The Singles Bar That Shook Up 1970s Toronto

There was no place quite like the Coal Bin for Toronto’s young singles in the early ‘70s.

Located in the heart of the city’s booming downtown, surrounded by gleaming new office towers, the crowded 300-seat basement room was one of the first bars in Toronto specifically targeted at swinging singles.

It was a place where unattached young men and women could dance, drink cheap beer, and maybe, just maybe, hit it off. “If I had a dollar for every romance that started here, I’d be rich,” the owner of the bar, Roel Bramer, told the Toronto Star in August 1970. “This place really attracts the girls—nice girls. We get some real groovy looking chicks. Any bachelor who’s a bit of a swinger can meet a girl here,” he said.

Just a few years earlier a bar like the Coal Bin couldn’t have existed in Toronto.

Perfume salesman Alan Stillman is widely credited with opening the first drinking establishment for singles on New York City’s Upper East Side in 1965.  His bar, T.G.I. Friday’s (yes, that T.G.I. Friday’s), tapped into a rich cluster of eligible young women (particularly airline stewardesses) living between 30th and 90th Streets. According to the New Yorker, one residential building located opposite the first Friday’s was so densely packed with stewardesses it was known as the “Stew Zoo.”

The first Friday’s was fresh, clean, and decorated with homely ornaments like Tiffany lamps and potted plants. Soon, single young women were lining up to get inside—and the single men inevitably followed. The success of the bar quickly inspired imitators and soon a new genre of drinking establishment—the fern bar—was spreading to cities across America.

Still, by 1968, the trend had yet to make jump over the border into conservative Ontario. The city’s “swinglers” (to use the nomenclature of the day) mostly went elsewhere to meet and mingle. “I do most of my swingling out of Toronto,” bachelor Jim Kirch, a sales manager, told the Toronto Star in 1968. “Nassau, New York, Montreal are my favorite spots.”

In 1960s Toronto, people usually struck up romances at private parties, in coffeehouses, or on trips organized by singles clubs. Social expectations meant men were often the ones required to initiate contact. Women openly courting men was generally frowned upon in wider society. It around this time Dutch-born economics graduate Roel Bramer and his business partner Rick McGraw founded the International Swingles Club, which organized parties for the city’s eligible men and women aged 21 to 35 in venues around the city. “It didn’t have a location,” says Bramer, who is now 79. “It just had a theme, it had a club membership, and every now and then we would throw a party somewhere.”

“We organized trips… it always sounds good to call something ‘international,’” he laughs. “We went to Puerto Rico and Aspen.”

Bramer came to Canada from Amsterdam in 1960 to study at McGill University in Montreal. Tuition in the U.S. was too expensive, he says, so he cut a deal with his parents to study north of the border. “I had a small apartment and my bedroom was immediately next door to a disco called La Rouge,” he says. “Their cash register was immediately on the other side of the wall of my bed. And I loved the sound. It kept me awake but I knew that I had to get some of that cash.”

Later, a job at DuPont brought him to Toronto, where he opened his first establishment, the Boiler Room, in 1967. He found the skills he picked up operating the swingles club transferred well into running brick-and-mortar locations. However, Ontario’s strict liquor laws initially stymied Bramer’s efforts to create a true party atmosphere. In 1968, the Liquor License Board of Ontario required pubs to be split into two rooms: one for men, and one for men accompanied by a female escort. Conservative limits on the number of people per square foot prevented the “squeezed-in friendliness” of bars in other cities, drinks had to be served alongside food, and service ended at 11:30 sharp.

Those and other restrictions gradually eased under Ontario Premier John Robarts: In 1969, bar service was extended to 1:00 a.m. and in 1970 the rules around men and women drinking together in pubs were removed. In 1971, the drinking age was reduced from 21 to 18.

Bramer opened the 300-seat Coal Bin in January 1970 in a basement next to the Boiler Room. It was directly across the street from TD Centre, the headquarters of TD Bank, and a short walk from the office towers of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, the Bank of Montreal, and the Bank of Nova Scotia. Playing on its low-ceilinged, downstairs location, the walls were painted charcoal grey and decorated with pickaxes, shovels, and large pictures of sooty miners. The waitresses walked around in hard hats serving 10-cent glasses of beer. Pitchers were a $1. It was an immediate success. “The Coal Bin… is where you’ll find the kid from the mailroom and that new file clerk from the sales office,” wrote Toronto Star nightlife reporter Charles Oberdorf. Every night of the week the dance floor was packed with swinging young men and women.

