Manhattan's East River Park is expected to receive a massive facelift—and sooner than expected. Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration announced an update to nearly 70 percent of the design for the long-awaited East Side Coastal Resiliency Project (ESCR). The new $1.45-billion-plan will not only speed up the construction process and shift heavy construction work away from residential areas and closer to the waterline, it will also improve access to East River Park while transforming it into a world-class parkland. According to a press release, the purpose of the redesign is to allow flood protection to begin one year ahead of schedule. In addition, the entire project is now slated to be completed six months earlier than previously determined. By pushing back the flood walls from FDR Drive toward the East River along the water's edge, there will be fewer barriers between East River Park and the local community, giving the 40-acre green space a more open and welcoming appearance. The flood walls will be directly integrated with the bulkhead and esplanade. Plans are also underway to create a spacious entry plaza at Houston Street with a direct passageway to the water, where pedestrians can stumble upon views of the East River with ease. The new plan will also add 12 tennis courts, eight baseball fields, four basketball courts, three soccer fields, a multipurpose field, and a running track to Lower Manhattan’s largest park. The ESCR is a $335-million proposal to construct flood barriers along the coast of Manhattan, from Midtown East to the Lower East Side. Bjarke Ingels Group and One Architecture & Urbanism conceived the idea in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2013. ESCR is only the first of three stages of Ingels’ vision for the Big U, which in total comprises a 10-mile-long flood barrier that doubles as public space, extending from West 57th Street to East 43rd Street, curving around the southern tip of the Financial District and Battery Park. The radical plan for flood-prevention will protect the most vulnerable, low-lying areas of Manhattan, while also providing residents with public spaces to relax, socialize, and sightsee. Construction on ESCR is expected to begin in spring 2020.
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A Bit of Polish
CitizenM used modular construction for its newest NYC hotel
CitizenM, the boutique hotel company founded in Amsterdam that prides itself on offering affordable luxury lodging, is opening its second hotel in New York and in the United States this week, on the Bowery on the Lower East Side in a building designed by Stephen B. Jacobs Group. The new hotel will be the brand’s first in the U.S. to use its prefabricated construction system, which no doubt helps make its luxury affordable. According to Rob Wagemans, the brand’s creative director who is also the founder of Concrete, an Amsterdam-based design firm, many citizenM hotels feature modular guest rooms that are prefabricated in a factory north of Gdansk, Poland, and then shipped by sea in containers to the hotels’ location. The Bowery hotel’s 300 165-square-foot prefabricated guest rooms, made of steel, with concrete floors covered with a wood laminate. were shipped containing most of their furniture, all pieces attached to the rooms’ walls or floor. The furniture includes a California king-size bed that is placed directly below the guest room’s window, which is located in one of its walls, and that lies flush against two other walls facing each other; an HD TV, with wiring done in Poland, that is located at the foot of the bed, mounted on the wall; a table next to one wall that contains the room’s iPad, which controls its lighting, blinds, and TV; a Corian vanity on the opposite wall that contains a sink, minibar, and mirror; and table lamps and a George Nelson lamp above the bed. The room’s frosted glassed-in combined shower and toilet space is also prefabricated; appliances here were made in Germany by Hansgrohe and shipped to Poland for installation Not sent by container is the rooms' movable furniture, such as a red-upholstered Eames chair from Vitra with an accompanying bench; decorative and visual art; and toiletries and toilet paper. Each modular unit consists of two guest rooms connected by a hallway, and 210 units were shipped to New York for the Bowery hotel. The hallway carpet here is decorated with local landmarks and was installed on-site. Wagemans said citizenM’s first hotel in the United States—located in Times Square—was not constructed with modular rooms because when it opened in 2014, the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) would not permit installation of a sprinkler system that was built overseas and not been inspected locally. Robin Chadha, citizenM’s chief marketing officer, said that the administration of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio now looks favorably on prefabrication and is permitting DOB inspectors to go to Europe to inspect sprinklers in citizenM’s modular guest rooms. CitizenM declined to quantify savings afforded by guest room prefabrication, but said the units’ small size means they “generate up to 35 percent more hotel keys per property than a traditional hotel” and undoubtedly more revenue. Not all of the new Bowery hotel was prefabricated. Spaces that were not include the lobby, a ground floor cafe, a “living room” one floor below the first floor, and a rooftop bar with 360-degree views of the city. CitizenM, which owns and operates its 13 hotels worldwide, constructed the 246-feet-tall building the Bowery hotel occupies and claims it is one of the highest in its Lower East Side neighborhood. Eight of the brand’s 13 hotels feature modular guest rooms.
