Tag Archives: New York Times

If You’re Thinking Of Living In Westport …

… then this Sunday’s New York Times has a story for you.

We’re the subject of this coming weekend’s Real Estate section feature. Sometimes a neighborhood is featured; other times, a village or — like us — entire town.

The piece begins with a story about a British couple with 3 young daughters. They rented in Old Greenwich, but found it very “finance-driven. They wanted to be part of “a real community.”

The New York Times map of Westport.

Westport — with its “scenic waterfront, proximity to New York City and variety of restaurants, as well as its international contingent and cosmopolitan atmosphere” — offered “ nice balance of diversity, understated successful people and enough of a European vibe.”

1st Selectman Jim Marpe then touts Westport’s “global mind set,” along with the arts, education, abundant recreational facilities and — according to the Times — “2 downtowns.”

One of our downtowns serves as the main image for the New York Times profile of Westport. (Photo/Jane Beiles for New York Times)

“The lifestyle here caters to a range of interests,” Marpe says. “And to high expectations.”

Marpe notes, “We live in a place that dates back to the very start of this country. There is a sense of history here, but we are firmly focused on the future.”

The rest of the piece includes information on Westport’s geography and neighborhoods (I learned that there’s an area known as “In-Town,” which is “within walking distance of the main downtown”); the housing mix (there are 8,818 single-family houses, 104 multifamily homes, 546 condos in 21 complexes, 292 rental apartments in residential and mixed-use buildings, 4 affordable-housing complexes with 217 units, and 1 building with 36 age-restricted cooperative apartments); the price range ($350,000 to $22.5 million, with homes under $1 million selling fastest and waterfront properties listed at a premium).

An aerial view of the Saugatuck River.(Photo/Jane Beiles for New York Times)

There’s also this, headlined “The Vibe”:

From “The Twilight Zone” and “Bewitched” to the current sitcom “American Housewife,” Westport has long been cast as an affluent suburban backdrop for television. Stereotypes aside, the town blends a laid-back ambience with year-round cultural offerings, high-end shopping and dining, and a slew of outdoor activities.

“With roots as an artists’ colony, Westport remains a creative hub,” The Times continues. The Westport Country Playhouse, Community Theatre, Levitt Pavilion, Westport Writers’ Workshop, Library, and MoCA Westport (formerly the Westport Arts Center) are all mentioned.

Schools get mentioned too, including the district’s #1 ranking in the state (and 28th in the country) by Niche, and Staples’ 7th place state rating by U.S. News and World Report.

Girls soccer: one of the many great activities at Staples High School. (Photo by Jane Beiles for New York Times)

Finally, there’s a section on the “64- to 90-minute” commute (though Marpe notes that more people now come to Westport for work than leave), and a bit of history of the Minute Man monument.

It’s a very fair and balanced picture of our town.

It’s just a week after Labor Day. But clearly, every realtor in Westport has just been handed an early Christmas or Hanukkah gift.

(Click here for the full New York Times story.)

Classic Connecticut, Says The New York Times

Today, the New York Times published a photo quiz.

They posted one archival image from each state. Readers were given a clue, and invited to guess which state was represented.

Here’s Connecticut’s image:

The caption says:

The 1993 Thistle Atlantic Coast Championships, seen here, kicked off at the Cedar Point Yacht Club in Westport, Conn. Fifty Thistle sailboats — 17-foot-long, single-masted, centerboard crafts, normally crewed by three people at a time — participated. Thistles are well suited to the light-air sailing encountered on calm summer days along the Constitution State’s shore.

It’s great that Times editors chose this photo to showcase our state.

Personally, I would have chosen a throwback tollbooth.

(Click here to see the entire Times piece. Hat tip: Jeff Manchester)

US Cities Stop Recycling. What Will Westport Do?

On Sunday, the New York Times published a front-page story:”As Costs Skyrocket, More US Cities Stop Recycling.”

It turns out that because China — our former number one customer — no longer accepts used plastic and paper, because it’s mixed with too much other trash, towns and cities across our country have seen collection bills rise steeply. The result: They’ve ended their programs, or now burn or bury more waste.

Many readers’ first thought was: “Holy smoke!” 

Their second was: “I wonder what my community is doing?”

To find out the 06880 answer, I contacted 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. He responded:

Pete Ratkiewich, our Public Works director, has been addressing this issue for several years.

The situation described in the Times article is also a reality here in Westport. In the recent past, international companies would buy US recyclables for reuse and repurpose abroad. As such, the town of Westport received compensation for its recyclable materials.

Recycling takes place all around Westport. This is the Farmers’ Market.

