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Editorial: Public Transit In Every Pot

When a steam pipe exploded in Midtown last July, and the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis collapsed just weeks later, people around the country began listening to the Cassandras who had been warning about the decrepit state of our infrastructure, urban and rural alike. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the cost of bringing it all up to date would be $1.6 trillion, and at the time, that number seemed just impossible—would Congress ever allocate that kind of money to something as unsexy as infrastructure? No way.

Fast forward 15 months—and one $700 billion bailout later—and it doesn’t seem so crazy. More traditional quarters of the Republican Party may regard New York Times columnist David Brooks as the skunk at the picnic, but he is squarely in line with a growing number of people who believe that the one way to pull us out of the looming recession is to devote significant federal resources to public works, especially those that focus on transportation and the development of alternate sources of energy. A “Green New Deal” has been championed in one form or another by people across the political spectrum: President-elect Barack Obama, Al Gore, T. Boone Pickens, the Regional Plan Association, and even Martin Feldstein, the economist who advised President Reagan on policy.

For New York City, and the Northeast in general, Brooks’ argument for transportation spending is the central one. In a recent Times column, he suggested a “National Mobility Project,” which argues that we should take the mix of fiscal stimulus and research in alternative energy, and focus it on the realm of transit. This makes sense: Many supporters of a Green New Deal advocate turbine farms in the Southwest and the Dakotas to capture that region’s least-exploited resource, the wind. Our version of that is our regional transit system—everything from Amtrak and Metro-North to NJ Transit and the MTA. One of the Obama campaign’s platform issues was a commitment to thinking about cities on a metropolitan scale, and that means thinking about transportation of every kind.

One of the most striking elements of the Skyscraper Museum’s recent symposium on density in Hong Kong was the way that the government there believes in the centrality of investment in infrastructure and transit to future development. Project after project detailed train stations built before the new neighborhoods that would use them, and the assembled panel of New Yorkers—including MTA commissioner Elliot Sander, Port Authority chief Chris Ward, and developer Vishaan Chakrabarti of the Related Companies—looked on with a mixture of awe and envy. There are many reasons why the Hong Kong model wouldn’t work here, but the straightforward premise that infrastructure feeds growth does. Architects, developers, planners, and urbanists have a rare opportunity to argue for the kind of investment that will strengthen the city and its connections to the region. If the Obama administration does in fact begin to formulate an infrastructure-based stimulus program, New York must be a part of it.

Gerson's Ground Zero Gambit
Alan Gerson, the City Council rep for Lower Manhattan, issued a major statement today along with the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Committee, which he chairs. The statement lays out 17 demands the committee feels will ensure the timely opening of the memorial plaza by Septmber 11, 2011. It opens with an imposing if realistic appraisal of the challenges dogging the project so far:
The World Trade Center site is one of the most technically complicated modern construction projects ever undertaken: the building of five high rise towers, concomitantly, on a sixteen acre site over two train lines; issues of unprecedented toxicities and missing human remains; all in the middle of a bustling residential and business district. The architects, engineers and workers on the ground deserve credit for the performance of a difficult task, and interruptions, unexpected technical problems and delays should have been anticipated from its inception.
Gerson said that with the economy faltering, some might want to scale back or delay the project further, but he sees it as a WPA-style infrastructure opportunity, which can create jobs and infrastructure, which will be crucial once the economy rebounds. Gerson finished by asking Mayor Bloomberg, the Port Authority, and the LMDC to come together to finish the project on-time and in-line with Gerson's recommendations. An LMDC spokesperson said that the agency welcomed the advice but had the various projects under control. "It doesn't really look like anything new," the spokesperson said. And, according to today's Times, the disparate parties overseeing Ground Zero have come up with a new plan to finish the memorial and much of the site by the tenth anniversary. Update: Bloomberg spokesperson Jason Post responds: "We have different views. Council member Gerson thinks we need to add another layer of bureaucracy, the administration thinks we need to remove one." A list of Gerson's recommendations and a link to the full statement after the jump.
1. Appoint an auditor general to monitor all Lower Manhattan redevelopment projects 2. Reaffirm the 9/11/11 deadline for permanently opening the Memorial Plaza 3. Modify PATH train mezzanine to achieve simple elegance with columns 4. Within 90 days, the MTA must re-issue bid specifications for the Fulton Street Transit Hub with specification changes aimed at lowering costs by at least $200 million 5. Fully fund Fiterman Hall’s reconstruction 6. Reaffirm the Performing Arts Center (PAC) at the proposed location, with the 1,000-seat theater in a Gehry designed building, with the Joyce Theater as the anchor tenant 7. The Port Authority must issue a timeline for the turnover of Tower 2 to Silverstein Properties immediately and issue a status report and timetable, with benchmarks for the completion of any outstanding infrastructure work on the sites for Towers 2, 3 and 4 8. Immediately convene a Memorial access planning group 9. The LMDC must release design specifications 10. NYPD and FDNY must conduct and release a full security and fire safety audit of plans for the underground museum 11. Produce a Lower Manhattan bus plan within nine months 12. The LMDC must immediately issue a detailed status report and timetable on 130 Liberty Street and provide regular updates 13. Close Vesey Street between Church Street and West Broadway, but only if the Port Authority meets the burden of demonstrating that to do so would materially save time or provide for greater safety 14. Continue the Steering Committee recently established by Port Authority Executive Director Ward 15. Continue the Port Authority briefings for Family Members and Community Leaders in Lower Manhattan 16. Integrate the Tribute Center permanently into the Museum Entrance Building 17. Create a mechanism to strengthen construction site safety and Lower Manhattan’s livability
Read the eight-page statement, with details on all 17 points, here.

