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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.

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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Ousted from Office
Today, contentious Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was removed from office following a court ruling in a years-old conflict of interest case. The mayor has made enemies of many urbanists over the years, including Creative Class author Richard Florida, who called him "the worst mayor in the modern history of cities." More recently, Ford drew the ire of Toronto's bike community after making good on a promise to remove bike lanes from city streets. The mayor has vowed to appeal the decision and has the option to run for office again in an upcoming election.
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Paper Architecture on the Streets
The new visitors center at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden by Weiss Manfredi.
Courtesy Weiss Manfredi

An English architecture critic wrote me this week asking what he should see on his upcoming trip to New York. Have you seen phase two of the High Line or the careful design incisions into the Lincoln Center public spaces, I responded? Yes, he had seen both so my next recommendation was the new Weiss Manfredi Visitors Center at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the newly uncovered DS+R bridge across 65th street at Lincoln Center, and of course SHoP Architect's Barclay's Center. Tell me what you think of the new rusted steel wrapped arena in Brooklyn, I asked, as I am still unsure what to think of this behemoth.

But then I suggested that for visitors to New York, the place to look for the most exciting architectural ideas is not the city streets, but the walls of galleries and museums. The most compelling ideas in architecture are to be found in MoMA’s architecture gallery, where new curator Pedro Gadanho has worked his way through the museum’s collection and brought forward a fresh and thoroughly exciting installation of drawing and models. Then downtown at Copper Union there is a beautiful exhibition of the Venetian architect Massimo Scolari that reminds us of the possibilities of architectural thought and hand drawing when the limits of building are disregarded. A train ride uptown to City College of New York's architecture school is a must to see the compelling exhibition of drawings by SITE’s James Wines. A Line Around an Area brings this important architectural thinker back in the discussion about drawing and design. Finally, it’s worth it to take a Metro-North train ride to New Haven to visit Yale School of Architecture’s exhibition Palladio Virtual, the product of ten years of research by Peter Eisenman on the villas of the Italian master.

In the past when visitors asked what they should see in the city I would always respond that there was not much new and exciting in bricks and mortar on the ground, but the galleries and museums were always exciting. That all changed about ten years ago when, for the first time since the 1950s, architecture began changing the face and functionality of the city. Certainly this can be traced back to the boom in financial services in the city, which created a new class of users or consumers for luxury housing and services, and the transformation in infrastructure that Mayor Bloomberg has encouraged and supported during his mayoralty. The plazas, bikes lanes, and open spaces like the High Line and redesign of Lincoln Center may have been focused in the privileged areas of Manhattan, but they did transform Gotham in a way that had something to teach the rest of the urban world.

With the partial collapse of the financial services industry and the resulting decrease in tax revenues coming into the city, many of these changes seem to have come to a halt. The last ten years were an exciting time for architects (and visitors) in New York when design ideas were brought into the discussion about creating a modern city. Now the most exciting architectural ideas seem to be back on gallery walls and not the streets and our best local architects are not building here but in China and other booming economies. Our architects have no end of ideas about how to keep growing and changing New York for the better—the Low Line and additions to Brooklyn Bridge Park and Governors Island are only a few examples, but will we have the will and money to make them happen? Now more than ever the city needs the creative thinking that architects have to bring to the table, but will the politicians have the political will and tax revenues to make them a reality?  Lets hope we can bring some of the ideas off the walls and onto the streets of the city.