It was such a phenomenon that it generated full-page stories in the city’s newspapers and in 1971 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation sent a TV reporter inside to explore. In the five-minute segment, the camera shows crowded tables strewn with beer glasses while the crowded dance floor twists to the sound of a rock band. “I think things are changing now,” 21-year-old Lorna McCaw told the CBC. “This is one of the first places in Toronto that I’ve ever come to that I find a girl can [meet men] and not feel ill at ease. It’s made for this purpose.”

Bramer’s Coal Bin was the one of the biggest, but there were others like it. There was Abbey Road on Queen Street, Malloney’s on Grenville Street, and Julie’s Bombay Bicycle Club in a converted mansion on Jarvis Street. ”Not long ago if a chick hitchhiked from here to Vancouver, the women on the block figured she was the next thing to a hooker,” said Gordon Wensley,  the 29-year-old manager of Abbey Road. “But not any more. The whole attitude has changed. It’s the same with stag girls in bars.”

Despite its success, the Coal Bin and the Boiler Room were forced to close after only a few years to make way for the new headquarters of the Royal Bank of Canada. However, in its short life, the Coal Bin made a lasting impact on the city’s nightlife culture. “I don’t want to sound like Marx or Trotsky, but it was a mini revolution that most people in the world wouldn’t read or write about,” says Bramer.

Later, he parlayed the popularity of the Coal Bin into a new bar, the Gasworks, then the Generator, and in 1986 Bramwe co-founded the Amsterdam Brewing Company, one of Toronto’s first brewpubs, which remains in business under different ownership.

“[Bramer has] become the master purveyor of the Playboy dream to the office-clerk crowd,” wrote journalist Marci McDonald in the Star in July 1972. “[The] peddler of hipness and happiness for the price of a 70-cent mug of beer.”

Powered by WPeMatico

Can a Light Rail Train Link a Divided City?

JERUSALEM­—If there’s a neutral zone for the residents of Jerusalem, it’s on rails. In a city where real estate is highly contested, where walls divide neighborhoods based on faith, and the clothes you wear are code for where you should be seen, the city’s modern light rail system––whether by virtue of peace or necessity––glides above the divide.

That’s why a team of Palestinians and Israelis from Mekudeshet, an arts and cultural initiative, are using the city’s public transit as a platform for documentary and observation. Every summer, the group stages a program of original light-rail-based tours called Dissolving Boundaries—“docu-theatrical journeys” designed to distance you a little from your personal paradigms.

Dissolving Boundaries is part cultural tour, part social activism. Run by the citywide festival and nonprofit Jerusalem Season of Culture, the tours last from five to seven hours, and are open to locals and tourists alike. Apart from the choice of day, time and language (Arabic, Hebrew, English, or trilingual), no itinerary or additional information is posted. The organizers only promise to bring participants to places in Jerusalem they didn’t know existed, from a rehabilitation center for people with disabilities to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish nightclub. There, they will encounter “boundary dissolvers”—Jerusalem residents who cannot be easily corralled into a box based on their dress or faith.

One sweltering Thursday afternoon in August, I joined up with a small Dissolving Boundaries tour group of locals and tourists at Mahane Yehuda market. There I met Karen Brunwasser, deputy director of Jerusalem Season of Culture. A small, sprightly woman dressed in a sleeveless top (“In Jerusalem, this is code that I’m liberal”), Brunwasser calls herself as a “weaver” for her ability to stitch the pieces of the Jerusalem experience together into a coherent whole.

As we walked through the market, Brunwasser pointed out the sights—an ex-army brothel turned into a bar, an Arab family from Iraq selling challah, a modern coffee shop with Jewish mothers drinking espresso and nursing their babies in the open air. Here, where many different cultures intersect, Brunwasser said, “I feel at home.”

Then we were handed a small black audio transmitters and headsets and instructed to wait for the light rail train to arrive. Under the shade, I stood with an assortment of fellow passengers—elderly locals with shopping bags, Orthodox men, IDF soldiers, tourists in t-shirts. In minutes, a sleek tram cut through the street: We all boarded; I pressed play, and my audio tour began.

Over my headset, I heard Brunwasser’s warm, friendly voice. “Try to imagine me as a friend who picked up the phone to call you, to help you make sense of something that’s been on your mind,” she said.

In a city full of contested spaces, Jerusalem’s light rail can function as a neutral ground. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

The 14-kilometer Red Line, which opened in 2011, makes a natural site for social activism. The train weaves through both Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, connecting Mount Herzl in the south to Pisgat Ze’ev in the east; the 140,000 passengers a day it carries are a cross-section of Jerusalem society. Indeed, the tracks on which the train lurches forward are themselves a boundary line: Part of the light rail’s route follows the seam that, before 1967, served as the border between Israel and Jordan—a “barricaded no man’s land,” in Brunwasser’s words.