For the past two years, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (DHP), the Department of Buildings, the Fire Department, and the Department of City Planning have been working with city council members to legalize more basement apartment rental units, and this June the city took a major step forward. According to City Hall, “The City is using innovative strategies to unlock more affordable housing at every level – including the basement.” Currently, thousands of people are occupying basement and cellar apartments deemed not fit for habitation. According to Council Member Rafael Espinal, “In East New York, I can comfortably estimate that over 75 percent of the basements are being rented illegally.” Also, they haven't been properly registered with the Department of Finance. Following an initial feasibility study, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Members Brad Lander, Rafael Espinal, and Inez Barron proposed legislation this summer to establish a three-year pilot program to facilitate the creation and renovation of apartments in the basements and cellars of certain one- and two-family homes in Brooklyn Community District 5. This demonstration program intends to provide clearer guidelines for landlords looking to make qualifying basements legally habitable. The de Blasio administration has invested $11.7 million in the new program. According to a City Hall press release, “This innovative program will provide safe and legal housing options to more New Yorkers.” Modifications of existing construction codes are designed to improve health and safety standards for occupants while reducing the overall cost of conversions. Barron said, “This bill will enable landlords to make necessary structural adjustments to their basements so that these potential living spaces can be legalized and legitimized.” The DHP is seeking a qualified community-based organization (CBO) to administer the program. The DHP will fund the CBO to assist landlords with completing low-interest loan applications and selecting approved contractors to complete the work. To qualify as a landlord, a homeowner must have an income at or below 165 percent of area median income and occupy the one- or two-family home as their primary residence. If the pilot program succeeds it will potentially expand to all five boroughs.
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.
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.
No Good Horrible Very Bad Day
NYCHA orgy rounds out disastrous summer for the public housing agency
New York City papers reported this week that employees for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) have been having regular orgies in a Bronx public housing complex. The bombshell is a bizarre cap on a summer of horrible news for the agency. New York Daily News reported on Monday that at least two supervisors were pressuring staff at Throggs Neck Houses to participate in alcohol-fueled sex parties in the property's offices. The parties happened on multiple occasions, and staff even counted time at the events as overtime so that they would be paid for participating. The entire Throggs Neck staff has since been reassigned to other properties, but no one has been fired. The greatest penalties have apparently fallen on two ringleaders who were suspended without pay for 30 days while the organization conducts an investigation. One of those people, Brianne Pawson, was the supervisor of grounds at the property and is the daughter of Charles Pawson, NYCHA director, the Daily News reported. Outrage from residents and city council members over the scandal and subsequent lack of disciplinary action only add to the heat NYCHA has felt this summer, as dangerous flaws in its operation have been exposed. Residents in East Harlem have reported that they frequently don't have running water; playgrounds have collapsed while children played on them; drinking water tanks have contained dead animals and human excrement; hundreds of children have suffered lead poisoning after living in apartments with toxic paint. And that's just this year. Reports have uncovered a litany of other complaints and failures, all apparently stemming from gross mismanagement and underinvestment by the authority. Vito Mustaciuolo was named general manager for the organization this summer on the heels of Shola Olatoye's departure from her position as chair of the authority. Earlier this year Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, declared a state of emergency for the organization after several properties lost heat during the winter, and a recent lawsuit targets Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City, for his responsibility in a lead poisoning scandal. NYCHA is the country's largest housing authority and shelters over 400,000 New Yorkers. Its leader is appointed by the city's mayor, but it operates as an independent corporation. This year Congress approved an increase in federal funding for the authority after the Trump administration initially proposed cutting support.
