All posts in City Terrain

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Go East, Angelino!

L.A. pushes ahead with $1.4 billion light rail extension despite lack of full funding
Officials in Los Angeles are forging ahead with plans to extend the city’s Gold Line 11.5 miles east through the suburban communities of Glendora, San Dimas, and Claremont. The $1.4 billion project will extend the route’s northern branch for a second time in its 13-year history, following an 11-mile expansion that opened last year. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (LAMTA) voted this week to approve funding and partnership agreements necessary for construction to start in September 2018. The Claremont extension will be the first project directly funded with revenue generated from the county-wide Measure M sales tax that was approved last November. Because the route crosses into San Bernardino County, which is not covered by Measure M, funding for the last leg of the route will be contingent on San Bernardino County contributing to the project, which is expected to occur. In the meantime, the transit authority will apply for a $249 million grant from California’s Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program to make up for the shortfall. The fund provides transit funding to state municipalities using revenue generated from the state’s carbon "cap and trade" market. The transit authority will also dedicate $26 million in savings resulting from the construction of the previous Gold Line extension toward the project, with an additional $100 million in funding coming from Measure R, a previous L.A. County–wide sales tax aimed at boosting transit across the region. The announcement for the new extension caps off the busy period following the November election. In the eight months since, the transit agency has moved toward plotting out which potential projects will move forward and in which order; the Gold Line extension is at the top of the list. LAMTA is also studying several alignments for a southern extension of the Gold Line and is partway through work on the Regional Connector, an underground link crossing Downtown Los Angeles that would connect the northern branch of the Gold Line with the Long Beach–bound Blue Line, creating a new, continuous north-south line. The Connector would also link the southern branch of the Gold Line with the Santa Monica–bound Expo Line, establishing a true east-west connection across the region. The agency has also had to fight for transit funding promised during the Obama administration that current administration officials have been reluctant to administer. The extension is expected to open in 2026.
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Creek Connections

New renderings revealed for SCAPE's revamp of downtown Lexington, Kentucky
New York–based SCAPE Landscape Architecture has released new images of an urban park in the heart of Lexington, Kentucky. The city, working with the Bluegrass Community Foundation, has spearheaded the project which will completely transform one of Lexington's main public spaces. The Town Branch Park is part of the larger Town Branch Commons project—originally featured in The Architect's Newspaper's October 2016 issue—which proposes to uncover Lexington's long-buried Town Branch Creek. By revealing the waterway, the city will gain a new large-scale green space, complete with natural and artificial water features. The park will become a major part of the Town Branch Greenway, which connects existing downtown parks. The downtown portion of the Greenway is also being designed by SCAPE. When complete, the system of bike and pedestrian trails will stretch over 22 miles. “Every great American city has a great park,” said Kate Orff, founder and partner at SCAPE, in a press release. “We are very excited for this park to put Lexington in a competitive environment and further enhance the quality of life. This richly textured, activated park space is going to be a big draw for families and businesses.” SCAPE's initial design for the project was picked in a design competition in 2013. Now that the project is moving forward, SCAPE has amassed a team that includes AECOM, Lord Aeck Sargent, Gresham Smith Partners, Element Design, and Beiderman Redevelopment Ventures.
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$200 Million

Michael Bloomberg pledges to fund new American Cities Initiative
Speaking today at the United States Conference of Mayors in Miami, New York City’s former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, released plans for a $200 million program that will help fund innovative policy changes at the city level, as first reported by The New York Times. The program, called the American Cities Initiative, is funded through Bloomberg Philanthropies and will take place over the next three years. It’s a municipally-focused extension of Bloomberg’s existing advocacy for national policies, including climate change, gun violence, public health, and immigration. “You can argue that if people in cities use less energy, the coal-fired power plants outside the cities would pollute the air less,” he told the Times. “You can make the case that immigration is a city issue, because that’s where a lot of people live and work.” One of the major components of the initiative is a “Mayors Challenge,” a national competition where city mayors are invited to submit proposals for policy experimentation that addresses their respective city’s most urgent problems. The grand prize? $5 million. Four more cities will receive up to $1 million and 35 ‘Champion Cities’ will win up to $100,000 to test their ideas and build local support, according to the challenge’s website. Bloomberg has launched similar competitions before, but in Europe and Latin America. The former mayor has constantly been an aggressive advocate against President Donald Trump’s policies, especially regarding issues around climate change and immigration. In June, Bloomberg vowed to fight climate change in spite of Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord by pledging $15 million to the United Nations and gathering support at the city level. At the conference, Bloomberg said that the program is meant to "advance important policies and legislation particularly with respect to education, climate change, and public health,” according to Miami Patch. The support will vary by city; in some cases, it could be policy support to help improve energy efficiency, while others could be in the form of advocacy. This program comes at a crucial time when the Trump administration has proposed major funding cuts to government agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which cities usually rely on for money. In his interview with the Times, Bloomberg emphasized the increasing need for cities to “replace Washington, and in some cases, state governments, to provide services.”
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Will Take Years