On the audio tour, Brunwasser identified various Arab, Christian, and Jewish landmarks as the train passed: Damascus Gate, Paulus House, Zion Square. “It was here that I first fell in love with Jerusalem, as a 16-year-old, looking out at the square overflowing with young people, having fun with a freedom and an abandon that didn’t exist for teenagers in major American cities,” she told us over headphones as we rolled by the public plaza.

Interspersed with her comments were narrations from “boundary dissolvers” who had strong ties to the landmarks. One such character was Sarah Weil, a Northern Californian who found Judaism as a young adult, came out as lesbian at age 14, and then “went back in,” said Brunwasser, in order to confirm to the requirements of the faith with which she’d fallen in love. Weil recounted how she would march in Zion Square with a rainbow flag. “Cars honked at me, people shouted curses, called me a pervert, said I was repulsive,” Weil said over the headset. She explained that rabbis don’t allow such public discourse, so she must hold her own, and people from all religions and secular groups have come to the square to engage.

As the train entered East Jerusalem, where the majority of Palestinians—38 percent of Jerusalem’s residents—live, the sensation of crossing a border was palpable; the crowd started to thin, shop names morphed from Hebrew to Arabic.

At Beit Hanin, an Arab neighborhood and the site of Israeli-Palestinian clashes in 2014, the group was instructed to disembark to meet our next boundary dissolver, Riman Barakat, a Palestinian activist. As we followed Barakat along the separation wall of concrete, graffiti, and barbed wire that snakes around the territory, I noticed the jarring difference in the built environment. Where carefully landscaped gardens and fruit trees shade residents of West Jerusalem, buildings here are unfinished and naked, roads are pocked from potholes, and naked cables hang over streets.

Art displayed along the separation barrier in East Jerusalem. (Keshia Baldage/CityLab)

Barakat explained the contrast: Palestinians residents may pay taxes, but support for infrastructure on the city’s east side is sorely lacking, as there is no Palestinian representation in city government to push for it.

The conflict doesn’t just manifest in the form of buildings; it has also affected freedom of movement. When Israel assumed control over the predominantly Arab eastern half of Jerusalem from Jordan after the Six-Day War of 1967, the Israeli government expanded the borders of the city, annexing Palestinian villages and offering residents Israeli citizenship. Most Palestinians refused, Barakat said, believing that having citizenship would only legitimize Israeli occupation. “People are always surprised that we don’t have an Israeli passport,” she said. “We’re stuck in the middle. Paying taxes, but getting no support. Not being able to leave Israel, but not Israeli either.”

Barakat’s organization, Experience Palestine, puts together tours for Israeli lawmakers and students to hear the Palestinian narrative. She also works as the East Jerusalem director of Mekudeshet in a bid to make the citywide festival incorporate more Palestinian characters and experiences.

(Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

Each Dissolving Boundaries tour features a unique cast of boundary-dissolving locals like Barakat. Other participants might meet Omer Schuster, who married a Muslim woman and follows Islamic rules, or artist Yotvat Freizen-Weil, who makes art for Syrian refugee camps. One of Brunwasser’s personal inspirations is boundary dissolver Nadav Schwartz, an Orthodox LBGTQ activist. “He’s a boundary dissolver who’s making change by staying in his community and holding a mirror up to it,” she said.

Organizing these tours is an ongoing challenge for Brunwasser and her team in a country where identity and faith are powerfully divisive forces. (Sample dilemma: Should the catered meals served on the tour be kosher or halal?) There have been difficult conversations, uncomfortable situations, and internal conflicts within Mekudeshet on how to engage more participants from all parts of the city. “We’re still trying to engage the ultra-Orthodox and Arab community,” Barakat said.

At the end of the day, though, Brunwasser said, “It’s Jerusalem. And you don’t want to give up, because it’s Jerusalem.”

This year, a new, loosely formed Dissolving Boundaries Institute plans to prepare similar tours aimed at nonprofit organizations, and it’s also planning to make the audio guides available to the public, so light-rail riders can take their own self-guided versions of the tour. The hope is that this model can be replicated outside of Jerusalem as well: While much about the city’s situation is unique, it’s certainly not the only place with starkly defined barriers between neighborhoods and communities.

“Jerusalem is facing the issues that so many parts of the world are facing now with respect to race, religion, segregation, and income inequality,” Barakat says. “We think that Jerusalem could be the blueprint for how to negotiate boundaries in the future.”  

Powered by WPeMatico

The Cities With the Most Singles

Cities are not just labor markets: They’re mating markets. Single people don’t just move to cities for jobs or amenities, but for access to potential mates. Back in 2007, National Geographic published its infamous “Singles Map,” which showed which cities and metros had more single men or single women. It did so with a broad brush, looking at all singles ages 20 to 64. But women outlive men and the odds can shift in favor over time. More than a decade later, has the singles scene—and the odds of meeting that special someone—changed?