Gerson's WTC Statement

The World Trade Center site is one of the most technically complicated modern construction projects ever undertaken: the building of five high rise towers, concomitantly, on a sixteen acre site over two train lines; issues of unprecedented toxicities and missing human remains; all in the middle of a bustling residential and business district.   The architects, engineers and workers on the ground deserve credit for the performance of a difficult task, and interruptions, unexpected technical problems and delays should have been anticipated from its inception. 

What remains inexcusable is needless political exacerbation of the difficulties rather than public sector facilitation of the complexities.  This process has been plagued by: false expectations generated by political grandstanding; delays in providing necessary funding to critical job components; the failure to create reasonable and responsible budgets for project components; the avoidance or postponement of difficult but necessary political decisions; and a lack of full transparency and accountability in all government agencies and activities.

Governor Paterson and the new Port Authority Executive Director, Christopher Ward deserve great credit for restoring governmental efficacy in the rebuilding process.  The Governor’s demand for a top-to-bottom reassessment, and the preliminary report issued by the Executive Director provide desperately needed doses of reality, transparency and accountability.  Mayor Bloomberg deserves credit for his partnership and involvement in this new expeditious and efficient approach.
      
The extraordinary economic conditions faced by Lower Manhattan, our city and the nation should accelerate work at Ground Zero. The history of recovery in past times of economic distress has involved large-scale public works projects.  Ground Zero is a great public works project, a statement of confidence and moral uplift.  It is also a desperately needed economic stimulus, more important now than ever since 9/11.
       
The Lower Manhattan Redevelopment projects on and off the World Trade Center site must also position Lower Manhattan to be ready with adequate transportation and infrastructure as well as sufficient  space to meet the future demands of the inevitable upturn in the economy as it occurs.  We owe it to the 2800 innocent people who lost their lives as they went about their work, sustaining and building our economy; to the heroes who risked or sacrificed their lives to save others; and to the community residents who rallied and remained to support each other and to rebuild their neighborhoods.  We must tell each of their stories and complete the rest of the job safely, efficiently, democratically and without delay.

Now is the time to demonstrate Lower Manhattan’s most visionary and effective public sector. I have set forth, below, seventeen specific next steps necessary to move the World Trade Center site and Lower Manhattan redevelopment projects forward.  These recommendations, which should be implemented immediately, follow from the series of hearings of the City Council’s Committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment, which I chair, and from numerous conversations I have had with community members and leaders, including community board members, and the entities involved in the projects. I call on the Governor and the Mayor to provide the leadership necessary to implement these next steps. I call on Chris Ward of the Port Authority of NY/NJ  to incorporate these next steps into his plan of action, recognizing that even on those measures over which the Port does not exercise direct control, the Executive Director’s recommendations will carry great weight.

On October 6, 2008, the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Committee will conduct its next oversight hearing. At that time we will expect the Port Authority, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and other relevant agencies to report on their response to these recommendations, as well as to the full report issued by Christopher Ward and the ensuing timetable for Ground Zero, Fiterman Hall, and the Fulton Street Station.

17 Steps for Getting the World Trade Center Site Project Back on Track

1.  APPOINT AN AUDITOR GENERAL TO MONITOR ALL LOWER MANHATTAN REDEVELOPMENT PROJECTS.  We need one auditor general to monitor the World Trade Center site, 130 Liberty Street, Fiterman Hall and the Fulton Street Transit Hub.  All of these projects involve state agencies.  An auditor general will monitor progress and spending, keep an eye out for delays and cost overruns and present options for synergies and cost-saving measures, including cross-project efficiencies.  What has been missing from the governance of Lower Manhattan redevelopment has been one accountable official with access to all relevant information and monitoring and reporting responsibilities. 

Our governmental system is founded on checks and balances, which have been entirely missing from the Lower Manhattan redevelopment process. The independent authorities carrying out these projects are exempt from normal auditing by the State Comptroller or City Comptroller and from normal oversight by the State Legislature or City Council.  This was a mistake from the start.  It is too late to totally recreate the governance structure of the rebuilding efforts.  But the appointment of an auditor general will provide the needed check and balance moving forward.

The auditor general should serve at the governor’s pleasure, report directly to the governor and mayor, issue periodic public progress reports and appear regularly before the City Council and State Legislature. The Port Authority, the MTA, the LMDC, the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center (LMCCC) and all agencies involved in any projects must be required to open their books and plans to the auditor general. Christopher Ward, no matter how capable, serves the Board of Directors of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and thus could not be in the position to audit it and the other authorities. Many of us thought that this was part of what the LMDC was supposed to do in the first place.  The LMDC should, however, now provide funds to support the auditor general. 

2.  REAFFIRM THE 9/11/11 DEADLINE FOR PERMANENTLY OPENING THE MEMORIAL PLAZA.  Past unrealistic timetables should not be taken as an excuse for establishing no timetable.  Deadlines serve an important purpose.  We would not have reached the moon when we did if President Kennedy had not set that ten-year deadline.  By all accounts, there exist no technical or physical reasons why the Memorial Plaza cannot be completed by the tenth anniversary.  The governor and mayor must direct all agencies to work together to make this happen.

3. MODIFY PATH TRAIN MEZZANINE TO ACHIEVE SIMPLE ELEGANCE WITH COLUMNS.  Utilizing columns to support the #1 train, rather than the more complex suspension system under consideration, would save money and time.  We estimate the savings in the millions of dollars.  The columns will also expedite utility work under Greenwich Street and thus assure timely progress.  This will save money and help assure progress on the memorial and other ground zero sectors.  It will also allow for the setting of a timetable for the rebuilding and remapping of Greenwich Street, which will be critical for access to the Memorial. Grandiosity has its place, including within this site, but the PATH station achieves sufficient grandiosity in the Eagle structure and the main hall.  What is essentially a passageway for commuters rushing to and from their trains and pedestrians rushing between the World Financial Center and Church Street can be built elegantly with columns and with less expense

4. WITHIN 90 DAYS THE MTA MUST RE-ISSUE BID SPECIFICATIONS FOR THE FULTON STREET TRANSIT HUB—WITH SPECIFICATION CHANGES AIMED AT LOWERING COSTS BY AT LEAST $200 MILLION.   At a hearing of the City Council’s committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment held in April, 2008, the MTA pledged to reissue bid specifications within 30 days.  This has not happened.  Further delay is inexcusable.  The MTA testified that it planned to divide the work and issue separate bid requests for each of the major discrete parts of the project in order to optimize efficiency and expertise and to minimize costs.  That still makes sense, as the best subterranean contractor is not necessarily the best aboveground structural contractor. 

