Search results for " bike lanes"

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Los Angeles' First Complete Street On the MyFigueroa Corridor Close To Moving Ahead
It’s been about a year since the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (DOT) took the reins over MyFigueroa, a project that hopes to remake the 4-miles in and around Figueroa Street from LA Live to Exposition Park, near USC. But things are quickly wrapping up, because the $20-million Proposition 1C funds it was awarded need to be spent by 2014. On April 9, DOT hosted a community meeting in downtown LA to unveil updated designs for this crucial connective corridor, which when finished, would be the city’s first implemented complete street. The design includes plans for a cycle track, a fully separated path from 7th Street south to 11th Street and then again from 20th Street south to Exposition Boulevard. Remaining areas will have painted, buffered bike lines, which would delineate between bike lanes and car lanes. Other elements include: bus platforms built into the sidewalk; improved LED street lighting; pedestrian-oriented signage (including ones that will inform pedestrians how long it takes to walk toward certain destinations); high-visibility crosswalks; new and repaired paving; as well as additional and removed plantings. The result is meant to be a street that “reflects the way we live now,” said Melani Smith, principal at Melendrez Design Partners. It would transform Figueroa Street into a fast-paced alternative to taking the 110 highway into a multimodal hub that would accommodate bus lanes, bike lanes, and pedestrians on its streets. A few skeptical community members raised concerns on the design’s traffic impact, especially on 11th Street, which will be reduced to one car lane from two, but will have a buffered bike lane and possibly an extended sidewalk. Damien Goodmon, executive director of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, looked for the traffic studies and environmental study that was done in the corridor. David Somers of City Planning assured the public that traffic projects with a 20-30 year horizon were taken into consideration in the plans. Past precedents do make a strong case for MyFigueroa. Designing complete streets not only increases pedestrian safety, but also adds to commerce. When Union Square North in New York was protected from traffic, studies showed a 26 percent decrease in injuries and 49 percent decrease in commercial vacancies. When complete street extensions were implemented on 8th and 9th Avenues (again in New York), there was 35 and 58 percent decrease in injuries respectively while retail sales increased 49 percent. Jeff Jacobberger, vice-chair of Mid-City West Community Council agreed. “Change is always unsettling,” he said. But as a cyclist and a car driver Jacobberger said MyFigueroa is something that needs to be done rather than maintaining a status quo where drivers are continually given precedence on the streets at the expense of the city’s quality of life. MyFigueroa plans have finished environmental studies and will be up for approval by the Los Angeles DOT General Manager sometime in May. Once approved, the designs will go out for bid the rest of 2013. Construction will occur throughout 2014.
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MTA Gears Up to Consider Bike Lanes Across Verazzano Bridge
With the launch of the Citi Bike share program around the corner, New York City's bike advocates are focusing their efforts on the next cycling obstacle: the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Harbor Ring, an advocacy project of the Regional Plan Association, is calling for a 50-mile cycling and pedestrian route encircling New York harbor. The group has published a new petition with over 1,000 signatures at press time pushing for the construction of a bike and pedestrian lane across the double-decked suspension bridge, which turns 50 next year. The Brooklyn Daily reported that bike advocates are hoping Governor Cuomo will support the proposal for the new bike path, which would not only connect Brooklyn and Staten Island, but also provide a critical connection for the Harbor Ring. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has said it will “consider conducting a feasibility study,” but not until 2014 or later. MTA spokesperson Judie Glave told the Daily, "MTA Bridges and Tunnels is considering this issue as part of a future Belt Parkway ramp reconstruction project." This proposal to add a bike path isn't new: A  feasibility study conducted in 1997 by the Department of City Planning revealed that it would be possible to build a bicycle lane without removing any vehicle lanes, but could cost around $26.5 million.
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Paris Trots Out Black Sheep as a Lawnmower Alternative
Since Wednesday, four black ewes have a new home, and new jobs as groundskeepers on a small patch of municipal land in Paris. Fenced in on a half-acre lawn in front of the city’s archives building in the 19th Arrondissement, the New York Times reported that the sheep are part of a new “eco-grazing” program which aims to cut out loud, gas-guzzling lawnmowers and toxic herbicides in favor of a more agrarian solution. If all goes well at the archives, city officials have plans to bring more mouton to pastures across Paris. Their hilly home on the eastern edge of the city is a near perfect paddock for the animals, Marcel Collet, the farmer overseeing the sheep, assured the Times. The special two-foot-tall sheep, known as Ouessant, were brought from the Breton coast and selected for the hardiness and diminutive size. Contained by a three foot electric fence and monitored by a lone guard, the sheep face few threats aside from domestic dogs and the hazard of tipping over (if a sheep falls, someone needs to be there to flip it back over). “Otherwise, it risks smothering itself,”  archives director Angés Masson quipped to the Times. While she is happy with her new employees, they weren’t exactly what she was hoping for, telling the Times that, “Myself, I wanted a donkey.” Others also have their doubts about the sheep, as some worry that they may endanger the local biodiversity. Four distinct types of orchids have been found on the sheep’s new pasture, but scientists will stand by to monitor the interaction between the animals and plant life. The sheep are part of a larger greening effort by Mayor Betrand Delanoë, who has brought bike- and car-sharing programs, bike and bus lanes, and pedestrian pathways to the city since being elected in 2001. At a mere $335 for the four, the sheep provide both a sustainable and affordable solution to Paris landscaping needs.
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The Street Stays in the Picture
Buffered bike lane on LA's Spring Street.
Joe Linton / LA Eco-Village

