Search results for "Civitas"
The old canard that more night lighting means safer streets has led to the over-illumination of our cities, washing out the night sky and creating health, environmental, and aesthetic problems. John Gendall investigates new research that is leading many designers to raise the call for less light.
In 1909, just 30 years after Thomas Edison made electric light commercially viable, the Italian writer Filippo Tommaso Marinetti came up with an audacious idea: “let’s murder the moonlight!,” he declared in a manifesto titled by that phrase. Just a little over a century later, his idea, once the stuff of early modernist fantasy, seems truer than he may have expected. The moon’s visibility persists (sorry, Marinetti), but stars are a different story. Unless you’re reading this on a camping trip in a remote part of Montana, go outside at night, look up, and, depending on cloud cover, you’ll very likely see a monochrome canopy of muted light grey to almost-but-not-quite-black, dotted, depending on the size of your city, with a dim handful of stars.
Moving architecture and design to keep the night sky darkened might come off as quaint—something for poets to contemplate—but, as researchers study the effects of nighttime lighting, their findings point to critical public health and safety consequences, along with a bevy of ecological concerns. “It’s a problem with many layers to it, including the aesthetic and poetic problem resulting from the loss of stars,” said Linnaea Tillett, the principal of Tillett Lighting Design, a New York City–based firm. “But it’s not just a matter of poetry. There are very real ecological consequences.”
Those very real consequences also include some serious medical conditions—cancer, obesity, diabetes, and depression—linked to light exposure (by way of melatonin, the hormone that light modulates). That is just one layer. Astronomers can’t see stars through the haze of light, migratory patterns have changed, and the cost—environmental and economic—of keeping the night turned on continues to rise.
Over the last 15 years, as glass technologies have improved, the design community has done much to tackle the issue of daytime light exposure. As skylines around the U.S. become ever more clad in glass, the architects and developers producing these curtain walls, and the critics who write about the buildings they enclose, tend to sing the same chorus: interior spaces bathed in natural light. When this sunny thought is not enough on its own, out come studies pointing to higher worker productivity, better achievements on test scores, and happier, more focused brain chemistry. While no one would dispute the merits of exposure to natural light, it seems a good time to ask: what about the natural dark?
“Sleeping in the dark is every bit as important as experiencing light during the day,” cautioned Travis Longcore, an associate professor of research at the University of Southern California, and the author of Ecological Consequences of Artificial Night Lighting. “We shouldn’t want the outside at night to look like the day.”
“We are constrained by our evolutionary history,” he explained. “We are used to bright days and dark nights, but now we get dim days and dim nights.” Drawing a parallel between the emerging research about night lighting and the path of medical science in confronting smoking and sun tanning, he said, “one will, in 30 years, look back and think the same thing.”
To avoid a tobacco industry-scale problem, designers are taking a new approach to night lighting. For many projects, this change begins with a basic question: Is light even needed? “Whenever you call for a light, ask if it’s truly needed,” said Longcore. At the Menil Collection, in Houston, where Tillett is overseeing the lighting for a campus designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), she considered each light source. “Wherever we could, we limited light,” she said. “There are no light fixtures we haven’t justified.”
This does not mean that museum visitors spend their evenings fumbling around in the dark. Physiologists now understand that human sense perception is far more finely tuned to contrast between light and dark than to what had seemed to be the prevailing approach to light: more of it. The trick is to illuminate change—steps, doors, paths—rather than entire landscapes. So, at Menil, Tillett called for path lighting that would render the space easily navigable without blanketing it with light. “We preserved the campus atmosphere, using a play of light and shadow, to enhance wayfinding,” she explained.