The Fulton Street Transit Hub is a critical component of Lower Manhattan’s future.  Its transit connections are needed to optimize downtown’s accessibility.  Its retail and street level presence, including the promised replacement of the scores of retail cleared out for this project, will anchor the future of a thriving Fulton Street corridor. 

The longer we wait, the more expensive this project will get.  The basic contours of the project, including the design for the transit hub, should remain the same. It is clear however, that fewer internal flourishes and excesses, with the aim of simple elegance in method and outcome, could save the project millions of dollars. 

In addition, the Corbin building’s restoration can be deferred without detracting from the train station or the main entrance. Indeed, the Corbin building should not be part of the transit hub.  It should be sold, restored and turned into office space.  To integrate a historic building into a transit center is overly complex.  To remove the Corbin building from the site could save hundreds of millions of dollars.

5.  FULLY FUND FITERMAN HALL’S RECONSTRUCTION IMMEDIATELY.  Fiterman Hall provided critical classroom space for the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC).  Over 21,000 degree students from all over the City are enrolled at BMCC this semester, making it by far the largest community college in all of New York City.  The necessary funds must be allocated now in order to avoid another hole in the ground in Lower Manhattan and to mitigate spiraling costs.  New York’s Dormitory Authority will not allow City University of New York (CUNY) to contract for reconstruction until full funding is allocated. CUNY officials anticipate that the remediation process (the cleaning of Fiterman Hall) will be completed by the end of January 2009 and that demolition will be completed by summer 2009.  The contracting process is such that it needs to begin imminently, requiring full funding, in order for construction to begin immediately upon deconstruction. 

Delay in Fiterman Hall’s reconstruction will retard overall downtown development, including the ability of Silverstein Properties to rent office space at 7 World Trade Center, which is opposite Fiterman Hall.  Eventually, Fiterman Hall will have to be rebuilt.  The longer we wait, the more it will cost taxpayers.

With classes scheduled in the daytime, evening and weekends, and additional adult and continuing education programs in high demand from the community, we must do everything within our power to expedite the process of demolishing and building a new Fiterman Hall. 

6. REAFFIRM THE PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (PAC) AT THE PROPOSED LOCATION, WITH THE 1,000-SEAT THEATER IN A GEHRY DESIGNED BUILDING, WITH THE JOYCE THEATER AS THE ANCHOR TENANT. Specifically the LMDC must do the following: establish the 501(c)(3) entity that will raise funds for the project, along with a strong board of directors and dynamic leadership and allow fundraising to begin. The LMDC must reaffirm the previous commitment of $50 million to the site.  There must be a recommitment to building a Gehry-designed, 1000-seat theater.  There must also be a reaffirming of the Joyce Theater as the anchor tenant of the PAC.

The LMDC and Port Authority must jointly make it clear to the world that the Performing Arts Center will be built.  The 1,000-seat theater remains important to serve a gap of that theater size in our city’s cultural infrastructure. The Joyce remains the most viable and appropriate anchor tenant.  The center is important to the community’s future, as well as to the spirit of the site.  All governmental entities involved in reconstructing the World Trade Center site must remain faithful to the entire original concept for the site:  the Memorial, to commemorate the infinite worth and stories of the lives lost; the commercial to carry on the work of those lives; and the cultural, to celebrate life itself.

7. THE PORT AUTHORITY MUST ISSUE A TIMELINE FOR THE TURNOVER OF TOWER 2 TO SILVERSTEIN PROPERTIES IMMEDIATELY AND ISSUE A STATUS REPORT AND TIMETABLE, WITH BENCHMARKS FOR THE COMPLETION OF ANY OUTSTANDING INFRASTRUCTURE WORK ON THE SITES FOR TOWERS 2,  3 AND 4  The timetable must project when site 2 will be turned over to Silverstein Properties and when all infrastructure work on  sites 3 and 4 (which have already been turned over) will be completed.  Until then, the Port must issue periodic reports on the status of the timeline, with explanations of any extensions.  Obviously, unfolding economic events may impact the programming of the site, but the infrastructure will be required for any future development to take place.

8. IMMEDIATELY CONVENE A MEMORIAL ACCESS PLANNING GROUP.  This group should combine site designers, architects, the NYPD, and other security agencies on the site and community representatives, with the goal of achieving the most open and easy access that prudent security will allow.  The group should develop plans for interim access to the Memorial for the tenth anniversary and permanent access upon completion of the entire site.  Important security and design details need to be addressed now because of their relevance to infrastructure construction.  Delaying this process could delay or impede the Memorial’s opening.  It makes no sense to open the Memorial Plaza if it cannot be accessed.

9.  THE LMDC MUST RELEASE DESIGN SPECIFICATIONS. A number of years ago, the LMDC drafted design specifications for the World Trade Center site that were never released.  These site design specifications cover criteria for planting, pavement type, street and sidewalk furniture, lighting and light poles, curb cuts, and façade appearance and other material pertaining to the streetscape, grounds, and building fronts of the site.  These design specifications could affect infrastructure now under construction as well as security measures.  Finalizing the specifications forthwith could avoid needless costs and extra work.  The LMDC should release its draft specifications and then proceed swiftly to a public hearing and ultimate adoption of the specifications.