The resurgence of the residential community in downtown Los Angeles has come with numerous urban design interventions, from bike lanes to parklets to new transit stations. Not all of the neighborhood’s stakeholders, however, are happy about the changes. The film industry, one of the most powerful of those groups, has grown increasingly outspoken in its concerns about how the modifications are impacting business.

Downtown’s impressive mix of Art Deco, Beaux-Arts, and Postmodern buildings, along with abundant surface parking lots and alleys, comprises the city’s busiest collection of off-studio filming locations. In 2012 alone, on-site film industry shoots downtown totaled 8,394 production days, according to Film L.A., a nonprofit created by the city and county to balance the business of filming with its impacts on neighborhoods.

One downtown neighborhood in particular, known as the Historic Core, a boomtown for the new residential population, is an especially popular filming location. The film industry uses the neighborhood as a proxy for any older city in the United States, such as New York or Chicago. “It’s the only place in Los Angeles that doubles for them,” said Paul Audley, president and CEO of Film L.A.

In November 2011, however, an unexpected conflict arose when the city unveiled a buffered bike lane painted bright green and running along Spring Street between Cesar Chavez Avenue and 9th Street, the heart of the Historic Core. Just weeks after the lane opened, Film L.A. announced that the green color was adversely impacting film shoots. According to Audley, the bike lane “killed filming for three weeks,” as crews scrambled to find a way to cover up the incongruous green streak.

The bike lane is only one example of street level decisions that can ruin the illusion the film industry desires. For instance, palm trees, ubiquitous in Los Angeles but not elsewhere, take certain locations out of play. Audley cited the headquarters of the Los Angeles Police Department as a building that would attract the gaze of a lot more cameras if not for its landscaping.

A new parklet on Spring Street opened this year in Los Angeles.
Sam Lubell / AN
 

With two new parklets opening on Spring Street in January, to be followed shortly by the Bike Nation bike-sharing system, plus a downtown streetcar project backed by a voter-approved tax increase, Film L.A. has plenty of work on the horizon to make sure that the neighborhood continues to play the role of back lot for Hollywood. Since the Spring Street bike lane controversy, Film L.A. has worked closely with the mayor’s office, the city council, and other city departments to improve the siting of such urban initiatives. According to Audley, Film L.A. will not oppose any of the projects, “because they are important to the future of downtown, to keep it vibrant and alive.” He acknowledged, though, that more work is required “to consider the needs of this critical industry as these projects go forward.”

To Daveed Kapoor, a downtown resident, registered architect, and one of the designers of the Spring Street parklet, the proximity of these new facilities to the work of the film industry has multiple benefits. “We’re going to export images of a new type of city,” said Kapoor, adding that the parklets and the bike lane will slow traffic on the street, making it a safer place for film crews to work.

Rick Coca, spokesperson for Council member José Huizar, who represents the area, stressed that the film industry will have to adjust to the new reality of downtown: “You have 50,000 people living there, as opposed to 10,000 people living there ten years ago…500,000 people work there.”

