Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Enough with the &*^%ing luxury apartments already!!

Since Memorial Day was a beautiful sunny day, the wife and I walked all over town. We hoofed it from our place near the Tully Center down to Black Bear for quesadillas and then up to Scalzi Park in search of Italian ices (no luck). Along the way, I spotted not one but TWO new "luxury" developments downtown.

The first was 93 Atlantic Street, which I assume is comprised of the apartments above the wig store, Punta Cana and Fiesta.

They're being renovated and sold as luxury condos starting in the 600,000s!!!!! (Or the $600s, according the flier.) It's a nice idea, and I've always thought it would be cool to live above a store NYC-style, but not at that price for that part of Atlantic Street. As I've said before, that stretch is crippled by its neighbor across the street, Landmark Square. Sure, this new condo complex will have a rooftop deck, but with views of what? The kids loitering in Veterans Park? Wow, sign me up.

The other one was 100 Prospect Street, a former office building that's being converted into luxury apartments.

I love that area - we used to live at 65 Prospect - but enough is enough! Every apartment building or townhouse being built in Stamford today is "luxury." What happened to building a nice, average apartment building? Why is it so taboo to build something that (gasp) the middle class can afford?? I understand that land and materials are expensive, so developers want to maximize the return on their investment, but holy cow, when is it going to end?? Is there still even a market for these overpriced apartments?

Average people are losing their jobs and having their homes foreclosed upon, but every new building is renting or selling for these ridiculously high prices. I'm no commie, but I can understand how things like this can drive the proletariat to revolution. It really does seem outrageous.

Stamford really needs some kind of incentive program to encourage developers and landlords to create housing for that middle bracket of the population that doesn't qualify for assistance, yet can't afford a $600K 1-bedroom condo this side of downtown Bridgeport. If they don't do something, the exodus of talented college graduates, young families and long-time Stamforders will continue. At this rate, I worry that we won't be able to afford to live here much longer, and we love it here!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Reinvent THIS!

I attended the latest event in the Reinventing Stamford series last night at UConn, and here are a few of my notes.

The two keynote speakers were renowned urban planners Bob Yaro and Michael Gallis. They talked about Stamford's role in the greater NYC metro region and in the Northeast "megaregion," which stretches from Boston to Northern Virginia. Bob said that the NYC metro region has a $1.2 trillion economy - as big as Canada's.

One major issue was, as expected, transportation. They are both proponents of high-speed rail, with Bob pointing out that we are twenty years behind Europe and forty years behind Japan in that area. He also said that Morocco has appropriated $14 billion to build high-speed rail lines, which is the same amount that we're spending. Morocco is ahead of us!

The big issue is harnessing the political willpower to face reality. We've been living in an artificial economic bubble caused by Communism controlling a vast swath of the world from Eastern Europe to Southeast Asia. Now that China is on the rise, we're returning to a true global economy, and we'd better keep up (or catch up, in some cases).

Bob said that our institutions and politics are becoming ossified and moving away from our oldest tradition: having common sense drive public policy. For the last fifty years, it's been political dogma driving it, and we need to get back to common sense.

Michael raised a good point: Stamford can continue to be dependent on NYC or develop a diverse economy of its own, with universities and "lateral connections," which complement the main north-south ones (95, the railroad).

After the main presentation, each table was visited by a planner or someone from the City for smaller discussions of the topics presented. Each table then shared its main points with the room, and the common themes were walkability and creating a pedestrian- and bike-friendly city; transportation; and affordable housing.

The person at my table told us that some cities, including New York, have programs where developers receive free land, tax breaks and other incentives to sell or rent to people within certain income parameters - meaning not too low and not too high. This is EXACTLY what Stamford needs to do. Think about it: the city and its residents are pushing for greater downtown density; there are a bunch of empty lots downtown; there's a need for housing that the middle class and people in the service sectors can afford. Sounds like the perfect environment to initiate that type of program. Enough with the luxury price points and the disingenuous "investments" in affordable housing. Let's make Stamford a city for everybody, not just trust fund babies and UBSers.