10.  NYPD AND FDNY MUST CONDUCT AND RELEASE A FULL SECURITY AND FIRE SAFETY AUDIT OF PLANS FOR THE UNDERGROUND MUSEUM.  A full, joint security review by NYPD and FDNY, based on all applicable New York City codes, as well as other governmental regulations and state-of-the-art measures, should be completed and certified by the agencies. We cannot once more complete plans only to have security agencies send them back to the drawing board.  Several family groups have raised questions about security measures, entrances, exits, ramps, and other aspects of security precautions planned for the underground museum. They may be right or wrong, in whole or in part, but these family groups and the public deserve to know definitively.

11. PRODUCE A LOWER MANHATTAN BUS PLAN WITHIN NINE MONTHS.  This could be done in-house or by retained experts in consultation with the community.  The Memorial tour buses are coming, but no one knows where they will lay over, where they will drop off and pick up passengers and what routes they will take. Lower Manhattan already faces a bus invasion, with more long-distance bus passengers than the midtown Port Authority bus terminal, according to police statistics.  Combine this with tour buses, commuter buses, casino buses and all manner of charter buses. We need a plan to protect the area’s quality of life and the ambience of the Memorial, which will be a major destination. The different buses share many of the same streets, routes, stops, and might most efficiently share the same parking facilities. The report must therefore lay out options for all bus categories for all of downtown from at least south of Ninth Street. Again, this needs to be worked out now because it could have an impact on the underground parking facility and related infrastructure presently under construction at the World Trade Center site. 

12.  THE LMDC MUST IMMEDIATELY ISSUE A DETAILED STATUS REPORT AND TIMETABLE ON 130 LIBERTY STREET AND PROVIDE REGULAR UPDATES.  The LMCCC should continue to play an active oversight role at 130 Liberty Street.  However, we are reluctant to recommend a governance overhaul for fear that this could only generate further delay.  This project’s delay stems from past mistakes, including ignoring sound practices demanded by community groups and elected officials.  However, the LMDC’s current administration has it right with the decoupling of decontamination and demolition, and ongoing safety measures.  In order to prevent further delay, the LMDC must provide a timetable and detailed monthly progress reports, including explanations for any failures to meet the timetable.  Much of this is now being done verbally at periodic task force meetings.  Given the past history of this project, these reports need to be formalized in writing, with as much detail as possible.

13.  CLOSE VESEY STREET BETWEEN CHURCH STREET AND WEST BROADWAY, BUT ONLY IF THE PORT AUTHORITY MEETS THE BURDEN OF DEMONSTRATING THAT TO DO SO WOULD MATERIALLY SAVE TIME OR PROVIDE FOR GREATER SAFETY The imperative to avoid delay at the World Trade Center site appears to far outweigh the inconvenience of the temporary street closure.  The Vesey Street block that would be closed does not have residences or businesses needing to access the street.  However, the Port Authority must put in place means to compensate for the closure, such as widened sidewalks on adjoining streets, additional signage, additional traffic enforcement agents, and shuttle buses, including a shuttle bus connection with Battery Park City.  Vesey Street should not be closed any longer than is absolutely necessary.  The Port Authority should regularly update the community as to the progress of the work performed and whether there is a continuing need to keep that section of Vesey Street closed. Local Law 24 must be followed in letter and spirit, to ensure proper community input and notification.

14.  CONTINUE THE STEERING COMMITTEE RECENTLY ESTABLISHED BY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR WARD.  By all accounts, the steering committee established by Chris Ward has provided improved coordination among the public and private entities working on or regulating the World Trade Center site.  Representation by the Mayor’s office on the steering committee should include the NYPD in order to assure full interagency coordination and to avoid the delays due to lack of such coordination, which have occurred in the past.

15. CONTINUE THE PORT AUTHORITY  BRIEFINGS FOR FAMILY MEMBERS AND COMMUNITY LEADERS IN LOWER MANHATTAN.  By all accounts, the direct meetings between high-ranking Port Authority figures and representatives of family groups and local community representatives have not only reduced tensions but provided valuable input. These briefings should take place on a regular basis. They should be expanded to include the Memorial Museum and the MTA.  In addition, we urge the Port Authority to continue to hold monthly open meetings of its board of directors focused exclusively on the World Trade Center.  These board meetings must be held at a location in Lower Manhattan to maximize the number of community members who may wish to attend.  We suggest the Conference Center of the New York Academy of Sciences at 7 World Trade Center, overlooking the site, reminding us all of the progress that can be made.

16. INTEGRATE THE TRIBUTE CENTER PERMANENTLY INTO THE MUSEUM ENTRANCE BUILDING.  This building is supposed to provide orientation exhibitions as well as security and ticketing functions.  The Tribute Center has provided orientation admirably since it opened.  Lee Ielpi and his team stepped up to provide this critical service when no one else did.  They have done a remarkable job.  The Tribute Center they created has received approximately 715,000 visitors to date.  It exists in temporary leased space, but it deserves to become permanent in order to continue to enhance the education for site visitors.  The entrance building of the museum would be the logical place and would avoid redundancy and waste in resources. At the very least, a discussion between the Tribute Center and the Memorial Museum should take place, and take place now so that the entrance building’s layout and size could still be adjusted to accommodate the Center.  In the past we have questioned the need for a separate entrance building at all.  The Museum’s entrance could be created through the oversized Calatrava building.  However, if we are going to have an additional building, it should be as meaningful as possible.  We cannot imagine anything more meaningful than the Tribute Center.