To get to this level of specificity, designers are rethinking the fixtures themselves, equipping them to control the direction of light to eliminate trespass beyond property lines or municipal borders. Acorn lamps, for example, were perfectly suitable for a kerosene wick in a 19th century city, but using them with incandescent bulbs now is a stubborn grasp for historicism to the point of irresponsibility. “Oftentimes parks are lit by acorn lights, derived from gas lamps, so the result is a bunch of glary balls of light along a path, but everything else is pitch dark,” said Matthew Urbanski, a principal of MVVA. With its design for Brooklyn Bridge Park, MVVA carefully tailored the directionality of light to cut down on light pollution and to enhance the experience of the park. Tucked beneath Brooklyn Heights, any uplighting in the new park would disturb the neighbors above. “By putting light in the right place—high, distributed, and pointed down—we were able to adequately light a place without causing light pollution,” said Urbanski. “When you’re on the promenade [in Brooklyn Heights, above], you can look down and be unwittingly staring at a light bulb.” For visitors to the park, the firm appreciated the value of looking out onto the water from the shore, so it avoided perimeter lighting that would have interrupted that view, opting, instead, to light from behind with shielded, side-baffled lighting.
One of the canards that has kept outdoor spaces overly illuminated has been the knee-jerk tendency to equate more light with less crime. For decades, cities and property owners held outdoor lights as tonic to illicit or criminal behavior. A 1921 editorial in Grand Rapid News said it plainly: “Good lighting of streets lessens, and
almost eliminates crime.” Reasoning the city could cut its police budget by shifting public funds to outdoor lighting, it went on to say, “It is easy to prove that the best paying investment the city can make is one in electric lights.”
That argument, it turns out, is less easy to prove than the writer allowed. As Longcore asserted, “there is no universally applicable conclusion that comes out of criminology research that shows that more light means less crime.” Overlighting, in fact, can be worse than dimly lit spaces for several reasons, beginning with the risk of glare. As Longcore put it, “If you have bright lights, the shadows become much darker.”
So, in what might seem a counterintuitive twist, improving visibility at night seems to start with turning the lights down. Nancy Clanton, a Boulder, Colorado–based lighting designer and an author of the International Dark-Sky Association’s technical guidelines, has researched this effect in several American cities. “We have studied areas and have gone from full light levels down to 50 percent, then down to 25 percent, and we ask the public to tell the difference, and no one can perceive any change,” she said. “Vision is logarithmic, so in lighting, our linear metric is completely wrong,” she continued, backing up the fact that lighting can be cut to a quarter of current levels without anyone noticing.
In her lighting design for Union Station, in Denver, Clanton applied her research findings, keeping light levels low, emphasizing contrast, and downlighting facades (she has found, people feel safer when they can see a horizontal surface more than they would with a generally illuminated ground plane).
Research is also suggesting the light spectrum as something that needs to be carefully considered for nighttime lighting. On this, astronomers, physicians, and ecologists agree: blue light is bad. “The more we introduce blue light in the nighttime environment, the more we send out the signal that it’s daytime,” said Longcore. This applies not only to human physiology—melatonin is suppressed by blue light—but also to ecology and astronomy. “Blue light harms the environment and it’s the worst kind of light for sky glow,” said Clanton. She recommends lights at the low end of the spectrum. “The moon is 4,000 Kelvins, and we really shouldn’t need more than that.”
Try telling that to Marinetti. To the patriarch of Futurism, when the moon gave out its 4,000 Kelvins, he “ran to nearby waterfalls; gigantic wheels were hoisted, and turbines transformed the velocity of the waters into electromagnetic spasms that climbed up wires suspended on high poles, until they reached luminous, humming globes. So it was that three hundred electric moons, with rays of blinding chalky whiteness, canceled the old green queen of love affairs.”
There is much to be said for that old green queen. There is the melatonin, yes, and real public safety implications, true, but there is also the issue of getting a nightly reminder of our place in the universe. The night sky has long been the muse of architects and designers, evidenced by cities across the world and over the millennia that have been laid out in response to constellations. Rather than drawing from the past by screwing light bulbs into acorn lamps, it seems that celestial awareness would be a better lesson, designing spaces that don’t wash out the fact that we are, as Marinetti puts it, “all of us enwrapped in the immense madness of the Milky Way."
