New York – study Tour 2014

I am lucky to be back in New York again – this time it is work. I was invited by a client to join a study tour. As it is my favourite city this was difficult one to decline!

new_york_skylineThe pack sent to me just before we left Blighty said,

“Over the past five or so years the City of New York has been undergoing a major transformation of the quality of life and experience of the city. Initiatives include the high profile traffic experiment in Times Square, the creation of pedestrian plazas and pocket parks across all five boroughs, to the ambitious roll out of cycling lanes. These are just some of the Bloomberg administration’s achievements, aimed at shaping great neighbourhoods – walkable, cycle-friendly places, and wonderful riverside parks.

The new Mayoral administration has picked up this Bloomberg agenda continuing the drive to make the city ever more liveable. However, the new Mayor Bill de Blasio has also turned his attention to the same issue perplexing London: how do we house a growing population, and not just those who can afford the ever-rising purchase and rental levels?”

When I was in New York two weeks ago there was news that the penthouse apartment at the newest 89 story 432 Park Avenue scheme has pre-sold for $95m.

Whilst Nottingham doesn’t quite have this issue – the housing problem in the UK is not getting better. Certainly the cost of entry into the market in London is making it difficult for young people. There was a headline in the London Standard last week which suggested that you really needed a salary of £100,000 to get on the housing ladder. The average age of a first time buyer is now over 40. That can’t be sustainable.

I have always wondered about an apartment in New York (on the basis that I might win the lottery!) – a studio in Manhattan is going to be starting at around $300,000 in any semblance of a decent area!

So, I’m looking forward to finding out what plans Gotham City has for the future and whether it can buck the economics of people wanting and / or needing to be in this place…

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New York – part two…

This was intended to be a bit of a preview of my second trip to New York in three weeks. I’m in the Big Apple on a study tour – essentially looking at a number of regeneration projects.

Yesterday was the first part – an introduction.

But sadly I missed the start! This was courtesy of British Airways. All seemed to go OK as we boarded the plane for a 9.55am take off slot – getting us into JFK at 12 midday.

But things quickly went wrong – a part was needed. 15 minutes was the delay. This became 45 minutes then an hour. And then two. The part hadn’t worked and the hydraulic line to the brakes was spilling its juice out. There wasn’t a bucket big enough, nor duct tape strong enough.

We were de-planed. We needed a new one which had just landed from Boston (the good news) The new departure was 2.45pm. As that time approached there was a bit of a problem. The crew were in danger of being out of hours (the bad news). A new crew was needed. And they were not actually in the airport.

Vouchers were offered – to allow croissants and coffee.

The time shifted to 5.15pm. Then 7.15. We took off at 7.55pm – 10 hours after our departure time.

I try not to make this a moaning blog – but the way in which passengers are treated by airlines is astonishing. The planning that goes into a pre-flight check is second to none (I know I still have a pilots Licence!). But the planning of passenger treatment is at the opposite end of the scale.

I do know that shouting at the ground staff doesn’t work – nor does complaining to the steward about the turbulence when we were in the air. Some things are out of their control; but some are not.


I blogged before about the fact the Cote D’Azur was being shifted to Olympia for a few days – where MIPIM was to be hosted. I was there today.


If I’m honest it wasn’t a great start to the day. It was raining – not at all Cannes like. Then I had to fight my way through some protestors who mistook me for a developer – one guy asked me if I knew that what I did made his rent un-affordable? An odd connection but they do have a point otherwise. At least I was there before the Police lockdown (and mud was thrown). Then as I got in the building I was ‘sniffed’ by an ‘explosives’ dog. It didn’t explode – things were looking up.

Once inside there were the usual suspects in sight – most of the Nottingham ‘South Of France’ team had turned up and Nottingham had a great stand. Evidently enquiries to the team were brisk throughout the day. Greg Clark, Minister for Cities, Universities and Science showed up and was given an overview of some of the opportunities. This was high profile stuff and good for Nottingham.

I also saw Stoke on Trent who have massive ambitions around HS2 – they are trying to get the line ‘moved’ away from Crewe to their part of the world. Leicester were well represented too as were Derby. There was a buzz to the whole place. A good test (of planning) is whether you have any business cards left – and I’m clean out!

Tonight I went to a Connected Cities event – which focussed on the HS2 line when it leaves Birmingham – and heads towards Leeds. Jon Collins, leader of the Council spoke and I thought made some really good comments. His point was that the Cities like Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds need to present a coherent front. Government don’t want to see squabbles about where the line will go. If we have tight budgets in the next Parliament – we don’t need to give an excuse to shelve or cut back on the project…

Building as an art canvas

There’s often a debate in architecture about the blurring of art and architecture. Perhaps Frank Ghery does this best – making buildings that really are works of art. They set out to be that way; whether they do it for you is a matter of taste.


