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Techtown USA

The origins and perils of development in the urban tech landscape

In most major cities of the world, an urban tech landscape has emerged. One day, we were working on our laptops at Starbucks, and the next, we were renting desks at WeWork. We embedded our small architectural and design firms in low-rent spaces in old factories and warehouses, and then we emerged as “TAMI” (technology, advertising, media, and information) tenants, heating up the commercial real estate market. Friends who could write computer code started businesses in their apartments before moving into tech incubators and accelerators, which then morphed into a “startup ecosystem.” Though a competitive city in the 1990s might only have had one cutely named cluster of startups—New York’s Silicon Alley, San Francisco’s Media Gulch—by the 2010s, many cities were building “innovation districts.” How did this happen? And what does it mean for these cities’ futures?

The simplest explanation is that cities are catching up to the digital economy. If computers and the web are one of the primary means of production for the 21st century, all cities need the infrastructure—broadband, connectivity, flexible office space—to support them. Companies that control the means of production also need raw material—the data that newly “smart” cities can provide—to develop concepts, test prototypes, and market their wares. Local governments and business leaders have always reshaped cities around the businesses that profit from new technology; In the 19th century, they built railroad stations, dug subway tunnels, and laid sewage pipes; in the 20th century, they wired for electricity and erected office towers. Maybe we should ask why it has taken cities so long to rebuild for digital technology.

Inertia is one answer, and money is another. Entrenched elites don’t readily change course, especially if a new economy would challenge their influence on local politics and labor markets. Think about the long dominance of the auto industry in Detroit and the financial industry in New York, both late converts to digital technologies like self-driving cars and electronic banking, respectively.

Another reason for cities’ slow awakening to the tech economy is the post–World War II prominence of suburban office parks and research centers, part of the mass suburbanization of American society. On the East Coast, tech talent began to migrate from cities in the early 1940s, when Bell Labs, the 20th-century engineering powerhouse, moved from Lower Manhattan to a large tract of land in suburban New Jersey. A few years later, on the West Coast, Stanford University and the technology company Varian Associates spearheaded the construction of an electronics research park on a university-owned site of orange groves that later became known as Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley got the lion’s share of postwar federal government grants and contracts from the military for microwave electronics innovation, missile research, and satellite communications. Venture capital (VC) soon followed. Although VC firms began in New York and Boston, by the 1960s and ’70s they were setting up shop in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Valley’s hegemony was solidified in the 1980s by the rise of the personal computer industry and the VCs who got rich by investing in it. The suburban tech landscape so artfully represented in popular mythology by Silicon Valley’s DIY garages and in physical reality by its expansive corporate campuses was both pragmatically persuasive and culturally pervasive. Its success rested on a triple helix of government, business, and university partnerships, defining an era from Fairchild, Intel, and Hewlett-Packard (the first wave of major digital technology companies) to Apple, Google, and Facebook.

In contrast to the suburban postwar growth of Silicon Valley, the urban tech landscape was propelled by the rise of software in the early 2000s and gained ground after the economic crisis of 2008. Software was easier and cheaper to develop than computers and silicon chips—it wasn’t tied to equipment or talent in big research universities. It was made for consumers. Most important, with the development of the iPhone and the subsequent explosion of social media platforms after 2007, software increasingly took the form of apps for mobile devices. This meant that software startups could be scaled, a crucial point for venture capital. For cities, however, the critical point was that anyone, anywhere, could be both an innovator and an entrepreneur.

The 2008 economic crisis plunged cities into a cascade of problems. Subprime mortgages cratered, leaving severely leveraged households and financial institutions adrift. Banks failed if they didn’t get United States government lifelines. Financial jobs at all levels disappeared; local tax revenues plummeted. While mayors understood that they had to end their dependence on the financial sector—a realization most keenly felt in New York—they also faced long-term shrinkage in manufacturing sectors and office vacancies.

London had already tried to counter deindustrialization with the Docklands solution: Waterfront land was redeveloped for new media and finance, and unused piers and warehouses were converted for cultural activities. In Spain, this strategy was taken further in the 1990s by the construction of the Guggenheim Bilbao museum and the clearing of old industrial plants from that city’s waterfront. By the early 2000s, Barcelona’s city government was building both a new cultural district and an “innovation district” for digital media, efforts that bore a striking resemblance to the 1990s market-led development of the new media district in Manhattan’s Silicon Alley and the growth of tech and creative offices in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood.

Until the economic crisis hit, both spontaneous and planned types of urban redevelopment were connected to the popular “creative city” model promoted by Charles Landry in London and Richard Florida in Pittsburgh (later, Toronto). In 2009, however, economic development officials wanted a model that could create more jobs. They seized on the trope of “Innovation and Entrepreneurship” that had been circulating around business schools since the 1980s, channeling the spirit of the economic historian Joseph Schumpeter and popularized in a best-selling book by that title by the management guru Peter Drucker. Adopted by researchers at the Brookings Institution, urban innovation districts would use public-private partnerships to create strategic concentrations of workspaces for digital industries. It seemed like a brilliant masterstroke to simultaneously address three crucial issues that kept mayors awake at night: investments, jobs, and unused, low-value buildings, and land.

In the absence of federal government funding, real estate developers would have to be creative. They built new projects with money from the city and state governments, the federal EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program for foreign investors, and urban impact funding that flowed through investment banks like Goldman Sachs. Federal tax credits for renovating historic buildings and investing in high-poverty areas were important.

Though all major cities moved toward an “innovation economy” after 2009, New York’s 180-degree turn from finance to tech was the most dramatic. The bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000 and 2001, followed by the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and an economic recession, initially kept the city from endorsing the uncertainty of tech again. Michael Bloomberg, mayor from 2001 to 2013, was a billionaire whose personal fortune and namesake company came from a fusion of finance and tech, most notably the Bloomberg terminal, a specially configured computer that brings real-time data to stock brokers’ and analysts’ desks. Yet, as late as 2007, Mayor Bloomberg, joined by New York’s senior senator Chuck Schumer, promoted New York as the self-styled financial capital of the world, a city that would surely triumph over its only serious rival, London. The 2008 financial crisis crumpled this narrative and turned the Bloomberg administration toward tech.

By 2009, the city’s business elites believed that New York’s salvation depended on producing more software engineers. This consensus motivated the mayor and his economic development officials to build big, organizing a global competition for a university that could create a dynamic, postgraduate engineering campus in New York. Cornell Tech emerged as the winner, a partnership between Cornell University and the Israel Institute of Technology. Between 2014 and 2017, the new school recruited high-profile professors with experience in government research programs, university classrooms, and corporate labs. They created a slew of partnerships with the city’s major tech companies, and the resulting corporate-academic campus made Roosevelt Island New York’s only greenfield innovation district. Not coincidentally, the founding dean was elected to Amazon’s board of directors in 2016.

The Bloomberg administration also partnered with the city’s public and private universities, mainly the aggressively expanding New York University (NYU), to open incubators and accelerators for tech startups. After NYU merged with Polytechnic University, a historic engineering school in downtown Brooklyn, the Bloomberg administration made sure the new engineering school could lease the vacant former headquarters of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority nearby, where NYU’s gut renovation created a giant tech center.