With the help of my colleague Karen King, a demographer at the University of Toronto’s School of Cities, we crunched the numbers for metros where men outnumber women and where women outnumber men, based on data from the 2017 American Community Survey. We looked into more than 380 metros and examined single adults—including those who have never been married, and those who are divorced, separated, or widowed. We looked at the broad ratio of single men to women for singles between 20 and 64 years of age. (We stopped at age 64 because the fact that women outlive men would badly skew the ratios.) Finally, we looked at ratios for three age groups: 20 to 34 years old, 35 to 44 years old, and 45 to 64 years old.

My CityLab colleague David Montgomery produced the graphics and maps. On the maps, the blue shading shows metros where there are more single men than women, and orange indicates metros where there are more single women than men.

In absolute numbers, heterosexual men have a considerable dating advantage in metros across the East Coast and South. New York City  has more than 200,000 more single women than men; Atlanta 95,000 more; Washington, D.C. 63,000 more; Philadelphia nearly 60,000 more. The pattern continues for Baltimore and Miami. Meanwhile, the opposite is true out West, where the absolute numbers favor heterosexual single women. San Diego has more than 50,000 more single men than women; Seattle has 46,000 more; San Jose has 37,000 more; Phoenix 32,000 more. The pattern is similar for Denver and San Francisco.

Source: American Community Survey (David H. Montgomery/CityLab)

But, these large numbers simply reflect the large size of these metros. The picture becomes more accurate when we look at the ratio of single women to men (we do so per 1,000 single men). As the map shows, orange indicates metros where there are more single women, mostly across the East Coast, down the coast into the South, and in parts of the Rust Belt. And note the blue areas on the map which show metros that are mostly male, especially prevalent out West.

Overall, more than 60 percent of metros (234 metros) lean male, and about a third (136) lean female. There are a dozen metros where the odds are more or less even.

Among large metros (with more than one million people), tech-driven San Jose has the smallest ratio of single women to men (868 per 1,000). But across all metros, the geography is more varied. Jacksonville, North Carolina; Hanford-Corcoran, California; The Villages, Florida (a retirement community); and the Watertown-Fort Drum, New York all have ratios of 500-600 single women to 1,000 single men.

The large metros that have more single women than men sit in the South: Memphis, Atlanta, and Birmingham all have slightly more than 1,100 single women to 1,000 single men. When we consider all metros, Southern metros still rank at the top, but the towns are much smaller. Places like Florence, South Carolina; Greenville, North Carolina; and Laredo, Texas are where single women outnumber single men by 1,200 to 1,000.

Source: American Community Survey (David H. Montgomery/CityLab)

The pattern becomes even more interesting when we chart the geography of singles in different age groups.

The map above charts the ratios for those 20 to 34 years old—key years for dating—searching for long-term partners, and starting a family. The map is a veritable sea of blue. Now, the odds favor of heterosexual single women almost everywhere across the country. The tides have quickly shifted in places like New York City: When considering all age groups, there are more single women—but when looking at just those 20 to 34, there are more single men. In fact, 95 percent of metros (362) across the country have more young single men than young single women.

There are only 13 metros across the entire country where the ratio of single women in the 20-to-34 age group exceeds that of men; and in just seven more they are roughly even. All of the metros where there are more young single women are small metros in the South, like Greenville, North Carolina; Florence, South Carolina; Macon-Bibb County, Georgia; Burlington, North Carolina; and Brunswick, Georgia, all of which have no more than 1,100 young single women for 1,000 young single men.  

Source: American Community Survey (David H. Montgomery/CityLab)

The odds start to change as we age. As the map above shows, the odds start to tilt back in favor of men when we look at singles between the ages of 35 and 44. In this age group, there are more single women in more than 40 percent of metros (164). Among large metros, Raleigh, Atlanta, and Birmingham are particularly attractive for heterosexual men, with between 1,100 and 1,200 single women to 1,000 single men. And there are more single men of this age group in just over half (54 percent) of metros (206). The large metros are San Jose, Seattle, and Las Vegas, which all have around 900 single women per 1,000 single men.

Source: American Community Survey (David H. Montgomery/CityLab)

The map for singles aged 45 to 64 shows the odds shifting sharply, simply because women tend to outlive men. The map is almost entirely orange: By this age, single men have the advantage in most metros across the country.

Across the nation, almost 90 percent of metros (340) are majority single women in this age group. In absolute numbers, New York City has more than 300,000 more single women than men between the ages of 45 and 64; Los Angeles has 140,000 or so; Chicago more than 90,000; and Washington, D.C., 85,000. There are just 37 metros across the entire country where there are more single men in this age group, and another five where the odds are more or less even.

