Drive Metro North

If you’ve ever taken Metro North and wondered what the view would be like at the front of the train – driving it – there is a new video game out that allows you to drive a train from Grand Central to Harlem, and then up to White Plains

In the screenshot below you see the inside of Grand Central, before the train departs for Harlem.

The game – which can be livestreamed on Twitch – has some pretty impressive visuals – in the Park Avenue Tunnel, on the Harlem Viaduct, over the bridge to the Bronx, etc. The game was developed by Dovetail Games and is called Train Sim World 2 . Within the game you can choose to drive along the Metro-North’s Harlem line.

In the screenshot below, you are looking south, on Park Avenue towards 98th Street where the trains go into the tunnel to Grand Central.

This intro to the Harlem Line is remarkably beautiful in how it has recreated the experience of riding/observing Metro North:

To read more from Gothamist, see:

New 5G Poles Coming to Harlem

You probably recognize the LinkNYC kiosks that sprang up a few years ago – replacing payphones.

Mayor De Blasio touted them as a way to bridge the digital divide and provide information (advertising) to New Yorkers, even if the map of locations was heavily skewed to the wealthier and more commercial sections of Manhattan:

Now the company that runs LinkNYC – CityBridge – is going to add more kiosks that are outfitted with a 35′ tall 5G tower, so they can bolster flagging advertising revenue with renting 5G broadcasting capability to the major providers. The proposed ‘look’ of this new tower is shown below:

In order to address the digital (access) divide, CityBridge is required to install 90% of the new poles above 96th Street in Manhattan and in The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, per the new deal with the city. Among the total of 4,000 structures required to be built, CityBridge is also required to install 739 in 13 so-called “equity” areas.

City officials picked the locations based on their substantial foot traffic, low median incomes and lack of broadband options for local households.

Some have argued that libraries (by comparison) have been more effective than LinkNYC at addressing digital inequity. Libraries provide “the hardware, the software, that connectivity free of charge to anybody who wants to come in their doors or sit on the stoop outside for the Wi-Fi that leaks outside the building.”

The city’s three library systems make 8,500 computer workstations available to the public and offer free Wi-Fi at every branch. Since 2015, they have also lent Wi-Fi hotspots to patrons.

Housing Inequality

Harlem’s rate of homeownership is strikingly low. A new choose your adventure video game attempts to explore why housing in the U.S. has not fairly delivered housing-derived middle-class lives to many Americans, particularly people of color. This game explodes the larger American myth that homeownership can be achieved by anyone through hard work and smart decision-making. 

The game – Dot’s Home – was created by housing and community advocates and wants to reveal the illusion of choice and opportunity in the housing system. 

In “Dot’s Home,” players step into the shoes of Dorothea “Dot” Hawkins, a young Black woman living in her grandma’s house. The home, in a disinvested Black neighborhood in Detroit, is in desperate need of repairs. “Dot” travels back in time, via a magic key, to help her family make crucial housing decisions that will ultimately affect her own future. These decisions include whether her grandparents should invest in a shoddy house as their first home, and whether her parents should move away from their community  to the suburbs after their home in a public housing development is set for demolition.

But here’s the rub: In the game that is the American housing system, there are no great outcomes for a Black woman — just ones that are more or less bittersweet.

As Dot, players pass through different decades, each one highlighting a defining moment in history for Black homeownership: the Great Migration of the 20th century, urban renewal efforts in the 1990s, and finally, the 2010 foreclosure crisis that helped spur gentrification. Along the way, players navigate racist housing policies and predatory lending practices whose impacts reverberate across generations in real life.

“We wanted players to play the game and not necessarily empathize with Dot’s family but just to bear witness to, and accompany them through, these very intimate but consequential moments,” says Christina Rosales, housing and land director at the community organizing nonprofit PowerSwitch Action and a co-producer of the game.

By offering an intimate look at how housing discrimination affects one family, “Dot’s Home” aims to be relatable to its target audience — someone who knows these challenges first-hand, and whose experience is not unlike that of the team behind the game.

“This game is essentially made by people of color, for people of color,” says Rosales. “So it contains all of these intimate moments that are a reflection of the team’s own family histories and interactions with neighbors.”