Meanwhile, the Brooklyn waterfront was booming. The Brooklyn Navy Yard added advanced manufacturing tenants and art studios to its traditional mix of woodworking and metalworking shops, food processors, and suppliers of electronics parts, construction material, and office equipment, and began to both retrofit old machine shops for “green” manufacturing and build new office space. While tech and creative offices were running out of space in DUMBO, the heads of the downtown Brooklyn and DUMBO business improvement districts came up with the idea of marketing the whole area, with the Navy Yard, as “the Brooklyn Tech Triangle.” With rezoning, media buzz, and a strategic design plan, what began as a ploy to fill vacant downtown office buildings moved toward reality. 

Established tech companies from Silicon Valley and elsewhere also inserted themselves into the urban landscape. Google opened a New York office for marketing and advertising in 2003 but expanded its engineering staff a few years later, buying first one, then two big buildings in Chelsea: an old Nabisco bakery and the massive former headquarters of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Facebook took AOL’s old offices in Greenwich Village. On the next block, IBM Watson occupied a new office building designed by Fumihiko Maki.

Jared Kushner’s brother, the tech investor Jonathan Kushner, joined two other developers to buy the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ former headquarters and printing plant on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The developers converted the buildings into tech and creative offices and called the little district Dumbo Heights. By 2015, the growth of both venture capital investments and startups made New York the second-largest “startup ecosystem” in the world after Silicon Valley. Within the next three years, WeWork (now the We Company) surpassed Chase Bank branches as Manhattan’s largest commercial tenant.

All this development was both crystallized and crucified by Amazon’s decision to open half of a “second” North American headquarters (HQ2) in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, New York, in 2018. Amazon organized a competition similar to the Bloomberg contest that resulted in Cornell Tech, but in this case, the contest was a bidding war between 238 cities that offered tax credits, help with land assemblage, and zoning dispensations in return for 50,000 tech jobs that the company promised to create. But in announcing its selection, Amazon divided the new headquarters in two, supposedly placing half the jobs in New York and the other half in Crystal City, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. Many New Yorkers erupted in protest rather than celebration.

The amount of tax credits offered to the very highly valued tech titan, almost $3 billion in total, appeared to rob the city of funding for its drastic needs: fixing the antiquated subway system, repairing the aging public housing stock, and building affordable housing. The decision-making process, tightly controlled by Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, enraged New York City Council members, none of whom had been given a role in either negotiating or modifying the deal. The deal itself was closely supervised by New York State’s Economic Development Corporation behind closed doors, without any provision for public input or approval.

Housing prices in Long Island City rose as soon as the deal was announced. A city economic development representative admitted that perhaps half of the jobs at HQ2 would not be high-paying tech jobs, but in human resources and support services. In a final, painful blow, Amazon promised to create only 30 jobs for nearly 7,000 residents of Queensbridge Houses, the nearby public housing project that is the largest in the nation.

Amazon representatives fanned their opponents’ fury at public hearings held by the New York City Council. They said the company would not remain neutral if employees wanted to unionize, and they refused to offer to renegotiate any part of the deal. Opponents also protested the company’s other business practices, especially the sale of facial recognition technology to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). Yet surveys showed that most registered New York City voters supported the Amazon deal, with an even higher percentage of supporters among Blacks and Latinos. Reflecting the prospect of job opportunities, construction workers championed the deal while retail workers opposed it. The governor and mayor defended the subsidies as an investment in jobs. Not coincidentally, Amazon planned to rent one million square feet of vacant space in One Court Square, the former Citigroup Building in Long Island City, before building a new campus on the waterfront that would be connected by ferry to Cornell Tech.

After two months of relentless, vocal criticism, in a mounting wave of national resentment against Big Tech, Amazon withdrew from the deal. Elected officials blamed each other, as well as a misinformed, misguided public for losing the economic development opportunity of a lifetime.

Yet it wasn’t clear that landing a tech titan like Amazon would spread benefits broadly in New York City. A big tech company could suck talent and capital from the local ecosystem, deny homegrown startups room to expand, and employ only a small number of “natives.”

From San Francisco to Seattle to New York, complaints about tech companies’ effect on cities center on privatization and gentrification. In San Francisco, private buses ferry highly paid Google workers from their homes in the city to the company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley, green space and cafes in the Mid-Market neighborhood proliferate to serve Twitter employees and other members of the technorati, low-income Latinos from the Mission district are displaced by astronomical rents—all of these factors stir resentment about Big Tech taking over. In Seattle, Amazon’s pressure on the city council to rescind a tax on big businesses to help pay for homeless shelters also aroused critics’ ire. Until recently, moreover, tech titans have been unwilling to support affordable housing in the very markets their high incomes roil: East Palo Alto and Menlo Park in California, and Redmond, Washington.

It remains to be seen whether urban innovation districts will all be viable, and whether they will spread wealth or instead create highly localized, unsustainable bubbles. Venture capital is already concentrated in a small number of cities and in a very few ZIP codes within these cities. According to the MIT economist David Autor, although the best “work of the future” is expanding, it is concentrated in only a few superstar cities and only represents 5 percent of all U.S. jobs.

Yet urban tech landscapes emerge from a powerful triple helix reminiscent of Silicon Valley. Elected officials promise jobs, venture capitalists and big companies make investments, and real estate developers get paid. Though these landscapes glitter brightly compared to the dead spaces they replace, they don’t offer broad participation in planning change or the equitable sharing of rewards.

Sharon Zukin is a Professor of Sociology at the City University of New York, Brooklyn College, and is author of the forthcoming book The Innovation Complex: Cities, Tech, and the New Economy.

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And the winner is...

