford said...

I do not see this as any great moment in street vendors as bulwarks of society.

Guy is on the street. Sees smoke coming out of a car. Tells people that he sees smoke coming out of a car. What, if anything, is significant about that?

If Ann was being sarcastic, it eluded me.

Nor do these heroes of the moment objectively make a difference one way or the other.
The guy didn't "save" anybody from a malfunctioning bomb any more than the "hero passengers" stopped Abdulmuttalab when he set off his underwear bomb. The bomb just malfunctioned.

Maybe we like to empower these everymen and claim they somehow made a difference.
But what is the expected reaction of any human to a smoking car nearby or being on a plane where some Islamoid is suddenly half-burned and screaming to Allah?

Unknown said...

Cops will tell you the first rule of survival is stay where there are people. Nice to see someone educated in the hothouse of academia has the same kind of sense.

Chef Mojo said...

Says Ricpic of a city that votes so democratic that republicans hardly bother to run.

The same city that has had a Republican mayor for 16 years? Yeah. That city.

You actually think Bloomie is more of a Republican than either of the 2 Arlens?

You must live on an interesting planet.

Lincolntf said...

3 o'clock press conference should be interesting. Considering that they have all the evidence intact and secured, I imagine we'll have a suspect (by name, if not in custody) by that time.
This looks like one of those attacks that could have come from absolutely anybody. No yelling of Allah Akbar like at Ft. Hood, no Fed target like OKC, no on site suicide like with so many madmen who shoot up malls, schools, etc.

Whoever is responsible (if there's a group involved at all), we have to nip them in the bud. If car bombs become the terrorist weapon of choice in the U.S., we're in for a long, long battle.

John Hawks said...

We saw on online story about the evacuation of Times Square as it was going on last night. So we flipped the TV to the news channels to see what was going on.

Every one of them was showing rerun programming from earlier in the week. Larry King Live. Wall Street Journal report. Campbell Brown rerun.

They evacuated freaking Times Square for a car bomb, and the "24-hour news channels" couldn't even get an intern in the studio to report on it.

So we flipped back to Doctor Who.

Nels said...

Cedarford, you'd also expect someone who found a man, lying face down in a pool of blood on a sidewalk, to assist him or call 911, but based on recent events this is apparently expecting too much of people.

I'm Full of Soup said...


I added that book you recommended to my Amazon wishlist. Amazingly, then Amazon decided to pitch to me the new book about Obama called "The Manchurian Candidate"! WTF??

KCFleming said...

@ AJ Lynch:

Manchurian? Heh.

Check out the text for the book at here. Chapter One is the vital one; all others build from there.

Interestingly, the author is no conservative, and makes a concerted attempt to avoid being so labelled. makes for a balanced view, in many respects.

I'm Full of Soup said...


I just realized the Amazon recommendation takes into account my purchase history- so maybe it was me and not your book. Heh.

From Inwood said...

I agree with C4 & Nels on the annoying sidewalk vendors. And I understand the need for eyes on the street.

To a larger point. Autodidact Jane, who was both a journalist & mother living in the West (Greenwich)Village, untouched by urban renewal, a cranky, I-so-hate-the-US-in-Vietnam-that-I’m-moving-to-Canada-right-now-in-1968-tho-I-so-love-the-West-Village, wrote a series of dazzling articles in the late ‘50s about the failure of the Moses’ bulldozer approach in revitalizing cities, which she turned into her seminal work. I was thunderstruck; mesmerized by her vision. As Caro (presumably using material cut from his book) notes in her NYT obit,

“Ms. Jacobs was far from the first urban theorist to stress the importance of neighborhood and community. ‘But no one had ever said it so brilliantly before… She gave voice to something that needed a voice.’ "

However, this insightful contemporary review of her book

“Her view of the urban scene [from the perspective only of the West Village] is limited …to the subjective reaction of a lover of a special sort of city life that is far from typical”.

brought me back to earth from mindless Jane worship. And I also realized, from delivering & picking up liquor, that NYC needed transportation arteries & slum clearance at some level. (My awareness of WW II made me aware that The English & Germans had engaged in slum clearance of each other’s cities, but I digress.)

