Parisian Bike-Sharing a Bust

Really depressing article in yesterday’s NYTimes about how Paris’ bike-sharing system, Vélib’, has been met with theft and vandalism, with a whopping 80% of their initial fleet of bikes needing repair or gone missing:

“The symbol of a fixed-up, eco-friendly city has become a new source for criminality,” Le Monde mourned in an editorial over the summer. “The Vélib’ was aimed at civilizing city travel. It has increased incivilities.”

The heavy, sandy-bronze Vélib’ bicycles are seen as an accoutrement of the “bobos,” or “bourgeois-bohèmes,” the trendy urban middle class, and they stir resentment and covetousness. They are often being vandalized in a socially divided Paris by resentful, angry or anarchic youth, the police and sociologists say.

I really hope that the Bixi system in N. America doesn’t meet the same fate.

Velib Damage
Samuel Bollendorff for The New York Times

TIWYF Eat N’ Tweet a Sweet Success!

Fierce competition today in the TIWYF Eat N’ Tweet Food Truck Challenge!  Nick McGlynn won after coming armed with a Vespa, GPS and of course, Twitter.  Another motivated couple were biking their way from truck to truck, not even waiting for the @tiwyf Twitter feed to announce the special or location!  But we were probably MOST blown away by competitive eater Will Millender (a.k.a. @bigwillthechamp) who came in SECOND while doing the contest on foot!  WOW!  Now that’s the competitive spirit.  Thanks to everyone who participated in the challenge — and remember, even though the winner has been announced, the TIWYF Specials are available all day long until selling out!

Thanks again to the six incredible food trucks who rocked it today with their heartstoppingly delicious delights!  Also, a big shout out to Kayoko of UMAMIMART and Zach of Midtown Lunch for their awesome coverage and support!

Wafels and Dinges
Wafels & Dinges - Ultimate Wafel Ice Cream Sandwich
Cupcake Stop TIWYF
Big Will at the Cupcake Stop ordering the Cinnamon Roll Cupcake
Yassir Bistro Truck
Yassir of the Bistro Truck serving up his Big Mouth Bistro Burger
Big Mouth Bistro Burger TIWYF
TIWYF Special: Big Mouth Bistro Burger
Nick McGlynn at Cravings Truck
Nick McGlynn eating the Cravings Mash-Up @ The Cravings Truck
Super Duper Dessert Nachos
Super Duper Dessert Nachos by The Treats Truck
Kim Ima Treats Truck
Kim Ima of the Treats Truck rocks the Dessert Nachos
Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream Truck
Van Leeuwen Team & their Decadent Michel Cluizel Brownie Sundae


Exciting news from GOOD Magazine newsletter today that they’re launching a series of category-specific platforms for thought and action in conjunction with IBM.  Their first category to launch last month was Cities, which you can check out at  We’re especially psyched to see some of the great ideas that were generated during the Velocity salon in Grand Rapids be shared as part of a bigger online brainstorm on how to make cities better places to live in.  Have an amazing idea for improving city life while being kind to the planet? Tweet it to @GOOD with hashtag #cityideas and share the wealth. Also in the Cities platform, check out our beer buddy Josh McManus’ urban dispatch from Paris as he travels around Europe for a month on the Marshall Fellowship.  Josh is the co-founder of CreateHere in Chattanooga — an inspiring organization that’s been instrumental in the city’s energetic revitalization.  He kind of rules.

Finally, a long overdue but heartfelt shout-out to all the wonderful people of Grand Rapids who helped us on our Urban Spelunking mission. You know who you are and how much we ♥ you!


This Is Why We’ve Been Getting Fatter


Mark your calendars, New Yorkers.  The food truck event we’ve been putting together at warp speed the last few weeks for the launch of the blog-turned-book This is Why You’re Fat is finally upon us.  The book curated by Jessica Amason and Richard Blakely will hit stores next week, and to promote it we got six super awesome food trucks in NYC to create a heartburn-worthy special for a contest next Thursday. The lineup includes The Treats Truck, Wafels & Dinges, the Cravings Truck, Cupcake Stop, The Bistro Truck, and Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream — all run by incredibly kind and hardworking people who have been busting their butts trying to make our city a more delicious place to live in.

So check @tiwyf on Twitter on 10/29 starting at 11am for posts on what each truck is gonna be serving up and then run to be the first in line.  The first five people to order the TIWYF special at each truck will receive a free book, and the first one to hit up all six trucks and tweet pics of themselves actually eating the stuff will win a private food truck party for 25 friends!   We’re excited that the buzz has already started to build for this on Grub Street, Midtown Lunch, and even a column in Crain’s New York.  We’ll be running around from truck to truck on that day too so come say hi if you see two frazzled Asians handing out books and magnets!

FreshDirect x Robin Hood


Feed more than just yourself this Thanksgiving!  FreshDirect & Robin Hood have teamed up for the goal of helping to feed the more than 120,000 New Yorkers in need this holiday season.  A $50 donation allows FreshDirect to deliver a full Thanksgiving meal for a hungry family of 8.  We’re talking 12-14lb turkey, mash, gravy, cornbread, yams, beans, juice, the works.