The last graph summarizes the overall pattern. For young singles ages 20 to 34, there are more metros with more single men than women. But as we age, single life starts to skew more toward men. By ages 35 to 44, the odds for men and women across metros are essentially even. But, by the time we reach 45 to 64 years of age, many more metros have a greater share of single women than single men.

Of course, this analysis does not account for factors that often influence our mating life. We don’t know the sexual orientation of these singles—a huge factor—nor does our analysis account for education, race, or ethnicity; or those people who are in relationships but not yet married.

Still, our analysis and maps provide a broad look across the country where sheer the odds ratios favor single men or women—something that might just come in handy for those looking for love this Valentine’s Day.

CityLab editorial fellow Claire Tran contributed research and editorial assistance to this article.

Powered by WPeMatico

Our Algorithms are Biased

For almost a year, our team has been working on a toolkit to help readers navigate the nuanced, complicated conversations that surround algorithms and the data that they consume. The project came about after a small workshop held in the city of San Francisco in February of 2018. The conversation around data science and transparency for laypeople brought us to the idea that a new resource was needed to bridge the gap between data scientists and non-data scientists.

Powered by WPeMatico

CityLab Daily: California’s High-Speed Rail Careens Off Track

Keep up with the most pressing, interesting, and important city stories of the day. Sign up for the CityLab Daily newsletter here.

***

What We’re Following

Crazy train: California’s dream of a high-speed rail line running from San Francisco to Los Angeles in under three hours got a rude awakening on Tuesday when Governor Gavin Newsom announced plans to scale back the scheme significantly. “There simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A. I wish there were,” he said, alluding to the significant engineering, legal, and political challenges facing the project.

The 700-mile route linking California’s northern and southern metropolises has enjoyed fairly consistent public support since voters approved it back in 2008, though cost estimates have ballooned. Now, by limiting the plan to a 110-mile section in the Central Valley—the state’s agricultural heartland, where the train enjoys the least amount of political support—the rail project has earned a new nickname from detractors: “the train to nowhere.” But not everyone has interpreted the governor’s words as bleakly. California State Senator Scott Wiener, known for his transit-friendly housing proposals, tells CityLab’s Laura Bliss, “Let’s take this for what it is: step one.” Read her story: Where California High-Speed Rail Careened Off Track

Andrew Small


More on CityLab

Police Policy for Sale

Lexipol, a private for-profit company, has quietly become one of the most powerful voices in American law enforcement policy.

Scott Morris

The Problem With a ‘Smart’ Border Wall

To resolve Trump’s impasse, many lawmakers have proposed boosting surveillance technology to create a virtual border wall. Is that more humane and effective?

Tanvi Misra

We Found Love in the Gig Economy

“I never thought I’d marry a man through Uber.”

Nicole Javorsky

Tate Modern Visitors Can Keep Looking Into Rich People’s Condos, Legally

The decision by the British High Court was an abrupt end to a heavily publicized stand-off between private wealth and a public art institution.

Feargus O’Sullivan

For Boston City Hall’s 50th Birthday, a Commemorative Pin

The city’s most polarizing building is now officially middle-aged and a couple of fans have reproduced a pin that was given out during its opening week celebrations in 1969.

Claire Tran


What We’re Reading

How the census will reach new urban Millennials (Stateline)

Why Amazon is caught in an unexpected brawl for New York’s HQ2 (New York Times)

Coming of age in cohousing (Curbed)

Women account for 15 percent of the transportation workforce (Streetsblog)

All this snow isn’t slowing down St. Paul’s pedestrian plan (Next City)


Tell your friends about the CityLab Daily! Forward this newsletter to someone who loves cities and encourage them to subscribe. Send your own comments, feedback, and tips to hello@citylab.com.

Powered by WPeMatico

Where California High-Speed Rail Careened Off Track

On U.S. railroads, it’s been a week of emotional whiplash.

Just days ago, an outline of the much-anticipated Green New Deal— a proposal from Democratic lawmakers to dramatically cut U.S. carbon emissions—described the country’s need for high-speed rail network to help replace short-haul flights with lower-emission trips. Commentators on both sides of the aisle ridiculed the idea as politically impossible, even as environmental and transit advocates staunchly defended it.

Then, on Tuesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom tossed cold water on the state’s high-speed rail project, which represents a rare beacon of progress on next-generation train service in the U.S. In his first State of the State address, Newsom announced plans to scale back the scheme to link San Francisco to Los Angeles with a passenger train that could connect those cities in under three hours. Instead, only a much shorter, first phase of construction would be completed, putting 110 miles of improved rail service between the Central Valley cities of Merced and Bakersfield, with Fresno in the midst. That’s a huge step back from a 700-mile route connecting coastal population centers.