Graham Foundation announces 2019 architectural research grants winners
The Graham Foundation recently announced the winners of 63 grants for projects that ranged from exhibits on suburban housing stock to research on the effects of MTV on postmodern space. The Chicago-based foundation awarded more than $460,000 to awardees from around the world, selected from more than 500 proposals. In total, more than 4,500 projects have been funded by the Graham Foundation since 1956. New domestic formations, the topography of epidemics, and an examination of architecture's relationship to riots are among the projects awarded Graham funding. Below is a selection of the exhibits, publications, programs, and research projects that were among this year's awardees, with text provided by the Graham Foundation. Lap Chi Kwong and Alison Von Glinow  for the exhibit Smuggling Architecture "The history of the suburban house has been and continues to be codified in a handful of builder's manuals that offer a huge selection of home plans to pick-and-choose buyers. These builder homes are living artifacts: a domestic typology rigidly embedded within the American landscape. Smuggling Architecture seeks to reclaim the suburban housing stock that has been neglected by modern architecture. The exhibition optimistically smuggles meaning and value into the interiors of generic suburban house plans through architectural orders." The Extrapolation Factory, practice founded by Elliott P. Montgomery and Chris Woebken for the public program Metro Test Zones "Metro Test Zones, a new initiative from The Extrapolation Factory, proposes studying the way think-tanks work and distilling those approaches to make them accessible to communities and individuals. Providing tools for visualizing dreams from all sorts of cultural perspectives opens up new rhetorical spaces for questioning the world with greater potential for change." Frida Escobedo and Xavier Nueno for the research project An Atlas of New Mexican Ruins "If archeological ruins were rearranged during the postrevolutionary period in museums and historical sites to construct Mexico’s postcolonial identity, “designed ruins” have become the testimony of the undoing of the Mexican nation-state under the close supervision of transnational institutions and corporations... An Atlas of New Mexican Ruins aims, through a series of visual and theoretical case studies, to explore the destructive—although productive—architectural work of neoliberalism in Mexico." Nahyun Hwang & David Eugin Moon for the exhibit: Interim Urbanism: Youth, Dwelling, City "Youths represent a dynamic yet precarious section of today’s populations. No longer belonging to safe spaces of childhood, but not yet, if ever, integrated into the expected paradigms of traditional family structures, a large portion of today’s youths, while seemingly spontaneous in lifestyle choices and welcoming mobility, occupy the vulnerable spaces of the in-between and the prolonged interim. The project investigates the spaces that youths reside in, as they intersect with sustained sociopolitical and economic uncertainties, inequalities, and emergent lifestyles." Nandini Bagchee and Marlisa Wise for the exhibit: Homesteading and Cooperative Housing Movements in NYC, 1970s and 80s "The exhibition Homesteading and Cooperative Housing Movements in NYC, 1970s and 80s, tracks the impact of collective, self-organized practices such as squatting, homesteading, and resident mutual aid in New York City and examines the way in which they have shaped the city. By analyzing ownership models, construction methods, spatial techniques, and material practices deployed by the cooperative housing movement, and presenting them through an immersive and interactive environment, the exhibition asks audience members to imagine new models for equitable development and spatial commoning." Heather Hart  for the research project Afrotecture (Re)Collection "This work is unearthing, interpreting, and constructing architectures for liminal spaces that emerge from the intersection of notable African American narratives, architectural form, and theory. What might happen if the balcony of the infamous Lorraine Hotel—the Memphis, TN, establishment where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968—was replicated in a gallery space? Beatriz Colomina, Ignacio G. Galán, Evangelos Kotsioris, and Anna-Maria Meister for the publication Radical Pedagogies "Radical Pedagogies is a collaborative history project that explores a series of pedagogical experiments that played a crucial role in shaping architectural discourse and practice in the second half of the twentieth century. As a challenge to normative thinking, they questioned, redefined, and reshaped the postwar field of architecture. They are radical in the literal meaning stemming from the Latin radix (root), as they question the basis of architecture. These new modes of teaching shook foundations and disturbed assumptions, rather than reinforcing and disseminating them. They operated as small endeavors, sometimes on the fringes of institutions, but had long-lasting impact." Sara R. Harris and Jesse Lerner  for the film These Fragmentations Only Mean ... "In the late 1980s, the artist Noah Purifoy retired from his position of many years on the California Arts Council and moved from Sacramento to a remote desert site just north of Joshua Tree National Park. There, over the last fifteen years of his life, he created a complex series of assemblage sculptures and precarious architectural constructions that sprawl over ten acres of the high desert land, administered by the Noah Purifoy Foundation. With the support of the Noah Purifoy Foundation, this remarkable site is at the center of this documentary project." The full list of grantees is below and at the Graham Foundation site. EXHIBITIONS Florencia Alvarez Pacheco, (Buenos Aires, Argentina) Petra Bachmaier, Sean Gallero, and Iker Gil (Chicago, IL) Nandini Bagchee and Marlisa Wise (New York, NY) Shumi Bose, Emma Letizia Jones, Guillaume Othenin-Girard, and Nemanja Zimonjić (London, United Kingdom and Zürich, Switzerland) Nahyun Hwang and David Eugin Moon (New York, NY) Lap Chi Kwong and Alison Von Glinow (Chicago, IL) Sahra Motalebi (New York, NY) Anna Neimark (Los Angeles, CA) FILM/VIDEO/NEW MEDIA PROJECTS Rodrigo Brum and Sama Waly (Cairo, Egypt) Dani Gal (Berlin, Germany) Sara R. Harris and Jesse Lerner (Los Angeles, CA) Sean Lally (Lausanne, Switzerland)Lisa Malloy and J.P. Sniadecki (Evanston, IL and Redmond, WA) PUBLIC PROGRAMS The Extrapolation Factory: Elliott P. Montgomery and Chris Woebken (New York, NY) Anna Martine Whitehead (Chicago, IL) PUBLICATIONS Pep Avilés and Matthew Kennedy (Mexico City, Mexico and University Park, PA) Andrea Bagnato and Anna Positano (Genoa, Italy and Milan, Italy) Claire Bishop (New York, NY) Anna Bokov (New York, NY) Larry D. Busbea (Tucson, AZ) Sara Jensen Carr (Boston, MA) Beatriz Colomina, Ignacio G. Galán, Evangelos Kotsioris, and Anna-Maria Meister (Munich, Germany; New York, NY; and Princeton, NJ) Elisa Dainese and Aleksandar Staničić (Delft, the Netherlands and Halifax, Canada) Marco Ferrari, Elisa Pasqual, and Andrea Bagnato (Milan, Italy) Natasha Ginwala, Gal Kirn, and Niloufar Tajeri (Berlin, Germany) Vanessa Grossman, Charlotte Malterre-Barthes, and Ciro Miguel (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Zurich, Switzerland) Jeffrey Hogrefe and Scott Ruff (Baldwin, NY and Lancaster, PA) Eric Höweler and Meejin Yoon (Ithaca, NY and Boston, MA) Beth Hughes and Adrian Lahoud (London, United Kingdom and Sydney, Australia) Robert Hutchison (Seattle, WA) Pamela Johnston (London, United Kingdom) Seng Kuan (Cambridge, MA) George Legrady (Santa Barbara, CA) Zhongjie Lin (Philadelphia, PA) Brian McGrath and Sereypagna Pen (New York, NY and Phnom Penh, Cambodia) Lala Meredith-Vula (Leicester, United Kingdom) Ginger Nolan (Los Angeles, CA) Todd Reisz (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) Erin Eckhold Sassin (Middlebury, VT) Steve Seid (Richmond, CA) Katherine Smith (Decatur, GA) Susan Snodgrass (Chicago, IL) Penny Sparke (London, United Kingdom) Mark Wasiuta (New York, NY) Folayemi (Fo) Wilson (Chicago, IL) RESEARCH PROJECTS Miquel Adrià (Mexico City, Mexico) Joshua Barone, Phillip Denny, and Eléonore Schöffer (Cambridge, MA; New York, NY; and Paris, France) Kadambari Baxi (New York, NY) Gauri Bharat (Ahmedabad, India) Santiago Borja (Mexico City, Mexico) Michael Borowski (Blacksburg, VA) Frida Escobedo and Xavier Nueno (Mexico City, Mexico) Assaf Evron and Dan Handel (Chicago, IL and Haifa, Israel) Beate Geissler, Orit Halpern, and Oliver Sann (Chicago, IL and Montréal, Canada) Heather Hart (New York, NY) Alison Hirsch (Pasadena, CA) David J. Lewis, Paul Lewis, and Marc Tsurumaki (New York, NY) Onnis Luque and Mariana Ordóñez (Mexico City, Mexico) Jonathan Mekinda (Chicago, IL) Giovanna Silva (Milan, Italy) Léa-Catherine Szacka (Manchester, United Kingdom) Jessica Vaughn (New York, NY) Edward A. Vazquez (Middlebury, VT)
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Restoration Plaza

