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Gateway to Criticism
Proposed Chinatown sculpture stirs controversy in New York
A sculpture proposed for a traffic triangle in New York’s Chinatown neighborhood is being criticized by some members of the community for its "stack of tin can"-like appearance. The art piece is a product of the Gateways to Chinatown project, a collaborative effort by the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT), local development corporation Chinatown Partnership, and the Van Alen Institute to “engender pride of place, foster connectivity, and reinforce cultural and social identity within Manhattan’s Chinatown.” Focusing on the plaza where Canal Street forks and Walker Street begins, organizers oversaw an open competition to select which artist would work with the project’s $1 million budget.
While the primary purpose of the project was, according to director of communications at Van Alen Alisha Levin, to “foster connectivity and better enable way-finding with a new public landmark,” selectors also sought a proposal that “responded to the site’s history and context.” Out of 80 total submissions, an installation by Chinese-Australian artist Lindy Lee was ultimately chosen. Lee partnered with two New York-based companies—architecture firm Levenbetts and public art fabrication studio UAP (Urban Art Projects)—to facilitate the structural design and installation of the project.
As renderings released last month indicate, the piece consists of a series of perforated cylinders stacked irregularly above the sidewalk. Inspired by traditional Chinese drum towers, the form of each component is reflective of both drums and the cylindrical rooftop water towers that have come to represent New York City. Titled The Dragon’s Roar, the proposal maintains a level of flexibility through its minimal impact on the traffic triangle’s ground plane. Even with the sculpture installed, the space would still be able to accommodate a small kiosk or seating for social gatherings.
As with most contemporary art that is proposed for urban public space, The Dragon’s Roar has received plenty of criticism from some members of the community. Certain residents have argued that its overall form, which makes only abstract reference to Chinese culture, has nothing to do with the local neighborhood and its heritage. Others have compared the drum-like cylinders to tin cans, complaining that the installation is unsightly and should not become a neighborhood landmark. While organizers of this year’s competition did engage with local community members at various stages in the process to determine what should be placed on the traffic triangle, many insist that outreach efforts were inadequate. The controversy is reminiscent of a similar incident from one year earlier, when residents of Chinese descent called a "Dog-Man" sculpture proposed for Chatham Square demonic and whitewashed. Protests over that piece eventually forced the city to relocate it to Foley Square.
As for The Dragon’s Roar, Levin told AN that Van Alen will “take all feedback in earnest” and will continue working with DOT, community boards, and neighborhood stakeholders to make certain that the final product reflects its cultural and social context. Before Community Board 3 weighs whether to approve the sculpture in September, detractors have promised to make their voices heard.
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Handing over the program to the state, and, in particular, Westchester and Long Island in the case of the Traffic Mobility Board, has riled up online transportation activists, who feel the congestion plan was a move by the state to take more control of NYC’s streets. Because the Traffic Mobility Board members are appointed by the MTA, they have the discretion to reject the mayor’s appointees. With so much of the plan still left to be filled in, the earliest that drivers can expect to begin paying is the end of 2020, if not sometime in 2021.
Any way you cut this, the state just got *a lot* of influence, far more than the city, in managing NYC traffic. https://t.co/bt7ZE20F5k— Aaron W. Gordon (@A_W_Gordon) March 31, 2019
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Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías St. Mary’s Park, Bronx Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías was a lifelong public servant and pediatrician dedicated to advancing reproductive rights, and HIV/AIDS care and prevention, as well as serving communities of color. Her many leadership positions, from serving as the medical director of the New York State Department of Health’s AIDS Institute to being the first Latinx director of the American Public Health Association (APHA), allowed her to make a significant change to not only the medical landscape in New York City but across the country. In 2001, President Bill Clinton presented Rodríguez Trías with the Presidential Citizens Medal. Katherine Walker Staten Island Ferry Landing, Staten Island As the keeper of the Robbins Reef Lighthouse in New York Harbor for over three decades, Katherine Walker helped rescue about 50 sailors from shipwrecks during her tenure. She was appointed to the position in 1890 by President Benjamin Harrison after her husband died. Born in Germany, she immigrated to the United States just eight years before taking on the monumental task of overseeing all maritime movements in the Kill Van Kull, a shipping channel between Staten Island and Bayonne, New Jersey. According to She Built NYC, the new monuments will be commissioned through the Department of Cultural Affairs’ Percent for Art process, which means community input will be at the core of the artist selection and design processes. The search for the individual artists is expected to begin at the end of this year with the fully-built statues coming online between 2021 and 2022.
So thrilled my personal shero, Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias, will be honored w #SheBuiltNYC statue #intheBronx. Every time I enter my conf room I draw inspiration from Puertorriqueña pediatrician focused on better health outcomes for women of color & their families. #PublicHealth pic.twitter.com/fdRLyXirN8— Oxiris Barbot (@DrOBarbot) March 7, 2019