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Toronto Bikers Revolt Against Mayor's Attempts to Remove Bike Lanes
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has proven to be a controversial public figure, whether it's unsafe reading while driving, or now, removing Toronto's recently installed bike lanes on Jarvis Street.  Yesterday, city crews showed up in large scrubbing trucks to scrape away thin dividing lines from the street, only to encounter a small collection of riders who would not stand by idly. Instead the cyclists chose to lie down, sit, and ultimately blockade the street scrubbing vehicles, eventually forcing them to leave for the day. A subtle part of the infrastructure that regulates a city’s traffic, bike lanes on Jarvis Street in Toronto have been voted out by City Council to make room for a reversible fifth lane meant to improve traffic flow for automobiles. The lanes were part of street safety measures enacted by Ford's predecessor David Miller. Cyclists have been unhappy with the decision declaring that removing the lanes puts their safety at risk. A few have chosen to make their thoughts known—including freelance writer Steve Fisher who noted that, prior to the lanes, he was hit twice by passing cars. The small group of protesters sat in the bike lanes as scrubbing machines approached and attempted to go around them, but a game of  leap-frog commenced as protesters again moved themselves down the road ahead of the machines. Removal of the lanes continued again today and currently the dispute remains unresolved. Unable to work at night—due to noise restrictions—the scrubbing crews must complete the removal during the day. Police were on site today in an attempt to usher back protesters and allow the work to continue. One man was reportedly arrested and taken into custody this afternoon as the protest continues. The scene has been carefully observed from coast to coast in the United States as bike advocates worry of potential bike backlashes in local politics. New York has already gone through a lengthy fight over bike lanes installed by Mayor Bloomberg and Janette Sadik-Khan along Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and many observers are closely watching political views as the city prepares to elect a new mayor next year.
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Shareway 2030: How Höweler + Yoon Wowed Audi
Somewhere in the world right now, drivers and passengers are cursing their city’s traffic. The automotive snarls common in today’s metropolis are accepted as a symptom of modernity, but the traffic jam—as well as the battle between wheeled and foot traffic on city streets—is probably as old as the city itself. In fact, our forbearers dealt with it in many of the same ways that we’re attempting to now. To alleviate congestion in Rome, Julius Caesar implemented a version of road space rationing, forbidding carts and chariots to enter the city center before late afternoon. For bustling 15th century Milan, Leonardo da Vinci sketched an idea for road sharing system that separated pedestrian from wheeled traffic. But the stakes of moving through the city were dramatically changed in the early 20th century with the debut of the car, a shift that provoked well-founded anxiety. “With all their speed forward, they may be a step backward in civilization,” Booth Tarkington wrote of automobiles in The Magnificent Ambersons, his 1918 novel that follows the beginnings of car culture. The multi-layered cost of cars and the infrastructure they require have come under intense scrutiny almost 100 years later, but one automotive company is hoping to be a leader in the conversation about what’s next. 2012 marks the second cycle in Audi’s Urban Future Award, a biannual competition that invites young architecture firms to contemplate what “mobility” could mean for cities in the year 2030. This year Audi selected six teams in part based on each firm’s connection to a global metropolis—Tokyo, the Pearl River Delta, Istanbul, Mumbai, São Paulo, and the Boston-Washington corridor. The teams presented their final concepts in an exhibition in Istanbul October 12-26, and on October 18th the jurors heard presentations from each and selected a one winner. Boston-based Höweler + Yoon took home the prize (€100,000) for their scheme Shareway 2030, a futuristic proposal to bundle different types of transportation into a seamless, symbiotic whole. Maybe because the team was assigned a sprawling region rather than a city, thinking big—really big—came easily. Höweler + Yoon proposed not only innovations in transportation and infrastructure but also new paradigms for public spaces and social relations also based on sharing. Here’s the premise: The American Dream is in crisis. The old model of individual ownership of a house and a car is passé—unsustainable, and, frankly, unappealing to future generations. So what might the new American Dream look like? Maybe something like “Boswash,” the team’s nickname for development along I-95 from Boston to Washington. The effective capital of Boswash is Newark, NJ, which becomes the site of a massive waterfront super hub where ships meet planes and high-speed trains. At points beyond the hub, energy generated by braking trains is used to charge pod-like Shareway cars, available for easy pick up at every train station. Cars and bikes aren’t the only shared amenities: so are houses (Sharestay). No matter where you are along the Shareway, you’ll never be far from a place to call home. Sharing extends to the very fabric of the city as well. In the urban centers of Boswash, Shareway goes below ground but activates the streets directly above. The ubiquitous blacktop is replaced by a system called Tripanel, where three-in-one street surfaces rotate like billboards: paved road during certain times of day, turf-covered park at others, or, when the light is right, photovoltaic panels that capture solar energy. Some of the more challenged cities of Boswash are repositioned entirely (e.g. Baltimore, becomes a vast urban farm—Farm Share). “It requires imaginative design but also imaginative politics,” said Höweler + Yoon principal Eric Höweler of making his vision for Boswash a reality, noting that it would require a federal commitment on the scale of Eisenhower’s interstate highway system. It’s a fantastical vision, to be sure, but also an optimistic and occasionally thrilling one. Shareway evokes previous bold statements about the city, from Lewis Mumford’s call to rethink the modern megalopolis, which he described as a “bursting container,” to MVDRV’s concept of the Evolutionary City, a city constantly made smarter through transparent use of technology. Technology-enabled communication played a key role in other proposals, most notably that of Superpool, the Istanbul home team and local favorite. Called PARK, Superpool’s concept is essentially a loyalty program that builds on the city’s current transportation infrastructure, rewarding participation in transportation sharing with a stake in programming public space.  “In Istanbul, streets are the true public space,” said Superpool principal Selva Gürdoğan. “Streets are democratic when you can own them, when you can change them.” Based on the fact that the citizens of Istanbul are already heavy users of social media—if cities were ranked by Facebook users Istanbul, population 15 million, would come in second—PARK is managed through a social-media-style software program that advises on routes and also rallies like-minded people together for public events. For PARK, Superpool built on the firm’s established approach of data collection, analysis, and mapping. It’s something we often take for granted in the West, but the work is an important public service and means of instigating conversations about the city in a country where such information to date has not been readily available. Both Shareway and PARK are highly specific to their assigned region or city but also contain bigger ideas that transcend a particular location. It may be this quality that the jurors found lacking in equally compelling concepts from Mumbai-based CRIT, NODE Architecture & Urbanism (Pearl River Delta), and Urban Think Tank (São Paulo), who just coming off a Golden Lion Award at the Venice Biennale. (The Tokyo team of Junya Ishigami + Associates, who in early previews was onto some interesting ideas of the city as an organic entity constantly regenerating itself, unfortunately dropped out before the final presentations.) In all the final proposals, cars, if anywhere to be seen at all, played second fiddle to grander scheme of good life in the city; cars become a means to an end rather than an end in and of themselves. Of the winning proposal, Rupert Stadler, Chairman of Audi AG, said, “We’ll work with the winner to make a concrete project out of it.” This will take the form of a “city dossier,” a kind of blueprint that charts how a concept like Shareway could one day be realized. From Audi’s side of the table, it’s really a matter of facing the future—and the car’s place in it—head on. “I’m much more a fan of being active than defensive,” said Stadler. The German design consultancy Stylepark acts as curator for the award, which falls under an umbrella program called the Audi Future Initiative. Stylepark founder Christian Gärtner said, “With this city dossier we want to include other stakeholders, like real estate developers.”  Noting that the Höweler + Yoon concept called for top down decisions while also engaging users, he added what could very well become a tagline for future competitions, “Cities are a joint effort of civilization.” In the end, with meaty presentations from all the teams, it might have come down to who had the best images. While Superpool charmed with quirky animations and Urban Think Tank wove in a fictional love story, Höweler + Yoon offered up gorgeous renderings depicting a sleek and friction-free universe, one where an Audi logo would not be out of place. But cities of the future are likely to be assaulted not just by the traffic of increasing populations but also by the climate--witness hurricane Sandy's recent impact on key Boswash hubs. It's these rare moments of collective awareness that need to be seized upon to start conversations about how cities work in 2030 and beyond. Click on a thumbnail to launch a slideshow of Höweler + Yoon's proposal.
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More Holland, Less Tunnel
Courtesy Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects

A five-year, $27 million proposal for streetscape improvements has been unveiled for Hudson Square, a neighborhood bordered by the Hudson River and Sixth Avenue to the east and Houston and Canal Streets from north to south.

The area’s park at the entrance to the Holland Tunnel—currently an exhaust-choked triangular gravel patch known as Freeman Plaza—won’t become the next Herald Square any time soon, but both subtle and immediate upgrades to be made throughout the neighborhood will expand sidewalks and seating options while mitigating the psychological impacts of tunnel traffic on pedestrians.

Historically, Hudson Square’s warehouses once hummed with printing presses, but they’ve been converted to loft-like offices that have attracted technology and creative companies, including architecture and design firms. Though more than 35,000 people work in the area, they have access to less than one acre of public space.

 
 

That’s going to change. Ellen Baer, president of the Hudson Square Connection Business Improvement District (BID), the non-profit behind the proposed improvements, said that, traditionally, “This has been an area of the city where pedestrians haven’t mattered, and all we’re trying to do is restore the natural urban balance.” The neighborhood may soon be rezoned to allow more residential occupancy (currently less than 4 percent), and while those zoning changes may dovetail nicelywith the upcoming streetimprovements, the timing is purely coincidental, said Baer.

Signe Nielsen, principal of design team leader Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, agreed. “People often assume there has to be residential use in an area before open space is really necessary,” Nielsen said. But playgrounds and basketball courts are not always the goal. People in the area just need a place to sit down, she said.

 

Led by Mathews Nielsen, the design team (including Rogers Marvel Architects; Billings Jackson Design; and Arup and Open) proposed a variety of improvements for the neighborhood’s north-south and east-west corridors. SoHo Square, enhanced with new paving and custom seating, will become the gateway. Narrower traffic lanes on Varick Street, a main thoroughfare for tunnel traffic, will allow for wider sidewalks with seating, to include subway grate benches. Since the subway runs below, planting street trees is not an option. Instead, designers, wanting to integrate some green, proposed vine-covered planters that will function as “personal parks,” providing shade and seating while serving as visual and acoustic buffers from traffic.

 

Hudson Street’s lanes will also be reduced to gain six feet for pedestrians, and this strip will be furnished as a series of “outdoorliving rooms.” Spring Street, which connects SoHo to the waterfront, will be subtly enhanced with new light fixtures and street trees.

The Hudson Square Connection has already installed some new bike racks and benches, but the group’s more ambitious plans are subject to public review and agency approval. As for the proposed park by the tunnel entrance? It’s on the wish list. Renderings of the park’s design, which incorporates grassy berms to dull the drone of traffic from tunnel approach ramps, are expected to be released next month.

Urbs in Horto

The Sears Tower ceded its title of tallest building in the world to Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers in 1998. That same year Mayor Richard M. Daley authorized the Lakefront Millennium Project, converting a downtown train yard into a massive expansion of Chicago’s front lawn. It was heralded as a model for a new generation of urban parks.

Having long since relinquished the title of skyscraper capital of the world to Asia, the U.S., and Chicago in particular, have embraced a new measure of urban vibrancy: ambitious parks and public works projects that are redefining our cities from the ground up.

There is sound logic for our cash-strapped cities to double-down on their investments in public space. Its return on investment manifests as tourism dollars and boosted property values, but also as long-term infrastructure. Parks and greenways sustain cities, from promoting public health and sense of place to regulating the local climate and enabling commercial hubs.

Work is slated to start soon on the world’s longest elevated park, the Bloomingdale Trail, which would connect park-poor neighborhoods along the city’s Northwest Side with a multiuse trail nearly three miles in length. Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised full support for the project, naming the trail a first-term priority. Northerly Island’s idyllic transformation from former airfield to ecological oasis is on track to begin soon, as well, and the Chicago Park District last year acquired nearly 600 acres of marshland on the city’s southeast side.

