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Colorado Avenue Esplanade
Courtesy Peter Walker and Partners

Colorado Esplanade
Architect: Peter Walker and Partners
Client: City of Santa Monica
Location: Santa Monica
Completion: 2015

The City of Santa Monica recently green-lighted construction on the $10.7 million Colorado Esplanade streetscape project, designed to improve public access to the Santa Monica Pier and provide pedestrian links from the soon-to-arrive Expo Light Rail line. Work will commence next year, and the light rail is scheduled to arrive by 2016.

Designed by Peter Walker Partners, the landscape firm behind the National September 11 Memorial, the plan turns Colorado Boulevard into a westbound-only, multi-modal thoroughfare from the downtown Santa Monica station at Fourth Street all the way to Ocean Avenue, edging the coast. A new promenade will connect the light rail station to Ocean Avenue, the Pier, and the future Palisades Garden Walk. An expansive public amphitheater stairway, called the Gateway Triangle Garden, will lead to the Expo Line’s Fourth Street Station and create a dedicated public gathering zone, named the Downtown Expo Station Plaza. The City Council had earlier rejected a xeriscape design for this zone, noting that a more welcoming public space was desired.

 

The plan also includes dedicated bike lanes in both directions and widens the south-side sidewalk to a generous 55 feet with decorative paving and seating. The lanes will eventually tie in to the regional network of bike paths and connect with Santa Monica’s Bike Center. Numerous trees will also be added in accordance with the city’s Urban Forest Master Plan.

According to the Santa Monica Lookout, the city has secured $9.7 million in funding, including a $3.3 million Metro grant. When legislation shut down California redevelopment agencies last February, the city had to cut the promenade budget in half.