Mayor de Blasio unveils plan to close Rikers Island for good
Mayor Bill de Blasio has unveiled a plan to close Rikers Island, the city's troubled jail complex. Over the next few years the city intends to shutter the multi-jail facility, located on a hard-to-access island in northern Queens, and replace it with neighborhood detention centers. Facing ongoing problems of overcrowding, inmate abuse, and backlogs in the courts that strand poor inmates for months (almost 80 percent of people on the island have not had their case seen by a judge), the 8,000-person jail has come to represent dysfunction in the criminal justice system locally and nationally. Three months ago, thanks to ongoing efforts by activists behind the Close Rikers campaign, the mayor agreed to shut the facilities down incrementally. Last week the mayor's office outlined an 18-point plan for a slate of services, including expanded pre-trial diversion and re-entry support, special housing units for acutely mentally ill inmates, and professional development for corrections officers, all while pouring $30 million over the next three years into the physical infrastructure of the island to "accelerate safe reductions in the size of the jail population." The plan, officially called “Smaller, Safer, Fairer: A Roadmap to Closing Rikers Island,” offers a way forward as the new jail system is put in place. Its goal is to reduce the citywide jail population by 25 percent, from 9,400 to 7,000 people, over the next five years. In addition to revamped social services to cut down on recidivism, the Roadmap calls for repairs to facilities over the next five years to meet the demand for re-entry and education programs, improve fire safety, add A/C to more of the jail complex, and upgrade ventilation systems. The plan also calls for more housing with support services for inmates with serious mental illnesses, as well as tech upgrades that go beyond security cameras (though there will be more of those, too). The mayor has selected a Justice Implementation Task Force, a 30-person team that includes Rosalie Genevro, the executive director of The Architectural League of New York and Feniosky Feinosky Peña-Mora, the outgoing head of the Department of Design and Construction, to lead the effort.
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Go Down Moses

More details emerge for plan to raze Robert Moses–era expressway

In March of this year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state would set aside $1.8 billion for a Bronx infrastructure project to transform the Robert Moses–era Sheridan Expressway into a pedestrian-friendly boulevard, among other improvements. For decades, nearby residents have worried about the deleterious effects of pollution from the traffic and feared for the safety of pedestrians due to the many large trucks that travel through the residential streets en route to the Hunts Point Cooperative Market.

The 1.3-mile expressway was built in 1962, severing residents from the Bronx River and immediately causing traffic and air-quality issues, a pernicious by-product of Moses’s legacy. Community activists have long fought for the alteration or razing of the expressway; most notably, the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance took up the cause in the late 1990s. News of the plan, then, comes as a long-awaited win for the community, which will have unimpeded access to waterfront.

Its implementation, however, must strike a delicate balance between residents’ health and safety and the economic vitality of the Hunts Point Market, which employs around 3,500 workers, many of whom live nearby. Cuomo promises that this will be achievable, stating in a press release that “The project will create an interconnected South Bronx with access to the waterfront, recreation, and less traffic on local streets while simultaneously better supporting those who use the Hunts Point Market—a vital economic engine for the borough.”

The expressway project was announced almost a year after the state dedicated $15 million to the development of the Greenmarket Regional Food Hub, in Hunts Point, and will purportedly create 4,250 new jobs over its duration. The Sheridan is set to be decommissioned next year as part of phase one, and the completion of the $700 million tree-lined boulevard is anticipated for 2019.