Projected to cost between $50 and $70 million, the Bloomingdale Trail will pair private money with federal transportation funds. Chicagoans are right to be cautious of underestimating the true tab of such an ambitious project. Millennium Park ended up costing $475 million, more than twice its projected bill, with $173.5 million coming from private sources. It also wrapped up several years overdue, something Bloomingdale Trail enthusiasts may recall during that project’s long slog to secure funding. But viewed over the lifetime of the projects, even bloated price tags can be easily justified.

And the added benefits of ambitious parks projects go beyond economic impact studies. The Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, a now-defunct independent monitor of city spending, analyzed 13 years of planned investment between 1990 and 2002 and found parks were “left out” of the city’s tax increment finance-driven development strategy. This shift in urban planning priorities may help correct the historic discrepancies between downtown and the neighborhoods, as high-profile projects encourage a more comprehensive vision that could bring far-flung communities into the fold.

Emanuel’s $1.7 billion infrastructure trust, though it still poses issues of transparency, proves there is no lack of political will to think big and pursue innovative funding schemes. Mayor Daley’s infamous $1.15 billion leasing of the city’s parking meters left many Chicagoans with a healthy skepticism of flashy municipal cash grabs. But it would be a tragedy to let this lemon sour the image of public private partnerships in general.

We should continue to scrutinize the cost of innovative public space, because we want these projects to succeed. We should also look to Copenhagen—where they are already planning climate adapted communities—and elsewhere to guide our climate adaptation efforts, a crucial initiative that this new green paradigm is well-suited to address.

And there are smaller projects that could have an enormous impact in aggregate. Emanuel’s push for bike lanes will help connect existing parks and green space, just as the Bloomingdale trail will connect park-poor communities with public assets elsewhere. But it is not the only abandoned rail line in town. The city should aggressively pursue a comprehensive network of parks, greenways and safe corridors for alternative transportation throughout the city’s neighborhoods. Chicago’s pleasant but still car-heavy boulevards system would be a good place to start.

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Agencies of Change
Hunters Point South and Long Island City
Courtesy NYCEDC

The Bloomberg Administration is arguably one of the most pro-development governments in city history. Since he took office, the Mayor has used city agencies to unleash the forces of New York real estate while also steering those forces to meet goals for a cleaner, greener, and more equitable city. PlaNYC, the catch-all name for the Mayor’s bundle of 132 sustainability initiatives, creates a framework for over 25 city agencies to collaborate on a vast array of projects, from the new East River Ferry service to a $187 million investment in green infrastructure. While some programs such as MillionTreesNYC, are making streets leafier one tree at a time, many of the Mayor’s initiatives have reshaped the city in profound ways. As the administration counts down its remaining days in office, AN checks in with the individual agencies whose projects have had the most impact on development in the city.

By Alan G. Brake, Molly Heintz, Julie V. Iovine, Branden Klayko, Nicholas Miller, and Tom Stoelker.

Willets Point
Courtesy NYCEDC
 

New York City Economic Development Corporation

The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) is not a city agency at all but a non-profit with a mission to spur local development, but the Mayor appoints seven members of the organization’s board of directors, including the chairperson.

The NYCEDC, which has grown from a staff of 200 to over 400 during Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor, has its hand in hundreds of projects across the city. “Our goal has been to diversify development across five boroughs,” said NYCEDC President Seth Pinsky. And just because Bloomberg’s term is coming to a close, don’t think things are winding down. The Applied Sciences campus on Roosevelt Island is just getting underway and, as of June, the city had acquired 95 percent of the land required to move forward with Willets Point, a five million square foot development that includes the remediation of a contaminated site.

 
Hunter's Point South (left) and Seward Park (SPURA) (Right).
courtesy NYCEDC; HPD
 

Major Initiatives: According to NYCEDC, the Waterfront Vision and Enhancement Strategy (WAVES) Initiative is a “sustainable blueprint for realizing New York as a premier waterfront city.” Under the umbrella of the initiative are 130 projects across more than 500 miles of city coastline. Twelve city agencies are involved along with investment of $3 billion over the next three years.

The City’s Coney Island Revitalization Plan calls for a mixed-use neighborhood with 5,000 new units of housing plus retail, an effort the city predicts will generate 25,000 construction jobs and 6,000 permanent jobs.

The South Bronx Initiative was launched by the Mayor in 2006 to create a strategic plan to support private investment, development, and infrastructure planning in that area. Working with HPD, NYCEDC developed retail corridors that would support new housing.

NYEDC has also increased outreach to communities impacted by its projects. The State says too much, recently citing EDC for playing “a behind-the-scenes role in the lobbying activities” on behalf of Willets Point and Coney Island developments.

Coney Island
Courtesy NYCEDC
 

Status: The statistics on WAVES initiatives are detailed: 34 projects completed; 71 projects on schedule; 14 projects with delays; 5 projects reconsidered; 1 project not yet started. Projects include New Stapleton Waterfront, a seven-acre development on the site of the former Navy Homeport in Staten Island, featuring 900 rental units, retail, and a waterfront esplanade. “The RFP was issued in late 2007, then the financial crisis hit causing us to lose all the original respondents. But we managed to persevere. We found a new developer, Ironstate Development of Hoboken, broke the projects into phases, and rejiggered some of the site uses,” said Pinsky.