The Trolley Problem
New York's BQX streetcar on hold as de Blasio appeals for federal funding
The saga of New York City’s proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) streetcar has taken yet another turn, as Mayor Bill de Blasio placed responsibility for funding the $2.5-billion project on the federal government. At an August 24 media roundtable, de Blasio dodged questions about how much the city would be contributing to the project and claimed that while a detailed BQX plan was incoming, federal subsidies were necessary to move things along. “When we have a more detailed plan we'll speak to it,” said de Blasio, “but the primary focus I have beyond the resources that would be created via its very existence because of increased property taxes for that area, is the need for federal support. I don't think it's doable without federal support, but we'll speak to the details.” It looks like the federal government is throttling back its investments in mass transit, as the Federal Transit Administration has been consistently decreasing the amount of money allocated to intra-city projects. Still, it might not be impossible for the city government to secure federal funds for the BQX; the Gateway rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey, long maligned by President Trump, has seen a consistent trickle of money through Congressional action. While the city still has yet to release a draft report of the BQX’s route, there has been no mention of changing the 2019 groundbreaking. The de Blasio administration was (and seemingly still is) shooting for a 2024 completion date, but even if funding is secured in time, the reconstruction of the decaying Brooklyn-Queens Expressway could alter any previously proposed route. De Blasio added that details on the BQX’s next steps would be forthcoming. “Figuring out how to do it is what we've been working on cause it is complex, we're going to have an announcement soon on the details. But, you know, bottom line is the original concept makes sense, we believe there will be some real funding created by its presence but, we're gonna need some additional support.” The nonprofit Friends of the BQX declined to comment.
Escape From New York
New York City releases final plans to close and replace Rikers Island
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has released its final selection of sites for the four borough-based jails that will replace the notorious prison on Rikers Island. At an under-the-radar mayoral press conference yesterday, the city released its 56-page draft plan (available here) which includes the final locations, number of beds, amenities, zoning restrictions, and other materials necessary for the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) to proceed. The final selection comes eight months after the city tapped Perkins Eastman to analyze and design alternative sites to the centralized Rikers complex. There had been some back-and-forth with the community in each of the four boroughs over where these 1,500-bed jails would be built (Staten Island is sitting this one out). According to the draft plan, the city will move ahead with its backup plan for the Bronx after failing to secure its preferred site adjacent to the Bronx Hall of Justice and will build a 26-story jail on an NYPD-owned tow pound at 320 Concord Avenue. The city will push ahead with plans for a 40-story jail tower in Tribeca at 80 Centre Street, currently home to the Marriage Bureau. Brooklyn’s proposed jail at 275 Atlantic Avenue, currently the site of the Brooklyn House of Detention, could also be built out up to 40 stories. The Queens location, 126-02 82nd Avenue in Kew Gardens (formerly the Queens House of Detention) would reach up to 29 stories.
As the draft report fleshes out, each new jail will be designed to integrate with the surrounding community and will include ground-level retail and community facilities, and the Bronx location may contain up to 234 residences, including affordable units. Hundreds of new accessory parking spots will be included at each location, and the Queens jail will open their lots up to the public. As for the jails themselves, the 6,000 beds will accommodate the 5,000 prisoners expected by 2027, when the phase-in of the new facilities will be fully implemented. Rikers's current population has been consistently falling and was pegged at just under 8,500 in May of 2018–the administration and jail reform advocates are hoping to keep slashing away at that number through a combination of bail reform, expedited trial wait times, increased access to legal representation, and reduced incarceration for lower level offenses. While the move to close Rikers was lauded by politicians and civil rights activists alike, the community in all four locations must still weigh in on the plan before the project can begin the Uniform Land Use Review Procedures (ULURP) process in mid-2019. The city will be holding a series of workshops to solicit feedback before advancing its plan. According to the report, public meetings on the draft report will be held as follows: Borough of Brooklyn, September 20, 2018, 6:00 PM P.S. 133 William A. Butler School 610 Baltic Street, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11217 Borough of Queens, September 26, 2018, 6:00 PM Queens Borough Hall 120-55 Queens Boulevard, Kew Gardens, N.Y. 11424 Borough of Manhattan, September 27, 2018, 6:00 PM Manhattan Municipal Building 1 Centre Street, New York, N.Y. 10007 Borough of the Bronx, October 3, 2018, 6:00 PM Bronx County Courthouse 851 Grand Concourse, Bronx, N.Y. 10451 Design details for each jail are currently sparse, and will likely be forthcoming as the final sites are locked down.