Clearly, the ghost town quality that made downtown such an attractive back lot for the film industry—like the era of the early 20th century that built the neighborhood—is a thing of the past.

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Times Square Heartwalk Shows Brooklyn Some Love
Missed Situ Studio's 30-foot-long Heartwalk Valentine's Day installation in Times Square this year? The Brooklyn-based design firm has taken the Hurricane Sandy-salvaged heart back to their DUMBO neighborhood and installed it on the Pearl Street Triangle pedestrian plaza next to the Manhattan Bridge. According to the DUMBO Improvement District, which posted photos to its blog, the installation can be viewed from the ground or from the bike lanes high up on the bridge. The Brooklyn version of Heartwalk will be on display through April 30 thanks to support from the DUMBO Improvement District, Situ Studio, and the NYC Department of Transportation.
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The Brotherly Parkway
Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.
B. Krist for Greater Philadelphia Tourism & Marketing Corp. / Courtesy PennPraxis

For drivers cutting through the city of Philadelphia, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, fashioned after the Champs-Élysées, is a grand and convenient artery, but on foot it can be an unwelcoming and inaccessible expanse. PennPraxis, along with government officials, presented a new plan, “More Park, Less Way,” this week at the Academy of Natural Science that seeks to revitalize the Parkway, stretching from City Hall to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, by increasing activity through the development of green space, improved pedestrian and bike access, and enticing programming and amenities.

Harris M. Steinberg, Executive Director of PennPraxis said the proposal, designed for the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation, is building on the successes of other like projects such as Bryant Park in New York City and The Porch at the 30th Street Station.

“This isn’t a new model but looking at those lessons learned and being committed to making quality public spaces,” said Steinberg.

Open space assets along Benjamin Franklin Parkway. (Click to enlarge.)
Courtesy PennPraxis
 

The brunt of the report focuses on a portion of the boulevard running from Logan Square to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which Steinberg said “has the most amorphous public space and the least amount of density and amenities.”

PennPraxis zeroes in on four specific sites along the boulevard to upgrade and redevelop into parkland, including Eakins Oval, Iroquois site, Von Colln Memorial Field, and Park Towne Place. The vision goes beyond just adding green space. It is centered on bringing events, art installations, and food kiosks to the parks. The report states that 70,000 people live blocks away from the Parkway, and the hope is that this new mix of activities, amenities, and improvements will engage the nearby community on a daily basis.

Mike DiBerardinis, Deputy Mayor for Environmental and Community Resources, says their first priority is to “reclaim Eakins Oval,” a traffic loop in front of the art museum. The city plans to remove the surface parking that occupies much of the seven-acre space and clear the way for concerts, public art, temporary horticulture projects, and pop-up dining. A programming schedule is expected to be ready in the next few months.

Benjamin Franklin Parkway looking toward Philadelphia's City Hall.
Courtesy PennPraxis
 

The Iroquois site, just to the north of Eakins Oval and next to Fairmount, will be transformed into a pedestrian-friendly park with walking paths, a play area for children, and possibly space for art installations. Farther down the boulevard, the Von Colln Memorial fields will remain a place for recreation, but the perimeter will be updated with enlarged sidewalks to accommodate exercise and children’s play. There will also be an area devoted to gatherings and food. And on the other side of the parkway, the 3-acre Park Towne Place will provide a variety of activities including walking paths, bocce and volleyball courts, and chess tables.

But for Philadelphians to use this new green space, they will need better access. The report offers a number of solutions that address this fundamental problem from adding sidewalks around Eakins Oval to bumping up public transportation and completing the bike lanes along the parkway.

Proposed actions for improving the parkway.
Courtesy PennPraxis
 

“If we do the green spaces--no matter how well they are designed--if they don’t provide pedestrian access, it is going to be a big mistake. I think we will manage both of them as equal priorities,” said DiBerardinis. “To put one above the other doesn’t serve the interest of the action plan, the city, or residential units.

This plan comes at an appropriate time when the city has made significant improvements to the streetscape, and a number of cultural and civic projects along the boulevard have come to fruition, including the opening of the new Barnes Foundation. With only a few years left in Mayor Nutter’s term, the administration is eager to implement these recommendations.

“My goal is to get as much of this done as quickly as we can. The administration is in a 3-year time frame,” said DiBerardinis.

