The Mystery of the Thousand Missing Airbnbs

Casting doubt on Airbnb's data transparency

Streetcar Desired

steet2

Last week, in his State of the City address, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to build something called the Brooklyn-Queens Connector—a sixteen-mile, $2.5-billion streetcar line along the East River that would connect Astoria, Queens, with Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The BQX, as it would theoretically be known, has the potential “to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers,” the mayor said, and “to generate over $25 billion of economic impact for our city.”

The idea that the people of the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront (and especially those in Red Hook) deserve a streetcar or light rail line has been knocked around for decades, but no one has ever been able to convene sufficient political and financial capital to move the project forward. Recently, however, a variety of community groups, technocrats, and real estate developers assembled a non-profit called the Friends of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, which last summer commissioned HR&A Advisors, a real estate consulting firm, to conduct a feasibility study.

Such a proposal might seem frivolous, given that all five of Brooklyn’s busiest bus routes—the B46 (Utica), B41 (Flatbush), B35 (Church), B44 (Nostrand), and B6 (a mess)—are located far from the waterfront, and that weekday ridership on the bus routes closer to the river pales in comparison. (Not to mention that any route that would allow for both transfers to the subway and access to the waterfront would be absurdly circuitous.) Also, the project, which would cost at least $2.5 billion, wouldn’t be completed until (at the earliest!) 2024. All five of the aforementioned bus routes pass through New York City’s 45th District, which comprises Flatbush, East Flatbush, Flatlands, and a bit of Midwood and Canarsie, but Councilman Jumaane Williams said he was only peripherally aware of the BQX proposal. “I think it’s a creative idea, but I’m not sure what their transportation needs are over there,” he told me. “We have some real needs here, and I hope that we can also get some of that creative thinking.”

Proponents of the plan argue that the streetcar would connect people in high-growth residential neighborhoods like Astoria with high-growth commercial areas like the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Sunset Park’s Industry City. Theoretically, it would also encourage further development in areas where, right now, public transportation is less accessible, like Greenpoint. That, in turn, will generate enough tax revenue to retroactively cover the cost of having built the line in the first place—the 7 train extension is cited as a precedent for this kind of “value capture” success. “This doesn’t actually cost the city any money to do,” Alex Garvin, an urban planner, real estate developer, and former deputy commissioner of housing and city planning commissioner who has long advocated for a Brooklyn-Queens streetcar, told me. “There are plenty of places that need more transit, but the money isn’t there. We need two more tunnels under the East River. We need to extend the Second Avenue subway line to the Bronx. But the money isn’t there to pay for those things.”

Delivery Interrupted

grocery8Once, long ago, but not that long ago, like the late nineties, in cities around the country, there was a startup that delivered groceries to people’s houses within thirty minutes—as fast as a Domino’s pizza, wow, amazing. It was such a great idea that this company was valued at almost five billion dollars after raising hundreds of millions of dollars in an IPO. But it turned out that building the infrastructure to run this service cost far more money than the company could make from charging people a reasonable fee to delivery the groceries they were too busy to retrieve, because they were doing things like going to restaurants or trying to beat out scalper bots to get Beyonce tickets. And so this startup, called Webvan, went bankrupt in what is generally considered one of the most violent incidents in the orgy of death that was the first dot-com implosion.

Roughly ten years, or two internets and one successful FreshDirect later, delivering groceries seemed like a great idea again, great enough to be its own company and not a side business like AmazonFresh, great enough to once again attempt to spread to every city in America, great enough to sweep aside the problems that killed it last time, great enough to merit hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital. But this time, it would be different, because instead of building warehouses and hiring employees, the idea would be built on the shelves of existing grocery stores and the backs of a servile labor force left rattled and underemployed by the Great Recession, unlike the people whose groceries an army of independent contractors would be retrieving and delivering:

A Poem by Laura Kolbe

Imagining Marriage: 1


The bellies of right whales, each krill
its jacket of mineral: one meal. The empties
on Tilghman Street: what they will make
in their next heat is maybe a whale’s glass cage,
is maybe the largest bulb in Reno, is certainly
a grey rash of nickels. Hello, goodly transmutation. Hello,
my onus, my many. Two can be many. One can be,
too. At any siren I still hail Mary, the pastor’s way
of saying thywomb like thyroid, fast and ill-accounted,
though now I am praying to the box of noise,
the string of women mimicked in its hosing peal—
the low one with her black nosegay,
the central matron strong as steel-cut oats,
the soprano, hem on fire, parched red,
smoke-gingered—all these are you
says the ambulance, when not saying
the more important Move. And yet to reduce,

The Fakelore of the Apache Wedding Blessing

akjshgagBefore I got married this past October, my father called and asked if he could read a poem at my wedding. I knew it from the wedding album on my parents’ bookshelf: Typed on a word processor in a California courthouse sometime around 1980, it was part of the stock ceremony the justice of the peace brought with him to marry my parents in my grandmother’s backyard. The reading, having been part of one ceremony, now struck my father as some material for a family tradition—something all our own, against the backdrop of a Jewish ceremony and some typical American reception conventions.

Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other.

Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other.

Now there will be no loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other.

Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before you.

May beauty surround you both in the journey ahead and through all the years.

May happiness be your companion and your days together be good and long upon the earth.

The poem in my parents’ album was titled “Navajo Prayer,” and, losing a lot in translation, I’d told my friends that my parents, a Bronx Jew and a lapsed California Protestant, had been married by a Navajo priest. But the first page of search results when I looked it up for my wedding revealed that it wasn’t ours at all. My father had unwittingly bought into an honored, and lucrative, American tradition: The embrace of the “traditionalesque.”

Gravitational Waves To Offer A Better Understanding Of The Universe We Are All Alone In


“Gravitational waves provide a completely new way at looking at the Universe. The ability to detect them has the potential to revolutionise astronomy. This discovery is the first detection of a black hole binary system and the first observation of black holes merging. Apart from testing (Albert Einstein’s theory of) General Relativity, we could hope to see black holes through the history of the Universe. We may even see relics of the very early Universe during the Big Bang at some of the most extreme energies possible.”
—Stephen Hawking reacts to Science’s first observation of gravitational waves, a possible game-changer in our comprehension of the vast expanse all around us. Still, that doesn’t really get you a date for Valentine’s Day or anything, does it?

STRFKR, "Never Ever"


I was talking to an old friend a while back about her parents, who are getting on, and all of the concerns attendant to that. “It’s almost like we’re at the point where the best thing that happens is nothing gets worse,” she said. Left unspoken was that of course things will get worse. That’s what things do. When’s the last time you remember things getting better? Me neither. But what if we tried to take something positive away from that? What if, instead of dreading just how awful things will inevitably become, we attempted to appreciate how merely bad they are now? Sure, your life lacks meaning, your heart is empty, your memories are a painful collection of poor choices and embarrassing declarations, you can’t stop thinking about everyone you’ve hurt and everyone you’ve been hurt by, nothing feels as good as it used to and even the things that feel good at all never last all that long, and you’d like to be at least a little bit thinner, but don’t doubt that things are going to get worse. Things are going to get so much worse! Try to spend a little time today being thankful for the mediocrity of sorrow and anguish you feel right now, because at some point in the future—and it’s probably not too far off—you will look back and think, “Wow, those really were the less terrible old days.” Maybe you should half-assedly celebrate them while you still can. Anyway, here’s something from STRFKR. Enjoy. [Via]

New York City, February 9, 2016

weather review sky 020916★★ A shocking burst of cold wind met the children bustling out the lobby door. Thin snow clung here and there in the scars and joints of the sidewalk or on the arms of the scoop of a parked backhoe. Salt granules, still intact, whitened other sidewalk cracks. After midday, warm tones began imposing themselves on what had been unchanging gray. The clouds thinned to ivory in places, and then even on to blue. The glow of real sunlight appeared somewhere nearby. Gray strengthened again, but the expected new snow kept failing to appear.

The Mystery of the Thousand Missing Airbnbs

tumblr_mip5pjUyNT1rpm29co2_500A couple of months ago, Airbnb released a batch of anonymized data about its hosts in New York City in order to show that its community “is made up of hard working families in all five boroughs who, during a time of economic inequality, depend on home sharing as an economic lifeline” and to prove, once and for all, just how transparent it really was. The illusion of transparency dissolved with little scrutiny: The release of the data was highly controlled, designed to be nearly impossible to analyze in-depth, and architected in such a way to mask just how prolific Airbnb’s most active hosts were. But it’s maybe worse than that: According to Murray Cox of Inside Airbnb and technology writer Tom Slee, the data were effectively “photoshopped” before release: “Airbnb ensured a flattering picture by carrying out a one-time targeted purge of more than 1,000 listings” in New York City.

The key statistic in the Airbnb release, which contained “anonymized information about every active Airbnb listing in New York City as of November 17, 2015” was that—contrary to fears that the service was filled with sharelords renting out multiple apartments on the service, using precious housing stock to shelter European tourists for a profit instead of city residents who need a place to live—95 percent of its whole-home hosts shared only one listing. That number is crucial to the story that Airbnb has been telling ever more emphatically over the last year, which is that it is the vanguard of a “broader evolution in capitalism” that will save the working and middle classes from being pushed out of their homes by the forces of gentrification. And that story is more important in New York City than in most markets, because the majority of whole-home Airbnb listings—which make up some 57 percent of all Airbnb listings in New York City, according to Inside Airbnb—are straightforwardly illegal under New York State’s current short-term rental laws. (This is all discussed at length here.) That story, which rests in no small part on that number, is how Airbnb plans to legitimize itself in New York, where it faces a hostile regulatory environment.

Sandwich Condiments From Worst To Best

mustard16. Mayonnaise

15. Ranch Dressing

14. Aioli

13. Tzatziki

12. Hummus

11. BBQ Sauce

10. Ketchup

Nevermen, "Mr. Mistake"


Nevermen are TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, Faith No More’s Mike Patton and Adam “Doseone” Drucker, and they have made what would be the soundtrack to an amazing Disney movie. Enjoy.