Reclaiming the waterfront as public open space has been one of the most prominent and transformative design initiatives in New York City for the past decade. In 2011, the East River Esplanade became a focal point of that vision when CIVITAS, a non-profit neighborhood advocacy organization, sponsored the competition Reimagining the Waterfront. The competition solicited ideas to redesign the East River Esplanade between East 60th and 125th Streets, and drew in more than 90 submissions by landscape architects and designers, setting high expectations for a challenging sliver of the city.
Adjacent to the Esplanade is the FDR Drive, a six-lane highway skirting the eastern Manhattan shoreline that leaves little space for recreational or ecological activity between the land and the water. The existing East River Esplanade is usable, but its cracked sidewalks, empty tree pits, and crumbling pieces of the seawall reveal deteriorating conditions and make for an unpleasant experience in the park. Moreover, rising sea levels will eventually submerge parts of the Esplanade.
CIVITAS focuses on planning, zoning and environmental issues that improve quality of life in their catchment area, the Manhattan neighborhoods of East Harlem and the Upper East Side. Building on the momentum generated by the competition, CIVITAS received a New York Community Trust grant and retained Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects to do a feasibility study and explore design solutions for implementation within the complicated regulatory framework and physical constraints of the site.
CIVITAS Project Manager for the Esplanade, Maura Smotrich, explained that there are several other non-profits, institutional organizations, and community groups with a vested interest in the waterfront design, and the best way to promote the transformation is to advance the design development through a community based planning initiative. Mathews Nielsen distilled months of analysis to develop a comprehensive study of the site and preliminary design solutions. They found the key issues to be the noise from the highway, the condition of the esplanade, the quality of the experience, identity, connectivity and sea level rise/flooding. They also came up with short-, medium- and long-term opportunities and presented their ideas at two CIVITAS sponsored community educational meetings.
Signe Nielsen, principal at Mathews Nielsen, explained that the short-term opportunities are site-specific design interventions that could make a big impact right away, while also acting as catalysts to transform the entire project area over the long term. One of the obvious choices is to establish a boating node where 96th street meets the river. Currently there is a simple boat hoist that is used to take small paddleboats in and out of the water, so there is already a constituency with a specific vested interest in that node.
Now the challenge is to find funding to implement the transformation that everyone agrees is necessary. Considering the current focus on waterfront landscape design in New York, including AECOM’s esplanade to the South, Nielsen believes that the tide is turning in their favor, and hopes that New Yorkers will support the proposed landscape improvements. The next iteration of Mathews Nielsen’s designs will be presented at the third CIVITAS sponsored community educational meeting on September 22. CIVITAS has already applied for another grant to continue their community based planning initiative, and they intend to keep the inspired vision of Reimaging the Waterfront alive until it eventually becomes reality.
St. Patrick’s Island, which sits at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers in the center of Calgary, Alberta, is on the cusp of a major redevelopment that will return it to its 19th century roots as a public park. The Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) and the City of Calgary recently broke ground on a redesign of the site completed by New York City–based W-Architecture and Landscape Architecture and Denver-based urban planning and landscape architecture firm Civitas. The revitalized public space is scheduled to open in the fall of 2014.
Currently home to the city zoo, but otherwise abandoned for decades, St. Patrick’s island is to Calgary as Treasure Island is to San Francisco, or Roosevelt Island to New York, or Northerly Island to Chicago. This disused treasure in the middle of The Stampede City became a priority for redevelopment in 2007, after Calgary’s government formed the CMLC to implement its Rivers District Community Revitalization Plan—an overarching scheme to revitalize much of the inner-city waterfront. The island, an “all but forgotten treasure at the city’s centre,” as CMLC describes it, offers 31-acres of land that will be purposed for recreational uses. The new design includes such amenity-rich areas as The Rise, Play Mound, Lowland Channel, Picnic Grove, The Lookout, Amphitheater Plaza, The Cove, The Gallery Forest, and The Seasonal Breach.