Now that the planning phase is over, the next steps require the sticky logistics of funding and management. DiBerardinis said Mayor Nutter has committed to put city capital dollars towards the parkway. “Once budget process is in motion, we can have a sense of what public dollars are available and then leverage that with philanthropic groups who have an interest in the plan,” he said.

But for this report to take shape, Steinberg points out that a management entity needs to be in place to oversee the maintenance, fundraising efforts, and programming. “We’ve had a tremendous response from the community,” said Steinberg. “We need to claim the space, put some temporary things up, get people out there, improve the concept and then get it all built more permanently.”

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Anything NY Can Do, LA Can Do Too
Ben K Adams / Flickr

Having lived in New York and Los Angeles for more than six years apiece, I’ve learned that while they have plenty in common—they’re obviously both huge cities with a level of cultural dynamism and diversity that dwarfs most American metropolises—they’re also utterly different places.

In the design world perhaps the most important division is this: New York has a number of important, powerful, and effective design champions, among them mayor Michael Bloomberg, planning director Amanda Burden, and transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. The results have been, by all measures, impressive. The city has transformed itself through design, creating an elite new collection of parks, buildings, and master plans, including the High Line, Brooklyn Bridge Park, dedicated bike lanes, and iconic buildings by most of the world’s most celebrated architects, including Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Renzo Piano, BIG, DS+R, and so many more.

Los Angeles is sorely lacking any such unifying galvanizers. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, while a stunningly effective promoter of transit, and leader of a recent triumph (despite heavy lobbying) on the Sixth Street Bridge, is still often subservient by legislative design to warring city council members and various agency heads. The planning director, Michael LoGrande, appears to have a rather tepid vision for long term, proactive planning. And few in the community seem to have taken the lead to fill the created vacuum. Instead of true design champions we have Eli Broad, who builds with little regard for public input or (despite hiring the best) even the input of his architects. Another is Metro, which has been enriched through recent measure R. But despite the valiant work of planning director Martha Welborne, the agency has shown little design savvy in its recent transit projects and transit oriented developments.

So who will step up for Los Angeles? For a long time we thought it would be city planning director Gail Goldberg, but she left after years of losing battles with the developers that really run the city and maintain the status quo. Richard Koshalek seemed a major champion for a while before that, but he skipped town after Art Center gave him the heave for, of all things, being too ambitious.

Now we have the perfect time to find out who’s next. LA mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel, Jan Perry, and Kevin James are all vying to lead the city. All have taken part in a stimulating series of architectural forums sponsored by AIA/LA, and all espoused the usual talking points of pedestrian friendliness, design excellence, affordable housing, and neighborhood planning. But it still remains to be seen if any will take the proactive architectural stance exhibited by Bloomberg and his colleagues. It’s one thing to support the usual steps. It’s another to take unusual steps to transform the city. We need a design agenda that is clear and, above all, ambitious. Design needs to be a priority from the top, despite the struggles that might entail. There should be architects and design professionals at all levels of the administration. That includes a deputy mayor for architecture to oversee all city design; a planning department that continues to improve efficiency and actually enact citywide planning; streets that are designed for much more than cars; and a procurement process that doesn’t just favor big, well-connected firms. The improvements will be hard fought, but they can, like they have in New York, lift the quality of life. If New York can do it so can Los Angeles. It’s that simple. It just takes a few good people who can really sway the debate.

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Demand Better Airports for New York
The Manhattan skyline behind Newark Airport.
LouisL / Flickr

At press time, two unrelated events evoked vastly different reactions in the office. Early in the day came news that Joseph Sitt, the controversial head of Thor Equities who plans to remake Coney Island among other places, announced the creation of a civic lobbying group to advocate for improvements to the city’s three major airports. Sitt, a frequent business traveler, finds the dismal conditions at LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy International Airport, and Newark Liberty to be an “embarrassment,” an assessment few would dispute. Sitt makes a necessary point about the dismal inefficiencies, grubby atmosphere, and unwelcoming experience of flying to and from New York City, which harms business and tourism, as well as the travel experience for New Yorkers.

The news at the end of the day of the passing of the great Ada Louise Huxtable provoked a saddened response (and an especially anguished one in the twittersphere). Architecture and New York City has lost one of its most passionate, principled, and articulate advocates. She wrote spiritedly about the major monuments and everyday urbanism that make New York City a great world city. She also had a knack for pointing out what was right in front of our faces, the mediocrities we live with unnecessarily. In reading her criticism over the years, I was always struck by the underlying push for civic dignity, and for architects, developers, and politicians to act with their collective power and responsibility over the cityscape in mind.