The problem, of course, would be getting developers on board, because they're naturally more inclined to maximize their investment. The incentives would therefore need to be attractive enough for them to participate.

Any thoughts on these topics? I'd also like to hear thoughts on how we as citizens can get our local leaders to at least begin to move these ideas along.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Where should I eat for my birthday?

My birthday is coming up at the end of the month (hence the national holiday), and my lovely wife wants to take me out to a nice dinner to mark the occasion. However, I'm having a hard time deciding where to go!

My first instinct is Napa & Co. because they're just so good, but I also like trying new places. I have yet to visit Market, Columbus Park Trattoria and Capital Grille, among others. I'm also tempted to try Union League Cafe in New Haven, consistently rated the #1 or #2 restaurant in the state, or Ibiza, famous for amazing Spanish food.

What does everybody think?

PS: Telluride? Chez Jean-Pierre? Siena?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

WSJ on the CTW, UBS, RBS, $$$

The Wall Street Journal noticed us! There's an article on WSJ.com about how the financial crisis has impacted Stamford and what the city is doing about it. It's pretty interesting, although I've never heard the phrase "Wall Street North." I usually call Stamford "Bridgeport South." I kid, I kid.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Strange sight: a helicopter in Kosciuszko Park!

As I was leaving Harbor Plaza after work today, I saw a helicopter landing nearby. Strangely, it touched down in Kosciuszko Park, right across the canal from my office complex, rather than at the heliport in the harbor.

After looking more closely at the pictures, it's a rescue helicopter. The pilot kept the rotor turning while several people got out of the helicopter and walked over to some cars waiting nearby.

The cars had white flashing lights in their grilles; I'm not sure what law enforcement or rescue sector would have those. The pilot of the helicopter talked with two men on the left, while a firefighter stood behind the black car.

After a few minutes, the pilot and two men walked back to the helicopter...

...and got back in, though I'm not sure if they let someone off, picked someone up or neither.

The helicopter then took off, circled past one of the office buildings, and headed north towards downtown.

I'm curious as to what this was all about. Does anybody have a police scanner or a contact in the fire department?

Follow-up 5/8/09: We know now that the helicopter was in town for the police parade and not to transport UFO crash evidence to Area 51. It's still odd that it would land in the middle of a public park with people jogging by when there's a heliport in the vicinity.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My night with the Stamford Pizza Tour

If there's one thing Stamforders take seriously, it's their pizza. If there's one person who takes that pizza very seriously, it's, well, the three guys of the Stamford Pizza Tour. Their goal is to "tackle every pizza restaurant in Stamford and eventually crown an indisputable pizza champion." Since beginning the Tour in February of this year, they've dished on the good and the bad of Stamford's pizza joints.

The SPT is the brainchild of Scott and Elliot, who laid the groundwork for this tour while undertaking two Burrito Tours of Ann Arbor, Michigan, while they were in college. The third regular judge is Dan, who attended Westhill High School with Scott and Elliot, and had the idea to take the concept to Stamford, judging pizza this time. There used to be a fourth regular judge, but he dropped out of the Tour because he felt awkward dining at pizza places with a clipboard and a scoresheet.

I recently had the honor of being a guest judge for a stop on the Tour, followed by a Q&A with the judges. Along with another guest judge, their friend and Burrito Tour regular Bryan, we convened in the Conference Room in Elliot's basement, where they have a giant map of Stamford with pushpins marking each restaurant visited.

They gave me a scoresheet and picked a name out of a hat. Speaking of the scoresheet, they've put together an elaborate rating system for a number of factors such atmosphere, cleanliness, ingredient slip and the ever-important "Hits the Spot." This week's Tour stop: Stamford Restaurant & Pizzeria on East Main Street.