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Island City

New details emerge for major plan to urbanize San Francisco's Treasure Island
Despite being recently rebuffed as the potential site for the forthcoming MAD Architects–designed Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, San Francisco officials are moving ahead with plans to expand the city's sleepy Treasure Island district into a lively residential enclave and tourist destination. The city recently revealed plans to add a bevy of cultural institutions and up to 20,000 residents to the man-made island, which sits in the San Francisco Bay halfway between San Francisco and Oakland. The San Francisco Arts Commission has developed an arts-focused master plan for the island in conjunction with urban and architectural master plans developed by SOM and Perkins + Will The plans, overseen by the Treasure Island Development Authority and the San Francisco Arts Commission, would see the island's public offerings expanded, beginning with a new series of public art installations. Eventually, the island—which is accessible only via its connection to Yerba Buena Island and the Bay Bridge—could add up to 8,500 new residential units and 550,000 square feet of commercial space. The island’s art program will be pursued using a projected $50 million fund generated by contributions made toward the city’s 1% for Art in Private Development fund as a result of the new development. According to a planning document released by the development authority, in the case of Treasure Island, the 1% for Art in Private Development funds will be applied toward the installation of public artworks on public lands. Generally speaking, the Treasure Island master plan, which includes the adjacent Yerba Buena Island in its scope, calls for leaving some 75% of the available land area free of development, with the remainder being plotted out as relatively dense mixed-use neighborhoods. The plan would focus on multi-modal complete streets designs in order to create a “network of parks and streets… [with] sunny, sheltered public space that is enlivened by artwork, buildings of enduring interest and active ground floor uses” while also reducing the island’s dependence on automobile traffic. The plan, according to the documents, would cluster development along the southern and western edges of the roughly rectangular island in a series of perimeter block formations. The project was selected in 2009 as one of 16 founding projects of the Climate Positive Development Program, part of the Clinton Foundation’s Clinton Climate Initiative grants supporting “climate positive” urban developments. For more information on the project, see the Treasure Island Development Authority website. The full plan is available here.
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Build Baby Build?

Oregon bill would encourage new affordable housing but has preservationists up in arms

A controversial bill under consideration that seeks to impose a 100-day limit on reviews for housing developments containing affordable units is currently up for debate in Oregon.

The far-reaching bill, known as HB 2007, would require cities and counties in the state to not only “review and decide on applications for certain housing developments containing affordable housing units within 100 days,” but would also limit local municipalities’ abilities to preclude these housing developments via future national historic district designations. Furthermore, the bill would also limit municipalities’ abilities to require lower development densities in some zoning areas, declare a housing emergency in the state, allow houses of worship to develop affordable housing on their properties, and prohibit municipalities from prohibiting accessory dwelling units or duplexes on lots zoned for single-family use. The measure, which is endorsed by the Homebuilders Association of Metropolitan Portland and 1000 Friends of Oregon, has been condemned as a handout to real estate and development interests by preservationists. Because the bill would impose limits on the influence of local historic districts, many in the preservation community see the bill as a wide-ranging and existential threat to the state’s historic fabric. The pro-preservation group Restore Oregon contends the bill is based on “false premises” and has offered a set of amendments to the bill, including adding language to the measure to increase incentives aimed at curbing market-rate development, adding disincentives to the bill that would limit the demolition of modestly-priced existing units, and enabling existing homes to be subdivided into as many as four units without prompting commercial zoning regulations as is currently the case in the state. The group also seeks to retain baseline protections for new historic districts. A hearing on the bill will be held June 22nd. See the Restore Oregon site for more details.
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R.I.P

Branden Klayko, urbanist and former AN editor, dies at 33
Branden Klayko, an urbanist, journalist, and former senior web editor at The Architect’s Newspaper (AN), whose intense and diverse interests spanned several fields and media, died after a battle with leukemia. He was 33 years old. “He really began our whole website, it was an incredible project to take on,” said William Menking, AN’s editor-in-chief. “But he also knew architecture well and had a deep understanding of the field.” Klayko devoted six years of his career to AN, transitioning the primarily print periodical to a web-savvy publication and eventually overseeing the site’s current responsive design. As a writer Klayko was well versed in developments throughout New York City, but he will perhaps be best remembered for Broken Sidewalk, a website devoted to his hometown, Louisville, Kentucky. Launched in 2008, Klayko continued to run the site remotely throughout his years in New York. Former AN Editor Alan Brake, now editor at Oculus, admired the site. “He was interested in tactical urbanism as an emerging toolset, so that people, designers, and non-designers, could make changes to the places they live,” said Brake, adding that while Klayko held a degree in architecture from Washington University, many of his skills were self-taught. “He didn’t come from a writing background, same with coding and website development. He just taught himself how to do all that.” Brake, also from Louisville, said that despite living in New York, Klayko remained an “important voice in improving the city” and used vacation time to stage events there. In a statement, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said Klayko’s writing “went beyond criticism to offering specific ideas for improvement.” Both Menking and Brake agreed that Klayko rooted his criticism in classicism and was not particularly enamored with the avant-garde. “He saw Louisville as torn apart by the post-war modern architecture and he was just not interested in new for the sake of being new,” said Menking. “He was in favor of melding post-World War II architecture to the the pre-modern city.” “He really believed that you can’t just think about buildings sitting on plane, you have to think about safety, the street, you have to think about the humanist aspect of the city,” said his wife Melissa Baird, an architect with Louisville-based WorK Architecture + Design. She said Klayko’s sensibilities were born of an idealized childhood spent in Wooster, Ohio. “He was very much an American: Kentucky, Ohio, New York,” she said. “He had great memories of Wooster, of his mom walking down the street and of taking public transit. That shaped his ideas of what cities and towns could be.” Baird said the two met through a mutual friend and she was charmed by his “hyper passionate” nature. She said his interests ranged from the writings of novelist Wendell Berry to entomology, the study of insects. She noted that one of his last Facebook posts included a quote by Berry:
It may be that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.
She added that Klayko also collected domain names, which he concisely organized on a spreadsheet, including, “Bugopolis.org: the Urbanism of Bugs.”
“You better believe that he wanted to pursue that too,” she said.
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F.A.R. Out