In its current condition, the island is primarily wooded. In the 1960s, portions were backfilled to displace a seasonal river channel. The new design takes advantage of this piece of civil engineering with an area called The Seasonal Breach, which includes space for ice-skating in the winter and a children’s pool during the summer. W-Architecture and Civitas also took advantage of other existing elements on the island: large trees, vantage points with skyline views, natural oases. “We just want to dramatize it and have more ways for people to access it,” said Barbara Wilks, principal of W-Architecture. The Rise, for example, rises to an elevation of 30 feet above grade, giving Calgarians a promontory from which to view their city.
A new bridge—St. Patrick’s Bridge—is in the works, linking the island to Calgary’s East Village neighborhood to the south and Bridgeland district to the north. This sort of connectivity is made a priority elsewhere by the River District Community Revitalization Plan. Many of the city’s neighborhoods are currently undergoing major infrastructural amendments as the CMLC hopes to “inject optimism and energy back into the inner city.” Design and construction costs for both the bridge and the park redevelopment will range between $25 million and $45 million.
Bourbon enthusiasts are quick to point out that as water naturally filters through Kentucky’s limestone bedrock, it absorbs just the right combination of minerals to give the spirit its distinctive taste. Inspired by that phenomenon, New York-based SCAPE / Landscape Architecture used “karst topography”—a geological formation of water-worn rock—as inspiration for a linear urban watershed running through downtown Lexington, Kentucky.
On February 4, SCAPE won an invited competition to design a master plan to daylight the buried Town Branch Creek flowing beneath Lexington. The firm’s proposal—called Reveal, Clean, Carve, Connect—seeks to create a procession of distinct “blue rooms” where Town Branch surfaces to create site-specific interactions with surrounding urban conditions. “We didn't want to take an idealized vision of the Kentucky landscape and recreate it in the city,” said Kate Orff, partner at SCAPE. “Rather than a contiguous linear stream, we were interested in the multiple conditions of water, like the pockets, holes, and sinks that you see in caves.”
Orff was interested in how a watershed can move through an urban environment, carefully studying the how the karst topography affects the water conditions in section. “The real challenge is to match the landscape to an urban condition,” Orff said. The new landscape is carefully woven through the city, often within narrow rights of way, creating a distinctive urban feeling in four separate landscape zones: the Lexington Hollows, Downtown Greenway, Karst Commons, and Eastern Headwaters.
“We didn’t want to create a romantic or stylized idea of landscape,” Orff explained. “It’s a site specific way of intervening where water can impact the urban condition. We weren’t interested in a singular gesture. The water becomes a tool to create these different environments.”
The proposal helps to highlight and magnify Lexington’s existing strengths, Orff said. Near housing, rapids and a waterfall complement a children’s play area; adjacent to the city’s growing theater district, the landscape is more conducive to nightlife with a series of plazas; at a large bus depot that creates a pedestrian barrier, a walkway arches up to create a small amphitheater, promenade, and connect with the surrounding city.
Each segment of the landscape is also meant to serve as a form of water infrastructure. “Lexington is facing the same issues as other cities, such as sewer overflows,” Orff said. “We’re trying to do a green infrastructure project that deals with the reality of urban waters.”
To mitigate flooding, one of the two existing underground culverts diverting Town Branch will be kept in place to move excess water during heavy rain events. At Rupp Arena, home to several University of Kentucky (UK) sports teams, the site widens and flattens out to create a floodable landscape that provides recreational space and wildlife habitat. Additionally, the stream is filtered as it moves through the various water conditions filled with native grasses and plants and is aerated by waterfalls along its course.
Michael Speaks, Dean of the UK College of Design and a member of the competition jury, noted in his comments that SCAPE’s design was “among the few proposals in the competition to transform the Town Branch into a water filtration system in its own right.” Speaks was impressed with the site-specific nature of the design and the unique infrastructural systems and armature for future growth that each gesture creates. “There is a wonderful sense of revelation and concealment that is dramatic without feeling staged,” he continued.