Some will note that such review has been little noted & long forgot, but Jane’s ideas will never be. But, alas, Jane was Bigtime wrong about the future. The West Village is a 21st Century Sweet Auburn, in which Jane Jacobs is gone & Marc Jacobs now dwells in splendor. To paraphrase Garrison Keillor, denizens of low-rise Manhattan are now above average in income & below average in kids. So, yes, it’s vibrant (“edgy”?) as opposed to Levittown or Larchmont, for which Jane (& the NYT) look down zee nez, & while, arguably, more livable than Stuyvesant Town or Cadman Plaza, only unmarried, childless Seinfelds & investment bankers can now afford it. Above-average size families want room, which is affordable for only the über above-average city dwellers or denizens of the ‘burbs. And so these folks have mostly decamped to the ‘burbs.

As someone has noted: it’s merely a question of taste whether to call it urban sprawl or urban dispersion.

So while Jane attains sainthood because she or her acolytes stopped Moses from bulldozing everything, she is a flawed saint because she stopped him from bulldozing anything. She or her doppelgänger would’ve stopped Moses from building the Henry Hudson Parkway through Inwood Hill Park, as she did with his plans with Washington Sq. Park. And the result when there is no leadership is a still empty space in the post-9/11 WTC. And a still-unbuilt 2nd Avenue subway paid for by a 1951 bond issue.

See also: Jane Jacobs' Old Hudson Street Townhouse for Sale in West Village Jane Jacobs Probably Wouldn't Have Wanted to Live In.

Lincolntf said...

I'm really having a hard time waiting for the press conference. I feel like every website/news channel I'm looking at is thisclose to giving up some new info., but nothing new has come out since last night.
The whole South Park angle almost seems too pat, doesn't it? Although, a "spur-of-the-moment" terrorist enraged by an issue like that would probably use a bunch of legal material and assemble it poorly as this perpetrator apparently did.

jayne_cobb said...

There was a bomb scare in Pittsburgh while I was doing the marathon.

They had to change the end of the course mid race.

HT said...

Are there any more storekeepers really?

Anonymous said...

Excellent urban overview and insight, Inwood.

I have my own theory concerning urban renewal, which is more generational than geographical. Particularly in New York (City) where neighborhoods tend to change as the recent/current populations acclimate, then move on (up).

The "Jacob's" problem arises when this natural process is interrupted, midstream, that is, when a particular population/neighborhood is forced to disperse before they're ready (educated) - as in 1st generation immigrants.

The life cycle of a neighborhood seems to be 30 years. Then a new cycle, a new group moving in and taking over - the former group having moved "uptown." The Jews, for example, who began on the lower East Side, then up to the Bronx, and finally to the suburbs - the movement occurring in roughly 30-year increments. Also the Germans of Yorkville, Irish of Hell's Kitchen, and Italians from below Houston Street.

Meanwhile, I believe Robert Moses biggest blunder (interruption) was the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway, which slashed established neighborhoods in half, in turn creating unprecedented urban blight, namely the South Bronx.

CatherineM said...

Johanna - That wasn't a street vendor, but a hustler that intimidates tourists by coming up to them, getting in their face selling his cd of his rap music and basically, and out of fear, they give him $20 to leave them alone. A little different. The guy with the gat 9 was a scammer vs. a street vendor selling t-shirts.

I thank the guy for alerting police.

Richard Fagin said...

{S]torekeepers and other small businessmen are typically strong proponents of peace and order themselves; ... they are great street watchers and sidewalk guardians if present in sufficient numbers. The "root causes" theorists have had it wrong for at least 50 years, while the "broken window" people got it right. Povertu does not cause crime. Crime causes poverty

Lou Minatti said...

The sidewalk vendors in lower Manhattan provide the least expensive souvenirs. I always stock up.

From Inwood said...

Almost Ali @5:16 PM

Thanks for your kind words.

I’ve always felt that Robert Caro was susceptible to unwarranted grand conclusions & that the decline of the South Bronx was not caused solely by Moses’ Cross Bronx Expressway as Caro’s long but ultimately oversimplified analysis would have it.

But Caro is as big a legend among, well, older commenters on NYC, as Moses, & that legend seems lapidary. I mention Moses in correspondence or meetings with people raised in the Central Bronx (not a common term, but it’ll do) & I get a Cross-Bronx Expy rant.