Midtown East rezoning proposal one step closer to final approval
The rezoning of Midtown East in New York City is one step closer to approval after the latest proposal was presented at yesterday’s City Council meeting, although not without significant opposition from the public. The rezoning proposal has made an arduous, five-year-long journey with support and roadblocks along the way. The Department of City Planning (DCP) has pushed the proposal forward, claiming that it will incentivize the development of new office buildings, preserve landmarked buildings, and improve the public realm in the area. The designated site runs from 39th Street to 57th Street and is bordered by Madison Avenue from the west and 3rd Avenue from the east. With Hudson Yards luring away businesses and the Financial District offering newer buildings with larger floor space, the DCP has primarily made it their goal to make the proposed Midtown East sub-district area a premier business area. If this latest proposal passes, it would add a potential 16 new developments in the area and allow developers to build up to 40 percent taller and bulkier than is currently permitted in Midtown. In exchange, they would be required to either complete improvements to below-grade transit infrastructure (i.e. improve major subway stations), rebuild legally overbuilt floor areas of pre-1961 buildings, or if they transfer landmark development rights, pay a minimum contribution ($78.60 per square foot) to a public realm fund. “We expect hundreds of millions of dollars to go into this fund,” DCP’s Director Edith Hsu-Chen said. The fund is expected to improve aboveground infrastructure, including widening pedestrian streets and creating shared streets. Another part of the proposal includes the Pfizer headquarters building. Since it was built before the 1961 Zoning plan, it will automatically get a free density boost of floor area ratio (FAR) 10 to FAR 15 and possibly incentivize the pharmaceutical company to sell the building and leave the city, as The Real Deal reports. While infrastructure improvements to subway stations were applauded (especially concerning the latest MTA woes), concerns were expressed from councilmembers about the transparency of the use of the public realm funds and whether developers could “game the system,” according to Councilman Daniel Garodnick, a long-time supporter of the proposal. Other questions raised included the potential—and highly likely—increased traffic in the 116 traffic intersections that will be affected, the increased shadows overcast, as well as the lack of new public space, which has been an issue for many of the proposal’s opponents. Since developers are already gaining extra FAR from contributing to the public fund, they do not have to take part in the POPS (Privately Owned Public Spaces) program, a voluntary zoning mechanism where developers get more floor space by building a public space. The meeting saw many community members pushback against rezoning without the mandatory inclusion of open, public space. “What remains to be determined, after all this time, is what the public will be receiving,” said a representative for Vikki Barbera, chair of Community Board 5. “Open space is not some optional amenity, it is essential for all good planning.” The City Council will meet later this month to vote on the latest proposal.
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Seeing Green

Group unveils plans by SCAPE for verdant Gowanus Canal
First came the factories. Then, decay and abandonment followed by an alphabet soup of toxic waste and three-eyed fish (maybe). Now, one nonprofit has plans to transform the Gowanus Canal, one of the country's sickliest waterways, into a park and ecological corridor for western Brooklyn. Last night the Gowanus Canal Conservancy unveiled its verdant vision for Gowanus Canal–adjacent areas of Brooklyn. In collaboration with New York's SCAPE Landscape Architecture, the group's Gowanus Lowlands: A Blueprint for NYC’s Next Great Park outlines possible plans for a park along the waterway in anticipation of a master plan that will be developed over the next six to nine months. For those who don't know, the entire 1.8-mile Gowanus Canal is a Superfund site, a heavily polluted channel that cuts through the tony neighborhoods of Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, as well as Red Hook and Gowanus. In lieu of the raw sewage and malodorous trash that currently dot the waterway, Lowlands imagines boaters and picnics, performance venues and cafes, and other amusements set between attractive walking paths and arrays of native flora that will knit neighborhoods together. Grassy hills and meadows will line the edge of the canal, while mitigation basins, bioswales, and sponge gardens will filter runoff and provide habitat for local wildlife. The plan was developed with neighbors' input over the past two years, and this year the Conservancy hired SCAPE to develop the Lowlands idea. The plan dialogues with the Canal's Superfund cleanup, local and state environmental remediation efforts, as well as a potential city rezoning that could encourage more development.
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Swale