Thinking about Ms. Huxtable, I began to wonder at why New Yorkers accept the miserable state of the city’s airports. We have a kind of mass resignation that New York’s airports will consistently rank among the nation’s worst. The problem goes beyond stained carpets, scuffed sheetrock walls, poor circulation, inadequately designed security screening areas, and dismal florescent lighting. It’s a matter of economics and public safety. Why has the faceless bureaucracy of the Port Authority not been held accountable for the routine inconvenience one encounters at New York’s major airports, as well as the lost tourist and convention dollars. Why has Mayor Bloomberg—who has been so attentive to bike lanes and public space—completely ignored the problem? Why isn’t transit connectivity to the airports a priority? What about Governors Christie and Cuomo?

Mr. Sitt, for all his colorful remarks and questionable development ideas, is, I hope, sincere in his desire to spotlight those problems. His group, Global Gateway Alliance, joins the Regional Plan Association’s Better Airports Alliance, which is pushing for similar goals. New Yorkers deserve better. It’s up to us to snap out of our state of resignation and make better-designed, more efficient travel a priority for the next mayoral administration.

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Cable-Stayed Replacement For Desmond Bridge Unveiled In Long Beach
If you have ever seen the film To Live and Die in L.A. then you know the Gerald Desmond Bridge. It has a starring role in the opening sequence, when Treasury agent Richard Chance (played by William Peterson) bungee jumps off of it. You probably haven't bungeed off it yourself, but If you've ever driven across it, you might get why it needs replacing. The original bridge, according to the project website, "is nearing the end of its intended lifespan." In fact, the old bridge, while considered safe, is a little scary. Netting has been suspended beneath it to catch pieces of falling concrete. Additionally, its approaches are too steep, it's too narrow, and perhaps most importantly, the newest container ships can't fit under it. That bridge that will soon be a thing of the past. On Tuesday, January 8, Caltrans, Metro, the Port of Long Beach, and the US Department of Transportation broke ground on the $1 billion joint project to build the state-of-the-art replacement bridge for what is considered one of the nation's most critical transport hubs. The projected five-year construction period is also expected to generate significant economic activity in the region, including thousands of project-related jobs. The new cable-stayed bridge will feature 500-foot-tall towers and an observation deck 200 feet above the water. The design also incorporates bike lanes and pedestrian walkways. The joint venture includes Shimmick Construction Company, FCC Construction S.A., Impregilo S.p.A., with engineering by Arup North America and Biggs Cardosa Associates.
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Creative Corridor Plan Unveiled to Revitalize Little Rock
Marlon Blackwell, architect and professor at the Fay Jones School of Architecture, and Steve Luoni, architect and director of the University of Arkansas Community Design Center, have unveiled a masterplan for converting Little Rock's Main Street into a cultural center. The plan titled, The Creative Corridor: A Main Street Revitalization will include a pedestrian promenade, outdoor furniture, LED lighting installations, rain gardens, affordable living-units for artists and a renovation of downtown buildings for mixed-use. Luoni notes that execution is expected to occur in phases. The first objective is to separate the district from the rest of Main Street by using original lighting—potentially made up of old city street lights and composed into a light art installation—distinct landscaping, and purpose-built architectural pavement. The second phase plans to anchor the site at the intersection of Capitol and Main Street with a central public square containing an outdoor amphitheater and large LED screen reminiscent of Times Square monitors. The third phase hopes to densify the perimeters of Main Street with trees, rain gardens, terraces and a pedestrian promenade. The fourth is the creation of the transit district in coordination with the Metroplan’s scheduled expansion proposals and new bike lanes. As the project gets going, Little Rock’s Mayor Mike Studola plans to use the city’s EPA grant to create smaller-scale demonstrations of the ideas presented in the masterplan. Although the plan is intended to place Little Rock on the map of towns with unique urban designs, execution relies heavily on private dollars. In order to receive funding the location would have to draw crowds as an art center and Luoni has already discussed receiving support from various visual arts, film, dance and music organizations including the Arkansas Repertory Theater and Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. The presentation of “The Creative Corridor” was held at the Arkansas Repertory Theater and made possible by a $150,000 Our Town Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Upon earning the NEA grant Luoni commented, “The project has the potential to be a national model for consolidating cultural arts functions—artist housing, production spaces, galleries and performance spaces—as a catalyst for sustained urban development in downtown. We are proud that the NEA recognizes this potential and has directed resources from its signature grant program for this project." As of yet, funding for the full completion of the proposal has not been determined but Mayor Studola, architect Luoni and architect Blackwell remain on board to see it through.
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Blue in Green
Cermak Road in Chicago is a model for green infrastructure.
Steven Vance