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Zip Lines Over the Ohio River? Louisville Designer Says It's Possible
Louisville, Kentucky has asked its residents for help in determining the future vision for the city, and citizens sent in thousands of ideas on how to improve Possibility City. Among the crowd-sourced suggestions were many promoting alternative transportation, whether improving bike infrastructure to building light rail to, well, even more alternative methods of getting around. Local Russ Renbarger proposed what he calls RiverZips, a mile-long zip line across the Ohio River that would convey people between Kentucky and Indiana—more of a ride than an adventure, says Insider Louisville. Renbarger is founder of digital marketing firm Red Tag Ideas, based in the city’s suburban East End. It sounds far-fetched, but a recent municipal push to liven up Louisville could be just what his idea needs. The plan calls for attaching the zip line high atop a railroad-bridge-turned-pedestrian-bridge that connects downtown Jeffersonville, Indiana with Louisville's Hargreaves-designed Waterfront Park. Riders would land in a staging area in the park near the base of the Big Four Bridge. Mayor Greg Fischer called ziplines “far-out” while he unveiled citizens’ ideas for the Vision Louisville project, in comparison to more practical plans to revitalize the city, like more bike lanes. There are some logistical difficulties to the RiverZips proposal: the heads of the Louisville Waterfront Development Corporation worried it would sit idle in the winter, and perhaps be “too obtrusive” at other times. Renbarger said the launch platforms could be removed, if necessary, and that a nearby iceskating rink could use the site’s base for vending during the winter. A former member of the Army Corps of Engineers, Renbarger says the 1-mile zipline is plausible. For now, though, the idea remains unfunded. But Renbarger, a “man about town” who appeared on the reality TV show "Southern Belles: Louisville," has people talking.
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McDonald's Development Flares Urbanist Tensions in Cleveland
Cleveland’s conflicting development pressures came to a head last week over one avenue on the city’s West Side, and whether its future holds car-oriented businesses like McDonald’s or lanes for public transit and bike paths. The Plain Dealer's Steven Litt reported on developers’ plans to suburbanize the area around Lorain Avenue at Fulton Road: “Residents hate the idea with a passion,” he wrote. Much of Cleveland was designed when its population was far greater than it is today. Though on the rebound, the city has far different needs than it did in decades prior. That’s the thinking behind the Ohio City Inc. community development corporation’s new plan, which calls for a $17.3 million overhaul of the avenue from West 25th to West 85th streets. The route would include a 2.3-mile, bicycle track along the north side of the street—the city’s first separated, two-way paths for bikes. Proponents of the plan and those who’d prefer automobile-oriented development could have it out at an upcoming community meeting in January in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood (time and place to be announced). The City Planning Commission could pick it up from there. Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, and recently reexamined transportation policies to build on the increasingly urban character of this self-described artisan neighborhood.
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Chicago releases progress report on sustainable action agenda
Chicago on Friday released a progress report on its Sustainable Chicago 2015 Action Agenda. So one year after the city set 24 goals for itself, how are we doing? Few goals are complete, but according to the city we've made some progress on all of them. Energy efficiency is one standout. Illinois recently placed in the American Council for an energy Efficient Economy's top 10 most energy-efficient states. Earlier this year the city passed an ordinance requiring large buildings to report their energy usage, focusing on the 1 percent of buildings that make up roughly 20 percent of the city’s energy use by buildings. (In 2011, AN looked at some of the ways Chicago architects and planners hoped to make their city a hub for smart-grid technology and clean energy.) Transportation was another standout, led by two key projects: Divvy bikesharing and the rails-to-trails project formerly known as the Bloomingdale Trail (The 606). But the city also touted progress on its goal to green Chicago’s airports, citing the launch of a consolidated rental car facility at Midway. A car rental facility, though a logistical boon cutting vehicle emissions from shuttle buses, might not seem the best icon of green transportation. But Chicago-based United Airlines made a big push this year to investigate biofuels suitable for its planes—a move that could bode well for an industry typically called out for high carbon pollution. The city also gave itself plenty of credit for its plan to make the riverfront "Chicago's second shoreline." Read the full report here.
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Few Are Choosing to Park It In Boston Pop-Up Parks
From Los Angeles to Chicago, city governments across the nation have been following San Francisco’s early lead and popping up parklets on their streets, mini sidewalk-side public parks for rest, small group gatherings, and people watching. This summer, Boston joined in on the trend, installing its first parklet in Mission Hill in September and another in Jamaica Plain at Hyde Square. While these spaces have seen success in other cities, the Boston Globe reported that the Boston parklets have shown disappointing usage during what should have been their prime season. Although no scientific surveys have been collected, observations from nearby business owners, community members, and the Globe staff have indicated that these new whimsical spaces in Boston are not seeing much traffic. Boston Transportation Department planning director Vineet Gupta admitted that the city government was expecting a lot more of a parklet embrace from the community, but assured that the low usage during this fall’s debut is only a side effect of the newness of the streetscape change. Each parklet cost around $15,000 to $25,000. “This is true for parklets; it’s true for bike lanes; it’s true for bus lanes—it’s true for any innovation in the transportation world,” Gupta told the Globe. “Initially, you don’t see the kind of use that one would hope, but things pick up.” However, Boston officials are now wondering whether they should go back to the drawing board on the design and placement of these small public spaces. In San Francisco, a parklet’s success often depends on the community’s need for public seating and the site’s distance from a full-scale park or public plaza. In Chicago, some parklets have been planted with water retaining vegetation and installed in flood zones, creating a dual community benefit. Even elsewhere in Massachusetts, a Lexington parklet was first created as a bike corral to gauge public opinion. Gupta commented that the Transportation Department plans to conduct official public surveys next year for solutions to increase Boston parklet popularity. “In many instances from around the country, it’s a little bit of a learning process, and each location is unique,” he said. “We’re learning and we’re going to make modifications if necessary.”
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Greening Bronzeville
Chicago's Rosenwald Apartments as the Julius Rosenwalk-Booker T. Washington Gardens, a green live-work community.
Courtesy Morgan Park High School Drafting / ASG

Chicago’s Rosenwald Apartments are a perennial presence on preservationists’ most endangered lists, so speculation swirled when it was announced last year that city funds would help revive the massive Bronzeville complex.

The 1920s affordable housing project was built with money from Sears Roebuck and Co. leader Julius Rosenwald. A massive multifamily development, the four-story complex takes up a whole city block at 46th Street and South Michigan Avenue, enclosing a private two-acre courtyard.

Vacant for a decade, the building’s decay has mirrored that of many blocks in the neighborhood. But Bronzeville is not short on plans to rejuvenate this community, which is sometimes called The Black Metropolis. In fact, the Rosenwald redevelopment plan, though welcomed by some, irked the local community development partnership for its reliance on low-income housing.

Royce Cunningham, an architect living in Bronzeville, is one who wished for more from Rosenwald, so he asked a class of local high school students to reimagine the site. They rendered it as a “green live-work environment” that retained the original facade, but filled in the building’s 47th Street setbacks with photovoltaic glass conservatories to complement rooftop greenhouses.

 
Map of Bronzeville (left). IIT students imagine an abandoned train station at 40th and Vincennes as a demonstrative urban farming project (right).
Courtesy Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning; Courtesy Trevor Mauro / IPRO
 

That project (dubbed the Julius Rosenwald-Booker T. Washington Gardens) isn’t getting built. But Cunningham has gathered a group of black designers committed to “evangelizing and apostilizing energy efficiency, sustainability, and green technology to urban Chicagoland.”