In 2018, China determined that US recyclables are too “contaminated” to be reused or repurposed, so that market has since ceased to exist (as well as in other countries such as India). So what was once a revenue generator here in Westport is now a cost to us.

The good news is that the town’s focus on recycling for several decades has “trained” all of us to think about what should be recycled and how best to do it.  Many of us still have and use our blue bins.

Up to the end of the fiscal year that ended July 2018, the town of Westport was realizing revenue from our recycling programs. But the cumulative cost effect for this fiscal year, and the next one we are budgeting for, is a total of $300,000.

We saw this coming, and have actively pursued alternative approaches along with a number of neighboring communities. Westport is in a consortium with approximately 14 other communities called the Greater Bridgeport Regional Recycling Interlocal Committee.

The GBRRIC — also called “the Interlocal” — aggregates all of our municipal recyclables, thereby increasing our purchasing power with private haulers. The GBRRIC recently negotiated a contract with Oak Ridge Waste and Recycling, and determined that the GBRRIC cost of recycling is now $75 per ton. As recently as 2017, that same recycling yielded a revenue of $25 per ton.

Annually, Westport residents generate 3,300 tons of recyclable waste. The total trash generated is approximately 10,000 tons from residents and 6,000 tons from commercial entities.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection sets guidelines on what materials should be recycled. We believe that glass products should be removed from the list of recyclables and set aside from the other materials, given their high level of contaminants. We have found that glass has become one of the most frequently rejected recycled commodities for that reason, and also a major contributor to our tonnage total.

Our Green Task Force, currently being rebranded as “Sustainable Westport,” is leading the charge to find alternate solutions that either cut our recycling expenses, or reduce the amount of waste that gets generated here in Westport.  Efforts underway include a composting program at Greens Farms Elementary School, which will roll out to other schools and hopefully other entities as the pilot proves the value of composting.

Also, we plan to lobby the state to allow glass to be placed in a separate recycling stream, and to change related recycling regulations.

The immediate challenge is that the Town’s fiscal year 2020 budget will need to reflect the increased cost of the recycling process.

Hillary Frank: Mommy, Misogyny And Me

When it comes to motherhood, Hillary Frank has seen — and reported on — it all.

The Staples High School Class of 1994 member — who left after junior year, headed directly to Tufts University — has carved out a national niche as a “mom’s expert.”

She’s not an advice giver — plenty of women do that. Instead she reports on life as a mother. It’s a rich vein, and she’s done it for “This American Life,” “Studio 360,” “Marketplace” and “All Things Considered.” She’s written 3 novels.

Hillary Frank

And for the past 8 years, Hillary’s podcast “The Longest Shortest Time” has covered stories mothers may not even know they need to hear. Topics include miscarriages, the NICU, and a lifelong vegetarian who thought her son’s digestive problem came from her breast milk, and began eating meat.

Along the way, she’s learned many things. Including the fact that even in the waning days of 2018, motherhood is still a topic deemed unimportant by many.

And that includes other women.

Hillary wanted to do a story on why many mothers who suffer childbirth injuries live with pelvic pain long after giving birth. They are resigned to painful sex — or no sex at all — even though most injuries can be remedied by pelvic floor physical therapy.

The editors — one female, one male — thought her focus on sex after injury was inappropriate. But, Hillary notes, there is no shortage of stories — on the radio, and everywhere else — about erectile dysfunction.

Hillary shares that story — and other cogent observations on life as a motherhood expert — in today’s New York Times. Her op-ed piece is called “The Special Misogyny Reserved for Mothers.”

Will anything change in 2019?

Stay tuned — to Hillary Frank’s podcast.

(Click here to read today’s op-ed story by Hillary Frank. Click here for a link to her podcasts.)

Main Street, Bleecker Street, And The Future Of Retail

A year and a half ago, the New York Times said Bleecker Street “looks like a Rust Belt city.”

On 5 blocks from Christopher Street to Bank Street, more than a dozen storefronts sat empty.

“Where textured-leather totes and cashmere scarves once beckoned to passers-by,” the paper reported, “the windows are now covered with brown construction paper, with ‘For Lease’ signs and directives to ‘Please visit us at our other locations.'”

This past Tuesday, the Times changed its tune.

A headline trumpeted “The Return of Bleecker Street.”

Eighteen months after its obituary, that same 5-block stretch of the West Village is “full of cool, vibrant people doing interesting things.”

What changed?

“Big-name luxury labels” are gone. Their storefronts are now filled with “young, digitally native brands….a well-curated mix of small brands with big ideas.” Many are run by women.