At Coney Island, before construction can start, the proper infrastructure has to be in place—namely sewers. “A lot of the areas had never had substantial development, and in order to build housing and retail, you need to have adequate infrastructure,” said Pinsky. As part of the Coney Island plan, the City is putting $150 million into infrastructure alone.

Impact: “There used to be vacant lots in the South Bronx, and now there’s density, a hustle and bustle. I wish that EDC and HPD would work together more to do mixed-used projects—that’s the type of synergy we need.”
Magnus Magnusson, Magnusson Architects


Zoning initiatives adopted, 2002-2012.
Courtesy DCP
 

New York City Department of City Planning

Major Initiatives: Under the Bloomberg Administration, the Department of City Planning has been more active than at anytime since the days of the Lindsay Administration’s vaunted City Planning Commission. Since 2002, 40 percent of the city has been rezoned (115 rezonings covering more than 10,300 blocks). Under the direction of Commissioner Amanda Burden, the department has adapted for the 21st century many of the initiatives first conceived under Lindsay, including large-scale mixed-use developments such as Hudson Yards (with customized zoning and financing mechanisms for infrastructure improvements) and Willets Point while amplifying community involvement through intensive public-private collaborations—the High Line, South Street Seaport—and enabling coordinated efforts across agencies in order to address sustainability goals and open space and streetscape improvements. In Greenpoint/ Williamsburg, planning partnered with HPD to structure a new Inclusionary Housing Program along the waterfront, while collaborating with the Parks Department to ensure that the new two-mile waterfront esplanade would remain fully accessible to the public.

But it will most likely be the attention to detail that will be remembered most about Burden’s reign, from the creative zoning encouraging cultural uses on 125th Street to the bar-style balustrades along the East River Waterfront Esplanade.

East River Esplanade.
Tom Stoelker / AN
 

Status: Subject to major rezonings, some neighborhoods are already reaping the hoped–for rewards although not always as originally envisioned. A 2004 rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn to transform it into a major business hub has been slow to take off, even as it has triggered a residential boom—26 new buildings; 5,200 units. This summer, the emergence of the Brooklyn Tech Triangle, New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress campus, and MakerBot’s move to MetroTech are adding some momentum. The 2005 rezoning of the Greenpoint /Williamsburg waterfronts has added fuel to the ascendance of the Brooklyn waterfront, while rezonings of Bedford Stuyvesant North, West Harlem and the South Bronx will inevitably take much longer to catch on.

Attention is currently focused on a big final push to rezone East Midtown and redirect development towards the East Side triggering changes with potentially more impact on the core skyline than anything along the waterfronts.

Impact: “Mayor Bloomberg restructured city government by having agencies responsible for land use and economic development report to a single Deputy Mayor. Strong leadership at City Hall has coordinated multiple Mayoral agencies, not just those concerned with economic development, to help shape and realize our ambitious rezoning initiatives. It has been through the coordinated and directed efforts of multiple agencies that we have been able to achieve adoption and ensure implementation of our ambitious plans.”
Commissioner Amanda Burden, Department of City Planning


In Williamsburg, developers of the Edge (Below, left) and Northside Piers (below, right) were required to build waterfront esplanades (above) as public amenities.
Jesper Norgaard
 

New York City Department of Parks and Recreation

Major Initiatives: New York City comprises 29,000 acres of parkland. Over the past decade, the Bloomberg Administration has added more than 730 acres. While Central Park has long been a major economic generator of funds ($656 million in increased tax revenues in 2007 generated by adjacent properties increasing in value by proximity to the park), increasing riverside accessibility at Greenpoint and Williamsburg’s former industrial sites, Hunters Point South, Hunts Point and along the city’s 520 miles of waterfront have become key initiatives of the administration, and the progress is notable. Commissioner Adrian Benepe has made no secret that the administration’s definition of success lies in creative financing with a bedrock of public-private partnerships. The commissioner pointed to the Central Park Conservancy as the great “friends of” model, but hand-in-glove cooperation with City Planning and the Department of Transportation has reshaped waterfront parks and their upland streetscapes by courting development.

 
Jesper Norgaard; Courtesy Toll Brother
 

Status: There are 160 active capital projects in the parks department. Of several near-term priorities, three waterfront projects are engaging in public-private developer involvement. In Greenpoint/Williamsburg the city is cobbling together parcels to create public parks linked with privately owned pubic spaces (POPS). A 2005 rezoning required developers to build the POPS at the river’s edge in return for substantial floor area ratio increases. The zoning encouraged Toll Brothers to build Northside Piers, Douglaston to create Williamsburg Edge, and JMH to restore 184 Kent. The 30-acre Hunter’s Point South allowed for park designs by Balsley/Weiss/ Manfredi with Arup and residential towers developed in part by Related and designed by SHoP. In the Bronx, a grass roots riverside cleanup eventually led the Department of Environmental Protection to supply land for Barretto Park.