“[L]et’s be real. The current project, as planned, would cost too much and take too long,” Newsom said. “There simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A.,” he continued, alluding to the massive engineering, legal, and political challenges that have blocked the project’s entry into California’s north and south metropolises. “I wish there were.”

At first, the governor’s words were reported by the Associated Press as “abandoning” the high-speed rail project. That was not accurate: His office later clarified that the state still plans to make California High-Speed Rail (or CAHSR, to use its virus-like acronym) a “reality,” including by completing environmental work so that northern and southern California could eventually be reached at some later date. Still, construction plans for those regions appear indefinitely postponed while work moves forward in the rural Central Valley, where funding is in hand and construction is already under way.

That shortened route between Merced and Bakersfield—cities whose populations number fewer than 85,000 and 400,000, respectively—will not be a “train to nowhere,” the governor said, invoking the favored insult of project detractors. “We can align our economic and workforce development strategies, anchored by High Speed Rail, and pair them with tools like opportunity zones, to form the backbone of a reinvigorated Central Valley economy.”

But there was no disguising the disappointment from transportation and environmental advocates over Newsom’s declaration. Housing shortages and congested transportation networks are pushing more workers out of Los Angeles and San Francisco than they are inviting them in, worsening inequality, dimming these cities’ economic stars, and pushing the state’s greenhouse-gas reduction goals further out of reach. “As California appears to be putting brakes on high-speed rail project, a reminder: U.S. is completely outside of the norm on intercity rail investment, & its transportation system is less effective, less convenient, & less ecologically sensitive as a result,” Yonah Freemark, a urban rail researcher, wrote on Twitter.

Brad Plumer, the New York Times climate journalist, echoed that theme, while invoking the California project’s tortured history: “An understandable decision given what a clusterfuck that project had become but man, the U.S. is really, really bad at building passenger rail.”

In many ways, though, scaling back the bullet train to the Central Valley is less of a disavowal of the state’s original ambitions and more a coldly realistic appraisal of the status of this $80 billion-and-counting megaproject. Approved by voters with a roughly $40 billion budget estimate in 2008, CAHSR is now tens of billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule. Those vast overruns were probably inevitable for this project, the largest infrastructure undertaking in the nation. But CAHSR has also never seemed to have its priorities straight.

The idea to start construction in the Central Valley, for example, was devised to gain votes in the most rural, least transit-friendly swath of the state. But it probably wound up creating more political skepticism than support by orienting service away from the state’s urban ridership bases. What’s more, hastily kicking off construction before significant engineering and legal hurdles were cleared along the route has muddied the project’s future, lengthened delays, and multiplied costs, a state audit from November 2018 found. That report, which came after years of mounting project costs and questions around transparency, also cited the rail authority for misguided contracting decisions.

Given the project’s woeful state of affairs, not everyone interpreted Newsom’s pronouncements quite so fatalistically. California Senator Scott Wiener, who has become known nationally for his transit-friendly housing proposals, heard the governor committing to finishing what the state has been actually started. “Let’s take this for what it is: step one,” he told CityLab. “Instead of having these grand philosophical fights about how to build the entire system, let’s get done what is being built now and then we’ll figure out how to fund the northern and southern segments.”

Among rail supporters in the Central Valley, Newsom’s words were actually met with some delight: Never in living memory has a governor spent so much time in a State of the State address talking about her region, said Ashley Swearengin, the president and CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation. She’s also a former mayor of Fresno, the largest urban center in the Central Valley and a city that has undergone a significant downtown transformation partly in anticipation of high-speed rail’s arrival. “We think it’s terrific news here in the Valley,” she said. “I think it’s a genuine commitment to prove that these ideas can work—both to benefit within our region and to complete the project into the Bay.”

The Central Valley is sometimes known as the “other California.” A vast inland agricultural region that’s afflicted with high poverty, bad air quality, and a history of disinvestment, its fast-growing cities are a world apart from the cultural and economic powerhouses of Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Economic benefits from high-speed rail are already manifesting: The Sacramento Bee recently reported that 2,300 workers have been employed at 20 different rail sites around the Valley, and eventually, some $10.6 billion is projected to be spent. Rail boosters also imagine that cities such as Fresno and Bakersfield might become bedroom communities for priced-out urban workers commuting to Silicon Valley or Los Angeles.

This kind of economic development for the Central Valley was always part of the package of political assuagement as high-speed rail was conceived in the Golden State. But inland residents continue to show some of the least support for CAHSR. What’s more, California’s emphasis on inland connections might have been part of what set its supertrain careening down the wrong track. Committing to start service away from existing commuter hubs pushed aside what should have always been the most important element of this transportation project—which is to say, moving more Californians.