Hill House Home on Bleecker Street shows that a bit of creativity can produce wonders — and entice shoppers. (Photo/Stefania Curto for New York Times)

The sudden switch was no accident. Brookfield Properties bought 4 properties with 7 storefronts last April — “after exorbitant rents and a dearth of shoppers had driven out most of the businesses.” The new owners “immediately set to work rethinking the landscape.”

A creative strategy firm helped plan short-term leases — and revenue sharing.

Nell Diamond — the founder of bedding and bath retailer Hill House Home, an early arrival — did not believe retail was dead.

Bad retail is dead,” she clarified.

Bleecker Street’s new stores have become destinations — and community centers. They offer hot cocoa, and host podcasts, educational events and book club meetings. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand held a book signing at Lingua Franca, which sells cashmere sweaters hand-stitched with political slogans.

So why is “06880” highlighting a story about 10012?

Because some of the descriptions about last year’s Bleecker Street resonate with this year’s Main Street.

There are some great, fun stores downtown. You can lose yourself — and find nearly every gift you need — at Savvy + Grace, and The Brownstone. Bedford Square is filled with shops like Savannah Bee Company. Serena & Lily has brought new energy and creativity too.

Serena & Lily draws crowds of shoppers, just off Main Street.

But there are too many “windows covered with brown construction paper.” Landlords still hold out for sky-high rents, and refuse to consider options like short-term leases and revenue sharing.

I know, I know. Apples and oranges. Westport is not New York. Main Street will never have the foot traffic of Bleecker Street.

But we don’t need all those empty storefronts either.

If Greenwich Village can find a way out of its retail doldrums, our village can too.

(Click here for the full New York Times story. Hat tip: Michelle Sinclair Colman)

Where We Live

Earlier this month, the Sunday New York Times included a fascinating special section.

“Where We Live” was a 4-page feast. Drawn from an enormous Microsoft database, it showed every building in the United States.

Including Westport.

The Times explains:

We found fascinating patterns in the arrangements of buildings. Traditional road maps highlight streets and highways; here they show up as a linear absence. Where buildings are clustered together, in downtown, the image is darker, dense. As suburbs stretch out with their larger lawns and malls, the map grows lighter.

Your eye can follow the ways that development conforms to landscape features like water and slopes….You can detect signals of wealth and poverty, sometimes almost next door to each other….

These images don’t just reveal cityscapes; they reveal ourselves.

I find the size of our downtown especially intriguing. It looms so large in our mind. On the Times map, it looks so small. Meanwhile, the Staples High School/Bedford Middle School complex looks so big. (Click each image to enlarge it.)

Here’s a tighter view. That’s the Post Road near the bottom, with the two condo complexes (Harvest Farms and Regents Park) at the far right.

Now check out Compo Beach. Pretty dense — no wonder it’s prime trick-or-treating territory!

What catches your eye? What did you learn about Westport? How has your perception of this place we call home changed?

Click “Comments” below.

And — to see the Times map of the entire United States — click here.

(Hat tip: Jeff Mitchell)

Rent Or Buy? A Question For These Times.

For decades, most Westport families lived in homes they owned. This is suburbia, after all. Renters lived in places like New York City.

But times, real estate markets and financial planning have changed.

According to a story in today’s New York Times real estate section:

In a real estate market tinged with so much uncertainty, renting at more than $5,000, $8,000 or even $10,000 a month feels like a safer bet these days to a number of people who could well afford to buy in the suburban counties of Fairfield and Westchester, where median sale prices in many towns are above $1 million. Indeed, demand for high-end single-family rentals is up significantly, a trend that dovetails with a decline in sales in New York and across portions of the region.

The story includes a couple of Westport examples.

Aimee Raupp-Temple and her husband Ken Temple rented instead of buying a house when they moved here from Brooklyn Heights  3 years ago. They were testing out an unfamiliar place.

But they love Westport. They think home prices will continue to drop. So they’re renting again — in Wilton — while waiting out the market to buy here.

This Riverside Avenue house rents for $5,800 a month. Current rental listings range from $2,800 to $11,500.

Another couple — Michelle and Jeremy Fine — and their 2 young children have moved White Plains. Property taxes are much lower  here.

But they too did not want to buy in Westport until they test-drove the town.

Click here for the full Times story. If you’re a renter, we’d love to hear your thoughts; please click “Comments” below.

Meanwhile: Welcome to Westport, Temples and Fines!

(Hat tip: John Karrel)

Alan Abel Is Finally Dead

It was inevitable: Alan Abel’s obituary would mention that this was not his first.

The “professional hoaxer” — who first got his death notice into the New York Times in 1980 — is now actually dead.