Orff insisted that Town Creek will be a functioning urban waterway, not a linear fountain presenting the “facade of water.” At the heart of SCAPE’s proposal is an interest in the “processes of natural systems combined with a deep love of the urban condition.”
The competition jury unanimously selected SCAPE as the winner over four other teams. The other three teams were led by Denver-based Civitas, Minneapolis-based Coen+Partners, Inside Outside from the Netherlands, and Danish firm Julien De Smedt Architects. Besides Speaks, the jury included Ned Crankshaw, chairman of the UK department of landscape architecture, Brad McKee, editor-in-chief of Landscape Architecture magazine, local developer Holly Wiedemann, and Aaron Betsky, director of the Cincinnati Art Museum.
The Downtown Development Authority will award SCAPE $200,000 to further refine its proposal. Orff will work with at team of engineers and financial consultants to establish a more detailed master plan, including the feasibility of implementing the proposal and a phasing plan.
After a century of looking outward, cities large and small are experiencing a renewed interest in downtown, taking stock of what was lost and building on what resources remain. Some cities like Lexington, Kentucky, are literally peeling back layers of history and returning to their roots. An invited competition comprising five internationally recognized firms is reimagining a lost waterway now running beneath city streets as a vital asset to downtown and an organizing armature of public space to guide future development around a new sports, arts, and entertainment district.
Lexington was founded along Town Branch Creek in 1775, a meandering waterway that sustained initial settlement and helped launch a thriving Bourbon distilling industry along its banks. As the city grew and industrialized, the creek fell victim to pollution and neglect and was eventually rerouted, buried, and forgotten for over a century.
Courtesy Space Group
In April, 2011, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray created a task force to evaluate 62 acres of parking lots and underutilized parcels surrounding Rupp Arena, home to the University of Kentucky, bringing on Norway-based architecture firm Space Group to create a master plan. Space Group principal Gary Bates proposed rethinking downtown’s geography, centering on the arena to weave together the city’s historic center with the adjacent Distillery District, rebuilding the city’s outdated convention center, and renovating the arena in the process.
Michael Speaks, Dean of the University of Kentucky College of Design, said Bates pushed the city to look at the larger picture of downtown development. “Although Bates’ brief was to look at Rupp Arena, the convention center, and the surrounding parking lots, he knew the idea needed to expand into downtown. But to get people to focus, you need to center on Rupp,” he said. “The proposal gathered a lot of visual interest and got a lot of people excited.” Several high profile projects in the area continue to generate interest in downtown, including boutique hotel by Deborah Berke Partners and a large-scale mixed-use project called Centrepointe, previously master planned by Studio Gang and now moving forward under EOP Architects.
Courtesy Space Group; Courtesy EOP Architects; Courtesy Lexington Distillery District
Building on Bates’ master plan, the Lexington Downtown Development Authority (DDA) issued a RFQ to daylight, or uncover, the downtown segment of Town Branch Creek with new pocket parks along its route. After an overwhelming response from firms across the country, the DDA invited five firms to study the feasibility of the project and create detailed proposals of how Town Branch Commons might look. The five teams are led by Denver-based Civitas, Minneapolis-based Coen+Partners, Inside Outside from the Netherlands, Danish firm Julien De Smedt Architects, and New York-based SCAPE / Landscape Architecture.
Each teams’ proposal will be presented on February 1 following a symposium organized by the University of Kentucky. Speaks said each firm will present previous work showing the benefits of large-scale urban interventions like the High Line in New York. “Part of the competition is to show the city five speculations that are realistic,” Speaks explained. “But this is not purely speculative. The competition is an attempt to bring a new level of talent to Lexington.” The symposium will be moderated by Michael Speaks, Aaron Betsky, Director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and Landscape Architecture magazine Editor-in-Chief Brad McKee.
Following the symposium, a jury will select a winning proposal and the DDA will award $200,000 to further develop their concept and establish financial feasibility. The winning design will eventually be used to bolster public support and help with private fundraising.