“We realized this community was underrepresented,” Cunningham said. “The vision is that people would start changing their lifestyles by eating fresh food, and we would see young people embrace our agrarian roots.”

Cunningham’s own parents followed the Great Migration patterns that millions of African-Americans took to Chicago at the start of the 20th century. His parents came to Chicago’s stockyards from Arkansas and Texas, where they grew up as sharecroppers.

With his firm Architectural Services Group, Cunningham holds patents on several small-scale components of what he believes could help affordable housing become environmentally sustainable. They include a closet-unit gardening system and a solar-powered, low-voltage street lamp that charges electric vehicles.

Cunningham met horticulturalist Richard Dobbs and the other designers who comprise a gropu they call BUILD BOLD a few years ago while they were studying for LEED certification.

Dobbs, who has worked with the Chicago Botanic Garden and nearby urban garden Eden Place, said the neighborhood’s historical significance is unappreciated. “People take it for granted,” he said. “But it’s a potential goldmine. It’s just untapped.”

In addition to Eden Place, community gardens have sprung up on residential plots throughout the neighborhood, from the Bronzeville Community Garden on 51st Street to Sacred Keepers Sustainability Lab at 48th and King Drive, which is reserved for young gardeners.

In convening local designers under BUILD BOLD, Cunningham is tapping into a broader effort to rebrand and revitalize Bronzeville.

 

Paula Robinson, president of the Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Commission, has been part of the neighborhood’s bid for national recognition since 2004. With the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, they released a feasibility study for the idea in September. The designation would qualify the area for matching federal funds to build on development in the area.

“This is not just something we’re doing to share jazz history, blues, those kind of cultural achievements,” Robinson told WBEZ. “We intend to be a sustainable destination.”

To do that they’re focusing on the neighborhood’s open spaces: 367-acre Washington Park, the city’s largest, and Burnham Park, home to the recently rehabbed 31st Street Harbor. At the northern tip of the state’s ambitious Millennium Reserve plan to consolidate and develop open spaces in the region, Bronzeville could serve as a gateway from the city to forest preserves further south.

They’re also pushing transportation. Part of the effort to establish bike lanes and promote pedestrian-friendly streets has been motivated by necessity—the CTA Red Line reconstruction project has closed a major neighborhood train route for six months. Robinson told AN that they are looking at establishing a “historic bike trail” down State Street.

As the third component of their bid to rebrand the area, Robinson and others are reaching out to the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and the University of Chicago. IIT professor Blake Davis runs a class in the college of architecture called IPRO, which directs students to design solutions for neighborhood problems. Previous efforts led to the creation of the nationally lauded urban agriculture program The Plant. His students are now looking to turn an abandoned rail line along 40th Street into an urban agriculture innovation cluster.

Segregated communities cut off by highways and other dividing lines aren’t sustainable, the designers of BUILD BOLD argue. Instead of relying on outside inputs for economic development, Bronzeville could capitalize on its assets as a cultural destination, building a sustainable community from the ground up.

“Bronzeville is the perfect site,” said Cunningham. “We have this housing stock that lends itself to repurposing.”

For Bronzeville’s real estate market, overcoming the legacy of public housing and its negative perceptions has been difficult. A study released last year by students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign compared the neighborhood to Pilsen, where development and gentrification have picked up.

But development has not stalled. Earlier this year a $46 million shopping complex broke ground, anchored by a 41,000-square-foot Wal-Mart “Neighborhood Market” store focused on groceries.

Neighborhood investment could help accelerate efforts by community members like Robinson, who hope that Mayor Rahm Emanuel, while he pours millions into marketing campaigns aimed at increasing tourism, will look to the South Side, where few of those dollars are spent or reinvested. It could also help Cunningham’s vision for a green, self-sufficient neighborhood.

“We want 47th Street to be the lead in all this,” he said. “Can you imagine driving down Michigan Ave. from 22nd Street all the way through 75th and seeing wind turbines, permeable pavement, all of that?”

Emanuel’s office identified Bronzeville as one of the city’s “opportunity areas” for economic growth. Touting hundreds of millions of dollars already spent on or committed to projects in the area, including a new CTA stop near the McCormick Place Convention Center, the mayor’s announcement echoed Robinson’s call for “T3”: tourism, transportation, and technology.

“People are involved in different aspects of this, but our job is to pull it all together,” said Robinson. “That’s when sustainability is going to mean something.”