Oversimplified on my part, perhaps, I feel that the decline of the South Bronx began in 1948 when the two year leases of the returning GIs expired & suburbia beckoned. Rent Control, softness on crime, the lure of leafy glades & a desire to escape the huddled masses yearning to breathe free contributed more than the Cross Bronx. My wife’s parents & kin did not want to join in this exodus, but by 1952, my future Ma-in-law & Pa-in-Law had been driven from the South Bronx to Queens.

The death knell was Co-Op City when even my wife's left-behind-by-life relatives had to move out.

Have you read Wrestling With Moses, Flint, 2009? Flint spoke at the Skyscraper Museum last Oct & someone in the audience asked him about the Cross Bx as the kiss of death. Flint demurred. That guy & I continued the discussion with Flint at the reception following. All three of us agreed that, with all due respect to you & a zillion others, that was an overstatement. I don’t claim that Flint agreed entirely with my previous paragraph hers or even that the other guy did, it being a friendly conversation, but we all agreed that ‘t’was not the Cross Bx alone.

Anyway, Flint’s book is an excellent revisionist (in the meaning of careful research & rethinking, not counterfeit) history; he, indeed, approves of most of Jane’s ideals - he really, really likes her - & though he has written a hagiography (also, he’s a certified “greenie” & to him “Global Warming”, OOPS, “Climate Change” is an auto de fe), but he redeems himself by spending 28 pages (about 15% of his book) on a balanced presentation of “the visionary idealist/bulldozing bully”, and, in his epilogue, he pretty much agrees with what I have written above about our needing both a Moses & a Jacobs and recognizes that Caro’s “critique was overblown”; he agrees that we must get beyond NIMBY & BANANA &, specifically (summarizing & refining comments of other critics), “while history has taken a dim view of Moses” tactics, cities everywhere are in need of reliable infrastructure – and with citizens continually blocking cities’ efforts, it was difficult to get even the most necessary projects passed…the planning profession had become obsessed with fine-grained, tree-lined blocks, at the expense of the things that actually make cities function. ‘Today the pendulum of opinion has swung so far in favor of Ms. Jacobs that it has distorted the public’s understanding of urban planning. As we mourn her death, we may want to mourn a bit for Mr. Moses as well’… Moses’ vision…however flawed, represented ‘an America that still believed a healthy government should provide the infrastructure – roads, parks, bridges – that binds us into a nation. Ms Jacobs, at her best, was fighting to preserve the more delicate bonds that tie us to a community. A city to survive and flourish, needs both perspectives.’ ” This book is a most valuable addition to the discussion.

From Inwood said...

Almost Ali

For a counter perspective, you might try what I see as basically a counterfeiting of the Post WW II era, The Bronx, Gonzalez, 2004. It’s a “hopeful” fast well-written read more for do-gooders than historians. The beginning of the book is a well-presented overview of Bronx history through WW II, with which I can find no fault. But then it chronicles the Phoenix-like rise of today’s South Bronx into something (far) less than the good old days but something (slightly) more than the bad old days. And here, I feel that it’s a counter-intuitive & counter-factual take on decline as inevitable: suddenly, post WW II old-housing stock is no good even for the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free & somehow Rent Control & softness on crime had nothing to do with it, strivers were gonna move out anyway. (All at once? Nevermind! And, what, landlords lost any financial reason to keep up their properties? Nevermind!) Lindsay was not the failure that serious historians now see him, & it was not a failure of Liberalism; it was Moses and, BTW, Reagan with his budget cuts. The author gives, incredibly, no credit to Giuliani for his war on crime; it seems to her, a Liberal True believer, that the rebirth was through a comforting mix of public and private initiatives, with church & community activists being the private part, helped by the government. Did these private groups have to work with businesses & apply capitalist principles? One would not get any such realization from this book. Inexcusably, unhelpful Index.

Anonymous said...


Again, a superb analysis. I'm with you on many points; for example, balancing Jacobs against Moses - but we still differ regarding the massive, negative impact of the Cross Bronx Expressway; for many, all sense of "neighborhood" was lost, walled off, torn asunder with its construction.

On the other hand, what were the alternatives. Truck traffic was choking the Bronx streets, coughing across Fordham Road, then belching up Broadway to the George Washington Bridge.

