Social Mixing

A recent study confirmed what all of us probably knew all along, kids who have wealthier friends than themselves benefit in the long run because they tend to earn a higher salary later in life. Who you know makes a difference.

It is no different than growing up with a positive role model in your life. You can’t be what you can’t see. Unfortunately, there is a push to keep separation from any community besides the one you live in. There is a push in certain states for teachers not to discuss sexuality until a kid is past third grade. Essentially continuing the cycle that if you don’t look and act like me, there is something wrong with you. I hope that the data in this report changes people’s narratives but unfortunately, I don’t see this as a massive wave of change afoot.

When our kids were young, until Jessica was 8, we lived in the suburbs of Westchester. We had a woman who worked for us who had four kids; two of them were girls roughly Jessica and Emily’s age. They came to our house often.

I discovered that when summer hit, their girls were hanging out at a construction site with their father while he worked during the day. We might have been living in a nice suburb, but we were just making ends meet at that point. I gave those girls the opportunity to go to camp in our local community so that their Mom could drop them off and pick them up before and after work. The family took me up on it.

These young girls were then exposed to a community of campers that were not like the community they went home to at night. Years later, I heard from their brother, who told me that they had gone to college, one was a nurse, and I don’t remember what the other one did.

Their parents came to the states to make a better life for their kids. I hope this particular summer opened their eyes to a new world where they could be whatever they chose to be. That is what is supposed to happen in America.

We need to integrate all our communities, not separate them. It makes a better world for all of us.

Lil’ Birdie

On the east end of Long Island, summer is the busy time when many places make most of their money. It has changed over the years after 9/11, when many people moved out here full-time, and once again during the pandemic. Now that people do not have to be at work 5 days a week, there are many people parking it for much more of the year. It is good for the community and certainly great for the restaurants.

Alexis Krisel and Kye Vatash both worked in the restaurant world for years and are both Wesleyan graduates. Life changed, they met and opened Lil’ Birdie in Sag Harbor towards the end of last summer. The concept is a fried chicken sandwich shop, a spot to pick up a quick lunch of a just-made sandwich.

Twice a week, they close down the intimate “shack” and do private dinners. We had the pleasure of going to one last week with friends.

Krisel, who grew up in Paris, has worked in the restaurant world for years, grabbing a Michelin Star in his earlier days. He doesn’t do alliums and can whip up a non-dairy or vegan meal too. Unclear what was vegan, but I know that when you eat clean, you don’t feel like you have been hit with a hammer the next day.

We began with burrata with grilled peaches & brioche.

Tuna tartare with szechuan chilies & creme fraiche.

Fresh pappardelle with summer peas and mint.

Seabass with cauliflower and leeks.

Sea salt and vanilla gelato (made from oat milk) and carrot cake.

And the zeppoles were a serious added bonus.

A seriously fun, intimate meal. We ate, we talked, and we hung out outside and inside. Not surprising to see more chefs making their marks in spots outside top urban cities. And – BYOB! No doubt we will see more to come.

Let’s Talk Menopause, Samara Daly, Podcast #174

During the pandemic, Samara Daly launched Let’s Talk about Menopause. After making a career working in city government, nonprofits, and community development, she created Let’s Talk about Menopause in 2021, hoping to break the taboo of that highly stigmatized period of a woman’s life. This podcast episode will highlight Samara’s entrepreneurial journey and the challenges of launching a feminist nonprofit during a pandemic.

You can also listen on iTunes and Soundcloud. You can visit their website here to learn more about Let’s Talk about Menopause.

Our next guests on PGG will be Kelly Perez and Courtney Mathis, then the women behind Cannabis Doing Good. This cannabis consultancy inspires a standard for social responsibility in the cannabis sector.

Why Can’t Real Estate Leaders See The Future?