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Proposed Retrofit of LA's "Death Bridge" Leaves Out Cyclists, Pedestrians
Nicknamed the “death bridge,” the Hyperion Bridge between Atwater Village and and Silver Lake in Los Angeles is a hazard to both pedestrians and cyclists. “At heavy traffic times, I often think to myself that I am grateful that I have no children or pets that might be saddened if I were to be flattened while playing this real-life version of Frogger,” Sahra Sulaiman wrote in an article for Streetsblog LA, describing her experience crossing from one sidewalk to the other on the Atwater Village side of the bridge. In an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times, Paul Thornton—who swore off traversing the bridge by bike after one attempt—called it “one of the scariest stretches of road in Los Angeles.” The situation is about to get worse, pedestrian and cycling advocates warn. The city’s proposed seismic retrofit would remove the sidewalk along the eastern edge of the bridge, add a pedestrian crosswalk across Glendale Boulevard in Atwater Village, place a median barrier between the two directions of traffic, and widen the lanes to 12 or more feet. No designated bike lanes were included in the proposal. In addition, the city plans to build a permanent pedestrian crossing on top of the existing Red Car piers downstream of the bridge before construction begins. Opponents of the city’s proposal don’t have a problem with the project’s main premise: that the Hyperion Bridge is unsafe in case of an earthquake. Instead, they argue that the Bureau of Engineering’s proposal flies in the face of the city’s stated commitment to make LA safer for cyclists and pedestrians. “They should never have been allowed to put forward a design that was in violation of the city’s bicycle plan and the city’s protocol for how we deal with pedestrian access today,” said Deborah Murphy, Executive Director of Los Angeles Walks. Murphy’s group began advocating for changes to the Hyperion Bridge plan in October, and participated in an awareness-raising walk across the bridge on November 3. Several organizations have submitted alternative designs, including the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition (LACBC) and architecture firm RAC Design Build. LACBC’s proposal allows for one seven-foot sidewalk, plus two six-foot bike lanes and two 11-foot drive lanes in each direction at the bridge’s widest point. As the bridge narrows, the sidewalk thins to five feet; the bike lanes and drive lanes are reduced to five feet and 10 1/2 to 11 feet, respectively. RAC Design Build envisions a sidewalk along either side of the bridge, with the road surface divided into a two-lane vehicular street and a bike path. Comments on the city’s preliminary environmental review were due November 7. City Council Member Mitch O’Farrell, previously a supporter of the Bureau of Engineering’s plan, has called for a citizens’ advisory committee on the issue, on which Murphy was asked to serve.
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My Figueroa or Not My Figueroa?
Courtesy Melendrez

If advocates for MyFigueroa, the LA Department of Transportation (LADOT)–managed initiative to transform Figueroa Boulevard from downtown to Exposition Park into a multimodal streetscape get their wish, one of Los Angeles’ busiest and most historic thoroughfares will re-emerge as a biker’s and walker’s paradise. (It could be the first of many: On October 10, Mayor Eric Garcetti launched a program to improve up to forty streets across the city). But it may not happen if the path doesn’t commence construction by January as scheduled. In order to not default on the $30 million Proposition 1C grant the project was awarded in 2010, all work must be completed by December 2014. While the LADOT is moving ahead, some intense local opposition may cause delays that could put the project at risk.

The plan would reduce the number of lanes on South Figueroa from five to four and add fully separated bicycle lanes, new trees and landscaping, bicycle and mass transit amenities, public art, high-visibility continental crosswalks, LED streetlights, and pedestrian scale lighting. Local urban planning/design firms Melendrez and Troller Mayer Associates collaborated with Copenhagen’s Gehl Architects to produce what could be one of Los Angeles’ most innovative and truly urban streetscapes.

 

 

One of the plan’s most vocal opponents is Darryl Holter, who owns seven car dealerships along a stretch of the project adjacent to USC. Because of this opposition, and due to the results of an early city traffic study, cycle tracks were eliminated from the stretch from Venice to 23rd Street and another auto lane was added. Holter is still concerned that the project will make it harder for customers to reach his lots. The Southern California Auto Club, with its headquarters at the corner of Adams and Figueroa, has also expressed concerns about traffic impacts and a loss of street parking.

“We’re doing something that has never been done in Los Angeles before, and we’re doing it on a very trafficked street,” said Holter in a recent article.

 
 

District 9’s new councilmember, Curren Price, echoed concerned stakeholders like Holter, putting forward legislation that would require further “in-depth” traffic studies. This motion came as a surprise since the Council recently certified LA City Planning’s Final Environmental Impact Report, which includes traffic studies of the effected areas. At a recent session hosted by the Los Angeles chapter of the AIA, Price said, “Let’s not rush through it. Let’s make it a good deal for everybody.”