17.  CREATE A MECHANISM TO STRENGTHEN CONSTRUCTION SITE SAFETY AND LOWER MANHATTAN’S LIVABILITY. Situations will undoubtedly increase as work at or above ground level accelerates and authorities charged with the work seek variances, or the equivalent, to meet or exceed schedules.  We cannot sacrifice the health, well-being or livability of area workers or residents to get the work done.  That would fly in the face of the value of upholding the importance and sanctity of every human being, which the site and downtown’s rebirth are supposed to reflect.  Next month, this office will release a follow-up report and series of recommendations to improve construction site safety and construction area livability for Lower Manhattan and the city at large.  We call on all levels and leaders of government to work together to achieve the goal of reconstruction within the timeframe, but not at the expense of safety and livability.

Editorial: Tilting Toward Windmills

Blame it on Photoshop, but when Mayor Bloomberg made a remark about the possibility of incorporating turbines into some local monuments, the local press went nuts: Pictures depicted the Statue of Liberty’s torch as a windmill, and the Empire State Building’s spire sported one, too. Never mind that even within those same remarks, made at the August 19 National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas, he added that an off-shore wind farm would be a lot more practical, and that conservation is the most important piece of all; the cut-and-paste frenzy was on, followed quickly by predictable backlash to the oddball idea.

Behind the brouhaha and funny pictures, however, is a very solid idea: that sustainability and infrastructure are deeply connected. It is one of the fundaments of PlaNYC 2030, the Bloomberg administration’s scheme to make the city greener and cleaner, and the rallying cry of groups including the Regional Plan Association, the Center for an Urban Future, and the American Society of Landscape Architects. Recycling is important, and reusing shopping bags may get you into heaven a little faster, but two of New York’s greenest features are its density and its public transit network.

There is clearly momentum in the effort to bring infrastructure and sustainability to the fore: The same day Mayor Bloomberg was testing the wind on turbines, the city’s Economic Development Corporation released a Request for Expressions of Interest for projects that could increase New York’s capacity to generate renewable energy. A few days before, he had joined the U.S. Conference of Mayors in calling for renewed investment in urban infrastructure, as the group released a report on the economic benefits of such an investment. “The federal government is not investing enough in our infrastructure,” Bloomberg said, “and when it does, it’s not investing wisely.”

It is unfortunate timing, then, that the Independent Budget Office also released a report [PDF] on August 14 that breaks down the subsidies the MTA receives from the city and state. It looks as if the shiny idea of wind power may have overshadowed a more prosaic but crucial one: mass transit. The city’s contribution to the authority’s operating expenses has hovered around $194 million (in constant 2007 dollars) since 1994, though ridership, fares, and tolls have risen dramatically. Meanwhile, contributions to the capital budget have gone from about $200 million in the mid-1990s to $106 million today. This decrease in particular is surprising, since new development—and higher densities—typically cluster around public transit. The mayor is a fan of the extension of the 7 line to 11th Avenue, which seems central to the success of all of the various developments in Midtown West, especially the Hudson Yards. The mayor’s enthusiasm for trying new ideas to make the city more sustainable is great, but we hope one of the most valuable tools we have in that effort doesn’t get forgotten: the subway.

Editorial: Tilting Toward Windmills

Blame it on Photoshop, but when Mayor Bloomberg made a remark about the possibility of incorporating turbines into some local monuments, the local press went nuts: Pictures depicted the Statue of Liberty’s torch as a windmill, and the Empire State Building’s spire sported one, too. Never mind that even within those same remarks, made at the August 19 National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas, he added that an off-shore wind farm would be a lot more practical, and that conservation is the most important piece of all; the cut-and-paste frenzy was on, followed quickly by predictable backlash to the oddball idea.

Behind the brouhaha and funny pictures, however, is a very solid idea: that sustainability and infrastructure are deeply connected. It is one of the fundaments of PlaNYC 2030, the Bloomberg administration’s scheme to make the city greener and cleaner, and the rallying cry of groups including the Regional Plan Association, the Center for an Urban Future, and the American Society of Landscape Architects. Recycling is important, and reusing shopping bags may get you into heaven a little faster, but two of New York’s greenest features are its density and its public transit network.

There is clearly momentum in the effort to bring infrastructure and sustainability to the fore: The same day Mayor Bloomberg was testing the wind on turbines, the city’s Economic Development Corporation released a Request for Expressions of Interest for projects that could increase New York’s capacity to generate renewable energy. A few days before, he had joined the U.S. Conference of Mayors in calling for renewed investment in urban infrastructure, as the group released a report on the economic benefits of such an investment. “The federal government is not investing enough in our infrastructure,” Bloomberg said, “and when it does, it’s not investing wisely.”

It is unfortunate timing, then, that the Independent Budget Office also released a report [PDF] on August 14 that breaks down the subsidies the MTA receives from the city and state. It looks as if the shiny idea of wind power may have overshadowed a more prosaic but crucial one: mass transit. The city’s contribution to the authority’s operating expenses has hovered around $194 million (in constant 2007 dollars) since 1994, though ridership, fares, and tolls have risen dramatically. Meanwhile, contributions to the capital budget have gone from about $200 million in the mid-1990s to $106 million today. This decrease in particular is surprising, since new development—and higher densities—typically cluster around public transit. The mayor is a fan of the extension of the 7 line to 11th Avenue, which seems central to the success of all of the various developments in Midtown West, especially the Hudson Yards. The mayor’s enthusiasm for trying new ideas to make the city more sustainable is great, but we hope one of the most valuable tools we have in that effort doesn’t get forgotten: the subway.

Mr. Ross's Neighborhood

When The Related Companies swept in to negotiate with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for a 99-year ground lease over the agency’s West Side railyards just days after the winning bidder Tishman Speyer Properties had pulled out, the developer hadn’t had time to tweak its proposal to reflect a changed team. But CEO Stephen Ross told reporters that his company, with Goldman Sachs and other investors backing it, would build towers around straightforward connections from an existing waterfront park, an emerging elevated park, and a planned grand boulevard. Or, as Ross put it, “a great New York neighborhood,” seen through the prism of current planning.