I keep thinking about Penn Station’s redevelopment. The negatives are beginning to outweigh the positives. There is no doubt that the neighborhood needed some love. The draws are Madison Square Garden and the new Moynihan Station. The most significant property holder is Vornado, who will be given tax deductions for their construction. I realize that makes many cringe, but someone has to build it, someone has to own it, and there needs to be incentive to do it. The question we should be asking is can we incentivize them to do it, right?

The pandemic has changed many things; one of them is the hours spent in an office. People have shown that they can get a lot done no matter where they park their tush. It changes the game. Being in the office is excellent for projects, bonding, random conversations, last minute brainstorming, but it isn’t necessary five days a week. Less commuting (aka that is good for the environment), the ability to be there for the kids and family, flexibility in travel, honestly, the list is endless. People are not taking jobs where they are told they must be in the office five days a week. Think about that. It empowers people to manage their own lives as they should.

Back to the Penn Station area. Here is what is being developed—ten new buildings with 18 million square feet of office, retail, and hotel space. Only 1800 apartments, 648 are deemed affordable units, and eight acres of public space. The only thing in here worth keeping is 8 acres of public space.

What is the point of building that much office space when office use is declining, and 120 million square footage of office space has remained vacant since June 1st? We are not going back to the world we once lived in. We are evolving into a working world that is better for all of us except the real estate developers of commercial space.

The city should have voted this down. Vornado should use this opportunity to look to places like Austria. Sixty percent of Vienna lives in public housing. Or Belgium, Brussels, Denmark, and even Canada. The best and brightest architects are dying to rebuild public housing. The opportunity is tremendous. Not only to build more affordable housing but to change the narrative around it.

We should also be building carbon-neutral buildings. We built Frame Home, the first carbon-neutral cross-laminated timber apartment building, with Frame Work, a co-working space on the ground floor. We saw the future; why can’t the largest real estate developers in the city see it too?

The Human Spirit

Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark is the first album I bought. She was warbling to poetry. Joni also broke the glass ceiling. Few women broke into the music industry at that time. Fast forward to now, women are rockers.

I am sure the industry has the same irritating issues as every other industry, but young talented musicians now have countless options to follow their path. Technology changed that with Soundcloud, Spotify, iTunes, etc. Joni was a first, and I love her for that.

Watching her perform at the Newport Folk Festival brought a smile to my face. Of course, the brilliant thing about technology is seeing the moment on several channels without having to be there. Obviously, being there is such a better experience on multiple levels, but how great we can all experience it differently.

Joni embodies the human spirit. She had an aneurysm and has spent years working on getting her motor skills back—extremely hard stuff. Then Joni appears and jams out on guitar, playing and singing Both Sides Now, on stage at 78 years old, a personal fave. We need more of this these days.

Incredible. Just incredible 

Taxing Cannabis

Even if they aren’t saying it, every leader in Government is privately thrilled about how much taxes will be coming in the door from the cannabis industry. Unfortunately, none of them are thinking about how to grow an industry. They might want to consider talking to people who have built businesses over the past twenty years instead of listening to every lobbyist that sticks their head into their offices.

Schumer, Booker, and Wyden’s tax law that is trying to get passed only makes the industry harder to grow. No pun intended. Besides the restrictive requirements and restrictions in the state and local licenses that don’t include cultivation, retail, seed-to-sale tracking, packaging, labeling, compliance, employees, rent, etc., to run a business, you are competing with the illegal market that has operated almost seamlessly for many decades. This tax law calls for a federal excise tax starting at 10% and rising to 25% by the fifth year will only help one thing, the black market.

Perhaps they might consider talking to early-stage investors who have invested in software products. Those companies begin with low costs to engage, learn and create better products over time. As each new product is rolled out, companies will gladly pay more if the product works and the ROI is clear.

Multiple players in the cannabis space are working extremely hard to build an industry. Wouldn’t it make more sense to keep the taxes low, let the industry flourish and then return to the taxation based on the success and data? Once there is data, there can be the correct taxation, deductions, and anything else that needs to be done.

