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The public debut of the Texas Department of Transportation’s $6 billion plan to re-route I-45 around downtown Houston has citizens, planners, and city leaders atwitter about whether to demolish or repurpose a section of freeway known as the Pierce Elevated.
Houston needs an urban icon, said Marcus Martinez, a designer at the Houston office of national architecture firm Page. Martinez believes the Pierce can be saved and reprogrammed into an elevated park development connecting Buffalo Bayou, downtown, and adjacent neighborhoods. He has been working pro bono on a proposal called the Pierce Skypark with Tami Merrick and John Cryer, also of Page.
“We are due for something big that puts us on the map and attracts people from all industries,” said Martinez. “Our chief goal is to keep it and turn it into something public and transformational for the city. It could be a variety of programming and flavors as well.” And it would be a nod to the city’s heritage instead of razing the structure completely.
The Pierce Skypark is an optimistic vision to turn a two-mile stretch of elevated freeway (roughly 3 times the size of New York’s High Line) into an amenity for citizens and visitors. Programming above and below the existing structure could range from parks and trails to public space, retail, housing, and office space.
“All kinds of big ideas are being batted around,” said Cryer, Board of Directors, Emeritus of Page. Cryer has been a key player in major revitalization projects in downtown Houston, including Discovery Green and Buffalo Bayou parks, the Rice Hotel, Commerce Towers, Club Quarters Hotel, and Keystone Lofts. He is also president-elect of Preservation Houston. “The main issue is people think of it as another park. The power of it is that it becomes a development with occupied space below, like a shaded promenade, and above with air rights. It can be an incredible design element and identity marker. Think big. When you look at the history of Houston, there can be a return to the legacy of Houston doing bold and big moves again.”
A master development strategy needs to be created, Cryer said.
“Not every elevated stretch of infrastructure is a High Line,” said Charles Renfro, a Houston native and a partner at Diller, Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), which designed the High Line. “There is no success guarantee. The Pierce makes a surreal landscape that lets people get higher than normal and it is a launching pad to think differently about making landscape in Houston. There could be an opportunity to keep, or selectively keep it, and that is where design comes in. Whosoever designs something on top and under the Pierce Elevated, there has to be a spectacular ambition to not mimic anything in the world.”
A myriad of public and private conversations have ensued about the potential of transforming the 37.7 acres of the Pierce that currently afford a view of a giant neon cross. Comments have come from journalist Lisa Gray of the Houston Chronicle, urban and environmental historian Dr. Kyle Shelton of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, Bob Eury of the Houston Downtown Management District, and John S. Jacob of the Eastwood Civic Association.
At three public meetings attended by more than 500 people across the city, TxDOT has released intricate maps, animated renderings, and data tables showing various routes, as well as the environmental and statistical impacts of its rerouting plan. It involves the widening, depression, and elevation of three segments of I-45 from Beltway 8 continuing to downtown connectors and around the George R. Brown Convention Center. Parts of the proposal in segment 3 cut through the Mexican Consulate and the South Central Police Station in Third Ward, and will raze a public housing project called Clayton Homes along with the Pierce Elevated.
The state agency is in the process of gathering public feedback, but consensus has not been reached in the community. The environmental studies are due in 2017, and then a public hearing will ensue. Along with processing community input, the lengthy procedure of eminent domain would need to run its course and funding would have to be secured. Danny Perez, TxDOT spokesman, estimated “it could be five to 10 years before we see any movement on these projects.”
TxDOT is accepting public comments until May 31 via regular mail and email. The group from Page had pitched the idea of the Skypark to Councilman David Robinson privately prior to the recent public meetings and media attention. “We need to recognize this is going to be a very long process and there are several authorities that have jurisdiction over this,” said Robinson. “It’s not a fully integrated solution but it’s very provocative and stimulates the discussion in an appropriate way and hopefully we can make a Houston-specific solution.”
At the entrance to the tunnel, local Washington Heights artist Andrea von Bujdoss, also known as Queen Andrea, welcomes pedestrians with her mural entitled, 'Primastic Power Phrases,' a series of typographical designs that include phrases such as, 'Today is Your Day,' 'Live your Dreams' and 'Estoy Aqui!' As one travels further into the tunnel, Maryland-based artist team Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn have created, 'Caterpillar Time Travel,' a series of colorful, geometric designs. Next, Queens-based artist Nick Kuszyk takes viewers through 'Warp Zone,' a geometric design that plays with perspective and 'warps' the tunnel walls. Chilean artist Nelson Rivas, also known as Cekis, has created a dense jungle landscape with, 'It’s like a Jungle/Aveces es como una jungla.' At the end of the Tunnel, local artist Fernando Cope, Jr., also known as Cope 2, created 'Art is Life' to remind pedestrians to 'Take Your Passion, Make it Happen' and to 'Follow Your Dreams.'If you're wondering why the DOT oversaw this project, it's because the tunnel is technically mapped as a city street. Anyway, onto the pictures!