There has been speculation that this “everybody” is, in fact, Mr. Holter, who himself recently filed a hand-written appeal stating that “many businesses will be negatively impacted by the proposed project.” Holter was a supporter of Price during his election.

For the time being, Price’s motion and Holter’s appeal have yet to cause significant delay, and the project team is proceeding in anticipation that work will begin before January 2014. The City Attorney has recommended that both the motion and the appeal be reviewed together by the City Council’s Transportation Committee and then by a full City Council. Dates for this remain undetermined.

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Minnesota Mile
Nicollet Walk Tree Groves.
Courtesy James Corner Field Operations

In its first major update since the 1980s, Minneapolis’ “main street” will attempt to build off an urban resurgence by dedicating a wavy, tree-lined promenade to three basic uses: live, work, and play.

City officials solicited proposals for Nicollet Mall earlier this year. About 140,000 employees currently use these 12 blocks of downtown daily, according to the city, so the design competition sought more than an update.

“We can either rebuild this street as a perfectly fine mediocre street,” said Mayor R.T. Rybak in a video for the city's website, “or we can build this as the great street that a great city deserves.”

The winning bid came from James Corner Field Operations — famous for their work on New York’s High Line, and London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park — along with local firms Julie Snow Architects and Coen+Partners.

The project comes amid a wave of development downtown, including plans from Minneapolis-based UrbanWorks Architecture and Minnetonka-based Opus Development to replace a downtown parking structure with a cluster of high-rises. Rybak said he expects the Nicollet Mall redesign to continue that trend.

The Crystal Stair on Nicollet Walk.
 

Nicollet Mall already counts among its public spaces Peavey Plaza—the M. Paul Friedberg “park plaza” that narrowly averted demolition after a preservationist lawsuit earlier this year.

Field Operations’ design turns the outdoor mall into more of a civic walk, James Corner told AN, connecting the city’s two epicenters of “nature and culture”: the Mississippi riverfront at the street’s northeast terminus, and the Chain of Lakes beginning at its southwest. Details will come after a series of public meetings; Corner said programming could vary block by block, while an overall design vocabulary would be consistent.

“We’ve got the good bones of a conceptual approach,” Corner said. “It is a great opportunity to create a great public space right through the heart of Minneapolis. There’s so many new businesses and users of Nicollet Mall that it should be the best it could be.”

 
Nicollet Walk as Green Connector.
 

A trench drain and porous pavement in parts reduce stormwater runoff, along with an underground retention basin and periodic plantings of oaks, elms, aspens, maples and birch trees. The street meanders along Nicollet Mall, creating varied spaces along each block and corner for programming. What goes in each space will depend on public input, Corner said, but will fit with one of three major themes.

“Work,” at the walk’s center, could feature widened sidewalks, newsstands and bike shelters, for example, while the “Play” zone between 11th and 12th streets would have space for public art and outdoor dining. Concepts for “Live,” nearest the Mississippi River, show social seating areas and a public fire pit.

“By working with the curvature, adapting it depending on what’s happening on each block, it creates a larger public space,” Corner said. “The strength of the curvilinearity is that it creates these wider public spaces.”

Numerous skyways connect the high-rises that line Nicollet Mall, but wayfinding between the walkways and the streets they overlook is currently a challenge, Corner said. The design team is investigating a color scheme—a “yellow ribbon” pattern, perhaps — to make connections more obvious. Similarly, conceptual renderings show “light beams” several stories high along the mall itself.

Mayor Rybak counted Target’s decision to locate their headquarters downtown as a victory for Minneapolis’ economic development. The retail giant hired Julie Snow Architects to carve out a “non-corporate” HQ from a former shoe-store at Nicollet Mall and South 10th Street. U.S. Bancorp, which owns U.S. Bank, also located its headquarters along Nicollet Mall.

Plans to expand light rail service in the area could encourage growth, Rybak said. The area is already home to the busiest bus stop in the state. Field Operations’ design leaves room for active transportation elements, and Corner said the team is investigating putting bike lanes in the middle of the street, separated from traffic.

Construction is scheduled to begin in 2015 with an expected completion date in 2016. The city will fund the project, which is expected to cost between $30 and $40 million, through a mix of state bonding and fees on private businesses along the street. The structure of those fees has not been determined.

Nelson/Nygaard, SRF Engineers, Tillotson Design Associates, Kestrel Design Group, and Cost Construction Services also contributed to the design proposal.