Right now, they are making these numbers up on the fly, hoping that the Government makes as much as possible. That is not how to build a new business. At the state level, NY is trying hard not to make the same mistakes in the states that have come before them in the legalization of cannabis. It isn’t easy.

Schumer, Wyden, and Booker should spend some time in CA talking to dispensary owners, cultivators, and brands before shoving through this absurd overtaxed bill. Can’t Government for once get out of its way and speak to the people on the ground, not the big companies, to see what is needed to benefit all the players, including the Government?

Richard Clemmons, Generation USA, Gotham Gives

I had the esteemed pleasure of speaking with Richard Clemmons, the COO of Generation USA, a nonprofit that provides free job training, placement, and support to help people find life-changing careers. Our conversation reminded me how many people are giving their time to impact their community. He is pretty awesome.

How Free Should We Be?

Let’s begin with seat belts. How much money have we saved insurance companies for passing a law that we must wear a seatbelt? Enough that it was worth paying lobbyists to get this passed in our Government. Hate to be such a cynic, but what can I say? 

Law is passed, and it actually works. Less emotional heartbreak and cost to the overall public. Win-win. Is that freedom? Not exactly. Hence how free should we be?  Unclear if pure capitalism works. 

Let’s look at the makers of AK47s. It turns out they have had some serious EBITDA this past year. Is anyone surprised? What is wrong with this picture?

Why do we have to live with the fear of a mass shooting? There is obviously a better way. The concept of complete freedom is creating havoc within a part of our population that believes we should return to 1776. Have they read what life was like back then? Yikes. 

So call me what you may; capitalism only works at its best when some boundaries are set, so we don’t kill each other. That’s reality. How free should we be? Not as free as we are.

That this is what we need to ask ourselves is crazy in itself.

Business District

When I worked in the garment district, I was fascinated with the restaurants in the area and their hours. Of course, I was dreaming of opening a restaurant, something I never got around to, but the hours in a business district are tight. Breakfast (where it is hard to make money), lunch, and maybe an early dinner and zero weekend options. Even the frozen yogurt shop was only open on certain business days.

Many city leaders, including CEOs, have espoused their desire for people to return full-time to in-person work five days a week. It is never going to happen. We are not moving backward; we are moving forward, even though there is a lot of anxiety about what that will look like.

Last week even Eric Adams, the mayor of NYC, who not surprisingly wants people to return to work full time, admitted that NYC might not have central business districts anymore. I think that is excellent news. Mixed communities with offices, restaurants, housing, hotels, stores, and everything needed to support an urban district are better for everyone.

It is time to focus on housing and neighborhoods. It is time to shift out of all business districts and create new communities in those areas. The only way to make that shift is to change the zoning, which they did downtown after 9/11. Second, give real estate people an incentive to make it work. As painful as that is to read about the massive tax deductions they get, it is the reality of how to change districts. The city is about to build multiple office buildings around Penn Station, a big mistake. It will be good for the city and perfect for the restaurants that want to be open all the time, not just a few days a week.

Normal Family

What is a normal family? What constitutes normal? Standard, typical, or expected is another narrative created around family life. Everyone has their own journey.

When our kids were growing up, the school had an annual event called Love Makes A Family. High school students down to kindergarten, including the teachers, would hang art projects about their families on the walls. Black families, brown families, gay families, bi-racial families, divorced families, single-parent families, and any family that exists. Those photos gave anyone who walked those walls real insight into the student body that made up the school. It always warmed my heart.

These days countless partners have children through insemination with a stranger’s sperm. This scientific breakthrough has changed the family landscape and given utter joy to numerous families who have struggled with fertility. It has also given joy to gay partners wanting children.

My friend Chrysta Bilton grew up in an unconventional family that is becoming more conventional. Chrysta is an incredible storyteller. The book’s name says it all, Normal Family: On Truth, Love and How I Met My 35 Siblings. I gobbled up the book in a day, turning the pages without ever looking up.

Her story is the new normal, and I love it!