There are parallels here to another oft-controversial transportation mode. Building a California high-speed rail line to spark Central Valley investment without connections to the Bay Area or to Los Angeles might be compared to a super-sized variation of one of the many downtown streetcar projects that have popped up around the U.S. in recent years. Critics complain that these public transit lines—which have appeared in Atlanta, Detroit, Cincinnati, and Washington, D.C., among other cities—are effective principally as economic development tools, since they appear to stimulate investment and employment along their immediate route. But judged on the merits of effective transit—i.e., serving riders by moving them to home, work, and school—their record is pretty poor.

Meanwhile, the fundamental case of high-speed rail in California remains strong; indeed, it’s only getting more urgent. The state’s population is expected to swell to 50 million in the coming years. In the absence of fast end-to-end rail service, Californians will likely wind up with more highway lanes and flights between air hubs—and more emissions, worse traffic congestion, and thicker smog for the already suffering Central Valley. And those residents will still lack viable transit connections to important urban economies for people who don’t or can’t drive there.

Completing high-speed rail in the Valley may well succeed in spurring needed opportunity in the region. But scaling back the state’s planned SF-to-LA link does a disservice to California’s broader transportation needs. “There is not the ridership to support that link between Merced and Bakersfield,” said Karen Philbrick, the executive director of San Jose State University’s Mineta Transportation Institute, which published a report last year on the economic impact of the project. “The overarching goal should be to connect all areas of California. That would be the real mobility solution.”

Powered by WPeMatico

We Found Love in the Gig Economy

Last summer, my mom hired Bobby on TaskRabbit to reassemble furniture when I moved apartments in Arlington, Virginia. As he returned items to his toolbox, getting ready to leave, my mom made a suggestion: “Why don’t you guys stay in touch?”

Bobby punched his number into my phone, and my cheeks reddened. He built my bed that day, and months later, I texted him out of the blue. We started dating.

Tinder and Bumble get all the attention when talking about dating in the age of smartphones, but there’s something to be said for the apps that bring people together for other reasons, and occasionally lead to love nonetheless. Think Uber, Lyft, or TaskRabbit—components of the gig economy where it’s perfectly normal to meet someone new.

Take the example of Prabarna Ganguly and Eric Wistman. They first met as riders sharing an UberPool in January 2018 in Boston. Over the course of their 15-minute ride, the two talked about Wistman’s work as a math teacher, bonded over their disdain toward mixed fractions, and discussed Tom Brady.

“Before I get out of the car, I was like, ‘she’s cute and it seems like we’ve had a connection,’” Wistman told CityLab. “I wondered if I should ask for her number, and then I just thought that’d be too ridiculous and too forward.”

Ganguly added, “In that moment, I obviously didn’t want him to leave. But at the same time I knew how ridiculous the whole situation was.”

After Wistman left the car to watch the Patriots game with friends, Ganguly chatted with the Uber driver. “I have never met two people who can be this compatible,” she recalled the Uber driver telling her. She told the driver that it would be nice to connect with this guy, but she was never going to see him again.

About 20 minutes after Wistman exited the Uber, he received an alert on his phone saying an item was left behind. He texted the driver, who Wistman remembered responding: “Dude, I don’t want to get into your personal business, but I think you and that girl had a connection. I think it would be a shame if nothing were to ever happen. She said her name is Prabarna and that she’s the only person in the world with that name, so that should be a good place to start if you’re trying to find her.”

Wistman took the driver’s advice, looked up Prabarna online, and sent an email to the address listed on her grad student profile. More than a year after their serendipitous encounter, they’re still dating.

Ed Santos met his wife after he shared an UberPool ride with her best friend. He was riding in New York City with his fellow passenger, Rachel, who connected him to her friend Jill after their ride in late 2015. They got married in March 2018. Jill was surprised, but decided to go on a date with Ed because she trusted her friend’s judgment and figured it would be a “funny story regardless of how it works out.”

“I never thought I’d marry a man through Uber,” Jill Santos said.

Of course, not everyone should expect to find love when they hail a ride (for one thing, the industry’s harassment problem is real, and can’t be overlooked.) But these stories reveal a sliver of where the old and new orders overlap in today’s dating scene. Apps like Tinder have been blamed for ushering in the “dating apocalypse,” with Vanity Fair writing in 2015 that, “People used to meet their partners through proximity, through family and friends, but now Internet meeting is surpassing every other form.”

On Tinder, users famously go back and forth for days or weeks without ever meeting the person on the other end. If there’s any advantage to being in an Uber or Lyft, it might just be the chance for a serendipitous meet-cute, plus a third party to play Cupid, as Wistman and Ganguly’s Uber driver, Jill Santos’ best friend, and my mom all did.