The Related proposal, which no longer has an anchor tenant, includes 440 units of affordable housing (out of 5,500 overall, including condos and townhouses) and a new school. It nods to widespread concerns about maintaining the city’s infrastructure by proposing two cogeneration plants beneath its towers. And it provides public space by focusing on three linear parks: the existing Hudson River Park to the west, the emerging High Line to the south and east, and the planned Hudson Boulevard to the north. Gone, at least from public display at the press conference, is the media-heavy “MySpace Pavilion” that the developer presented last fall when bidders showed off drawings in a Midtown storefront. That idea evaporated when Related lost News Corporation as an anchor tenant in late winter.

“We’re going to have to revisit the plan and adjust it,” said Ross, “but the most important part will be creating a great space and a great park for a great New York neighborhood.”

This is not a team inclining toward risk with a $1 billion investment that requires a $2 billion platform. Instead of the drama of something like the suspension-bridge meadow that Steven Holl designed for Extell Development’s failed bid, the document describes “the look, texture, and feel of a traditional New York neighborhood…with taller, denser buildings around a formal plaza and declining in height and density to the west.”

And instead of Chicago’s Murphy/Jahn leading the masterplanning, Related has named architects who know the territory. Kohn Pedersen Fox, which worked on plans for the Jets stadium that the city proposed for the site in 2003, takes the lead. Other players are Robert A.M. Stern Architects, whose headquarters overlook the site from West 34th Street, and Miami’s Arquitectonica, which designed the Westin Hotel on Eighth Avenue. The wildcard, Amsterdam-based landscape fantasists West 8, are learning the local ropes as designers of Governors Island—another long-delayed project for which Ross’ onetime business partner Dan Doctoroff emerged as a design champion.

As for worries about how to connect the neighborhood to the rest of Manhattan, Ross and MTA negotiator Gary Dellaverson were all smiles at the press conference. Dellaverson insisted that the city “has committed to borrowing [money]” to create a boulevard and extend the 7 subway line into the site: if the 7 extension fails to materialize by 2015, Related gets to suspend rent payments to the MTA.

“Certainly transportation is a key element,” Ross told reporters. “But we’ve been assured that the 7 line will be delivered for this project.”

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How the West Won't Be One
Tishman Speyer Properties

When Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Governor David Paterson joined developer Jerry Speyer at a March 26 press conference announcing Tishman Speyer’s $1 billion-plus bid to lease the Hudson Yards from the MTA, everyone gathered around the Plexi-enclosed model and smiled for the cameras. The model depicts nine towers, many with porches over the High Line, and a public forum with a big staircase. But this diorama, a masterplan by Murphy/Jahn and Peter Walker and Partners, is simply a placeholder: the western half of the railyards has to go through a rezoning that will shape building heights and masses, all of this after Tishman invests $2 billion to build a platform over the yard and get office construction underway. When complete in 2016, the design will be as different from the model as the politicians surrounding it.

This deal doesn’t focus on architecture: it’s about getting money to the MTA. The agency is facing serious deficits, and Tishman’s willingness to sink capital into the neighborhood was particularly attractive. “Cash flows one way,” explained MTA’s Gary Dellaverson to his board before unanimous approval for the tentative deal. “Tishman’s obligation is to us.” The developer outlasted an early dropout (Brookfield Properties), a bidder for half of the site (the Related Companies), and a near-match from the Durst Organization and Vornado Realty Trust that Dellaverson described to his board as slightly less and later than Tishman’s. Tishman is working out terms to lease the 26-acre site for 99 years, with rights to develop the western half one parcel at a time, selling each parcel only after paying the MTA for it and paying hundreds of millions in cash if it decides to quit.

But what will the new neighborhood look like? The draft commitment letter obliges the developer only to produce a place “consistent with developer site plan and master plan proposal.” Tishman will probably sell any parcel the 7 subway extension and economy make valuable when it’s complete. At the ceremony, CEO Jerry Speyer affirmed that “any architect” could design the school, apartment towers, office buildings, cultural center, or park within the guidelines of the masterplan. Speyer’s son Rob, the company’s president, insisted the builders would “keep an open mind” about whether the High Line stays intact, and on other questions that preoccupy urban-design types.

So the office towers’ cantilever over the High Line, the classical fountain in the center, and the multicolored rooftops could vanish. Jerry Speyer said his group remains “absolutely” set on building the staircase from 10th Avenue, which is part of the master plan and which Rob Speyer has eagerly described as Manhattan’s next great public space. But a challenge in making a public space great will be getting people there: The site slopes downwards and will be hard to reach unless the planned 7 subway line extension finds money for a stop at 10th Avenue. “The most challenging part is how to avoid an overly-programmed, sterile, and disconnected end result, “ said FXFowle partner Dan Kaplan, who worked on Durst/Vornado’s bid and the Hudson Yards Development Corporation’s design guidelines. Activists will undoubtedly also push for more affordable housing than the 391 units currently in the proposal.

At the ceremony, Governor Paterson said the best plan will come when “the elected community, developers, and planners consult with the public.” He was gently pointing out that the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, a six-month gauntlet of community meetings and scoping documents, will determine how quickly Tishman can leverage its investment and how hard it can push for office space to recoup extra spending. 

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NY's Next Builder
Courtesy New York State

New York governors often build their legacies. Peter Stuyvesant established New Amsterdam, creating the foundation for modern-day New York. DeWitt Clinton opened the west via the Erie Canal. Al Smith ushered in the skyscraper age with the Empire State Building, and Nelson Rockefeller was master of the superblock. 

How New York’s 55th governor, David A. Paterson, joins the ranks of these builder-governors remains to be seen, especially given his relatively low profile on issues of development and infrastructure. Paterson’s first challenge, after negotiating the budget due April 1 that will determine much of his agenda, will be addressing the ongoing projects of his immediate predecessors. Two of George Pataki’s major New York City projects—the World Trade Center and Atlantic Yards—are plagued by delays and political wrangling. Others, particularly those on Manhattan’s West Side, were still-born, and this was largely where Eliot Spitzer had begun to focus his energies.