I also recall the construction of Co-Op City, which was considered a pretty good deal at the time, that is, if you could find a parking space. Yet, Co-Op City interfered with no one since the property was essentially swamp land - previously an amusement park ("Freedom Land"), and before that a mix of fly-by-nighters, and an illegal dumping ground. Thus Co-Op City represented an improvement, a big improvement - notwithstanding its lack of "neighborly" amenities.

Meanwhile, change is inevitable. And IMO it wasn't Moses per se, but Eisenhower and his vision of connecting America via an interstate highway system. He turned us into vagabonds, and strangers. But again, what were the alternatives?

Anyway, as a kid I remember trucking across the Bronx at night with my uncle, destination Newark, to pick up another load of beer bound for Boston. Then came the CBExpressway, the driving time was reduced from 30/40 minutes to 10 minutes. Progress, I suppose, but no deli along the way, no pretty girls waving from the sidewalks - just the hard, heavy traffic of the deafening Cross Bronx Expressway.

Again, many thanks for your thoughtful insights, and your recommendations. And from me, my personal favorite is "Empire City" by Jackson & Dunbar (editors), a chronological history of NYC as seen and told by an impressive list of talented individuals, and writers.

Unknown said...

Terrorism and T-shirt vendors

Terrorism and T-shirt vendors

Terrorism and T-shirt vendors

Terrorism and T-shirt vendors

JamesB.BKK said...

It is a solid point that no one did anything to prevent this. Calling a cop after seeing a sputtering failed ignition is not preventative. The broader point that people may be less likely to do bad acts in busy places where they might be observed is well taken; though let us not forget the favored Al Queda bombing targets - pet manageries on Saturdays, large family or devotional gatherings, etc. No reason they or other heartless killers wouldn't like the same types of targets in NYC.

The Pittsburgh story is puzzling. police find microwave with stuff inside. Police blow up same. I hope they took some pictures or offer something more credible about why they thought it was a pipe bomb.

Thanks Ann.

Unknown said...

"The System Worked!" -- JN

Unknown said...

The tipster was a Vietnam vet...could it be this was a Tea Party conspiracy?

We're waiting for Kos' opinion...

From Inwood said...


Thank you again for your kind words & you certainly have more people on your side than I.

You trucked Beer & I trucked Wine & Whisky!

I'm embarrassed to say that I've never read

Empire City" by Jackson & Dunbar (editors)

I Googled it & came up with your comment of a few hours ago of all things!

Anonymous said...

You trucked Beer & I trucked Wine & Whisky!

Which means, between us we could've shared a few boiler-makers;)

But after those early trips to the brewery, I was cured, released forever from the beer barrel. You could smell the pungent hops from 20 blocks away, and every block thereon the odor intensified - until from urban clouds I descended into a giant, roiling vat.

I remember most the workers, their unionized "beer breaks," most of 'em looked like weather balloons ready to launch. What a life, I thought.

Yes, EMPIRE CITY, a wonderful series of essays and stories, from Poe to Whitman to James Baldwin's Harlem "rent parties." Nearly two hundred accounts in all, with many delightful surprises. It's really the history of the country all rolled into one - and outward from NYC...

From Inwood said...


We didn't have any wine or whisky breaks. Every bottle had a serial number & had to be accounted for if we broke any on the route. We had to bring the broken bottle back.

But a Pop Beloved in the bonded warehouse had a strainer & strained the contents from the broken ones, I was told. Never invited back there. Think I broke only three bottles in my 5-yr career (Dropped cases while double parked in Manhattan with cars whizzing by).

A couple of yrs ago, in Whole Foods, I picked up 6 bottles of wine, three in the fingers of each hand. I got tangled on the way to my shopping cart. I tried to not fall of drop any bottles. Bad news: I fell, but did not break a bottle. Good news: I did not break any bones. Bad News: I smashed a bottle into the bridge of my nose & had to go to the ER. Passed the closed eye tests & did not have a concussion, but for a few weeks I looked like I'd been in a fight.

Funny, I could carry that many when I was 20. No fool like....

Now when they see me in that Whole Foods' Wine Dept they have a red alert & rush to wait on me.

My pride is hurt.

Unknown said...

I am very impress on your and thanks!

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