David Adjaye to help build strategic plan for Central Brooklyn community
David Adjaye is teaming up with the U.S.’s first community development corporation (CDC) to revitalize its home of 50 years. Restoration Plaza, headquarters of the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation in Brooklyn, New York, will get a total revamp through a five-year strategic plan that will include input from local residents. Located on Fulton Street, the campus has long been a community anchor in Bedford-Stuyvesant, or Bed-Stuy, as the neighborhood is known. The complex currently houses office space, a restaurant, commercial tenants, the Brooklyn Business Center, and the recently-renovated, historic Billie Holiday Theatre. Adjaye Associates will work with Restoration and local residents to redefine the 300,000-square-foot commercial plaza and add 400,000 square feet of office space to the site. For the influential nonprofit, the massive undertaking will further its mission of disrupting and closing the racial wealth gap in Central Brooklyn—something that’s becoming an even bigger focal point as the area gentrifies and longtime residents feel the pressure of higher rents. Through the plan, Restoration will create new centers—one for personal financial health, one for community asset building, one for social entrepreneurship and enterprise, as well as new accommodations for its existing RestorationART program. These initiatives will help bridge existing inequities by providing locals the assistance they need to continue investing in Bed-Stuy’s future amidst its rapid growth. Since it was established in 1967, Restoration has played a key role in the neighborhood’s development. A predominantly low-income area, it served as a testing ground for the Special Impact Program, an amendment to the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 that was started by Senator Jacob K. Javits, Mayor John W. Lindsay, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. The plan saw business leaders from around the country, including those from the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation and the Ford Foundation, invest in the build-out of what would become the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation. The plaza, which envelops all of Restoration’s offices and the businesses its attracted over the years, was renovated in the early 2000s, and has been repeatedly updated since then. This new overhaul and expansion by Adjaye Associates will bring a modern feel to the site in hopes of boosting job growth across various industries in the area, including tech, fashion, and hospitality—sectors that are largely burgeoning along the Brooklyn waterfront. Though no specific details for the site’s renovation have been released yet, the nonprofit said it aims to build new spaces that better attract these innovative businesses. For Adjaye, he’s ready for the chance to physically build upon Restoration’s rich legacy and announce its influence through new architecture that the locals deserve. “Our team is embarking on a notable mission to re-imagine Restoration Plaza and showcase its impact on the Bed-Stuy community and the country,” said Adjaye in a statement. “As the nation’s first CDC, Restoration has a long history of setting a high standard for the advancement of African American and Caribbean residents who built Central Brooklyn and poured their soul into the community. It’s our honor to be a part of this powerful five-year plan to remake this iconic community epicenter and tackle the large challenge of sustained wealth through the closure of a heartbreaking wealth gap in this city.”    
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Little Dubai