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Contesting the Bloomberg Legacy
The occupiers of Manhattan's Zuccotti Park were closely monitored and slowly pushed out by hte Bloomberg administration.
Michelle Lee/Flickr

Now that Michael Bloomberg’s third and final term is about to end journalists and editors are rolling out scores of articles on his legacy and the future of Gotham. There is little question that during his mayoralty New York changed physically more than it had in many years and architects and designers were more influential than anytime since John Lindsay. The degree to which Bloomberg’s department heads like David Burney, Amanda Burden, and Janette Sadik-Khan made design an important aspect of physical growth and change is probably unprecedented in any American city at least since Robert Moses dominated development in New York. A major narrative in most of these articles is the uneven development that occurred during the period as most of these physical changes and improvements were concentrated in affluent Manhattan and the Brooklyn and Queens waterfronts—facing Manhattan. It is clear that most of the achievements of the period—like the High Line, the new parklets created on odd bits of left over streetscape along Broadway, designated bike lanes, and even bike sharing—were heavily weighted towards improving Manhattan and gentrified areas of Brooklyn and Queens. If one looks to areas like Brownsville, Crotona, or the Southeast Bronx, it is hard to find the Bloomberg initiatives having made little or any improvements to the streetscapes.

But not mentioned in these articles is the degree to which this administration marginalized (though this began under Rudolph Giuliani) the City Planning Commission, once a major player in development decisions and ensuring equity in planning. This neglect of official planning during the period may explain some of the more obvious blunders of the period, including the mayor’s half-baked, developer-focused 2030 plan; the ill-fated (but happily defeated) West Side Stadium proposal; and the disappointing high-rise development now taking place along the Brooklyn waterfront.

This is not to say that some planning was not undertaken during the Bloomberg era, such as the resiliency efforts highlighted in our feature story “The Nuanced Approach” points out. In fact, park and open space development is probably the most physically obvious transformation that took place in the last 11 1/2 years. The new Brooklyn Bridge and Governors Island Parks and the carefully detailed changes along Newtown Creek in Brooklyn and the Hudson River edge in Manhattan (though mostly financed through a structurally dubious private public partnership model embraced by the mayor) will take their place alongside the great Olmsted and Moses open spaces.

Galen Cranz points out in her writings on urban parks in America that the last time designers were involved in park design, the period she labels “the open space system” of the late 1950s through the 1970s, they primarily created plazas fronting corporate offices and did not always put the public in the foreground. Their spaces had mixed results as we can witness up and down Park Avenue. But in assessing open space design in the period one must also consider not just the security zone created around areas like Wall Street and the World Trade Center, but the reaction of the Bloomberg administration to the occupiers in Zuccotti Park, who were given some latitude to protest but were closely monitored and slowly pushed out of the area until the movement faded. Finally, one must consider The Gramsci Monument created this past summer by the Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn in the Forest Houses NYCHA project in the Morrisania section of the Bronx. In its collaborative design, Gramsci seemed to use space to fight back against the model of public space as a site for leisure, framing it as one where death and scission is encouraged and allowed to flourish. In the end, this may have been the most important new model of public space created during the Bloomberg era, and its strength was its opposition to the notion of parks as primarily sites of leisure, and its promotion of them as sites for discussion and protest—the kinds of spaces the city desperately needs today.

