UrbaNERD: Who’s Afraid of LinkNYC?

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Thomas Good, Metro Centric, Anthony Lanzilote, Pablo029, Atomische, DIana Robinson/Mayor's Office

A citywide plan to replace our phone booths with new, sleek (not at all intimidating) wifi kiosks that passed unanimously in December is already raising concerns amongst the local community board of Bay Ridge. Some are worried because it is unclear which of the 58 potential phone booths in the area will be the first to be converted, while others would prefer a six-foot model over a 10-foot model, to look less imposing in their neighborhood. While both concerns must be incredibly vexing—keeping these board members up at night, and when they finally can sleep, giving them nightmares of a kiosk on 83rd and Colonial instead of 3rd and 74th (aaaah!)—others might speculate over bigger concerns.

LinkNYC plans to install 500 units throughout the city in the first year, and by the fourth year, Brooklyn alone is expected to have nearly 600, so we’ll be seeing them everywhere soon enough. They will provide cell-phone users with free wifi, a charging station, a touchscreen interface that acts like an information booth and the ability to call anywhere within the U.S. at no charge. Pretty sweet, and I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t looking forward to see what they’re like.

But the kiosks also come with advertising. Phone booths are already used for advertisements, but they have limited surface area. These new kiosks will be able to project unlimited amounts of digital advertising, and since the entire funding of this project will be paid for in returns from said advertisements—with an expected total revenue of half a billion over 10 years—it is safe to say that the company will be providing its platform to big companies.

What’s more, a web of towers that provide free wifi and phone calls to anyone who wants them seems like a pretty handy way to collect, gather, and store a lot of information about literally millions of people … and then also use it to market to them.

Some might find this a charming idea, heralding the beginning of NYC’s transformation into those futuristic cities we’ve seen and loved in countless movies. But if you’re concerned about LinkNYC, these are the fears we should be talking about.

Late warning on wind?
The death of Tina Nguyen this Tuesday from a piece of plywood blown off a construction site has raised questions about the city’s weather warning system and its ability to police worksite safety. The incident, which occurred at 5:50 pm on the 17th, was the 11th code violation since 2012 at that construction site, including another citation for falling debris. Ultimately, the legal responsibility to keep their construction sites safe rests on the contractor, Turner Construction in this case. But the Buildings Department was notified by the Office of Emergency Management at 6:25 p.m. of the high winds, more than an hour after the OEM had received the warning itself from the National Weather Service. Seems a long time to issue a warning for high winds—a problem that occurs regularly in this city, for which they must surely be prepared to issue a statement quickly and efficiently. That doesn’t even matter, though, because the Buildings Department decided not to issue the warning anyway, since it was after business hours.

Beyond the minimum wage
Amid the debate about raising the minimum wage in New York comes a story about people who ought to be making much more, but aren’t. Several building services workers at Ciampa Management, a real-estate management company based in Queens, and their union are taking action against the company for what they say are unfair wages. Jonathan Par, the first to speak out against the firm, is making the state minimum $8.75 an hour with zero benefits; he argues that under the terms of tax breaks the company got, he should be earning the prevailing wage of about $22 an hour plus benefits. He has received backing from fellow workers, and even has the outspoken support of Sunnyside Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer. But the Queens Chronicle reports that the company has tactics of its own. “After workers started organizing to address these issues, workers have experienced intimidation through interrogation, discipline and termination,” Cirilo Grullon, a union member, tells the paper. Because rather than pay your employees a fair wage, keep them happy, and make them want to come to work and give their best, some companies think that they can earn the most by paying their workers as little as possible.

Asians shunned?
Islamophobia is at an all time high in the U.S., so Mayor de Blasio’s move to add the observation of both Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha—the two highest of Muslim holy days—to the city’s school calendar, was a big deal. During his 2013 campaign, the mayor promised to “change our school calendar to reflect the strength and diversity of our city,” speaking specifically of the Muslim holy days. However, he also expressed this exact sentiment about the Lunar New Year, observed by many Asians, but has yet to fulfill that promise, which would affect about 15 percent of the city’s school population. So members of the Asian-American community (with the support of several elected officials) took their message to City Hall last Friday in an attempt to be heard. The fact that de Blasio has already extended the calendar to include the Muslim days suggests he will address Asian desires as well. The unintended winners, of course, will be kids who are neither Asian nor Muslim and so will get an extra day off from school without having to deal with the downsides of any holiday: cleaning the house for “company” (who apparently always inspect behind the toilet), spending quality time with that weird uncle and not swearing around grandparents.

Hunts Point Market is really, really large
The Hunts Point markets, which cover a whopping 119 acres in the Bronx, will be receiving a massive influx of financial support. Thanks to changes within the city budget, de Blasio will be allocating $150 million to the market over the next 12 years, effectively quadrupling what can be spent. This will have a huge effect on the quality of the market, and is projected to add 500 permanent jobs to the area, making “much-wanted local produce more widely available to New Yorkers, and support the growth of upstate farmers and farmland,” according to Pat Jenny, an official at a company which helped to back the project from the beginning.

Now, I’m a huge fan of the produce market that comes to Union Square all the time, but that’s a couple of acres at most. A market that covers 119 and will be receiving $200 million in investment over the next dozen years? Pass the kale and don’t be stingy with the fennel seasoning, brother!

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leidal_andrew1207RTsmall Andrew Leidal is Producer/Writer/Actor currently based in NYC. Graduating from NYU with a BFA in Drama, he is unsure of who he actually is. When he can figure it out, he creates comedy sketches with his production company Brometheus Comedy, and writes for his novel which will probably never be finished.