You voted with your clicks, and the numbers are in. 2012 was a big year for The Architect's Newspaper, culminating with the publishing of our Tenth Anniversary Issue, and AN editors have compiled your favorite stories that appeared online and in the pages of the paper over the year. This year's top story by a wide margin was our feature story on the redevelopment of Ohio's three C's: Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati. Take a look at all of the top stories below.
Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati are rebuilding their urban cores to lure and retain young professionals. These cities are pursuing development strategies that reflect the distinct character of each place. Is it the beginning of a Rust Belt rebound? By Christopher Bentley
As interest in urban planning surges across the country, Mike Lydon discusses the small changes that make a big difference.
Long considered a risk-averse city, Washington D.C. is embracing innovative architecture and urban planning. Amanda Kolson Hurley surveys the scene.
Alan G. Brake on the growing importance of landscape architecture.
Orange County, New York prefers ersatz Colonial over ur-Brutalist.
Civitas announces winners of competition to reimagine the East River waterfront.
Stan Allen remembers Mansilla's gentle and optimistic approach to architecture.
James Westcott reflects on the life and work of a leader of the Metabolist movement.
Sean McCaughan assesses conditions on the ground three years after the city adopted a form-based roadmap.
Cities are reevaluating waste infrastructure with planning, technology, and design.
Imagine floating in a gondola through East Harlem. How about leisurely kayaking by Hell Gate, the East River’s most dangerous bend? What if signage alongside the FDR drive promoted neighborhood engagement in Jenny Holzer–style graphics? These somewhat outré civic solutions represent the first, second, and third place winners of the Reimagining the Waterfront competition, sponsored by Civitas, a citizen’s action group. More than 90 entrants from 25 countries entered the competition to address the crumbling East River Esplanade from 60th to 125th streets.
Last year attention was focused on closing the greenway gap between 38th Street and 60th Street. Meanwhile, just north of that stretch, the 60-year-old esplanade with its crumbly sinkholes and limited access points across the FDR foretold the challenges of maintaining a riverside park in the long term.
The three winners of the ideas competition address crucial aspects of rethinking the waterfront. The first place winner, Syracuse University architecture student Joseph Wood, dreamed up canals leading inland to integrate the Upper East Side and East Harlem. Second place winner Takuma Ono was no less ambitious, but he took a holistic approach that incorporated below-water ecosystems with practical engineering and a web of boardwalks on the water. Third place winner Matteo Rossetti envisioned strategically placed “writing the esplanade” modules, where the community could drop by and write down what they would like to see happen on that site. The modules could later be transformed into participants’ suggestions.
Rob Rogers of Rogers Marvel Architects was joined on the jury by architects Adam Yarinsky, Billie Tsien, Jack Travis, Signe Nielsen, Manhattan borough parks commissioner William Castro, Warren James, and attorney Al Butzel.
Rogers explained the unconventional scheme that took first place. “This was an ideas competition, and as such, part of the notion was to create intrigue and excitement about what the East Side could be,” he said. “It is ambition beyond traditional boundaries, beyond the scheme.” For his part, Wood said he was stunned that the jury selected his design, which was assigned as part of an architecture studio. “I was very surprised because they presented the competition like a basic nuts-and-bolts problem,” said Wood said by phone. “I think they took a step out of themselves to allow such a conceptual idea to win.”
The water flow of Wood’s interlocking canals would be regulated in part by gates and filtration equipment. Tiered plantings would filter storm water before flowing into the river-bound canals. In a telephone interview, Wood didn’t delve too deeply into the technical details, to say nothing of Upper East Side/East Harlem politics. “This is more about the big picture,” he said. “It could be refreshing in a way to envision a new realm of the city without having to worry about the politics. This is more to spark conversation.”
Ono, an inaugural fellow at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, used historical maps as a starting point to study features of the landscape and its geology before accentuating them in tetrapods to create “ecological infrastructures.” “I’m always inspired by projects that look beyond the contemporary landscape and back into the past to see what can emerge from the existing rubble,” he said.