Welcome to Little Dubai, New York City’s newest neighborhood
In a recent review titled “The Case Against Hudson Yards Diningon Eater, the inimitable food critic Ryan Sutton examined the food and beverage options at the mirage-like, instant Hudson Yards (henceforth Little Dubai), New York City’s newest neighborhood. The dining scene is not a pretty picture, and the food options are just part of the bigger picture, dovetailing with the urbanism to expose the ugliness of 21st-century development culture. As Sutton notes, Little Dubai “is a taxpayer-subsidized development that solidifies Manhattan’s slow transformation from one of the world’s most distinctive urban centers into a nondescript international mall for the wealthy.” His biggest gripe? Rather than representing the wonderful melange of cultures that thrive in New York, the food and beverage programming is a cynical commercialized selection that has no roots in the place it resides. “The only place for pizza—New York’s quintessentially affordable street food—will be a D.C.-based chain where a lunchtime Margherita starts at $11.50. The only Chinese-leaning restaurant will be an ‘East meets West’ spot run by a Dutch guy known for his competent Continental spots in airports, concert halls, and museums,” he laments. The condition Sutton describes could easily be in a number of cities around the world, where international flavors are imported wholesale and in no particular fashion or relationship to the place they now inhabit. This cultural importation is a new ideology: In an era where financial markets and soft power makes national borders less and less important, it makes sense that a new type of immigrant cultural exchange would begin to take hold—one that no longer even requires physical, transnational immigration. Cultural exchange can now take place on airplanes, waves of capital, and wires of data in an age of nearly frictionless globalization. That is how New York’s newest neighborhood, Little Dubai, got its character. As much as Little Dubai’s food selections should shock us, so should the art and architecture. The art follows a similar path as the food with superstar curators—ubercurator Hans Ulrich Obrist is a senior advisor—brought in to inject the place with some kind of pop-up world-class culture, much like what the UAE did at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, where the name and collection were rubber-clone-stamped from the old world of Europe to the open expanses of the 21st-century Gulf, where anything goes. Or consider Rain Room, the phenomenon that had lines around the block at MoMA in 2013. The Sharjah Art Foundation has not only acquired Rain Room for its permanent collection, but they built an entire new building to house it. This kind of cultural exchange—that of international consultants—relies on enormous amounts of capital to lubricate its mechanisms. No longer does it require, however, actual immigration or imperialism to carry culture from one place to the next, as was the case in the 19th and 20th centuries when neighborhoods like Little Italy’s, Chinatowns, Koreatowns, and Little Ethiopias naturally popped up around the world. Rather than streets of mom-and-pop shops, entire campus-like neighborhoods are instantly animated as breathing lungs of cultural import-export, with nothing to stop them. Which brings us to the architecture of Little Dubai. There are several similarities to Dubai at Hudson Yards. The most obvious is that the towers themselves look like those non-descript condos and offices that make up most of the building stock in Dubai. Moreover, the neighborhood was master planned by KPF, who also crank out towers in the Gulf and Asia more generally. The similarities run deeper, from the food to the development patterns to the urban experience. Like any good enclave, the mechanisms that have produced Little Dubai look a lot like those that produced the original Dubai and its urban environment. This is not to say that Little Dubai necessarily comes from Dubai itself. It is not that simple. In fact, New York and developing nations such as the UAE and China are in a constant feedback loop, where the West exports ideas about managerial production systems such as large architecture firms and the corresponding banal corporate aesthetics. As Michel Foucault once noted,
that while colonization, with its techniques and its political and juridical weapons, obviously transported European models to other continents, it also had a considerable boomerang effect on the mechanisms of power in the West, and on the apparatuses, institutions, and techniques of power. A whole series of colonial models was brought back to the West, and the result was that the West could practice something resembling colonization, or an internal colonialism, on itself.
“Firms like KPF and Foster take on these projects overseas where they can grow and practice working as larger firms,” said Todd Reisz, assistant professor at Yale, “Once they get big and good enough, they can bring these ideas about—how to make a city from the ground up—back home.” This is how New York’s Little Dubai came to be. The original Dubai was opened up to private land ownership in 2002 in an attempt to become a stable place post-9/11 for foreigners—especially Middle Easterners, Africans, and South Asians—to park their money. Special economic zones were established that allowed business and development to operate without the strict controls of Shariah that governed the rest of the UAE. In these economic zones, international trade was encouraged by specially crafted civil legal code geared specifically toward port businesses (foreign investment.) For example, a team of international consultants from mega-firm McKinsey advised the Dubai government in 2002 to draft a set of UK-style regulations for the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) free zone, a “state within a state” that would operate with a different official currency—the U.S. dollar— and a different official language—English—than the rest of the UAE. It was designed by none other than architectural behemoth Gensler. This international managerial complex was the logical conclusion of some 300 years of colonial urbanization of developing nations around the world, perfected by the UAE government. Companies like Emaar and Dubai Holdings buy and develop enormous plots of land that serve as self-sustaining neighborhoods that don’t need to have much connection to their surroundings. Because of their sheer size, and the scale of the projects they oversee, these massive companies also obscure the relationship between public and private. In New York’s Little Dubai, a similar situation exists. The New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) acts a bit like the real estate state of the UAE, doing large rezonings and tax incentives to foster these big developments. Nearly 1 billion dollars in tax abatements were given to Related Cos., Little Dubai’s developer, in addition to nearly 4.6 million in infrastructure improvements and other incentives. And often, because of the private nature, DCP has little authority to begin with. Because the development is on state-owned land, there was no oversight from community boards. The parcel became part of a larger economic development strategy that usurps local regulation, leaving the citizens of New York City more-or-less out of the conversation. Little Dubai is regulated by a network of rules and capital that transcends physical territory, just like the “Old World” Dubai in UAE (this model is also being pursued by ultimate cloud-based dark-power-mongers Google in Toronto). This has led to a sort of Free Economic Zone, where Stephen M. Ross, Related’s chairman, is a sort of urban autocrat, pushing through what he wants when he wants. For example, in Little Dubai, Thomas Heatherwick’s 154-staircase monument Vessel was simply ordered for $200 million, shipped from Italy, and fastened together in about 18 months, with little in the way of design review or public process. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but it raises important questions. At 28 acres (0.042 sq miles, or 11 hectares), Little Dubai has the characteristics of an entire neighborhood, with its own circulation paths, central public space, and complete set of programmatic functions from retail, residential, commercial, “cultural,” and leisure/hospitality spaces carefully orchestrated in both plan and section. Dubai is a place where these large private developments have happened so fast that they do not relate to one another on the street-level. The piecemeal nature leaves hotels and malls and gated communities difficult to access because nothing was planned to connect at the street. While Dubai’s infrastructure haphazardly connects these megadevelopments with curls of spaghetti-like roads and onramps, Hudson Yards has similarly managed to bend New York’s infrastructure to its will—the 7 subway line was extended to the northern entrance to Little Dubai’s main plaza. Vessel and its counterpart, The Shed, occupy an important niche in the rich culture of Little Dubai: they serve as the attractors to get tourists to come and play, and thus spend money at retail options. Like the spectacular Dubai Aquarium, Dubai Frame, and man-made islands such as Palm Jumeirah, Vessel acts to bring attention to the place. The High Line is already doing this, but these new spectacles will bring in tourists en masse, possibly so much that this area will be like a cleaner and even less exciting Times Square. This centralization of power—via a marriage of government and private interests—gives power to consultants to plan whole districts, as well as ties together Little Dubai and its namesake (and the other countless cities like it). It should not come as a surprise that this is taking place in New York. In fact, it is a very New York phenomenon, as much of this type of culture was shipped from New York’s office towers (literally and metaphorically.) The process of globalization and the complete control of technocratic consultants has crystallized in spectacular fashion before our eyes in New York’s newest neighborhood, Little Dubai. What remains to be seen is how the local context will absorb this pseudo-neighborhood. What is scary for New Yorkers is that it seems like it is going to fit right into its place at the apex of the Highline.
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Design by Community

Take a sneak peek at NYCxDESIGN's 2019 events
NYCxDESIGN 2019 is right around the corner, and AN has a selection of highlights from what design-savvy visitors and NYC residents alike can expect. At a press conference held at the Parsons School of Design, officials from the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) laid out a selection of events from the fair, which will run from May 10 through May 22, 2019. The Diner, a collaboration between David Rockwell, Surface Magazine, and the design consultancy 2x4 will return after a successful debut at the 2017 Salone Del Mobile in Milan. The pop-up restaurant will bring a “coast-to-coast journey” to diners, offering a mélange of American food and eatery aesthetics. Renderings for the project were provided by The Monument. DESIGN PAVILION will return to Times Square for the duration of NYCxDESIGN, bringing performance spaces, interactive kiosks, seating, an information kiosk, and a collaboration with Nasdaq. Sound & Vision, a two-week long show from the American Design Club on the confluence of sound, technology, and design will use the area as staging. New outdoor furniture from the Times Square Design Lab will also be making an appearance, as will a competition for public-space furniture. ICFF will once again take over the Javits Center from May 19 through the 22. This year’s showcase of high-end interior design will focus heavily on integrated smart home and office technology via ICFF Connect. Over 900 global exhibitors are expected to present their wares at the 2019 show. WantedDesign will return to Brooklyn’s Industry City in Sunset Park with more participants than ever; graduate students from over 30 international schools are expected to present their work. At WantedDesign Manhattan, SVA’s Products of Design MFA students will present Tools for the Apocalypse, a showcase of products designed for life after a climate change-induced apocalypse. Each contribution is grouped thematically into one of four categories (fire, water, earth, and air) and addresses the evolution of essential materials in a time of dramatic ecological uncertainty. While the details have yet to be finalized for the city’s five design districts, expect a collection of architectural walking tours, happy hours, and installations across New York's various Design Districts (Downtown, Madison Avenue, TriBeCa, SoHo Design District, and NoMad). Museums across the city are also participating. At the Cooper Hewitt, Nature will gather work from designers across all disciplines to paint a picture of a more harmonious, regenerative future. At the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), The Value of Good Design gathers design objects from every corner (from home goods to toys to transport-related items) from the late 1930s through the '50s. Through the Good Design initiative that MoMA championed during that period, design was made more democratic and accessible throughout society, and this exhibition will track that shift. At the Museum at FIT, the School of Art and Design will host the 2019 Graduating Student show, not only at the museum but with pieces across the campus. Work from over 800 BFA students will be exhibited and represent areas ranging from jewelry to packaging to interior design. The Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) will spice things up with Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die: Punk Graphics, 1976-1986. The show will look back on the often DIY flyers, posters, and albums from the era through a contemporary lens, similar to the Met’s 2013 examination of the lasting impact of punk fashion. On the architecture side, Fernando Mastrangelo Studio (no stranger to experimenting with concrete) will be casting a full-scale tiny home from cement, glass, sand, and silica. The “home” will contain a living room, bedroom, and exterior garden, and visitors can explore the house after its completion. Following a kick-off party at the studio’s space in Brooklyn, the house will be placed on a trailer and moved around the city for a “Where’s Waldo” experience. Empire Outlets, the SHoP-designed outlet mall in St. George, Staten Island, opens in April. During NYCxDesign, architects from SHoP and representatives from Empire Outlets will lead tours of the sprawling shopping complex. The first El-Space, a repurposing of the area under the Gowanus Expressway in Sunset Park, was such a success that the Design Trust for Public Space and NYC Department of Transportation have followed up with El-Space 2.0. On May 16, a jointly-held event will reveal the project’s next iteration in Long Island City as well as the framework for planning future “El-Spaces.” The Center for Architecture is also planning to get in on the action, and from May 14 through 18, interested architecture buffs can take a sneak peek of this year’s Archtober lineup. Both the “Building of the Day” tours, which will highlight five buildings across the city’s five boroughs, and Workplace Wednesday, where architecture studios open their doors to the public, will be previewed. Of course, NYCxDESIGN, now in its seventh year, hosted nearly 400 events; too many to chronicle in one article. For now, those interested in staying abreast of the talks, workshops, gallery shows, retail options, and more can stay updated on the festival’s website.
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Get SANDOWn

