In three terms as mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg has put his stamp on the skyline by approving big projects. Now he's bent on an extreme makeover of one of Manhattan's most important -- but aging -- business districts.
Crowds pour out of trains and head to work. Rows of businessmen in suits are getting their shoes shined. It's been like this for a century inside Grand Central station. Step out onto the street, though, and you step into a debate about how the heart of midtown should change.
At the corner of 42nd St. and Madison Ave., Mike Slattery, a vice president of the Real Estate Board of New York, points to a dumpy-looking brown brick building.
"These are not the kind of buildings that are desirable today," he says. Then turning his gaze across the street, he continues, "this is one of the few buildings that have been built in the last 15 years in the district."
It's glass, and twice as tall as the older brick building. Slattery says it's environmentally efficient and the high ceilings and open floor space are what high end modern corporate tenants want.
"It competes with Tokyo, Shanghai and London. That's what's at stake here: New York's preeminence as a commercial capital."
That's why Mayor Bloomberg wants to rezone Midtown East to allow for taller buildings and denser development. In all, the facelift would add five million square feet of office space. The city says it stands to gain $750 million towards subway improvements from selling development rights.
Slattery, whose group represents developers and other real estate professionals, says the project could generate $100 million a year in extra tax revenue. Some skyscrapers would join New York's famous skyline, ans some buildings would leave it.
Raju Mann, director of planning and policy at the Municipal Art Society of New York, points to one. It's the 1920's era Pershing Square building.
"It captures, in many ways, the architecture of a different era," he says. "These are the kinds of buildings that we feel create the character and the feel of a place like Midtown."
He worries Midtown East will be overrun by sterile corporate towers. He says the district should also include places for people to live and green space for them to play.
"The old idea of a place like Midtown from the 1950's and 60's was corporate office buildings. We think as a city we've moved beyond that mindset," Mann says.
Mixing residential space in with commercial building is "something we're learning about and thinking about as the process develops," says Bob Steel, deputy mayor for economic development. "If we create the right place and right environment where businesses can succeed, then all kinds of new businesses will go there too."
Approving plans to remake Midtown East could take years. City Hall plans to release more details later this month.
The Ohio Republican, who was on the short list of 2012 vice presidential possibilities, told reporters that he's now thinking about the issues as "a dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister would have."
The vast majority of the $1.1 trillion American student loan market isn’t serviced by banks. Lenders contract with third parties, which send bills and collect payments for them. But since these companies aren’t technically banks, they haven’t been subject to the same governmental oversight.
The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau wants to remedy that. It announced Thursday a proposal for a new rule allowing them to supervise some of the largest student loan service providers -- roughly seven companies which together represent 70 percent of the non-bank service market.
The CFPB says it’s received complaints from some borrowers about the quality of the servicers they’re forced to work with – consumers have no say in which company services their loan.
In some cases, their payments are not being applied properly, says Alice Hrdy, deputy in the office of supervision policy at the CFPB.
“So they’re getting charged a late fee when really they shouldn’t be charged a late fee and then they have a problem actually getting those problems resolved,” says Hrdy.
Additionally, lenders might want to peer over the regulator’s shoulder.
“When a servicer has problems, that’s hitting a lender in the pocketbook,” says Kantrowitz, “they will make changes if they see that certain servicers are much better quality than other servicers.”
If servicers don't shape up, the CFPB does have the authority levy financial penalties and return money to borrowers.
Meet the Hin-Jews. Corinne Moss-Racusin and Ranjit Bhagwat met while dealing with the perils of graduate school at Rutgers*. They are respectively Jewish and Hindu. A few years after graduating they began planning their wedding. You might think planning a multicultural wedding is entirely exotic, but Moss-Racusin notes that the couple has faced plenty of typical decisions like whether or not to pay for the nicer chairs at their reception.
“The one at the venue is just kind of big and brown. It kind of intrudes on our color scheme. I can’t even believe I said that sentence,” she says.
And not unusually, their parents are paying for the bulk of the wedding. But here’s where things -- depending on your cultural background -- get a little different. Moss-Racusin and Ranjit have to decide whether or not to pay for flowers: centerpieces, bouquets for the bridesmaids, and a garland for the Hindu god Ganesh. In a Jewish wedding, there is NO Ganesh and, the couple is already over budget. So, oy vey, what are a girl and a goy to do? Moss-Racusin asks if they can share or borrow flowers from Ganesh, but Ranjit is quick to point out that’s not how a Hindu ceremony usually works.
“Ideally in a Hindu ceremony you’re not supposed to steal from the gods,” he says.
“But what if we’re on a tight budget?” she asks.
Moss-Racusin and Bhagwat say they want the people they love to have a good time at their wedding. After all, Ranjit’s parents carried the statue of Ganesh all the way from India, so Moss-Racusin says if it’s important to them that Ganesh have flowers at the wedding.
“We would cut the centerpieces," she says. "That’s how we lost the chairs.”
Akshay Rao, a marketing professor at the Carlson School of Management in Minnesota, points out that there are fundamental cultural differences between the east and the west. “People in the west tend to be independent. And people in the east tend to be interdependent,” he says.