I won't go into detail on our dining experience - you'll have to read the review on their site - but it was a lot of fun discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the menu selection, the decor, and the bathroom (yes, that counts). Here are a few funny pearls of wisdom from the discussion of our scores:
  • On Stamford Pizzeria's hours (they're closed on Tuesdays): "If you need a day off, take Sunday off like a normal person."
  • "It wasn't that dirty."
  • "To me, sauce is the most unexplored opportunity on a pizza. You could do such interesting things with sauce."
  • "I rate the bathroom on how comfortable I would feel to drop a deuce in there."
  • "The cheese was the lifeblood of that pizza."
  • "Being a guest judge is fun. You don't have to be responsible with anything. You can be a complete psycho." (Said by Bryan, I swear.)
Now on to the Q&A:

What goes best with pizza? Beer? Soda?
I like fountain Diet Coke.
Scott: Fountain soda or draft beer.
Bryan: I love soda.
Elliot: It washes down so good wth soda. I love it with soda.
Dan: I feel like if I drink beer, I can eat less pizza.
Scott: I feel like if I drink beer, I can eat worse pizza.

Do you ever get tired of pizza?
Scott: We get burned out sometimes.
Dan: We got burned out one time. Elliot was going away, so we went to four places in one week, but I had the urge to eat pizza again five days later. I don't think you can ever really get sick of it.

Have you ever had a slice of pizza you just couldn't finish?
Dan, Scott & Elliot: Speedy Pizza.
Scott: Michelina's, I couldn't finish. What did it for me was the god-awful sausage.
Dan: I was picking the sausage off.
Scott: It tasted like chlorine. I don't even know how that's possible. Everyone should try Michelina's sausage just so they appreciate other sausages more.

Greek pizza or Italian pizza?
Elliot: Italian.
Scott: I'm big on Italian.
Dan: I've always kind of had a thing for Greek pizza. I like them both though. Hope Pizza's one of my favorite places. That's a good pizza.
Scott: Greek pizza's not bad.

Cold pizza: yes, no?
Dan: Yes.
Scott: Absolutely.
Elliot: Oh yeah.
Dan: I don't heat it up again. Once it goes cold, it stays cold.

Why did you exclude Domino's and California Pizza Kitchen?
Dan: I feel like it's [about] Stamford pizza; local people go there to get pizza. But if you've had Domino's, you've had Domino's.
Bryan: "Mmm...really good Domino's..."
Dan: California Pizza Kitchen? We're in Connecticut. Get outta my face!

Any plans for another tour once you've crowned a pizza champion?
Elliot: We were all thinking we'd branch out of Stamford to the rest of Fairfield County, certainly not trying to hit them all but at least the well-known ones.
Scott: It would be interesting to compare some of the staple pizza places in New Haven like Pepe's and Sally's.
Dan: Or if someone says, "Hey you guys gotta do this place."
Scott: There's some good pizza in Darien.
Elliot: And New Canaan. It would be nice for anybody who's not for Stamford to look at the website and be able to benchmark something that they know to all these places in Stamford.

With this stop on the Tour, these princes of the pie have hit 31 restaurants, with 16 to go (17 if Nonna's opens soon). My hat's off to the dedicated judges of the Stamford Pizza Tour. You, sirs, really are the top crust.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Scenes from the Glenbrook train station

I won't pay eight bucks to park at the Stamford train station if I can avoid it, so on the weekends we hop the train at Glenbrook, where parking is free. You have to be on time because the next train won't be along for an hour, but it's worth it on principle alone.

So we were waiting for the 10:39 on Saturday when I spotted this flyer:

Is it that time of year again already? It seems like just yesterday I was PICKING UP MY NEIGHBORS' TRASH. What's wrong with people? Are empty water bottles really that heavy?? Even if you can't get to a recycle bin, at least throw it in the trash, not on the freakin' curb!!

Anyway, I think this is a great program, and if I'm around that weekend, I plan to hit up one of the sites.

I also saw this on the platform:

Many people might be dismayed that the Advocate has raised the price of their Monday-Saturday editions from 50 cents. However, a closer look reveals that they have, in fact, lowered the price to three quarters of a cent.

No wonder the newspaper industry is in bad shape! They're practically giving these papers away! They must be using the Bradford's pricing system.