NYCxDESIGN hands the 2020 reins to SANDOW, privatizes operations
Although NYCxDESIGN 2019 begins in May, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) is already looking ahead to the future. The scope of the 12-day design festival continues to grow, and as a result, the EDC has announced the selection of an outside operator. SANDOW, the parent company of Interior Design, Material Bank, and other resources for designers, will take over for the EDC as the celebration’s operator in 2020. NYCxDESIGN, now in its seventh year, attracted more than 330,000 visitors across 400 events last year and generated over $109 million in sales. The EDC claims that in order to keep growing the festival, it needed to pass off the operations management aspect. The department issued a public Request for Expressions of Interest in the summer of 2018, and ultimately selected SANDOW, in part because of the company’s vast media reach. It’s expected that SANDOW will be able to use its media portfolio to both thoroughly advertise the event as well as expand the types of programming available in New York. At a press conference this morning at the Parsons School of Design, Adam Sandow, CEO and founder of the eponymous company, took the stage to laud the decision and affirm his company’s commitment to strengthening the ties that the EDC had worked hard to make. SANDOW has been involved with the festival before; Interior Design has been an NYCxDESIGN Awards partner since 2016, and Luxe Interiors + Design has partnered with high-end interior showcase ICFF since 2015. Of course, the decision to hand a city-run festival over to a private corporation has raised questions about what the 2020 iteration will look like. The festival’s programming is led by a steering committee of New York–based designers, educators, institutions, and officials from the city, so the agenda and key NYCxDESIGN events are unlikely to change. The EDC is currently educating SANDOW on the day-to-day logistics of running the event to ensure a smooth transition, but until planning for NYCxDESIGN 2020 begins, it remains to be seen what the itinerary will look like.
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Prime Benefits?

New York's proposal for Amazon's HQ2 is much worse than we thought
While the nationwide application process for Amazon's HQ2 was largely shrouded in secrecy, New York City residents are finally starting to get some answers about the closed-doors deal. The city's Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) released the city's proposal to the public on Tuesday, along with a promotional website dedicated to HQ2. Some of what it reveals is expected—boasts about the city's transit, talent pool, and local amenities—but it's the concessions from the city that have raised eyebrows and triggered a trio of City Council hearings on the terms of the deal, the first of which was held yesterday. On Wednesday morning, the city council committee on economic development hosted Amazon's vice president of public policy, Brian Huseman, and the NYC EDC President James Patchett. In a three-hour-long hearing, the two were given the chance to defend their decision to bypass the city's traditional land use review process (ULURP) that would have lawfully determined how the new HQ2 will affect Long Island City, Queens, its projected home. We now know the deal was secured through a state-controlled process known as a general project plan (GPP), where large-scale and dense developments are scrutinized at a different level if they're being constructed in a low-income area. Among the more controversial promises in the 2017 proposal is the offer to use eminent domain to gather more parcels for the campus and "override local zoning" to speed up and develop the campus in ways that the retail giant might want. Of the potential sites listed in the proposal for an Amazon extension beyond One Court Square, Long Island City's formerly tallest tower, about 20 are privately owned and only a handful belong to the city. One of the private sites in contention is held by plastics company Plaxall, where a potential apartment building or office tower will be constructed. Because this property is included in the GPP, it means that Plaxall and Amazon will altogether avoid ULURP approval through the city council. In yesterday's meeting, led by Council Speaker Corey Johnson, council members questioned Huseman and Patchett in a series of fiery turns, each expressing serious concern over not only the physical development of Amazon's campus, but also the company's assistance to ICE, its employees' rights to unionize, and whether it would help nurture local young talent in the area and promote diversity within its headquarters. Johnson, alongside Western Queens' representative Jimmy Van Bramer, pointedly asked Huseman if Amazon would be willing to redirect New York's planned $500 million capital grant to the four public housing developments near the site. Like many of the companies' responses, Amazon tiptoed around the questions by citing its projected job creation numbers.   What's even more troubling about this deal is the city's Non-Disclosure Agreement with Amazon that stipulated that the EDC would notify the corporation of all public records requests related to the bid in order to "give Amazon prior written notice sufficient to allow Amazon to seek a protective order or other remedy." While the EDC's promise is not unusual, explicitly stating why is. As the director of a good government nonprofit told Politico, “They don’t normally spell it out so the business can run to court." Yesterday's economic development hearing was fueled with anger over the off-the-record deal to lure the retail giant to New York. City Hall allowed a portion of the public to attend the meeting, where frequent outbursts by protesters disrupted the proceedings. In January, the city council committee on finance will focus on the city and state subsidies provided to Amazon, while a meeting in February will zero in on the potential impact the deal could have on Long Island City's infrastructure, housing, and transportation. Once that's over, the project plan will still have to be reviewed by the local community board and go through an environmental review. The mayor also announced a new 45-member Community Advisory Committee tasked with sharing information and gathering feedback on a number of issues, including public amenities, training, and hiring programs, as well as community benefits. The committee will begin meeting in January.
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The Neverending Story