The game, free to download through Steam, was recently featured at the Game Developers of Color Expo and was a 2021 Impact Award Nominee at IndieCade. 

We are often told, when it comes to housing, that we have a choice. We can choose where we want to live, we can make all these sacrifices and build our wealth. We are told that, if we just do the right things, we can have a prosperous life.  The developers wanted to have players explore that feeling of false agency and false choices.

Racial Bias in Home Valuation

Examining housing appraisals from Jan. 1, 2015 to Dec. 31, 2021, researchers found: 

  • 12.5% of appraisals in majority-Black census tracts came in below the contract price of the houses they assessed compared to 7.4% of appraisals in white tracts. For appraisals in majority-Latino tracts, 15.4% were valued lower than the contract price. For both Black and Latino areas, the percentage of undervalued appraisals increased as the white population percentage decreased. 
  • The undervalued appraisals occurred more frequently in Black and Latino tracts even when taking structural and neighborhood characteristics into account.
  • Racial gaps were found even when just looking at the race of the mortgage applicant as opposed to the neighborhoods the homes were in: 8.6% of Black applicants received appraisals lower than the contract price of the house, as did 9.5% of Latino applicants, compared to 6.5% of white applicants and 7.1% of applicants overall.

To read the full story:

Oh, and Co-Ops…

HNBA’s March Meeting with Wilfredo Lopez

Topic: HNBA Meeting
Date: Mar 8, 2022 10:03 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

You can copy the recording information below and share with others 

Passcode: .A19uC7n

The Washington

Until the late 19th Century, New York’s middle class identified with the single-family home – a house that was only occupied by one family (servants were not considered in this calculation). Part of this strong class identification with the single-family home was a reaction against the crowded conditions in the tenements of the time. Multiple-family dwellings were seen as “lowly”, and in response, developers of the 19th century covered farmland in Manhattan, Harlem, and Brooklyn with row upon row upon row of brownstones – a row-house compromise between the developers’ desire for density and the middle-class owner (or renter’s) desire for singularity.

The promotion of “French Flats” – what we would simply call apartment buildings – was only possible once the elevator not only came into existance, but was mass produced enough to make it economically viable for inclusion in a 6 story (or taller) residential building. With the elevator, middle-class (and wealthy) New Yorkers could be tempted to imagine themselves living in an apartment building with other families. In addition to elevators, perks like security, laundry facilities, central (steam) heating, garbage removal, etc. were heavily promoted as class signifiers and as tempting amenities for the apartment curious.

The first true apartment building in Harlem still stands on the corner of 120th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. The Washington boasted a number of amenities that were meant to signal high-class, leisure, and labor-saving.

Well lighted, ventilated rooms, elegantly decorated, cabinet finished, elegant gas fixtures, mirrors and cornices, private halls, refrigerators, dumb waiters, electric bells, speaking tubes, sanitary open plumbing, steam heat, etc., were all promoted heavily on the advertising copy. The apartment, at the time, listed as ranging from $600 to $1,200 (per year).

(Note the use of the adjective ‘elegant’ which today has been replaced by ‘luxury’ in real estate marketing.)

East Harlem in a Video Game

East Harlem is featured as a location in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales Ultimate Edition. The look of the video game is inspired by the movie Spider-Man: No Way Home. In Marvel’s Spider-Man game, you play as Peter Parker as he tries to balance his normal life with saving New York City from Mister Negative, who wants to unleash a new virus called the Devil’s Breath, while also having to deal with some of his iconic villains.

Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales takes place after the events of the original game, and follows Miles as he tries to learn how to be a hero himself, while defending East Harlem from both the Tinkerer and the Roxxon Power Corporation. Both games feature many suits that callback to various points in each characters’ comic book history, and a lot of Easter eggs from both Spider-Man and Marvel lore. Being able to get both games at once now will be great for anyone that’s a fan of either Peter or Miles’s version of Spider-Man.

The Ultimate Edition of Miles Morales is available now as a Playstation 5 exclusive. You can check out the trailer for the new edition below.