“These projects have been bungled for the last six or seven years,” said Assembly member Richard Brodsky, who chairs the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions that oversees many such projects. “I don’t think you can predict how David will handle these things.”

Paterson surprised many when he threw his support behind New York City’s congestion pricing proposal on March 21, following a closed-door meeting with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. The governor’s move bolstered the prospects of the all but moribund pricing plan, whose passage still requires the blessing of state and city officials. MTA director Elliot Sander told AN that passing congestion pricing was the authority’s first priority, which would then pave the way for the capital projects.

During his 22 years in public office, Paterson has had a hand in a number of projects, primarily in his home district of Harlem, and these shed some light on how he may approach the public realm.

In the early 1990s, while still an obscure state senator best known for his famous father Basil, also a former state senator, Paterson took a stand against two major projects, which showed his concern for the city’s deep African-American roots. The first involved Columbia University’s plans to replace the Audubon Ballroom where Malcolm X was assassinated with a biomedical facility; the school eventually won out, but only after agreeing to preserve almost half of the ballroom. The second concerned a new federal building on the site of a colonial-era burial ground for thousands of African Americans, both free and enslaved.

The federal government wanted to rush the excavation of the bones, saying it would cost millions of dollars to perform an extensive dig. Paterson held his ground, and not only were more than 400 bodies recovered, they were reinterred at an on-site memorial that opened last year. Rodney Leon, who designed the memorial, said without Paterson’s efforts, many New Yorkers would be blind to that historical moment.

“He felt it was extremely important for this site to be preserved,” Leon said. “He was willing to put his political capital on the line. It speaks to his commitment to this community and to New York City as a whole.”

The governor has not always been the staunchest preservationist. During the Audubon fight, Paterson founded a group called Landmarks Harlem, but the man he installed in 1995 to grow the group, Paul Brock, eventually bilked it of much of its funds, leading to its collapse. He also pushed for the creation of a school in a former nightclub and a minimum security prison for women in a row of brownstones, both of which preservationists opposed.

As lieutenant governor, Paterson was put in charge of a $1 billion upstate economic development package and a $1 billion stem cell research program, which he had championed in the legislature.

Congressman Gregory Meeks, who represents the Sixth District in Queens and has been friends with Paterson for decades, said he believed rebuilding the state’s flagging infrastructure would be a major priority. “Look at his district,” Meeks said. “You can see from the transformation of Central Harlem that he knows how to drive development. Now the entire state is his district.” 

MATT CHABAN
 

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Lost City in the Woods



Architect and photographer Christopher Payne is fascinated with the afterlives of buildings. A chronicler of ruins, he has photographed disused factories on the East River, the High Line on the West Side, outmoded transit electrical substations throughout Manhattan, and, for the past few years, shuttered insane asylums and state hospitals across the country. Payne’s latest subject is the buildings and landscape of North Brother, a derelict hospital island in the Bronx under the jurisdiction of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, far removed from the cycles of development and change that are transforming the city. Evidence of habitation and of the island’s checkered history is literally disappearing into the woods.

In the 1880s, the island was home to a contagious disease hospital and was a model of reform-era hygiene and efficiency, earning the praise of the muckraking journalist Jacob Riis. Among its inhabitants was “Typhoid” Mary Mallon, the cook and notorious source of several outbreaks, who died there in 1938. The island was also the site of one of the nation’s worst nautical disasters, the 1904 downing of the steamship General Slocum, which sank just offshore carrying German immigrants on a holiday outing. Nurses and patients on the island rescued nearly 250 passengers, but more than one thousand people died. The tuberculosis hospital was completed in 1943, but was quickly repurposed to house World War II veterans who were attending college in the city through the GI Bill. By 1952, the island became a treatment facility for juvenile drug addicts before being abandoned altogether in 1964.

Today North Brother has largely slipped from public consciousness. It does not, for example, appear on the MTA Subway map: The place where the 29-acre island would be shows only water. “The city has an uncountable number of histories and events that are lodged, hidden away in some archive or someone’s memory,” said Randall Mason, a professor of historic preservation at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied the island extensively. “But things have a way of coming back; they resurface.” He cites the African Burial Ground as an example. “Places become invisible if they’re not used,” he said. The Parks Department classifies North Brother as a nature preserve. Department representatives visit only a few times a year and the public is prohibited because of safety concerns.

While photographing sites for the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, Payne first saw the island from afar. “I felt like I had found a lost city in a jungle, and yet here I was in New York City,” Payne said. His boat, he realized, was too big to get close to the island’s ruined dock. “Here was this lost world, a hundred feet away, that I couldn’t get to.” On a second trip, he found its buildings—a hospital, power plant, boiler, morgue, housing, cistern, and other infrastructure—receding into the landscape. “It’s strange to look at old photos and see how it functioned, how clear it was, a modern, open campus,” he said. “It’s amazing how quickly Nature reclaims what’s Hers.” In his photographs, trees sprout from the foundation line of the solitary staff house as layers of brick peel away from the facades. Brightly painted interiors are visible through the shards of glass in the robust-looking art deco tuberculosis hospital.

For the Parks Department, the island’s most important resident is the Black-crowned Night Heron, a rare bird that has slowly been returning to the region since the passage of the Clean Water Act in the 1970s. North Brother is part of a chain of small islands throughout the region called the “harbor herons complex,” according to Bill Tai, director of natural resources for Parks. The much smaller South Brother Island came into the Parks portfolio this November, when the federal government bought it for $2 million and turned it over to the city. Acknowledging the island’s history and its crumbling architecture, Tai called North Brother “the most interesting of the heron islands.” He added, however, that “maybe its highest and best use is to preserve it for wildlife.” Parks is sympathetic to the island’s history and the concerns of preservationists, and according to Tai, the department is hoping to do a partial restoration of the dock to make it occasionally accessible for small groups, and has secured $500,000 in funding toward that goal. Restoration of one of the smaller buildings as an interpretive center may be possible, but he noted, “We have very reduced budget forecasts, so it’s not a very high priority.”