New York's floating food forest allows people to pick their own food
The term ‘farm-to-table’ is one that is touted across New York City, but it’s a concept that’s hard to realize for normal city residents without access to farmland (farmers markets and Whole Foods don’t count). Cue Swale: a floating food forest that's built atop a 5,000-square-foot barge that is currently docked at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6 and is looking to revolutionize the food industry in the city. Founded in 2016 by artist Mary Mattingly, Swale allows visitors to forage for their own fruits and vegetables. Acting as both a piece of interactive public art and as a means to provide fresh food, Swale encourages New Yorkers to reconsider their perceptions on edible landscapes—“foodways”—and their relationship to nature. With Swale as a test case, Mattingly aims to shift policies regarding edible landscapes on public land. While there are 100 acres of community garden space in the city, there are actually 30,000 acres of park space. Picking one’s own food is illegal on New York City public land, but it is technically legal on a barge due to waterway common law. “At its heart, Swale is a call to action. It asks us to reconsider our food systems, to confirm our belief in food as a human right and to pave pathways to create public food in public space,” said Mattingly in a press release. Last year, Mattingly transformed the old construction barge by filling it with soil, edible plants, and flowers. This year, thanks to a partnership with the apple cider company Strongbow, alongside other governmental organizations, the barge added apple trees and winding paths. Using edible forestry techniques that mimic natural ecosystems and require less human maintenance, the barge allows for unlimited foraging of anything from asparagus to artichokes to blueberries. After it’s stint at Brooklyn Bridge Park is over on June 30, Swale’s next stop is Concrete Plant Park in the Bronx from July to August. For more on Swale, visit its website here.
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MBTA Extension Too

$1 billion redevelopment plan could remake the downtown of Somerville, Massachusetts
In Somerville, Massachusetts, a $1 billion redevelopment scheme in the city's Union Square neighborhood is edging closer to happening after Somerville's Board of Alderman waved through a rezoning plan. The 9–1 vote in favor of the plan last week was the result of three years of planning done by a special development team with the community. The 2.3 million-square-foot Union Square project, if fully approved, will bring 1.3 million square feet of new offices and civic facilities to the area as well as just over 100,000 square feet of public space. Twenty percent of the housing units built will be for families earning a low income, meanwhile, authorities estimate the scheme will see 5,000 permanent new jobs come to the area. Plans for a Green Line extension for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) are also in the works. The $2.3 billion project would link Union Square with the adjoining neighborhoods as well as the city of Boston, making Union Square the downtown of Somerville. “Union Square’s proximity to Kendall Square, MIT, and Harvard—one the densest innovation centers in the world—makes it poised for the next wave of economic growth,” said Greg Karczewski, president of Union Square Station Associates (US2), a development team built specifically for the Union Square Redevelopment Project. “We’re bringing 2.3 million square feet of new mixed-use, transit-oriented development to one of the hottest real estate markets.” For the Green Line extension to happen, US2 is providing $5.5 million in the form of a public benefits contribution and around 950 residences, all of which will supposedly result in new property tax growth. Now that the rezoning has been approved, US2 will present a development plan for Union Square to the community in the next few months. Jennifer Park, a resident of Union Square who has long been tracking the project, welcomes the development but is skeptical of what the final result will be. "They're really changing the look of Union Square. At community meetings there were lots of drawings of high buildings, but also lots of green space," she told The Architect's Newspaper. "As a resident and condo owner, I am happy that my property's value is going up." Park, though, also stressed that the feel of Union Square—with its diverse culture of ethnic restaurants and wide range of activities—should be preserved. "We do not want this to be like Kendall Square where the commercial development is dead at night. I am glad there is development here, but just so long as the community supports that development," Park added. The current schedule has construction starting in 2018 and the new Green Line station open and operational by 2021. The plan in full can be read here.