But wandering around New York this week I saw a building which looks abandoned – strewn with graffiti and with boarded up windows. We walked past it a few times and wondered how this could be so. It’s on The Bowery – at the eastern edge of SOHO. I figured it had probably been a Bank in the past – big stone facade and built to last – a statement if ever there was one. Except it is plastered in posters, graffiti and ‘art’.

Google is a wonderful thing and a few milliseconds of research solved this issue.

It was a Germania Bank – built in 1898. It has six floors and 72 rooms – totalling 35,000 sq ft of accommodation! Although the outside may have an abandoned persona it is, apparently, perfectly habitable of the inside. It is occupied by three people…

The story goes that Jay Maisel, a famous photographer bough the ‘pile’ in 1966 – for $102,000 (£63,000 at todays change rate). Even allowing for the ravages of inflation the sum factored up would be around $750,000 (£466,000). With New York apartments  – in Manhattan starting at c£300,000 (for a studio room!) this was clearly bargain of the Century. It is estimated to be worth around $70m today.

As for the art – the City want it cleaned up but Maisel (interview in 2008) said it was just impossible – he did try to clean it off, but the artists came back and started again on a new clean canvas. It once had Roy Lichtenstein as sub-tenant and Keith Haring chalked baby paintings numerous times!

Maybe not pretty but certainly art…

It takes all sorts

I am in New York – the second time this year. I’ll be back again in a couple of weeks (more on that later as it is work related). But tonight (it’s still yesterday in NYC) we headed off to the Radio City Music Hall – to see Bastille.


It’s a cavernous place – holding 6,000 folks. Bastille have sold out two nights – impressive for a bunch of London boys.

One lady in front wasn’t as impressed though. Halfway through she whipped out an iPad and started playing Candy Crush Saga. I figure she was a reluctant parent looking after her two daughters.

Sadly there was no responsible adult in sight chaperoning the 16 year olds behind us tonight. I was taken back to 1987 when I saw A-Ha in Birmingham – my ears still bleed at the thought of the girls behind who yelled and screamed their way through the whole gig. And this happened again tonight. I was immersed in some sort of hormonal cesspit. Except this time it was to the tune of a shotgun New York delivery of drivel – “He’s so Human”, “I want him to sing at my Wedding”, “He is just so lush”. Ad nauseum. And loud. And then they screamed. Any dog within half a mile would have been sent cowering.

These were proper fans – they even knew the words (all of them) to songs the band had never played before…

Suddenly I realised that I must be getting old. There’s no need for comments to agree. All I can suggest is that I did go to the gig and danced and sang. In a conservative sensible sort of way.

Bastille were rather good though. Shame about the unofficial backing track.

Valuing in good times?

I spoke at the Geldards property conference on Friday  – worryingly I was between the delegates and their lunch! But they were well behaved and patient. You expect this of lawyers?

RICS logo

Trying to get across some complex constructs in 40 minutes is quite a challenge. The tile of the talk was a clue – “The black art of valuation”. Although we have a framework (The Red Book as an example) we also have a number of conventions (like Zoning shops). These aren’t written down – even in the Code of Measuring Practice.

There were a few raised eyebrows when my confession about the use of proper English measurements (“Metric is from France and so is Rabies” is the surveyors with grey hairs mantra).

The hardest part of the seminar was explain the use of yields in capitalising rents. Not specifically the mathematical element but how you arrive at a suitable multiple to reflect risk.

So often we hear the phrase that ‘valuation is an art and not a science” – although the method of getting to an answer needs a formulaic approach. But when the maths are done there is a necessity to step back and consider the figures. Experience is the part that is hard to explain. It’s the part where you take the figure and step back. You have to think about the number in the context of standing outside the asset to be valued on a cold winter morning in the pouring rain and asking yourself, “would someone really pay £1,000,000 for this?”

A sobering moment! But the real part of valuation!

In these improving markets it would be very easy to get carried away – but as we know – markets can go up as well as down!

Best and Final bids

I blogged on Friday about our new phone contract with EE. For a long time, since being over-promised on a private contract, we have only used the main suppliers direct (O2, Vodaphone and EE – formerly known as Orange).


A few months ago I approached all three and asked them to bid for our work. We asked them for their best pricing plans and how they would help us fund replacement phones.