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tends to highlight the differences between himself and Michael Bloomberg any chance he gets. But on sustainability and climate change, Gotham’s current mayor has not only lauded his predecessor’s policies, he has built upon them. And so on Earth Day, Mayor de Blasio unveiled his update to Bloomberg’s PlaNYC—a wide-ranging blueprint aimed at cutting the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Now, that plan has even more ambitious goals, a new focus, and a new name: One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City.
“PlaNYC looked at sustainability, looked at resiliency. These were crucial, crucial issues to address and it did it very well,” said de Blasio when unveiling OneNYC. “But we knew we needed to go farther.” He argued that the plan had to become broader to incorporate issues like inequality because “you can’t have environmental sustainability without economic sustainability.”
Courtesy NYC Mayor's Office
After calling for a minimum wage hike and pledging to bring 800,000 New Yorkers out of poverty by 2025, de Blasio turned to sustainability, where superlatives abounded: the city will send zero waste to landfills by 2030, cut greenhouses gasses by 80 percent by 2050, and have the cleanest air of any large American city by 2030.
Within the lengthy OneNYC plan, there are multiple proposals—many of which are already in progress—to move the city toward this idealistic future. On air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, specifically, the administration focuses much of its attention on mass-transit. By providing better transportation options in the outer boroughs, it believes car-free travel will become a more appealing option to more New Yorkers.
This year, the NYC DOT has plans to roll out three new Select Bus Service routes, which will be followed by five more in the following two years. The bike lane network will also be expanded 200 miles, 20 of which will be protected, over the next four years. And then there is de Blasio’s much talked about five-borough ferry service that is expected to face a host of logistical and operational challenges as it comes into service.
All of these plans were previously unveiled. New was de Blasio’s call for the MTA to study an expansion of the subway system along Utica Avenue, a particularly transit-poor corridor in Brooklyn. The mayor was upfront about how difficult it would be to see the extension through to fruition, given the current state of the MTA. “There is a reckoning that has to happen in terms of where we’re going with the MTA, and that’s going to involve the state, that’s going to involve us, that’s going to involve a lot of other partners in the region to make sense of it,” he said at the press conference.
On greenhouse gas emissions, the mayor wants to see an 80 percent reduction by 2050 over 2005 levels. This target—another idealistic figure—was announced last fall. De Blasio said it can be achieved by drastically reducing energy usage in buildings. This starts with the retrofitting of public buildings and boosting renewable energy production. According to the OneNYC plan, “For privately-owned buildings, the city will create a thriving market for energy efficiency and renewable energy investments and services.” On air quality, the plan calls for an acceleration in the retrofitting of oil boilers.
As for the “zero waste” goal, the city plans to ramp up curbside recycling and composting. The city is also exploring “waste audits” for large commercial buildings that would be similar to energy audits.
On resiliency, the city will continue implementing the first phase of a $3.7 billion coastal protection plan created during the Bloomberg years. While the city searches for funds to implement the entirety of the plan, it will continue with ongoing and planned capital and infrastructure projects including installing new bioswales, rain gardens, green roofs, and permeable pavers. OneNYC specifically mentions “The Dryline”—a landscaped berm and parkland for Manhattan’s East Side. The project, designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group and Starr Whitehouse, was awarded $335 million in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild By Design competition.
The mayor said OneNYC is intended to be more of a rallying call for action than a collection of specific policy proposals. “We do not provide all those answers because we don’t have them all yet,” he said.