The city is building parks at Hunter’s Point South to facilitate development compatible with an urban waterfront.
Courtesy NYCEDC
 

Impact: “The difference between now and 1979 is that you didn’t have the dozen or so major nonprofits involved, so that I think that will insure that whoever takes over at Parks, maintenance will not be an afterthought.”
Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Department of Parks and Recreation

“Before we bought the Banknote Building we were certainly aware of what had been accomplished at Beretto Point and Hunts Point and saw that as a tangible sign of the city’s commitment to the peninsula. It was a strong symbol that things were happening here.”
Jonathan Denham, co-president of Denham Wolf


 
LPC has approved both contextual such as St. Vincent’s (left) and contemporary designs like One Jackson Square (right).
Courtesy FXFowle; KPF
 

New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission


Though Landmarks has added 31 new historic districts, landmarked structures represent a tiny fraction of the city’s buildings; Click to enlarge.
Courtesy LPC
 
 

Major Initiatives: Though landmark districts encompass a mere three percent of the city’s landmass, their effects can stretch beyond landmark borders. Developers argue that the districts inhibit growth and preservationists believe they spur it. Under Mayor Bloomberg, the Lamdmarks Commission has been known to allow huge projects within districts, such as the Rudin Managment’s St. Vincent plan, especially when highly contextual. At other times, new buildings are allowed to challenge the status quo, as in Hines’s One Jackson Square, which sits just up the street from St. Vincent’s. To make for a more transparent process, Commissioner Robert Tierney said that new rules will be introduced next year to codify procedures and allow online permitting. But this has not mollified concerns from developers. Two Trees owns more that 2 million square feet within the DUMBO historic district. “People like to live in DUMBO before it was a landmark district,” said Two Trees’ Jed Walentas. “The fact that it’s landmarked just makes it more expensive.”

Status: Pre-Bloomberg, there were 77 historic districts and 9 historic district extensions, encompassing approximately 22,400 properties.

Currently there are 108 historic districts  and 18 historic district extensions, encompassing approximately 28,500 properties.

There are 30,000 landmarked sites throughout the city, including 1,316 individual landmarks, 10 scenic landmark sites, and 114 interior landmarks.

 
Protected buildings in DUMBO (left) and the new DUMBO historic district (right).
Courtesy Two Trees; LPC
 

Impact: “Yes, it’s a process that requires significant resources and time, but maybe for the developers who are able to work through our process, it’s worth it.”
Chair Robert Tierney, Landmarks Preservation Commission

“There’s a time and a place for landmarking; where it becomes scary is when it becomes an anti-development tool during a hot real estate market.”
Brooklyn developer Jed Walentas


   
Left to right: Madison Square Plaza; Dutch Kills Green; Broadway leading to Columbus Circle.
Courtesy DOT; Linda Pollack; Courtesy DOT
 

New York City Department of Transportation

Major Initiative: Pedestrian Plazas

Status: Recognizing that streets in New York account for 25 percent of the city’s area yet pedestrian amenities were scarce, DOT created Sustainable Streets, a multimodal transportation policy for the city, calling in part for improving streetscapes for pedestrians and cyclists and creating new public spaces from underused roadways in targeted locations such as Times Square, Herald Square, the Flatiron District, and now Vanderbilt Avenue. Also in 2008 and 2009, DOT undertook the Green Light for Midtown program to improve the streetscape along Broadway, created new plazas at Madison Square’s iconic Flatiron Building, and built a ribbon of new public space along a new Broadway Boulevard connecting Herald and Times squares.

In June the study, “If You Build It: The Impact of Street Improvements on Commercial Office Space,” showed how improvements work together to create a backbone along Broadway. Hotels, in particular, are taking advantage of older building stock. In recent years, the Ace Hotel, the NoMad Hotel, and the Flatiron Hotel have all opened in previously overlooked blocks of Broadway; Marriott plans an Edition Hotel in Madison Square’s Clock Tower Building. Astor Place may be the next hot spot. With over eight acres of new pedestrian space planned there, it is the site for one of the first new spec buildings in the past 20 years.

 
Madison Square Plaza after DOT's pedestrian improvements (left) and the conditions before (right).
Courtesy DOT
 

Impact: “Once it was valuable to be right on the park, but now it’s also valuable to be near the park as the pedestrian improvements and bike lanes connect everything together. It’s not just Broadway, but areas around them forming a cohesive whole.”
Janet Liff, a commercial broker in Midtown South

“We have definitely seen vacancies decrease and rents increase. We’ve seen a massive amount of hotel development at the north side of the Flatiron District. In particular, large commercial tenants see these improvements as their front yard. It was the perfect storm of investment in the community.”
Jennifer Brown, Executive Director of the Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership


Hunter's Point South.
Courtesy HPD
 

New York City Department of Housing Preservation & Development


Via Verde.
Courtesy Dattner
 
 

Major Initiative: The New Housing Marketplace Plan calls for the creation and preservation of 165,000 units of affordable housing by 2014.

Status: HPD counts more than 125,000 units towards this goal. By the end of fiscal year 2011, 35% of housing started under the plan was new construction, 65% preservation. The agency has been more successful at preservation of affordable housing than new construction, due in part to the real estate downturn. HPD is currently “getting started on and finishing out” many new construction projects and closing in on construction, according to Deputy Commissioner for Development RuthAnne Vishnauskas. “You will definitely see progress towards getting towards the marquee goal for new construction sites.” Seward Park (now in ULURP) on the Lower East Side and Hunter’s Point South (under construction) in Queens are major new developments that the agency hopes to complete by 2014, each of which will include more than 900 units of affordable housing.