Amazon's new Queens campus might displace 1,500 affordable units
Amazon’s confirmation earlier this month that it would be dropping one half of its future campus in Long Island City (LIC), Queens, immediately drew condemnation from state representatives and a group of New York City’s elected officials. As the furor grew over Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to rezone a portion of LIC for the tech giant’s campus, Cuomo released an op-ed today where he hit back at critics of the plan and touted the economic growth that Amazon would bring to New York. Housing affordability had been a point of contention among critics of the $3 billion in subsidies that Amazon will be receiving, and a new report from Politico shows that Amazon’s campus will preclude the creation of 1,500 affordable housing units. Amazon’s investment in the city won’t be insignificant. According to the Office of the Mayor, the online retail behemoth is expected to create 25,000 new jobs by 2029, going up to 40,000 in 2034. In 2019, Amazon will take half-a-million square feet of office space at One Court Square (the Citigroup Building) while their 4-million-square-foot headquarters on the LIC waterfront is under construction. Once work wraps up in 2029, Amazon is expecting to potentially add another 4 million square feet to their campus by 2034. The site of this future development? Anable Basin, an industrial enclave currently owned by the plastic company Plaxall. Plaxall had been gearing up to enact a WXY-master-planned redevelopment of their 15-acre site that would have created 5,000 new residential units, 1,250 of them affordable. Developer TF Cornerstone was also set to build their own 250 affordable apartments on an adjacent site owned by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), but that project has also been subsumed. An Amazon spokesperson has confirmed to Politico that the no housing will be built on their Queens campus. Long Island City is home to the Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing development in the Western Hemisphere, but the official line from the de Blasio administration is that the Amazon campus will only be a net positive for the area. A spokesperson for the NYCEDC told Politico that HQ2 will buoy the neighborhood economically, and Mayor de Blasio seemed to agree. “One of the biggest companies on earth next to the biggest public housing development in the United States—the synergy is going to be extraordinary,” said de Blasio.
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Green Queens

AIANY and ASLANY honor 2018's best transportation and infrastructure projects
At an awards ceremony at Manhattan’s Center for Architecture on October 8, representatives from AIA New York (AIANY) and the New York chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLANY) gathered for the first annual Transportation + Infrastructure Design Excellence Awards (T+I Awards). The winners, winnowed down from a pool of 67 entrants, showed excellence in both built and unrealized projects related to transportation and infrastructure, with a heavy emphasis on work that integrated sustainability and engaged with the public. Outstanding greenways, esplanades, and transit improvement plans were lauded for their civic contributions. A variety of merit awards were handed out to speculative projects, and the Regional Plan Association (RPA) was honored a number of times for the studies it had commissioned as part of the Fourth Regional Plan; it was noted that many of the solutions proposed in past Regional Plans had eventually come to pass. The jury was just as varied as the entrants: Donald Fram, FAIA, a principal of Donald Fram Architecture & Planning; Doug Hocking, AIA, a principal at KPF; Marilyn Taylor, FAIA, professor of architecture and urban design at the University of Pennsylvania; David van der Leer, executive director of the Van Alen Institute; and Donna Walcavage, FASLA, a principal at Stantec. Meet the winners below:

Best in Competition

The Brooklyn Greenway Location: Brooklyn, N.Y. Designers: Marvel ArchitectsNelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, WE Design Landscape Architecture, eDesign Dynamics, Horticultural Society of New York, and Larry Weaner Landscape Associates Now six miles long and growing, the waterfront Brooklyn Greenway project kicked off in 2004 with a planning phase as a joint venture between the nonprofit Brooklyn Greenway Initiative (BGI) and the RPA. The 14-mile-long series of linear parks has been broken into 23 ongoing capital projects under the New York City Department of Transportation’s purview—hence the lengthy list of T+I Award winners. Funding is still being raised to complete the entire Greenway, but the BGI has been hosting events and getting community members involved to keep the momentum going.

Open Space

Honor

Hunter's Point South Park Location: Queens, N.Y. Park Designers: SWA/Balsley and Weiss/Manfredi Prime Consultant and Infrastructure Designer: Arup Client: New York City Economic Development Corporation With: Arup The second phase of Hunter’s Point South Park opened in June of this year and brought 5.5 new acres of parkland to the southern tip of Long Island City. What was previously undeveloped has been converted into a unique park-cum-tidal wetland meant to absorb and slow the encroachment of stormwater while rejuvenating the native ecosystem. Hunter’s Point South Park blends stormwater resiliency infrastructure with public amenities, including a curved riverwalk, a hovering viewing platform, and a beach—all atop infill sourced from New York’s tunnel waste.

Merit

Roberto Clemente State Park Esplanade Location: Bronx, N.Y. Landscape Architect: NV5 with Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects Client: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation With: AKRF, CH2M Hill

Citation

Spring Garden Connector Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Landscape Architect: NV5 Client: Delaware River Waterfront Corporation With: Cloud Gehshan, The Lighting Practice

Planning

Merit

The QueensWay Location: Queens, N.Y. Architect: DLANDstudio Architecture and Landscape Architecture, and WXY Architecture + Urban Design Client: The Trust for Public Land Could a High Line ever land in Queens? That’s what The Trust for Public Land set out to discover, tapping DLAND and WXY to imagine what it would look like if a 3.5-mile-long stretch of unused rail line were converted into a linear park. The project completed the first phase of schematic design in 2017 using input from local Queens residents, but fundraising, and push-and-pull with community groups who want to reactivate the rail line as, well, rail, has put the project on hold.

Merit

Nexus/EWR Location: Newark, N.J. Architect: Gensler Client: Regional Plan Association With: Ahasic Aviation Advisors, Arup, Landrum & Brown

Projects

Merit

The Triboro Corridor Location: The Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, N.Y. Architect: One Architecture & Urbanism (ONE) and Only If Client: Regional Plan Association Commissioned as part of the Fourth Regional Plan, Only If and ONE imagined connecting the outer boroughs through a Brooklyn-Bronx-Queens rail line using existing freight tracks. Rather than a hub-and-spoke system with Manhattan, the Triboro Corridor would spur development around the new train stations and create a vibrant transit corridor throughout the entire city.

Structures

Honor

Fulton Center Location: New York, N.Y. Design Architect: Grimshaw Architect of Record: Page Ayres Cowley Architects Client: NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority With: Arup, HDR Daniel Frankfurt, James Carpenter Design Associates Fulton Center was first announced in 2002 as part of an effort to revive downtown Manhattan’s moribund economy by improving transit availability. Construction was on and off for years until the transit hub and shopping center’s completion in 2014, and now the building connects the 2, 3, 4, 5, A, C, J, and Z lines all under one roof (the N, R, and W trains are accessible through an underground passage to Cortlandt Street). Through the use of a large, metal-clad oculus that protrudes from the roof of the center, and the building’s glazed walls, the center, which spirals down from street level, is splashed with natural light.