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Susan Morris Picks the Winners at the 2013 Architecture & Design Film Festival
2013 Architecture & Design Film Festival Tribeca Cinemas 54 Varick Street New York 212 941-2001 “Erecting a building is like making a movie….both processes involve blending light and movement into space and time. A model is like a script: at best it’s a promise and at worst it’s a safeguard. And, as with a script, a moment comes when you have to test your model against reality. You must start shooting the film, start erecting the building." —The Interior Passage We can see these starts when the two art forms come together in the 4th annual Architecture & Design Film Festival at the Tribeca Cinemas where 25 films will be screened through October 20. This year, the trend is toward process films that chronicle movements and initiatives (planning, education, preservation), portraits of buildings more than individuals, and Modernism referenced even when it’s not the direct subject. The festival kicks off with The Human Scale (which also opens at the IFC Center on October 18). The film asks, “What is the scale for measuring happiness in a city?” and uses Danish architect and urban design theorist Jahn Gehl’s work concentrating on the pedestrian and cyclist to pose answers. Referencing Corbusier, Gehl said, “If anybody at any time wanted to pay professionals to make a city planning idea which would kill city life It could not have been done better than what the Modernists did.” The film focuses on Copenhagen, New York, Dhaka (the fastest-growing city in the world with 1,000 new residents per day), Christchurch, NZ, Melbourne, and Chonqing, China. “You Measure What You Care About” shows how data sets of people’s behavior led to pedestrianizing central Copenhagen. Similarly, Jeanette Sadik-Khan, NYC Commissioner of Transportation, looked at how 90 percent of Times Square real estate was allotted to cars, which only accounted for ten percent of use. This statistic was flipped to give over 90 percent to people in plazas, bike lanes, and Bikeshare stations. Another side of the Bloomberg administration’s legacy can be seen in My Brooklyn, which could almost be an ad for Bill deBlasio’s “Tale of Two Cities” New York. Examining gentrification vs. diversification, the film zones in on downtown Brooklyn and the redevelopment of the Fulton Street Mall which was the third-most-profitable shopping area in the five boroughs (behind Fifth and Madison avenues). With rezoning, this vibrant retail area that catered to African-American and Caribbean populations, has been transformed into a luxury, high-rise residential area despite the promises of local developers. The real estate feeding frenzy and deal making is examined in the vein of another recent film, Gut Renovation, also from the personal point of view of a displaced white female Brooklyn resident. Frustration with the corporate world and abundant idealism led two architects, Emily Pilloton and Matt Miller, to start Studio H: a design/build high school curriculum with the mantra “Design, Build, Transform” heard in If You Build It. Their approach is a practicum in design thinking, and they were invited to teach a class in rural North Carolina by a forward-thinking superintendent who was soon dismissed. (They agreed to stay on without salary.) The students learn basic tools to visualize their ideas—drawing, model-making—which were turned into inventive, practical projects like chicken coops and a farmer’s market structure for their economically depressed town. A formative influence was Miller's Cranbrook thesis project, a house he constructed in Detroit that would be deeded to a family contingent on their payment of utilities for two years but went unmet and was abandoned. He concluded that the end user has to have a stake in the process. Optimism was also a motivator of the “pilgrims and émigrés” of Cape Cod in Built On Narrow Land. This spit of land at the tip of the peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and Cape Cod Bay became a haven for freethinkers, artists, and the modernist architects who gave a physical form to their lifestyle. The Bohemian Brahmans who owned large swaths of land that enabled this development was embodied by Jack Phillips (of the Phillips Exeter Academy family), an amateur architect who briefly studied with Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer at Harvard, and became the Pied Piper for mid-century modernism here. His instructors followed him, as did Serge Chermayeff (father of Ivan and Peter), Georgy Kepes, Paul Weidlinger, Charlie Zehnder, and other modernists and Bauhaus alumni that taught in Boston at MIT and Harvard. Gropius’s daughter Ati, and Ruth Hatch who commissioned the stunning Jack Hall–designed Hatch House are among the witnesses who lead us through this summertime oasis amidst the more conventional New England Cape Cod gabled cottages. Modernist architecture in Moscow, which was borne from a similar forward-thinking spirit that embodied the Russian Revolution, has a more problematic fate today. The title of the film, Away from All Suns!, is taken from Nietzsche who wrote: “The advent of modernity had swept away all foundations. Modernity is liberation and total destruction...What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Where is it moving?... Away from all suns?” This unmooring is threatened by commercialism, illegal destruction, and new building as we are shown life behind the walls of three buildings: Ogoniok Printing Plant and Zhurgaz Apartment House (1930-35), the only surviving El Lissitzky building currently under threat; Communal Student House of the Textile Institute (1929) by I.S. Nikolaev, built to house 2,000 students and now under “restoration”; and Narkomfin Communal Apartment House (1928-30) by Moisei Ginzburg and Ignaty Milinus, considered the model for Corbusier’s Unité d'Habitation and currently on UNESCO and World Monuments Fund watch lists, is now a ruin occupied by guerrilla artists before it is turned into a hotel. We also get a brief glimpse of Tatlin’s Tower being paraded through the streets. Modernism is more cherished in a few building portraits: The Oyler House: Richard Neutra’s Desert Retreat, is a much-loved house in Lone Pine, California between Death Valley and Sequoia National Park. Commissioned by the unassuming Richard Oyler, who boldly wrote to the famous architect, charming Neutra and causing him to fall in love with the site. Neutra created an un-ornamented, post-and-beam structure with expansive glass that fit organically into the site (they even dug a swimming pool out of giant rocks in a mini-quarry). The realtor, Crosby Doe, who specializes in mid-century modern houses, said the experience of seeing the Oyler House for the first time was on par with Macchu Picchu. The house is now owned by actress Kelly Lynch and screenwriter Mitch Glazer (she is interviewed), who also own John Lautner’s Harvey House in Los Angeles. Another adored building is Fagus—Walter Gropius and the Factory for Modernity. Built in 1911 in a small town near Hannover, it was the architect’s first major building that he chronicled extensively in photographs. Light, elegant, and beautifully proportioned, it is still used as a factory for making shoe laces, run by the original commissioning family. A palace for work, Bauhaus archivist Annemarie Jaeggi said it “defies gravity.” The Interior Passage portrays a more contemporary building, Sanaa’s Rolex Learning Center at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, the prestigious institute of technology. It follows the selection process from 12 invited firms including OMA, Zaha Hadid, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro through the difficult engineering tasks solved by bridge builders to make this low-slung, flowing building stand up (the large central shell was cast in one pour over two days and nights, a mammoth logistical feat involving 20 simultaneous mixing trucks). A fascinating mingling of Swiss precision and Japanese minimalism, this film doggedly stays with the process until students fill the single expansive, unbroken fluid space of undulating floors and ceilings punctuated by glass-walled and domed bubbles. It takes the library as a building type one step beyond OMA’s Seattle Public Library. Perhaps the person who is able to best put architecture into a wider context is the Pritzker Prize winner in Tadao Ando—From Emptiness to Infinity. He thinks “we have to intensively deal with the present,” and encourages a young employee to communicate more with people, rather than just his computer because “this impacts on architecture and our society. Because communication, life, and architecture belong together.”
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Altamanu
Sauganash Elementary, Chicago.
Courtesy Altamanu