Ganguly contrasted the more spontaneous meet-up in an Uber with the level of curating that happens in dating apps “so that somebody else might find it appealing,” she said. “This kind of story made us a little bit more sensitive towards… finding the beauty in things that can be lost because of the way that technology is harnessing love.”

In many ways, the conversation around modern dating involves the same concerns that have been around for generations. As Moira Weigel explained in her book Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating, Americans didn’t really date until 1900, and ever since, “experts have constantly declared that dating was dead or dying.”

And while app-based services might feel new, they’re also reinventions of the old. People have been meeting in cabs for ages, after all.

“It’s weird to say that meeting in the back of an Uber feels old-fashioned,” Wistman said, “but the idea of meeting somebody in the world and sensing a connection and then acting on that connection, I think, is something that’s not as common anymore.”

Powered by WPeMatico

Tate Modern Visitors Can Keep Looking Into Rich People’s Condos, Legally

Luxury flat owners who feel their privacy is invaded by a public viewing platform at London’s Tate Modern have only themselves to blame.

So said a judge at the British High Court Tuesday, at the end of a two-year-long court battle between the world’s most visited modern art gallery and residents of a condo development that overlooks it. Since opening as an extension in 2016, Tate Modern’s eye-catching Herzog + De Meuron-designed Blavatnik Building has become famous for its top floor, daytime-only viewing gallery. It’s well-known not because of its impressive panorama of London landmarks, but for the unusually intimate views it offers in through the windows of a luxury residential complex called Neo Bankside, which lies directly opposite.

Residents at Neo Bankside, which welcomed its first residents in 2013, have been trying to get the offending section of the Tate’s viewing platform shut down since 2017. Yesterday’s verdict was nonetheless unequivocal: according to Justice Anthony Mann, people living in the overlooked apartments have to accept that their sometimes spectacular views “come at a price in terms of privacy.”

It’s an abrupt end to a case that has proved a heavily publicized stand-off between private wealth and a public institution, with each sphere fighting to preserve dominance of a narrowly confined space. On first glance, the verdict might seem a little harsh. Few people like the idea of being on display in their own homes, let alone (as the court noted had happened) having people wave at them, or even on very rare occasions make obscene gestures. Some residents complain that images of them in their own homes have turned up on Instagram, with some owners so upset by the attention that they have come close to avoiding the apartments altogether.

Feelings of sympathy for the residents nonetheless struggle to survive on first sight of Neo Bankside itself, a development that could scarcely scream “look at me” any louder without being constructed entirely from neon. The Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners-designed development, where apartments are currently going for up to $4.6 million (£3.5 million), has walls almost entirely constructed from glass, and the development’s six towers are covered in protruding “winter gardens” (i.e. glassed-in balconies) that bristle like porcupine spines. The building’s lower apartments are already so exposed to passers-by that looking through their windows feels quasi-pornographic.

As Justice Mann noted, the winter gardens were themselves envisaged by the architects as supplementary, quasi-outside spaces. Residents feel so on display because they have used these spaces as sitting rooms, a function for which they weren’t necessarily intended. Meanwhile, plans for Tate Modern’s Blavatnik Building, with viewing platform clearly marked, were already public at the time that the apartments went on sale.

Tate Modern’s main building seen from across the River Thames. The Blavatnik Building and Neo Bankside are on the other side//Andrew Winning/Reuters

There’s been a heavy dose of schadenfreude to public attitudes to the case. Eyebrows have raised at the idea of the apartment residents being too fancy to put up sheer curtains or strategically place pot plants. There has been mirth at the apparent shock as people realize that windows you can see out of can also be seen into. All this aside, there’s a point to the affair that weighs heavily on Tate Modern’s side. This is an area that has become prestigious thanks to the influence of the public institution it hosts, not the wealthy people who later moved in next door. Without the prestigious gallery just across the road, it’s highly unlikely Neo Bankside would have ever been built.

That’s because the area has only very recently become a stomping ground for very wealthy (as opposed to merely wealthy) London property buyers. Even now, this class is still more likely to choose West London than the formerly working class, ex-industrial location of Neo Bankside, where the Tate Modern’s current building functioned as a power plant until 1981.

Just down the road, high-priced, spectacular apartments in The Shard were withdrawn unsold from the market, possibly because the kind of plutocrat who could afford them didn’t want to live in an office block in a still far-from-sparkling area. It’s thus the extreme proximity of a world famous art gallery that made Neo Bankside viable in its current location. The development’s winter gardens are so close to the gallery that they’re effectively breathing down its neck. It must feel a little uncomfortable that the gallery’s visitors are now, in a way, breathing back. It is still the Tate Modern that gives the area its heart, and its public facilities shouldn’t be hemmed in to spare apartment residents the annoyance of hanging curtains.

Powered by WPeMatico