The Times reports that the former Westporter died Friday, in Southbury. He was 94.

Alan Abel

Abel was a jazz drummer, stand-up comic, writer, campus lecturer and filmmaker, the Times said. The paper also called him “a master psychologist, keen strategist and possessor of an enviable deadpan and a string of handy aliases.”

Among his hoaxes: creating the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, which purported to want to put clothes on horses, cows, dogs and cats. He also created the fictitious Yetta Bronstein, a Jewish grandmother from the Bronx, who “ran for president” in 1964 advocating fluoridation, national bingo tournaments and truth serum for congressional water fountains.

Following the Watergate scandal, he hired an actor to pose as Deep Throat. The press conference drew 150 reporters.

Alan Abel is — finally, irrevocably — dead. But his website lives on.

(Click here for the full New York Times obituary. Hat tip: John Karrel)

As part of Alan Abel’s actual obituary, the New York Times ran its previous one — and subsequent correction.

Jim Crow And Compo

With the hubbub of a holiday weekend, you may have missed  the NewYork Times opinion piece, “The North’s Jim Crow.”

It’s by Andrew W. Kahrl, an associate professor of history and African-American studies at the University of Virginia. He recently wrote a book about Ned Coll, the 1960s and ’70s activist who sought access to Connecticut’s shoreline for all.

Citing 2 recent examples — the Starbucks manager who called the police when 2 black men asked to use the restroom while waiting for a friend, and the woman who called police to report a black family grilling at a picnic — Kahrl says that “the selective enforcement of minor ordinances … performs the same work today that segregation laws did in the past.”

Take public beaches, for example. He notes that while Southern officials “literally drew color lines in the sands,” towns in the Northeast “devised elaborate, and ostensibly colorblind, procedures for determining who could access public shores, and what they could bring and do inside, and then proceeded to enforce them for black and brown people only.”

In 1975, members of Ned Coll’s Revitalization Corps demonstrated in Old Saybrook, for access to the beach. (Photo courtesy of Bob Adelman)

Kahrl zeroes in on “wealthy, all-white towns along the Connecticut Gold Coast, where blacks were effectively excluded from living by racist housing policies.”

He says, “While nearby urban black populations swelled and the demand for access to public places of recreation spiked, towns like Greenwich, Westport and Fairfield restricted their beaches to residents. It was obvious whom these laws were meant to exclude.”

This winter — in response to last summer’s crowds, who came from throughout Connecticut and nearby New York, and sometimes filled the parking lot to capacity — Westport restricted the number of daily passes (sold to anyone without a season sticker).

Yet I don’t know that Westport ever “restricted (our) beaches to residents.” That’s a pretty strong charge for Professor Kahrl to make, and for the New York Times to print.

If any “06880” readers have recollections of Westport’s beach policies in the 1960s and ’70s, click “Comments” below.

(For the full New York Times opinion piece, click hereHat tip: Fred Cantor)

Farewell Travels: Hello Travel Designer

Westporters are no strangers to luxury travel. Whether it’s a helicopter to the Hamptons or a private jet to Jasper, you (or a neighbor) has done it.

Or heard someone brag about it, in the Balducci’s checkout line.

But there is luxury travel, and then there are people like Susan Farewell.

Today’s New York Times has a feature story on “a subset of travel planners — they prefer the term travel designers — who do far more than simply book trips. They manage the travel portfolios of their affluent clients.”

Susan Farewell

The piece includes Farewell Travels — the eponymous owner’s company. Like other travel designers, Farewell makes house calls (to observe family dynamics), and does “reconnaissance … the better to make recommendations on lodging, tour guides and special excursions.”

As an example, the Times article cites Westport clients Russell and Bobbi Crocker. Farewell planned a trip to South Africa and Zambia for the couple — then went ahead to check everything out.

After returning, she booked a different — presumably better/nicer/more something — for the Crockers.

The Times reports how she works:

Ms. Farewell’s initial meetings with new clients amount to an intake. She isn’t interested solely in where they would like to go, but in where they have been, their “style” (large hotel or boutique? adventurous or not so much? sedentary or active?), the ages of their children, the length of time they are willing to spend on a plane, the number of days they have available and the money they want to allot to travel annually. It’s not unusual, she said, for some small families she works with to spend $50,000 for a weeklong trip (not including the private jets).

The Times story notes that one client — hopefully not Farewell’s — would never use his particular travel designer again. At a remote location, the man was served frozen — not fresh — orange juice.

I’m sure no Westporter would ever feel so entitled.

But if he did, I’m also sure that Susan Farewell would tell him where to go.

(For the full New York Times story, click here.)