Impact: “New York City is lucky and unique in that we have a very strong for-profit sector that builds affordable housing. That part of the sector never really wanes. There were for-profit developers doing affordable housing even when the economy was low.”
RuthAnne Vishnauskas, Deputy Commissioner for Development


 
Two examples of Blue Roofs.
Courtesy DEP
 

New York City Department of Environmental Protection

Major Initiative: DEP signed a consent agreement with the New York State Department of Environmental Protection (which enforces federal EPA standards) to comply with the federal Clean Water Act standards, improve the health of the city’s waterways, and dramatically reduce the number of combined sewage overflows.

Status: DEP is currently developing Long Term Compliance Plans (LTCP) for ten New York City Waterways as well as a citywide LTCP, the first of which will be completed in 2013 and all of which will be finished by 2017. DEP is also expanding gray and green infrastructure throughout the city—including bioswales, and green and blue roofs—moving from pilot projects to larger scale implementation.

On July 1, DEP mandated a ten-fold increase in the amount of stormwater that must be retained on site for all new construction projects, dramatically reducing stormwater flows. DEP worked with the real estate and development community to create flexible options for retention systems, including pervious surfaces, green and blue roofs, storage tanks, and recycling systems. Cleaning New York’s waterways, from the Gowanus Canal to New Town Creek to the Bronx River, will also open up desirable waterfront sites for redevelopment. Investing in green infrastructure will in general benefit the development community, according to DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland.

Impact: “We spent a lot of time doing outreach to stakeholders, including the real estate community. They wanted more options and more guidance for how to meet the new standards. Green infrastructure improves the social spaces of the block and makes them more desirable. It improves the triple bottom line.”
Commissioner Carter Strickland, Department of Environmental Protection


 
East River Ferry Route (left; click to enlarge) and a ferry navigating the East River (right).
Courtesy Billybey Company; Branden Klayko / AN
 

New York City Economic Development Corporation/ Department of Transportation/Private Operators

Major Initiative: East River Ferry Service

Status: A three-year pilot program for East River ferry service connecting rapidly developing sites in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens including Hunter’s Point South and the Williamsburg waterfront launched in June 2011. The public-private partnership is part of Mayor Bloomberg’s Waterfront Vision and Enhancement Strategy (WAVES) calling for sustainable development along New York’s waterways. Initial projections estimating 409,000 annual trips were shattered as over one million rides were logged in just over a year of service. Responding to the popularity, private ferry operator, the BillyBey Ferry Company, began offering local food options on all of its 149-passenger ships and launched larger, 399-passenger boats on weekends.

Impact: “The East River Ferry Service is still in a trial period, but so far it’s exceeded all our expectations.”
EDC spokeswoman Jennifer Friedberg

“The early signs are remarkable in terms of economic vitality. The life that’s been embedded into the neighborhoods along the ferry service is remarkable. At the Edge development in Williamsburg, once ferry service was in place, marketing for the Edge worked much better. I have heard interest from developers in Long Island City on being near the ferry. It’s easy, frequent, steady transportation, especially when the only alternative is the overcrowded 7-line in Queens. Now, we’re looking for a permanent form of subsidy to keep the pilot going. The cost is one third of the subsidy of the average express bus service, so it’s a real bargain.”
Roland Lewis, President of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance


     
Left to right: One57; The Sheffield; The Willow; 50 West Street.
Courtesy Extell; UT Borrower; AKA Partners; Time Equities
 

Back To Building

MEANWHILE, private development is beginning to rally on its own, whether driven by an economic upswing or the irresistible momentum of the pendulum swinging back into action. Condominiums and tall towers are leading the way, more than a few on 57th Street, propelled apparently by that incomparable shaper of urban form, commercial competition:

Pyramid
12th Avenue & West 57th Street
35 stories
Durst

The Sheffield
322 West 57th
58 stories
UT Borrower

One57
157 West 57th Street
90 stories
Extell

The Willow
120 West 57th Street
29 stories
Ark Partners

105 West 57th Street
52 stories
JDS Development

432 Park Avenue
& 50 East 57th Street
89 stories
Maklowe

 

250 East 57th Street
59 Stories
World-Wide Group

250 West 55th Street
39 stories
Boston Properties

Tour Verre
53 West 53rd Street
78 stories
Hines

Baccarat Hotel
20 West 53rd Street
45 stories
Starwood Capital Group/Tribeca Associates

International Gem Tower
54 West 47th Street
34 stories
Extell

 

Gotham West
550 West 45th Street
31 Stories
Gotham Organization

Hyatt Times Square
135 West 45th Street
54 stories
Extell

GiraSole
555 West 34th Street
65 stories
Moinian Group

Manhattan West
West 31st – 33rd Streets
66 stories
Brookfield

One Hudson Yards
56 stories
Extell

 