The response was interesting – O2 just didn’t bother responding. But EE and Vodaphone (our current supplier) both did. And EE were more favourable by a considerable margin. So we arranged the switch.

You can then guess what happened – a call from the retention team at Vodaphone. It appears that the ‘best price’ isn’t quite a Ronseal moment. The nice lady at Vodaphone has a different pot of money to keep customers. This is really irritating – but a real turn off for me. So we’re staying with EE. There was much disappointment all round at Vodaphone apparently (we’re a really valuable customer etc.)

And I had a similar experience two weeks ago with BT. We have shifted our landlines to a private supplier at a considerable cost reduction. But more importantly I can give 1 months notice to terminate (unlike the 2 years at BT!). Initially the man at BT was disinterested to say the lease – I think the response was “OK”. But then someone in head office thought that we were “a really valuable customer” – and if it was about price they could reduce the costs “significantly”. No thanks.

There is something here about big organisations – but also about looking after your customers – especially if they truly are “really valuable”?

Bendy Phone’s

It might not surprise you to know that my iPhone 6 is on order. We have shifted our office account to EE (from Vodaphone) principally to get access to the 4G network – but also take advantage of some aggressive pricing on the new iPhone release. We should have them in the next couple of weeks.

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 20.39.38

I have the option of the iPhone 6 or 6 plus. And my temptation is the plus – if only to take advantage of the new screen size and extended battery life. The  5.5inch screen mode is anticipated to have a 16 hour battery life. My IPhone 5s is 10 hours allegedly – although three or four is probably more like it. The battery life is nothing short of appalling.

But the big story of the week is that some users have had an issue with bending. The issue seems to be that the unit is so thin that those who sit on the phones have been bending them! The rumours of ‘a few users’ has turned into ‘lots of users’. As usual we don’t really know the truth!

One report I read was that someone had put his phone in his back pocket and sat on it – causing the unit to bend.

I can’t ever remember doing this. Or dropping my phone. Or dunking it in water.

These amazing bits of technology do need a modicum of common sense in how you use them?

United Kingdom – or not?

I generally avoid Politics here – especially where I can’t make much difference. But the Scotland decision is here. For the last week or so the campaigns have been on a knife edge – a 50:50 split seems to be the order of the day. Most of the surveys tend to ignore the ‘don’t knows’ – so they don’t really know.


We will know the outcome shortly…

My real concern here relates to the great unknown. It looks to me that people are being asked to take a decision for a long term future (with a one-way street) but they don’t have the full details of how it might (or might not) work. The arguments about currency are a case in point – so if Whitehall decide not to let Scotland use the pound what will they do? I’m not saying that you should say ‘no’ on this basis – simply that it is critical, surely, to have these sort of issues resolved.

What does seem clear is that this is the way of Government. We don’t think anything through. We put in place policies (or ideas mostly) without proper thought about how the detail will work. And the Scottish referendum just highlights this. Perhaps this is what Parliament wants – leave enough doubt to let people choose the ‘safe’ route – keep the status quo?

But this vote could have a number of people follow their heart not their head. It could be an emotive judgement without worrying about what the future looks like in detail.

I don’t really think anyone wins here?

Iphone6 and a watch…

Our timing at work is impeccable. Our contract expires with Vodaphone in a weeks time. This coincides with the launch of the new iPhone! This means we get to have some new toys to play with. And after my disastrous flirtation with the Samsung I can’t wait to get my hands on an iPhone 6 plus!


I’m hopeful that Apple have finally listened to us about the appalling battery life of my 5s. Because other than that it is pretty much perfect. And a new bigger screen should be a welcome addition to the feature list. Perhaps that’s my age?

It also looks like our new contract will be on the 4G network. I’ve been playing with a borrowed data card for the last few weeks – it’s amazing!

But there is also a much leaked and unsurprising toy for 2015 – the Apple Watch. Wearable tech as the moniker goes has really failed to catch on. I have a Jawbone UP – which is great for monitoring steps and sleep (!) but has limited features after that. Other tech bracelets and watches just don’t seem to have caught the publics imagination.

But if anyone can buck the trend it is likely to be Apple. They have a habit of making things that you never really wanted and making you want them. I definitely want an Apple Watch!

And with the watch sci-fi really does come to life. This sort of device was in the comics when I was a kid (a couple of weeks ago according to some) – but is now (nearly) reality. Making calls from a watch? Reading a letter (aka email) on your watch? And amazingly telling the time too?

I think they will buck the trend – but which model will I choose…