City council members led by Mayor Fernández Lores, began their quest in 1999, by developing a community-driven master plan that prioritized people and public spaces. ... The occupancy of the public spaces post-renovation was almost immediate. 81% of schoolchildren walk to school, half of them on their own. Traffic has decreased by 70% in the downtown area and 30% in the city overall between 1996 and 2014, with zero fatalities due to accidents in the last eleven years. The space devoted to pedestrians and cyclists in streets and squares increased over 60%, using space that was previously devoted to motor mobility and parking. Sidewalks were widened, streetlights improved, and over 400,000 street trees were planted throughout the city. By prioritizing resident health in the design, construction, and maintenance of public spaces, Pontevedra is a pioneer in the Active Design movement.Guthrie Green, Tulsa, OK By SWA Group From CfAD:
Submitted by the SWA Group, the 2.7-acre Guthrie Green Park serves as a central hub for social and cultural events for the community, now receiving over 10,000 visitors annually. Given that Oklahoma has some of the worst obesity and life expectancy rates in the country, team members aimed to use this project to promote health and physical activity among residents. The design converts a former truck yard into a flexible venue for community gatherings set among gardens, a central lawn, park pavilion, outdoor stage, and interactive fountains that invite visitors to connect with nature and join community events. A geo-exchange grid under the park supplies heating and cooling for nearby non-profit organizations, further contributing to revitalization of Tulsa's downtown Brady Arts District.New Settlement Community Campus, Bronx, NY By Edelman Sultan Knox Wood Architets with Dattner Architects From CfAD:
The New Settlement Community Campus in the Bronx, New York started with a simple desire for a public swimming pool, but soon expanded into an innovative, joint-use project that tackled school overcrowding and a dearth of local community services. Bringing together community activities that were previously located in various neighboring affordable housing buildings, the New Settlement Community Campus provides a resource for both students and residents in this low-income community. Designed by Dattner Architects and Edelman Sultan Knox Wood / Architects the New Settlement Community Campus is a vital community hub providing 1,160 K-12 students and the surrounding neighborhood with a wide range of indoor and outdoor learning spaces, fitness classes, and activity hubs, along with a healthy food program and on-site health clinic.Casitas de Colores, Albuquerque, NM By Dekker/Perich/Sabatini From CfAD:
Casitas de Colores brings much needed affordable housing to families in downtown Albuquerque. With a walk score of 94/100, it has been recognized as an important project for supporting activity in the downtown area. Located within walking distance to city amenities, transit networks, and employment areas, the project promotes walking, rather than driving to daily destinations. Submitted by Dekker/Perich/Sabatini design firm, the Casitas de Colores community includes open stairwells, terraces, and patios, that maximize visibility and provides community facilities with an array of amenities to promote their health and wellness. Staircases are prominently located near entrances, elevators, and walkways, are wide enough for group travel, brightly colored, and offer views to the courtyards and downtown area. Walking paths are artfully decorated and exposed to natural light, enhancing the pedestrian experience, connecting residents to outdoor courtyards, and supporting a range of activities and social interaction.Stanford Healthy Neighborhood Discovery Tool, United States, Mexico, and Israel Stanford Prevention Research Center and the Stanford University School of Medicine From CfAD:
The Stanford Healthy Neighborhood Discovery Tool, is a research project that empowers citizens with technology to have an impact on policy decisions that effect the built environment. Researchers from the Stanford Prevention Research Center and the Stanford University School of Medicine, equipped resident 'citizen scientists,' with technology, allowing them to asses their neighborhoods and advocate for more support for healthy living. Using recorded, geo-coded photographs and audio narratives, GPS-tracked walking routes, and survey responses, residents have successfully engaged policy makers and collaborated on funding decisions for built environment improvements. The citizen scientist application has now been used in three countries (Mexico, Israel, USA), leveraging resident 'citizen scientists' and mobile technology that empowers communities to promote active living and healthy eating.Queens Plaza From CfAD:
Queens Plaza has shifted the way New York City conceives of its public spaces, recognizing them as a critical part of its urban infrastructure, capable of creating vibrant neighborhoods. The application of Active Design principles transformed a parking lot surrounded by 16 lanes of traffic and noisy subway lines into a space that prioritizes the pedestrian.Honorable Mentions Space to Grow: Greening Chicago’s Schoolyards Chicago, IL From CfAD:
Space to Grow is a multi-sector partnership that transforms Chicago's aging, and in many cases underutilized, schoolyards into dynamic outdoor spaces that support physical activity, learning and community engagement. Selected Chicago Public School schoolyards are located in urban neighborhoods that have a deficit of recreational facilities and green space, and that are also prone to flooding during heavy storms. The project is co-managed by Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands – two Chicago based nonprofit organizations, and is funded by Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Department of Water Management, and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.Gateway Community College New Haven, CT From CfAD:
The Gateway Community College project represents how thoughtful design can create an educational environment that promotes health, while anchoring the urban revitalization. Submitted by Perkins + Will, this project is designed around a central atrium and open stairway, which links the academic spaces and doubles as the primary gathering space. Informal stadium seating and lounges are provided around this central core. Classroom wings also offer open access to a series of egress stairs, enhanced with hold-open devices, abundant daylight, comfortable width, and views to a rain garden. A range of exterior spaces, like a roof garden and multi-purpose courtyard, are offered to support on-site recreation and special programming. Located in a formerly neglected part of New Haven, Gateway Community College enhances the neighborhood pedestrian environment through the addition of more public elements, such as an interactive, LED art installation visible through the building facade. The images that are projected as part of this art installation are curated by the students and provide a greater identity for themselves and the campus community.New York City Police Academy College Point, NY From CfAD:
The New York City Police Academy was designed from its outset using the Active Design Guidelines. It consolidates many of the Police Department’s existing training facilities into one consolidated campus. Built on a former landfill site and submitted by the New York City Department of Design and Construction, the campus offers numerous opportunities for occupants to engage in physical activity. A monumental stair is featured at the building’s entrance that connects physically and visually to the circulation stairs located throughout the plan. Egress stair doors on each floor use hold-open devices to maximize visibility into stairwells. Fitness facilities include a swimming pool, indoor exercise spaces, outdoor running tracks and walking routes that move users around landscaped gardens, which are also usable by the surrounding community.Fulton Center New York, NY From CfAD:
The newly renovated Fulton Center transit center in New York City’s financial district effectively organizes the circulation patterns of about 300,000 daily riders between eight train lines. Designed by Grimshaw Architects under prime design consultant Arup, the Fulton Center is focused around a new civic space with a grand oculus bringing in ample light into waiting areas that were previously dimly-lit and confusing. The improved Fulton Center not only simplifies transit connections, but also provides 65,000 square feet of retail and office space. Features such as wider and brighter concourses make walking between subway lines a more enjoyable and less confusing experience. A spiral staircase located centrally in the atrium attracts the attention of visitors, and wayfinding signage and interactive information kiosks are strategically placed throughout the station. A new pedestrian tunnel offers expanded connections to additional subway and transit lines.Safe Cycling Design Manual for Istanbul Istanbul, Turkey From CfAD:
The Safe Cycling Design Manual for Cycling is an evidence-based report that aims to raise awareness of cycling as a mode of transportation in Istanbul. After undertaking an extensive literature review, and a series of surveys, interviews, site visits, and visioning workshops with cyclists, the research team at EMBARQ Turkey, found that residents prefer cycling because it is healthy, fast, affordable, and flexible. They also noted however that challenges to cycling in Istanbul include, lack of police enforcement, supporting infrastructure and fast flowing traffic. Leveraging the research and corresponding proposed solutions outlined in the Manual, the EMBARQ team has a created a valuable source on sustainable urban transport for the national government, local authorities, and community members in Turkey.
2015 National Planning Excellence RecipientsDaniel Burnham Award for a Comprehensive Plan
- Vibrant NEO 2040 – Northeast Ohio
- Mueller Redevelopment – Austin, Texas
- First Last Mile Strategic Plan & Planning Guidelines – Los Angeles, California
- Making Planning Public: Newark Zoning Workshop – Newark, New Jersey
- Green City, Clean Waters: Philadelphia’s 21st Century Green Stormwater Infrastructure Program – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Boston Complete Streets Design Guidelines – Boston, Massachusetts
- moveDC – Washington, D.C.
- Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan – Louisiana
- Phase 1 Glenwood Refinement Plan – Springfield, Oregon
- The BIG U – New York, New York
- Tecnológico de Monterrey Urban Regeneration Plan – Monterrey, Mexico
- Honorable Greg Cox – San Diego, California
- Maryland Department of Planning – Baltimore, Maryland
- Raimi + Associates – California
- State Representative Harold Mitchell, Jr. and the ReGenesis Project – Spartanburg, South Carolina
- Donald Shoup, FAICP, PhD – Los Angeles, California
- Perkins+Will — San Francisco, California
2015 National Planning Achievement RecipientsThe Achievement Awards are a way for the awards jury to recognize good planning work and are similar to an honorable mention. National Planning Achievement Award for a Best Practice
- Realizing the Potential of The Porch: A Case Study in Data-Driven Placemaking – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Maryland State Arts Council – Arts & Entertainment Districts Program – Baltimore, Maryland
- Living Breakwaters – New York, New York
- Branch Brook Park – Newark, New Jersey
- Opa-locka Community Development Corporation/Gold Coast Section Pop-Up Park Initiative – Miami-Dade County, Florida
- Pop-Up Outreach for the Southeastern San Diego and Encanto Neighborhoods Community Plans – San Diego, California
- WalkBikeNC – North Carolina
- Tongva Park & Ken Genser Square – Santa Monica, California
- Greening Lower Grand Avenue – Phoenix, Arizona
- West End Community Plan – Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
- Les Isles/ Domtar Lands Redevelopment – Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Step by step, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero campaign to promote pedestrian safety is going into effect across the city’s five boroughs. In February the mayor signed a measure to reduce the citywide speed limit from 30 to 25 mph. Now the city’s Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) has released the most detailed plans yet to address the issue, calling for targeted approaches to redesign the city’s most dangerous streets—high-traffic corridors and intersections.