99 Washington Street
50 stories
Holiday inn

111 Washington Street
57 Stories
Pink Stone Capital

56 Leonard Street
57 stories
Alexico Group/Hines

Courtyard & Residence Inn
1715 Broadway
68 stories
Granite Broadway Development

50 West Street
65 stories
Time Equities

Four Seasons
99 Church Street
80 stories
Silverstein Properties

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With New Rankings, Pedaling Cleveland Forward
A bike rack in Cleveland. (Spacing Magazine/Flickr) Despite an increased focus on sustainable transportation, Cleveland lost its spot on Bicycling Magazine’s list of the 50 most bike-friendly cities. With New York’s bike share program delayed, DC reporting increased bike ownership, and Chicago rolling out new protected lanes, efforts to promote pedaling in Cleveland have not dominated national bike news. But after landing 39th on the magazine’s list in 2011, the city was not named this year. That prompted Rust Wire to rally for Cleveland to "boldly prioritize bicycle infrastructure," building on a recent safety ordinance considered one of the most progressive in the state. (Photo: Spacing Magazine/Flickr)
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Proposal Could Triple Pedestrian Space on the Brooklyn Bridge
Every day, an average 4,000 pedestrians and 3,100 cyclists cross the upper-level pathway of the Brooklyn Bridge. Commuters, tourists, and joggers vie for space on the congested path, whose width varies from 16 feet to as little as 8 feet—creating a bottleneck for two-way bike traffic. For years observers have recounted harrowing tales of near collisions on the overcrowded span, like the bike-phobic Post pitting reckless cyclists against merely oblivious tourists and the Times calling for the appropriation of a traffic lane for bike use. But now a proposal to double the width of the path could offer a solution to the overcrowding. The answer to this conflict is expansion, according to three City Council members from districts adjacent the Bridge: Margaret Chin representing Lower Manhattan and Brad Lander and Stephen Levin representing the Brooklyn waterfront from Greenpoint through Carroll Gardens. “As the lower Manhattan and Brownstone Brooklyn communities continue to grow, the Brooklyn Bridge is becoming an increasingly vital connection,” council member Chin wrote in a statement. “We must ensure this historic destination is equipped to handle our city’s growing transportation demands.” Currently the pathway widens as it passes around the iconic bridge towers supporting the bridge's suspension cables, extending over the innermost traffic lanes below. The council members propose widening the entire pathway to that width, creating a dedicated bike lane on the northern side and an additional pedestrian lane on the south side, thus tripling pedestrian capacity. The proposal has not yet been discussed with designers or engineers, and council member Levin suggested a design competition to create a more refined plan. No budget or plans for funding have been established and no timeframe has been set for such a project. The council members suggest that it could be integrated with current plans for a redesign of the approach at Tillary Street on the Brooklyn side of the bridge, which currently leaves pedestrians and cyclists to pile up in the middle of the road waiting for a crosswalk. Increased capacity will also demand a redesign of the Manhattan approach, as bottlenecking already creates congestion there as well. Any alterations to the bridge will require the approval of city preservationists, as the main span is a city-designated landmark, a national historic landmark, and a national historic civil engineering landmark. Modification would not be unprecedented, however, as the original trolley and railways were removed from the bridge in the 1950s.
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Vives les Plages! Paris Rethinks its Riverbanks by Banishing Cars
The "reconquest" of the Seine's riverside expressways will be ushered in by Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, following a long battle with Nicolas Sarkozy's recently ousted right-wing government. Continuous two-lane motorways have severed Paris from the banks of the Seine, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, since Georges Pompidou opened them in 1967 under the slogan “Paris must adapt to the car.” Delanoë has made it his mission to reverse Paris' auto-centric planning mentality, increasing the number of bicycle and bus lanes in the city while implementing bike- and electric car-share schemes. The pedestrianization of the Seine also follows Delanoë’s Paris-Plages program, started in 2002, that transforms small stretches of riverbank into sand-covered beaches complete with palm trees and deckchairs for one month each summer. Starting next month, a stretch of road on the Right Bank starting at the Hôtel de Ville and running eastward a little more than half a mile will be narrowed and additional speed-controlling traffic lights and pedestrian crossings will be installed. Pedestrian corridors and bicycle lanes will be added to the road, along with bars and cafes (some of them on floating barges and islands). The next stage, to be unveiled next spring, will replace the road completely for a one-and-a-half-mile stretch of the Left Bank between the Musée d’Orsay and the Pont de l’Alma, creating an 11-acre park with volleyball courts, sundecks, and floating gardens. This corridor will be connected to the Right Bank by new pedestrian crossings at Debilly (adjacent the Eiffel Tower) and Jardins des Tuileries (adjacent the Louvre). It is expected these modifications will add only six minutes to the average commute while restoring access to the riverfront to Parisians and tourists alike.
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Even More Protected Bike Lanes to Serve Downtown Chicago
In a city where bicyclists may share a lane with Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein, last year’s promise by Mayor Rahm Emanuel of 100 miles of protected bike paths was cause for celebration. Chicago's latest project, announced Sunday, will be a protected lane along Dearborn Street in the Loop that will run in both directions from Polk to Kinzie. The new route connects the near north side with the south loop and is designed to appeal to young, tech-savvy commuters who work downtown. “It will help us recruit the type of people that have been leaving for the coast,” Emanuel said. “They will now come to the city of Chicago.” The Active Transportation Alliance circulated a petition to hold the Mayor’s administration to its word. Others, like the Sun-Times’ Mark Konkol, have called protected lanes a waste of money and decried a faulty “cyclist culture” that makes streets more dangerous for pedestrians and bikers alike. Chicago will add 22 miles of protected bike lanes by the end of the year, bringing the city's total to 33 miles.