Chicago’s Cermak Road is an industrial artery that links state and U.S. high- ways, passing through several suburbs and working-class neighborhoods of the city’s southwest side. And now it is the “greenest street in America” according to city officials, after transportation commissioner Gabe Klein cut the ribbon on a project whose list of infrastructure improvements reads like a manual for sustainable urban street design.

Natural landscaping, bike lanes, a wind-powered LED streetlight and “smog-eating” concrete are among the street’s more telegenic aspects, but the most interesting part of this pilot project is its price tag. These 14 blocks cost 21 percent less to build than similar projects they considered, city officials said, and will be cheaper to maintain.

At $1 million per block, paid for mostly by TIF and federal highway funds, the soup-to-nuts approach demonstrated on Cermak—which cut the street’s runoff 80 percent and reduced energy use by nearly half—probably isn’t suited for every street in the city. But as more data emerges on the benefits of green infrastructure (the city will gather data on this project’s performance), its potential return on investment should have the ear not just of eco-friendly city planners, but of budget-conscious politicians as well.

Cermak Road cross section showing stormwater-retention features of the street's redesign.
Courtesy CDOT
 

A 2012 study by American Rivers, ECONorthwest, and other groups examined 479 green infrastructure projects around the country and compared them to typical projects. More than 44 percent were less expensive, in some cases substantially, while another 31 percent were no more expensive than traditional alternatives.

The Urban Ecosystem Analysis of Washington, D.C., found that tree cover saved nearly $4.7 billion in avoided stormwater storage costs. In Chicago, climate change could intensify rainstorms enough to overwhelm the city’s $3 billion Deep Tunnel system, a vast network of sewer pipes and reservoirs that is still years away from completion. Like many cities in the Midwest, Chicago has a combined sewer system that integrates wastewater, or sewage, and stormwater. When this system overflows it pushes contaminated water into Lake Michigan and local waterways. Rains heavy enough to trigger such events are expected to become 50 percent more frequent over the next 25 years.

Some of this work is already being done. An early participant in the green roof movement, Chicago’s city hall saves $3,600 on energy each year and soaks up 60 percent of rain before it reaches the sewers. The city has 1,900 miles of public alleyways, more than any other city in the world. Since 2006, the city has worked to upgrade that vast network of asphalt with permeable pavement. These investments, along with harvesting rain and planting trees, have been three to six times more cost-effective than traditional methods, according to the nonprofit Center for Clean Air Policy. The Cermak Road project is one of the first examples of a major city street adopting that technology.

The infrastructure improvements fit into a larger scheme to reinvent this somewhat gritty trucking corridor, one that also includes the newly designated Cermak Road Creative Industry District. The neighborhoods near this stretch of Cermak—Pilsen and Lawndale—eagerly await a fresh start for 132 acres formerly home to two coal plants. Chicago’s aging infrastructure needs to be updated. Ramping up investment in green infrastructure could be a cost-effective way to accomplish that goal.

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Laura Starr
Bushwick Inlet Park.
Courtesy Starr Whitehouse

As the incoming president of ASLA NY, I would like to consider the future of landscape architecture in New York. At the ASLA President’s Dinner, on November 1, 2012, we honored Doug Blonsky for his leadership of the Central Park Conservancy, The Architect’s Newspaper for their efforts in bringing landscape architecture to the forefront of the design community’s imagination, and Commissioner Carter Strickland for changing the culture at the DEP in embracing green for the city’s infrastructure challenges. I would like to sketch a philosophical and social background against which their accomplishments can be viewed.

 
Laura Starr.
  

