Oct 19, 2014

Locally Speaking

New Manhattan Tower Is Now The Tallest, If Not The Fairest, Of Them All

When viewers tune in to “The Tonight Show” these days, besides Jimmy Fallon’s huge smile and the Afro of his bandleader, Questlove, they are met by a remarkably realistic Manhattan skyline.

There is the cityscape on a curtain, of course — a staple of late-night television since Johnny Carson was on the air — but also 37 wooden models behind Mr. Fallon’s desk. And not just of familiar landmarks like the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, but less obvious ones, too, including the Hearst Tower, the Pier 17 mall and the Maritime Hotel.

Yet one building is missing that is impossible to miss, and not only from Mr. Fallon’s offices at Rockefeller Center but just about everywhere in New York City: 432 Park Avenue.

On Friday, the 104-unit condominium tower, between 56th and 57th Streets, reached its peak of 1,396 feet. At 96 stories, it is arguably the tallest building in the city. One World Trade Center has its spire, but the skyscraper itself is 28 feet shorter than 432 Park. As for the Empire State Building, this new 93-foot-by-93-foot concrete megalith bests it by nearly 150 feet. From the living room of 432 Park’s penthouses, it is possible to look down on the observation deck there, flash bulbs glittering like an oversize chandelier.

But even more than the views from the apartments, it may be the views of them that give 432 Park its allure. From Central Park, Park Avenue or Park Slope, there it is. On the George Washington Bridge or Long Island Expressway, there it is. In the bleachers at MetLife Stadium or Citi Field, there it is. Everyone from cinematographers and muralists to tourists and snow globe makers must now contend with the tower.

“It’s almost like the Mona Lisa,” Harry B. Macklowe, the developer building the $1.3 billion tower, said at a topping-out ceremony on Friday for 1,500 construction workers. “Except instead of it looking at you, you’re looking at it wherever you are. You can’t escape it.”

Not that everyone agrees the building, developed with the CIM Group, based in Los Angeles, is a work of art.

“God, does it stand out,” said Marlene Rosenthal, who regularly glimpses it while riding Metro-North. “It’s a status symbol, and that’s the name of the game in this city.”

There can be no doubt the skyline has changed, yet New Yorkers are less sure whether it has changed for better or worse. Some are awed by the slender, omnipresent obelisk, its perfect symmetries, an undeniable feat of engineering; others are repulsed by its dimensions, both physical and financial, where units cost as much as $95 million, an undeniable feat of excess.

“For people who watch the skyline and love it, I think there’s a real struggle,” said Vin Cipolla, president of the Municipal Art Society. “There’s a handsomeness about the building you can’t deny, but it’s so out of context and so imposing, it’s hard to know what to make of it.”

His group has urged City Hall to monitor these supertowers more closely. A dozen others are already in the works throughout Manhattan.

The monuments in New York, unlike those in London, Paris and Washington, have always been its tall buildings. This one is no different.

For the first three centuries, it was a pair of churches, Collegiate and Trinity. Then came the World Building, Manhattan Life Insurance, Park Row and Woolworth, emblems of the city’s business and media might. The Empire State Building, constructed in 410 days, showed hardworking beauty and recessionary resolve. The World Trade Center, both original and resurrected, built as a symbol of defiance that the city would be great again.

And now, with more than half of the 104 condos sold, including the $95 million penthouse and the cheapest units starting at $7 million, 432 Park proves that that skyline is for sale.

Whoever said money can’t buy happiness has never been inside an apartment 1,300 feet above a bustling metropolis.

Yet even if those apartments are out of reach, it is only a matter of time before anyone can buy one — though on a postcard or a plate at Fishs Eddy. Movie and advertising backdrops also seem inevitable. Snow globes and other knickknacks might be slower to incorporate 432 Park.

“Unless it becomes a part of the lexicon or the public consciousness of New York, I don’t see it becoming a big souvenir,” said Nathan Harkrader, a co-founder of NYCwebstore.com, an online souvenir shop. “This has to be something people in Atlanta, Chicago or Las Vegas are going to recognize and know.”

And so the producers of “The Tonight Show” have yet to decide whether to include 432 Park in their skyline. The Mets have ruled out adopting it in their logo, a spokesman said, and the same goes for the badge of the Fire Department.

Tony Malkin, whose family has controlled the Empire State Building since 1961, said he would not add 432 Park to the interactive displays on its observation decks, which help visitors identify the skyline. “It’s medieval,” Mr. Malkin said. “That’s where towers come from, the Middle Ages. The wealthy built them for protection and isolation from the city below.”

Fortresses can still be seductive, though. For Demid Lebedev, a 17-year-old daredevil who posts his exploits on Instagram, 432 Park was his Everest. One day, after watching the tower grow, he and a friend decided that “we need to get up there,” he wrote in an email.

“When we made our way up to the crane I believe we were around the 90th floor and it was incredible! We were literally above the clouds. I can’t really compare it to any other building.”

His photos received thousands of views online, and he received a visit from police detectives a few days later, Mr. Lebedev said. For the night he spent up on the tower, he was arrested and spent the night in jail.