Josephine Bellalta started her landscape architecture and urban design firm Altamanu nearly ten years ago out of her home in Chicago’s Uptown. Now, co-led by her partner John Mac Manus, Altamanu has developed a knack for creating and restoring public spaces that integrate pedestrians, bike, and public transit. Both principals had experience with transportation design, and knew plans for parks inevitably had to incorporate additional infrastructure after the fact.

“Transportation gets the funding, not parks,” said Mac Manus in the firm’s North Center studio. “We became interested in how we could control that, rather than being asked to put lipstick on the gorilla.”

Now Altamanu is involved with the rehabilitation of Lake Shore Drive’s northern branch, from Ohio Street to Hollywood Avenue. A slew of recently completed streetscape and urban design projects gives a sense of their work.


 
 

Mills Park

Oak Park, IL

Mills Park was once a private estate with buildings designed by Prairie School progenitor George Washington Maher. His 1897 John Farson House remains on site and serves as the focal point of the park’s “historic” segment. To improve access to the once-private property, Altamanu needed new entrances, but could not discard the historic fencing. The firm moved pieces of the fence into the park as historical exhibits in some places, and bent it inward elsewhere, preserving the fence itself but not the barrier it once formed. Benches recall the fence’s zigzag pattern.


 

Scoville Park

Oak Park, IL

Originally designed by Jens Jensen, Scoville Park in Oak Park is on the site of the area’s first European settlement. It sits on a glacial ridge that bends through two other nearby parks—Mills and Taylor parks. Altamanu’s redesign includes wending walkways, whose curves are echoed in a series of benches, and improved sightlines to the historic buildings that surround the park. The architects also improved access to a Frank Lloyd Wright memorial to a large War Memorial, which was originally the focal point of the park. Altamanu also used root aeration matting to preserve an ancient oak tree.


 

Lawrence Avenue

Chicago

Altamanu’s plan to reconfigure Lawrence Avenue between Western Avenue and Clark Street makes the thoroughfare more pedestrian and bike friendly. The design thins the avenue’s three- and sometimes four-lane cross section into one lane of traffic each way and a continuous turn lane. Pedestrian refuge plazas allow people crossing the street to ford one river of traffic at a time. Bike lanes exist to the project area’s east and west, so when completed the Lawrence Avenue rehab will link six miles of continuous bike lanes on the city’s north side.


 

 

River Street

Batavia, IL

To help revive Batavia’s historic River Street downtown area, Altamanu borrowed the Dutch concept of a woonerf: a “living street” where cars share the road on equal footing with pedestrians and bicyclists. Laying brickwork where an aging two-lane street and sporadic stretch of sidewalk once stood, the firm remedied handicap accessibility problems and gave the historic downtown what its residents said they wanted most—something different. Farmers markets and café seating fill the street now, while outdoor concerts make use of an entryway Altamanu designed that references the town’s history of millwork.


 
 

Sauganash Elementary

Chicago

Sauganash Elementary hired Altamanu to redesign its grounds with an eye toward flood control. The defining feature of the landscape is a bioswale that, rather than being relegated to the corner of the property out of sight, is crisscrossed with bridges meant to bring the students and their parents into closer contact with nature. Originally Altamanu wanted the bioswale bridges to be free of railings. Since they only sit a few feet off the ground, the firm figured the bridges posed little risk. The school thought otherwise, however, and railings were added for safety.