Westerners think more by ourselves and easterners as a group. Rao says imagine you’re a westerner who wants to go out to dinner. It’s likely you’d keep things simple and just ask your husband, wife or friend -- “Wanna go out to dinner?” But in India, when Rao visits his parents things work a little differently.
“I’m engaging in a little bit of hyperbole here, but if I say let’s go out to dinner they look at each other and say, should we go out to dinner? They consult the neighbors, they make a couple of long-distance phone calls, they consider the options they have considered in the past. It is a long process. It takes a village to make a decision to go out to dinner,” he says.
According to Rao, the east/west divide also changes how we plan for the future.
“People in the east tend to focus on preventing bad outcomes from occurring and people in the west tend to pursue good outcomes,” he says.
So Rao says if you’re from China and planning a wedding, it’s likely you’d be more comfortable putting down an early deposit on a venue to make sure no one else gets it first. While someone from the U.S. would feel better spending on the best possible space. But no matter where you fall on the map, everyone wants to do things their own way. And when and if they can’t -- trouble can begin to brew. Rao says the symptoms are easy to recognize.
“You would see dilation of pupils, elevated heart rate, and so forth,” he says.
Bottom line, when it comes to money, we do not like to have our cultural norms messed with and if they are we get STRESSED. But Bhagwat and Moss-Racusin are possibly the most well-adjusted couple ever. Their discussions are carried on with laughter and smiles and they say from early on it was clear they wanted to honor both of their cultures equally. Unfortunately for them, their good intentions translate into a wedding budget that’s grown much bigger than they originally planned. Moss-Racusin says at this point in their planning their budget may have even tripled in size.
“There’s two ceremony fees, there’s two sets of decorations and there’s two receptions. And there’s two outfits. We keep saying costume change, but it’s not a costume change,” she says.
It is expensive, but planning could have been much trickier. Especially if one party were really conservative.
Rebecca Richman, a wedding planner in Philadelphia says almost any part of a wedding ceremony can make ripples. One person’s favorite hors d’oeuvre falls on the list of another’s dietary restrictions.
“The drinking, the dancing, the music,” she says.
Richman remembers one wedding she planned where a separate lounge area was built so that the groom’s religious family wouldn’t have to encounter guests drinking alcohol.
“That lounge area was probably, I want to say, about $4,000,” she says.
No matter what the culture, Richman says when you mix things up, weddings tend to get a lot more expensive. Brides and grooms tend to want to make everyone happy, which is already a high bar to set, but couples from different backgrounds may be icing their cakes with an extra layer of cultural expectations.
As Bhagwat says, while it might be romantic to think so, your wedding day is not yours alone.
“It’s not just us getting married, we’re bringing two communities together, and it sounds nice and as it turns out, it is nice. But those communities are filled with human beings and they all have opinions. And pocketbooks. So everyone has an investment in it, literally and figuratively, so it’s just not simple,” says Bhagwat.
“It’s humbling,” adds Moss-Racusin. “What’s the old saying -- you’re not supposed to talk about money and religion and planning a multi-cultural wedding is all about money and religion.”
Moss-Racusin and Bhagwat are now married and they say if budgeting for a multicultural wedding seems tricky, it’s important to remember your real priorities. Like the marriage, not the wedding weekend. And in case you’re wondering, it turns out the statue of Ganesh came with his very own garland of fake flowers -- so it didn’t affect their budget.
Also: Tan Twan Eng wins the Man Asian prize; Aaron Swartz posthumously honored by the American Library Association; Sheryl Sandberg on Madeleine L'Engle.
Samsung unveiled its new smartphone, the Galaxy S4, last night in New York. The phones will start shipping at the end of April and have a slew of new features, including one that is raising some eyebrows, literally. Users of the S4 will be able to control part of the phone's functions with their eyes.
"You are not so much using your eyes to control it, it's more like the phone notices when it has your attention," says Jessica Dolcourt, a senior editor with CNET who tested the S4 at last night's launch event. "One thing that you can do that is very cool is if you are watching a video and you avert your gaze, the video will pause, and when you look back the video will resume."
For those who are worried about Big Brother watching you, Dolcourt says the eye control feature can be switched off.
With their latest Galaxy phone, Samsung pulls into the lead of Android phones looking to compete with Apple.
"They never want to be behind, they always want to be in front," Dolcourt says. "Samsung has spent enough money and enough effort to make their brand known that worldwide we can definitely start seeing an eclipse of Apple products."
European finance ministers are meeting in Brussels today, and at the top of their agenda is Cyprus. The small Mediterranean island nation, which has 850,000 people, is in desperate need of a bailout.
Like other small nations in the region such as Ireland and Iceland, Cyprus allowed its banks to get too big. Cypriot banks have broad exposure to neighbor Greece and its financial troubles. Though the overall amount owed by Cyprus, $22 billion, is manageable, European leaders are hesitant to offer the ailing country a rescue.
Simon Tilford of the Center for European Reform says that might have something to do the biggest banking customers in Cyprus.
"By bailing out Cyprus, they are bailing out Russian oligarchs and financiers who have used Cyprus as a financial center," says Tilford.
To hear more about the economic state of Cyprus and the eurozone, click on the audio player above.
While he hopes diplomatic efforts dissuade Iran, the president also tells an Israeli TV network "I continue to keep all options on the table." Iran has denied it is trying to develop such weapons.