As a FreshDirect evangelist as well as a longtime supporter of Robin Hood, this is a match that makes total sense to me.  As an urban grocery delivery service, FreshDirect has always been very responsive to the needs of its customers.  When we complained about the number of boxes, they improved their packaging.  When we asked for more locally sourced products, they delivered.  Robin Hood has been fighting poverty in NYC since 1988, using sound investment principles.  And unlike many other charities, 100% of your contributions to Robin Hood go directly into their programs because their Board of Directors underwrites all of the costs of operation.  That means your money isn’t going into their overhead, but directly to the people who need it the most.  They are also deeply accountable, constantly measuring impact and not hesitating to pull the plug on a program that isn’t delivering.

The fact that I’m even blogging about this now and that after my contribution I was immediately able to share it on Facebook is certainly one indication that they’ve got their marketing right.  It probably helps that they have Gwyneth Paltrow on the board too, but for me it was really their awesome artist collaboration holiday cards program that first drew me in.  And hello, how amazing is this library by Maira Kalman?

SeeClickFix in 25,000 Markets


Was alerted via Zach Frechette’s recent post on the Good Magazine blog that SeeClickFix announced having launched in 25,000 markets!  Pretty spectacular, considering its humble origins in New Haven not too long ago.  If you’re not yet familiar with SeeClickFix, you should be.  It’s an awesome web-based tool for improving communities that  empowers anyone to become an engaged citizen.  If you see any non-emergency problem like a pothole or crumbling building facade, you can take a picture of it with your phone and immediately report it to the people capable of fixing it.  In the case of my neighborhood, for example, some of the recent reported complaints include overflowing trash bins and FedEx trucks parked in bike lanes.  Both Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn Borough President, as well as FedEx’s Complaints Hotline are getting these alerts via SeeClickFix.  Issues that affect the community are resolved publicly, in a completely transparent fashion–by the people, for the people!  Go Ben Berkowitz & team!  You guys rock.

J-Pop for the People

Gothic Lolitas outside Grand Opening of New People (Photo by Deb Aoki)
Gothic Lolitas outside Grand Opening of New People (Photo by Deb Aoki)

It’s been over 7 years since Douglas McGray introduced the term “Gross National Cool” via Foreign Policy magazine to describe Japan’s shift from economic superpower to a cultural one–better known for exporting Harajuku fashion trends and anime than mp3 players and flatscreen TVs.  If Japan’s post-bubble period of economic stagnation was good for anything, it’s the fact that global fears of an international takeover by an army of cash-rich Japanese salarymen were allayed, and people started paying more attention to the other stuff they were good at, like  drawing manga, creating video games, putting together crazy outfits, and coming up with ideas for brilliantly pointless entertainment.

While I’m not the biggest fan of mainstream media’s one-dimensional representation of Japan as the land of all things wacko, I do feel strongly that Japan has not done enough to capitalize on the global perception that they produce a lot of cool (and yes, oftentimes weird) stuff.  It’s one thing to get cultural recognition, but actively exporting it to make money from it is a whole other issue.  Sure there have been notable examples of great success over the years, like Takashi Murakami’s superflat empire and more recently, the splashy stateside arrival of Uniqlo, a brand that turned its ‘Japaneseness’ into a compelling marketing platform rather than trying to assimilate.  But these examples are too few and far between given that global consumer interest in Japanese pop culture and brands has been growing for over a decade now.

So it goes without saying that I was excited (and nervous) to hear about this summer’s opening of New People, a three-story, $15 million complex in the heart of San Francisco’s Japantown that is intended to showcase all things J-Pop.  The project was conceived by VIZ Media, SF-based translators and importers of manga and anime.  The structure houses a cinema that screens only contemporary Japanese movies, a cafe space serving local Blue Bottle Coffee and food from Japanese deli brand Delica rf-1, a retail floor selling Gothic Lolita fashions by Baby The Stars Shine Bright and other Harajuku-inspired clothing and accessories, and an art gallery that is currently exhibiting the work of Yoshitaka Amano, known for creating the original Final Fantasy characters.

I’m reluctant to say anything concrete about New People as I’ve yet to have an opportunity to actually visit, but I do find it interesting that the revitalization of San Francisco’s Japantown is being spearheadead not by an already established brand, but by a niche media company trafficking largely in printed matter in the age of ‘The Media is Dying’.  If manga publishers are able to pull together the resources to make something like this happen, imagine what would be possible if Japanese brands with more mainstream appeal decided to think big and make a collective push to actively market outside of their comfort zones.  With all the interest over the past several years in everything from Japanese denim to wagyu beef, it kind of blows my mind how few Japanese brands have been able to effectively capitalize on the organic buzz. Too often they are slow to seize an opportunity and allow demand to lay fallow.  There is a sort of paralyzing modesty about everything that exacerbates the overall lack of aggression.  One indication of this is the well-known fact within Japanese creative media circles that their content is routinely ripped off without licensing or acknowledgment (a result of deep naïveté in litigious matters).

In any case, this is one of those posts that I keep scrapping and then coming back to because the issue of how non-major (i.e. not Toyota) Japanese brands market themselves here in the US is one that I’ve been deeply concerned with for some time now and have extremely mixed feelings about.  Even without having visited, I have to give VIZ props for at least having the balls to go ahead and build New People.  How things play out in the execution remains to be seen, but I admire the fact that they identified a unique market and just went after it.  Sure, not everyone will be interested in what they have to offer but at least they are trying something new other than just maintaining the status quo.  I just hope that other Japanese brands that are just sitting on potentially lucrative products eventually recognize that the product-quality-will-sell-itself mentality no longer applies.  Proper branding and marketing strategy (as well as execution) are absolutely essential to compete and grow volume outside of Japan in a new world to new people.