Rossetti’s civic approach rounded out the selection by bringing in neighborhood participation. “It is really difficult for the community to live pleasantly in a space that isn’t the mirror of the community itself,” the Italian architect said in an email.
The winners and five honorable mentions will be presented in an exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York from June 6 through late September.
After the city sealed the deal to sell Robert Moses Playground to the United Nations to finance the waterfront park between 38th Street and 60th Street, the East River Greenway moved a step closer to completion. But once the Greenway links upriver at 60th Street, a host of issues await. There, stretching from 60th to 125th, the 60-year-old East River Esplanade languishes.
The esplanade runs approximately two miles between the Upper East Side and East Harlem gradually shifting from lush and refined at Gracie Mansion to rough and tumble at the 96th Street divide, long a psychological demarcation between the haves and have-nots.
In late October, citizen action group CIVITAS announced its Reimagining the Waterfront ideas competition charging architects, planners, and landscape designers to develop concepts for the entire esplanade, or in sections. According to executive director Hunter Armstrong, key challenges are a dangerous crosswalk at the 96th Street entrance and two vacant lots beneath the FDR. As with SHoP’s redesign of the East River Esplanade in Lower Manhattan, Armstrong envisions a park that embraces the highway, both beside and beneath.
Courtesy CIVITAS and Guy Nordenson
At a kickoff event, CIVITAS invited Columbia professor Phillip Lopate, author of the 2004 book Waterfront, to lure Upper Eastsiders into a conversation at the ornate Park Avenue Armory about a future for the waterfront and 96th Street. “It’s kind of choppy over there,” he told AN. “It’s beginning to be gentrified, but not at the far east end—not that gentrification is the solution.” Besides by means of 96th Street, East Harlem has access to the esplanade via three caged-in pedestrian bridges. Lopate suggested that something less stark, like a platform over the highway, similar to East Side’s Carl Schurz Park, “something that’s not punitive,” he said.
On a tour of the esplanade’s north half with Armstrong, views were stunning, but the promenade itself was bleak. Teens smoked pot near the Wards Island Bridge, now shuttered for repairs until early 2012. A series of sinkholes crumbled into the river, and rusted railings sat on decaying concrete. The charming 107th Street Pier with its cast iron railings sat empty except for one senior. On exiting the esplanade at the 120th Street overpass, a fistfight threatened the tour as Armstrong quickly redirected attention to the subject to the new CUNY buildings by SLCE, snazzy condos, a convent, and the original Patsy’s pizza parlor.
The lower section of the promenade below 96th Street may not face the same social challenges, but the promenade infrastructure is just as bad. John Natoli, chief engineer at Parks, said that every few hundred feet the support systems change from traditional pile supports, to log-cabin cribbed wood pilings, and concrete blocks sitting atop landfill.
Tom Stoelker / AN
For years, the esplanade’s jurisdiction remained convoluted, with Parks, the DOT, and DEP randomly dashing in to make repairs. Upper East Side Council Member Jessica Lappin credited Parks for “graciously accepting responsibility.” Natoli described the problem: “In some cases, we’re doing fixes that wouldn’t be right, but we have only limited funds. We know it needs tens of millions but we only have thousands.” Based on $68 million worth of comparable work at the East River Park below 14th Street, Natoli guesstimated that an uptown revamp could exceed $100 million. CIVITAS hopes the competition will help jumpstart some financing once the ideas start to flow, and the community gets excited.
Council Member Lappin’s office has already allocated $1.4 million toward renovation and repair, of which $500,000 went toward studying the infrastructure. There are bright spots. “Con Edison owns a building in the 70s and they may be willing to give that land over to the city,” said Lappin. To the north, the CIVITAS competition has the support of Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, who also happens to chair City Council’s Parks and Recreation Committee. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney is also on board. The deadline for the competition is January 15, 2012.