Merit

Number 7 Subway Line Extension & 34th Street-Hudson Yards Station Location: New York, N.Y. Architect: Dattner Architects Engineer of Record: WSP Client: MTA Capital Construction With: HLH7 a joint venture of Hill International, HDR, and LiRo; Ostergaard Acoustical Associates; STV

Merit

Mississauga Transitway Location: Ontario, Canada Architect: IBI Group Client: City of Mississauga, Transportation & Works Department With: DesignABLE Environments, Dufferin Construction, Entro Communications, HH Angus, WSP

Merit

Denver Union Station Location: Denver, Colorado Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) Landscape Architect: Hargreaves Associates Client: Denver Union Station Project Authority (DUSPA) With: AECOM, Clanton & Associates, Kiewit Western, Tamara Kudrycki Design, Union Station Neighborhood Company

Student

Turnpike Metabolism: Reconstituting National Infrastructure Through Landscape Student: Ernest Haines Academic Institution: MLA| 2018, Harvard Graduate School of Design Anyone’s who’s ever cruised down a highway knows that equal weight isn’t necessarily given to the surrounding landscape. But what if that weren't the case? In Turnpike Metabolism, Ernest Haines imagines how the federal government can both give deference to the natural landscapes surrounding transportation infrastructure and change the design process to allow nature to define routes and structures.
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Wheel of Misfortune

New York City's massive Staten Island ferris wheel may never spin
For the past six years, the St. George neighborhood of Staten Island in New York City has been anxiously awaiting the arrival of what would be one of the city’s greatest landmark attractions: the giant, 630-foot New York Wheel with views of the New York Harbor, Statue of Liberty, and New York City skyline. While over $400 million has been sunk into the project since its conception, little has been done to get the ball rolling. Construction has barely begun, and Mayor de Blasio recently signaled that it may not ever happen. The main problem is the cost. The New York City Economic Development Corporation reported that the estimated cost of the Wheel has skyrocketed from $250 million when the project was first proposed in 2012 to a devastating $999 million under the de Blasio administration. When the Wheel’s developer, New York Wheel LLC, asked the city for $140 million in support, de Blasio rejected their pleas, refusing to bail out the floundering project. His administration told New York 1 that the city government is “clear-eyed about the risks of putting public money into an expensive, speculative project.” The New York Wheel promised to transform the humble yet densely packed neighborhood of St. George into a world-class, waterfront destination. Aside from the Wheel itself, whose 36 spacious and climate-controlled pods would provide visitors with fine food, drink, and breathtaking views of the city, the site also comprises five acres of publically accessible grass space for events, a state-of-the-art children’s playground, and a terminal building with restaurants, shops, and boutiques. The project would have potentially revitalized Staten Island, a borough that has long been neglected by New York City tourists. Yet the government’s decision to oppose the funding of the New York Wheel comes after a surge of similar projects in cities like Berlin and Beijing that eventually failed due to a lack of support and income. “Despite many recent conversations with the Wheel developer, we remain convinced that public funds are too scare and valuable to be leveraged for this venture,” an official with the Economic Development Corporation told New York 1. Since the Wheel’s developer and former contractor, Mammoet-Starneth, hoped to rely on the city for financial provision, the two parties were forced to craft a new deal that would give the development team until January 7, 2019 to hire a new contractor and complete the project. According to Staten Island Advance, a hearing on a motion to approve the agreement has been set for September 21. Until then, the fate of the Wheel remains unknown.
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Small Island, Big Money

New York plans massive mixed-use development for Governors Island
Governors Island could soon be home to, well, homes. Or at least dormitories. The New York Harbor island could house the city’s newest innovation and education hub while maintaining its identity as a beloved recreational oasis. Crain’s New York reported that City Hall will hold a public hearing next month on its plans to rezone the island's former military base to make way for a proposed 4.5 million-square-foot, mixed-used development. Mayor de Blasio's office posted a notice last week about the hearing, which will be the first step in an environmental review process for the project. Aiming to attract a combination of tech and life-science firms, educational institutions, dormitories, as well as a convention center and hotel, the city wants to build out the development as a way to enhance exposure for Governors Island. The 172-acre landmass currently functions as a leisurely getaway for urbanites to enjoy during the summer. Though city-owned, it’s managed and maintained by the Trust for Governors Island. The new development, which would be constructed on the south side of the island, would help annually fund the costs of the island's 43-acre park. With this proposal, it seems the city wants to piggyback off the success of Roosevelt Island’s Cornell Tech campus and bring those small island–big money vibes south of Manhattan. Plus, space for ground-up construction in New York is limited and Governors Island remains one of the more barren sites in town. Any new facilities part of the proposal would be built on two plots of land currently zoned for residential development. The problem is that residential construction has long been prohibited on Governors Island, which is why the city wants to first rezone the land before bringing businesses on board. After an extensive public review process beginning with next month’s meeting, City Council is expected to vote on the proposal in fall 2019. If passed, the rezoning would allow low-rise commercial structures to be built on the site as well as proposed dorms and hotel properties that could potentially rise as high as 300 feet. Crain’s also noted that the city has already commissioned a second ferry to take construction workers out to the site. But that won’t be enough to transport future commuters to and from the development, even in combination with an expanded East River Ferry service. That’s why the Economic Development Corporation is in talks to put a gondola between Lower Manhattan and Governors Island, further mimicking the layout of Roosevelt Island, which is reachable via a gondola and the F train. The public hearing for the rezoning proposal is scheduled for September 26 at 6:00 p.m. at the Battery Maritime Building in Lower Manhattan.
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Threadbare Urbanism

Manhattan's Garment District is next on the rezoning block, with some bright spots for manufacturers
Hot off of a contentious rezoning of East Harlem and in the middle of spinning up the Inwood rezoning, the de Blasio administration has once again turned its attention to the Garment District in Midtown. While a previous attempt to transition the neighborhood away from manufacturing failed last year, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that a revised plan will be presented any day now. New York City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has reportedly worked out a plan, with input from advocates and manufacturers in the area, that would ease some of the area’s restrictive manufacturing requirements and open the neighborhood up to commercial development. A major sticking point of the prior plan, and part of the reason that neighborhood manufacturers opposed the initial rezoning, was that the city had floated the idea of relocating most of the manufacturers to Brooklyn's Sunset Park. From the details that have been made public so far, it looks like the city will lift certain zoning restrictions along the neighborhood’s side streets rather than the whole district, which is located between West 35th and West 40th streets and Broadway and West 9th Avenue. The city will spend up to $20 million to acquire a building that will solely house manufacturing, and developers will be given tax incentives for allocating at least 25,000 square feet for clothing manufacturing in any new buildings. It’s likely that the restrictions on building new hotels from the older plan will be included in the final revision. Under the 1987 zoning code that the new plan addresses, developers converting buildings in the district were required to maintain a 50-50 split between manufacturing space and offices. The new plan is likely a win for manufacturers looking to stay in Manhattan. Despite the district’s central location, many of the small clothing and cloth shops that lined the neighborhood’s streets have left due to unaffordable rent and overseas competition. The WSJ notes that of the 9 million square feet of space within the 1987 zoning regulation’s boundaries, only 700,000 to 900,000 square feet is being used for manufacturing today. Much of New York’s manufacturing base has already shifted to Brooklyn, with a sizable chunk moving to the Navy Yard because of the ability to vertically integrate their production; the latest rezoning plan is a direct effort to address this.  In a press release, the EDC put forth a commitment to preserve at least 300,000 square feet of manufacturing space in the neighborhood, noting that 25 percent of all garment manufacturing in the city is still done in the area. "The Garment Center's unique ecosystem of skilled workers and specialty suppliers clustered in one place is the foundation that the wider New York fashion world is built on. What we've negotiated here is a real plan to preserve it for years to come," said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer in the release. "This is much more than just a tax benefit program, although the IDA benefits are central.  It’s an IDA program combined with a real commitment of resources to purchase permanent space. This package will help keep the fashion industry anchored here in New York."