In this era of public-private partnerships, piecemeal development, and limited public resources, the state of limbo in which the island sits is not altogether uncommon. The scale and significance of its architecture, once accessible by frequent ferry service, is a disquieting reminder that such limitations were not always commonplace. For Payne, abandoned public buildings hold a particular attraction, not just for the romance of their ruin but as vestiges of civic aspirations long since jettisoned.

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And Then There Were Four


brookfield hudson
Brookfield’s Manhattan West. COURTESY SOM
 

Since the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced five bidders to buy air rights over its Hudson Yards that span the lower West 30s from 10th Avenue to the river, the Brookfield Properties bid has stood apart from the others. It rejected the MTA’s guideline to create a platform over the yard, arguing that it could keep the rail lines in service by locating buildings on the avenues and their entrances at street level. It also employed 11 architecture firms, including SHoP Architects and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, in a proposal that won the affection of members of the local community board and passersby at the MTA’s December exhibition. All of this has made the developer’s decision to abandon the bid raise eyebrows in the architectural community.

One reason that Brookfield may have dropped its scheme is that it violated the city’s 2005 zoning for the eastern portion of the site, meaning that a fresh rezoning would likely add at least 15 months to the schedule.

“Everyone who has worked on this will tell you they would like to relook at that zoning,” said a source associated with another bidder, who asked for anonymity. “I thought Brookfield’s proposal was entirely feasible from an urban design point of view, and there were good, intelligent principles in it.” 

Those principles may yet drive some of the site’s planning. It will take at least a decade to build out the project, and no developer will want to sink a lot of capital into it without knowing the prospects for Moynihan Station just to the east. So most observers (and some participants) expect players to lean on or borrow from each other in executing the project. That means Brookfield could get back in, as an investor in a single building or by virtue of its control over the site’s eastern gateway.

Brookfield recently secured $105 million in predevelopment financing for Manhattan West, a 5.4 million-square-foot mixed-use project featuring twin SOM skyscrapers. That project, on a deck from 9th Avenue to Dyer Avenue, will abut Hudson Yards, so Brookfield will still affect how construction crews, buses, and pedestrians eventually cross from Moynihan Station (or Penn Station, if it doesn’t change) into the Hudson Yards site.

The local community board and other well-organized civic groups in Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen have advocated a plan integrating Moynihan and the Brookfield site into plans for Hudson Yards. Their advocacy has already led the MTA to release design proposals to the public: After the authority selects a bidder, support for the Brookfield idea may bring that model back into the picture. 

brookfield hudson
The Hudson Yards version of the SOM towers.COURTESY ARCHIMATION
 

“We’re all wondering whether there’s going to be room for change in urban design,” said someone who has participated in the bid process since last year. “The community itself is looking for it. The problem is, I don’t think anyone is going to take the time to build consensus.”

Governor Eliot Spitzer, at a February 28 speech, promised resolution of Moynihan Station’s unsure financing: MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said the agency will consider bids this month. As economic assumptions change, Brookfield’s choice to sit out the term-setting on Hudson Yards may prove wise later on if zoning problems make the project seem less financially; it doesn’t mean the company won’t get involved at a later point. 

ALEC APPELBAUM

 

Dome Drama

The dome, the whole dome, and nothing but the dome: This was the demand from angry New Yorkers when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) discussed its plans to strip down the design for the Fulton Street Transit Center in a meeting with Community Board 1. “We want the Fulton Street Transit Center built as originally designed, and we want it built now,” said Alliance for Downtown New York president Elizabeth Berger at the February 11 meeting. “We can’t settle for less, and we can’t wait any longer.” 

The MTA first announced its plans to rethink the Grimshaw Architects and James Carpenter Design Associates building at the end of January, when it revealed a paralyzing funding gap (“Folly at Fulton St.,” AN 03_ 02.20.2008). The project was budgeted at $390 million, but the sole bid for construction came in at $870 million. CB1 World Trade Center committee chairperson Catherine McVay Hughes called the towering glass dome that focuses sunlight onto the subway platforms below “an iconic design that the community fell in love with.” 

At the February 11 meeting, CB1 passed a resolution demanding the building it says downtown was promised. “It would be utterly unconscionable,” the resolution reads, “to not build this project in a timely manner after 145 Downtown businesses were sacrificed to assemble the site and the entire population of Lower Manhattan has been forced to navigate around and through this massive dirty construction site for years.” 

The dome would enclose 23,000 square feet of retail space that the Downtown Alliance and CB1 argue is crucial to the process of reinvigorating a neighborhood still struggling after September 11. But CB1 is worried that the city’s priorities don’t match its own. The Transit Center was supposed to open this year, according to Hughes, but it remains in pieces even as other redevelopment projects churn along. “After 9/11, we had meeting after meeting to go over the top priorities for downtown,” said Hughes. “The South Ferry Terminal is almost done, and it was at the bottom of the list, whereas Fulton Street was the top priority.” 

The MTA argues the building itself is just the tip of the iceberg, and less pressing than the mess of train lines submerged underneath it. “Transportation benefits are the most important part of the project,” said spokesperson Jeremy Soffin. That part of the project is scheduled to open in 2010. 

The MTA is in the middle of a 30-day reevaluation of the design and its funding. It hopes to have a revised plan by the end of the month. Meanwhile, the Downtown Alliance has suggested a public/private partnership to help distribute some of the project’s cost overruns. It’s unclear at this point what shape the Transit Center will take, but according to Soffin, “This is not going to be left as a hole in the ground.” 

WILLIAM BOSTWICK