Such reactions are what inspired Mr. Macklowe to build 432 Park, he said, which is unlikely to be overshadowed anytime soon, thanks to its location at the edge of Midtown.

What surprised him was any criticism of his building as ugly or uninspired. “If somebody thinks a 1,400-foot building is boring, well, I just don’t get that,” he said. To those who find it crass, he pointed to the hundreds of workers building and soon operating the tower: “A lot of guys have come up to me today and said: ‘Thank you. Because of this building, I can afford my own house.’ ”

It just won’t be one down the street.

If Manhattan has truly become a playground for the rich, here is its new beacon. –NY Times

Rats And Their Alarming Bugs

If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that our well-being is intimately linked to the health of animals.

The current Ebola epidemic probably got its start when someone came into contact with an infected animal, perhaps a monkey or a fruit bat. The virus causing Middle East respiratory syndrome appears to spread from camels to humans.

Yet animal pathogens remain a scientific terra incognita. Researchers have begun cornering animals in far-flung parts of the world to learn more about what infects them.

Recently, a team of pathogen hunters at Columbia University went on an expedition closer to home. They conducted a survey of the viruses and bacteria in Manhattan’s rats, the first attempt to use DNA to catalog pathogens in any animal species in New York City.

“Everybody’s looking all over the world, in all sorts of exotic places, including us,” said Ian Lipkin, a professor of neurology and pathology at Columbia. “But nobody’s looking right under our noses.”

On Tuesday, Dr. Lipkin and his colleagues published their initial results in the journal mBio. Although the scientists examined just 133 rats, they found plenty of pathogens. Some caused food-borne illnesses. Others, like Seoul hantavirus, had never before been found in New York. Others were altogether new to science.

The researchers could not say how ill New Yorkers were getting from these rat-borne agents, but already the results were raising alarms among experts.

Peter Daszak, the president of EcoHealth Alliance, a scientific organization that researches the links between human health and wildlife, called the study “shocking and surprising,” particularly given the close quarters shared by rats and New Yorkers.

“This is a recipe for a public health nightmare,” he said.

It has been hard for scientists to measure the medical threat that rats pose. Identifying pathogens has traditionally been a slow, painstaking business, requiring researchers to rear microbes in labs.

Since the 1990s, Dr. Lipkin has helped speed the search by developing methods for fishing out pathogen genes from infected hosts. This research took him around the world, but Dr. Lipkin had long wondered what he might find if he studied New York’s rats.

In 2012, Cadhla Firth, then a postdoctoral research scientist in Dr. Lipkin’s lab, and her colleagues picked four buildings and a park in Manhattan where they set traps. Luring the rats into them proved harder than Dr. Firth expected.

“New York rats are a lot wilier than rats in other cities,” she said. “We had to bait traps and just leave them open for a week.”

Once the scientists caught the rats, they took samples of blood, urine, feces and tissues from a number of organs. After extracting DNA from the samples, they sifted through the gene fragments.

First, the scientists looked for disease agents previously found in rats. They discovered bacteria that caused food poisoning, such as Salmonella and a strain of E. coli known to cause terrible diarrhea. They also found pathogens that caused fevers, such as Seoul hantavirus and Leptospira.

They did not, however, find some of the nastiest germs infecting rats in other parts of the world, such as Yersinia pestis, which causes bubonic plague.

Then the scientists searched the rats for new species of viruses. So far, they have identified 18 unknown species related to viruses already shown to cause diseases in humans. Two of the new species, were similar to the virus that causes hepatitis C.

David Patrick, the director of the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia, called the identification of new viruses “groundbreaking.”

“These viruses may or may not have any links to human illness, but it is good to be able to describe them in detail,” he said.

The viruses resembling hepatitis C could prove to be the most important discovery in the survey, not because rats might give us hepatitis C. (They will not.) But scientists may be able to glean clues from the rat viruses to fight the disease, which affects about 150 million people worldwide.

Hepatitis remains a mysterious disease, because lab animals do not suffer the same symptoms as humans when they are infected with the human virus. Infecting lab rats with the new rat viruses could change all that.

“It’s still a few steps to go before you can call it an animal model, but I think overall it’s a really exciting finding,” said Alexander Ploss, a molecular virologist at Princeton University.

Some experts cautioned that we have yet to understand how much harm the rat pathogens are doing to residents. “I don’t see it as a call to wage war on rats just yet,” said Angela Luis, a biologist at the University of Montana.

Dr. Lipkin and his colleagues are now collaborating with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to look for signs of infection from some of the rat pathogens in the blood samples of New Yorkers.

Jay Varma, the deputy commissioner for disease control at the New York City Department of Health, said the study would not lead to any immediate changes in how the city deals with rats, but the data would help health officials better understand how diseases spread.

“We live in a world where humans are in the minority,” he said. "We as a society probably haven’t done enough to understand the true ecology of bacteria and viruses.”

The study should alert New York to monitor rats and control them better, Dr. Lipkin said.

“I think people are going to have to start paying attention to this,” he said. “But that’s Bill de Blasio’s problem. I’m just doing the science.” -NY Times

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