The biggest question confronting us in practice is what will happen after the Bloomberg Administration. Mayor Bloomberg set in motion a visionary transformation of the city. Across the board we saw progress: flagship parks, the Design Excellence Program, Janette Sadik Khan’s bike lanes, DDC’s green buildings, and DEP’s decentralization of stormwater management to a vast network of rain absorbing gardens. We need to ensure that this green vision, and its momentum, will be maintained in the post-Bloomberg era.

Certainly the Conservancies and other existing public private partnerships will provide some institutional stability. But, in addition, I would like to propose a City Green Conservancy modeled on the Central Park Conservancy that would ensure the existence and funding of green jobs and the availability of related training needed to maintain the bioswales, green roofs, and green walls on public buildings; the future High Lines and Low Lines; and the parks beyond the famous flagships that have come into being in the last decade. The Bloomberg legacy is that green spaces should permeate the city at a finer level than had ever been imagined; and thus individual support organizations, like those that support our flagship parks, need to be augmented with ones that will tend to a new and growing distributed network of green riches.

 

A second point: There is a general split in how we treat our waterfront improvement. To date we have very urban areas, like Battery Park City, and we have purely natural areas, like Jamaica Bay. This distinction is both generated and reflected by the institutional structures of the city, state, and federal government, which place different agencies in charge of different zones. Yet here we have a great opportunity; the ability to integrate these strands of waterfront vision to the mutual benefit of all in such a way that the whole is be greater than the sum of the parts. Productive parks that manage stormwater could create beautiful ecosystems and nature preserves while draining the streets of surrounding neighborhoods and recharging aquifers. Bushwick Inlet Park could be an ideal spot for this, for example, as could the proposed Gowanus Green project. These productive parks could treat grey water, if properly designed, with no loss of aesthetic value. This would provide a steady source of irrigation for gardens. The reverse is also true. Wetlands and other coastal areas can be made more accessible to people, with boardwalks, appropriate recreational activities such as kayaking, and restaurants carefully integrated into the ecological preserves. New York could thus pioneer a kind of urban ecotourism which would generate a buzz out of proportion to its economic impact. A progressive-minded visitor could stay in a hut on Jamaica Bay in order to kayak or fish during the day and go to the Metropolitan Opera in the evening.

 
 

Just as with the High Line, such developments could enhance the prestige and intangible aura of New York. Parks are, in fact, cultural infrastructure with a direct economic impact. A revolutionary step toward realizing these exciting possibilities might be the elimination of some of the boundaries between city agencies, or the instatement of collaborative dialogues between them that could create the same result.

It is fitting that New York should be in the forefront here, for it was Central Park that created the template for such a fusion. Central Park expressed the sense that the vastness of infinite nature, as exhibited in the Hudson River and Luminist Schools of painters, is part of the essential inner life of the American people, and as such should be present in cities for the people’s enjoyment. Such a project required far-reaching vision, subtle design, deft political work, and incredibly broad collaboration—a cooperation of diverse groups in both means and ends; and thus Olmsted is justly regarded as the most seminal figure of landscape architecture. His greatest advance occurred here in New York. The Moses era, however, abandoned this heritage, seeing the New York landscape as merely utilitarian—for transportation or sports, for lawns or paths—and in so doing it dispelled the spirit of the romance of nature, of skillfully controlled messiness, with which Olmsted and Vaux had imbued their creation. Moses envisioned no rich ecological layers, and did not even attempt a simultaneous solution to the problems posed by the many varying requirements of the city and its inner life.

 

In the last decade, however, the outlines are becoming clear of a possibility that can now be discerned as an extension of the sensibility informing Central Park. It is a vision realized not in one titanic work, nor even in a necklace of parks, but in a network of green initiatives, both public and private, informed by an enlightened collaboration of urban interests. Politically it is founded on the new green consciousness of the general public, indeed of the entire world, that is one of the acquisitions of the twenty-first century. And, as can be seen clearly in the case of Olmsted, it is the landscape architect who has the skills to coordinate these collaborations and thus who has the responsibility to combine sophistication and sensitivity in this difficult but rewarding enterprise. Thus a neo-Olmstedian vision is coalescing of nature reclaiming its place in the urban world, and of the urban world opening itself to the infinite breath of nature—on railroad trestles, on facades, in streets and plazas, on roofs—in a distributed network of collaborative projects which cross boundaries to solve many problems at once; and which, in so doing, go beyond the solution to the problems at hand to create something essentially new.