“We know arterial streets are the most dangerous in New York City,” Caroline Samponaro, deputy director at Transportation Alternatives, a street safety advocacy group, told AN. “They make up about 15 percent of city streets. What they did in the reports is look at the most dangerous of the dangerous and identified 154 corridors total across five boroughs.” For instance, 127 miles of priority corridors in Queens comprise just six percent of the borough’s total roads but make up for 47 percent of pedestrian fatalities. Similar figures were cited for each borough.
These findings are backed up by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s 2015 “Most Dangerous Roads for Walking” report, which identified the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, Brooklyn’s Flatbush Avenue, and Queens’ Woodhaven and Queens boulevards as safety trouble spots. All four are targets of Vision Zero safety plans.
Collectively, the plans call for implementing at least 50 street redesign projects along the identified corridors. Additional measures include adding speed cameras, increasing pedestrian crossing times, and targeting police enforcement, especially in evening and overnight hours when collisions tend to spike. Each borough plan further delineates additional changes tailored to conditions on the ground in each borough such as better lighting at underpasses and additional signage.
The safety plans were generated by crunching crash data and scrutinizing the
geography of pedestrian collisions, taking into account dozens of community meetings and thousands of public comments. The analysis indicates where concerted street redesign efforts will have the greatest effect.
NYCDOT is also calling for special emphasis on senior safety. In Manhattan, seniors make up 14 percent of the population but account for 41 percent of pedestrian fatalities. Redesigned streets and education campaigns are expected to curtail those numbers.
While pedestrian deaths have decreased substantially across New York City—some 50 percent over 30 years—Staten Island is the statistical outlier, with an 11 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities over the same period. Pedestrians there make up 48 percent of all traffic fatalities. The NYCDOT’s target area is focused around the northeastern corner of the island at the ferry landing, where major new developments are underway, including a shopping mall by SHoP Architects and the New York Wheel Ferris wheel.
Samponaro praised the city’s safety plans, yet urged the NYCDOT to avoid a patchwork approach to redesigning streets. “We need to look at the most dangerous streets in their entirety,” she said. “Not just intersection by intersection.” She hopes the city continues to utilize “early action treatments” to enact quick fixes like painting pedestrian plazas and neckdowns using the NYCDOT’s operating budget.
The first four streets to be redesigned are Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue and Fourth Avenue, Queens Boulevard, and the Grand Concourse, which make up 20 miles of the overall 443 miles of priority corridors. De Blasio called for these “Vision Zero Great Streets” to be finished within the next four years using $250 million from the city budget.
The congested stretch of 41st Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue is less than a tenth of a mile long, but it could become a critical pedestrian link between Bryant Park, a privately owned public plaza, and the Broadway Boulevard if enough property owners chip in to spruce it up.
The plan, called Boulevard 41, comes from the Bryant Park Corporation (BPC) and involves covering curbside lanes with moveable seating and planters. Streetsblog reported that the plan, which was first unveiled two years ago, has been approved by the Department of Transportation, FDNY, and Community Board 5, but needs private funding to move forward.
Industrial designer Ignacio Ciocchini, who has created some of New York City’s more interesting street furniture, designed the project in-house. “We really concentrated on very simple urban solutions that make a difference,” said Ciocchini. The goal, he explained, was to create an inviting environment that was not tied to any particular business. The result is a stretched-out version of the city’s popular public plaza.
Boulevard 41 includes 20 red chairs and silver planters made from Ciocchini’s signature laser-cut horizontal slats. Seating platforms are set between the planters and completed with railings, bistro tables, and Ipe decking. Each platform also has a hatch for cleaning and access to utilities. To try to boost support with local property owners, the platforms and planters are spaced out to not block any useful freight entrances.
Two years after Boulevard 41 was first proposed, the BPC is sticking with its original plan to fund the $1.5 million project entirely with private money. But securing the necessary funds from adjacent buildings has proved difficult as those buildings keep changing hands.
While Ciocchini currently puts the chance of Boulevard 41 being realized just under 50 percent, he is not giving up on it just yet. He is going back to the property owners, new and old, in hopes of convincing them that investing in the public realm is good both for the city and their own bottom line.