Today NYC released its draft plan to build 4 jails to #CloseRikers but there is no big press conference or event. @NYCMayor is talking about ferries. Later there is a private briefing for reporters pic.twitter.com/sTR5IAdzZe— Christopher Robbins (@ChristRobbins) August 15, 2018
On a Pedestal
Women's suffrage statue is coming to New York City
Looks like women are finally getting honored for their monumental achievements in both American and New York City history thanks to two initiatives pushing for more female representation in the city’s statues. The Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund and She Built NYC are setting precedents for bringing permanent public works depicting women to the streets in monument form. Last month, The Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund announced the winning design for an upcoming statue of the famed female suffragettes by sculptor Meredith Bergmann, whose piece will be erected in the park on August 26, 2020, just in time for the centennial anniversary of the establishment of women’s right to vote. Gothamist reported that the statue will showcase the figures cast in bronze and writing out arguments for women's rights on an elongated scroll. The pair is well-known for penning the lady’s liberation paper, The Revolution, which ran in print from 1868 to 1872. According to Gothamist, the organization said in a press release that they’re proud “to have broken the bronze ceiling to finally start the creation of the first statue of REAL women in Central Park’s 164-year history.” A monument for the women's suffrage movement has been in planning for several years. A request for proposals went out last November, to which 90 sculptors submitted designs. As Bergman's chosen design awaits approval by the New York Public Design Commission, a model of the statue is on view at the New York Historical Society through August 26. Another program helping to elevate women’s historical contributions to New York is She Built NYC, a new advisory panel put together by the De Blasio administration that’s dedicated to preserving and highlighting female figures in New York from 20 years ago or more. Through the City's Percent for Art program, She Built NYC will select nominated figures for public works projects to go up over the next four years. This fall, the panel will vote on the first submitted nominations, which were collected during an open call this summer. The Department of Cultural Affairs has already committed up to $10 million for these new public monuments. The chosen subject and site of the first project will be announced in January. “There are big gaps in our City’s public art, with few statues of women, trans, and gender nonconforming people,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray in a press release. “The message that lack of representation sends is that these people have no value and did not make contributions to our city. This first step we are taking will help us more accurately show the diversity in the people who helped make New York City so great.” The upcoming Elizabeth C. Stanton and Susan B. Anthony statue will mark the sixth statue in all of New York depicting a female historical figure. The others depict Joan of Arc, Golda Meir, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman. It will also be the first statue in Central Park’s 840 acres to honor real women. The other 23 statues are of men while the only two female statues are fictional characters Juliet and Alice in Wonderland.
With buildings responsible for about 47 percent of electricity usage in the U.S., making buildings more efficient should be a top priority in combatting climate change. New York City has already pledged to retrofit its older buildings and slash CO2 emissions by 80 percent by 2050, but with the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, such action has been left to cities and states to undertake voluntarily. At the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco this September, businesses, investors, and local and state leaders from across the country will convene to discuss ways to decarbonize the economy and reach a carbon neutral U.S. by 2050. The AIA has announced that it will be sending a delegation headed by President Carl Elefante, FAIA, to represent architects at the summit and come back with a set of scalable best design practices. The AIA members attending will be part of the organization’s sustainability-oriented Committee on the Environment (COTE) and other climate change-related groups. The AIA will also be sponsoring two public events during the summit: Carbon Smart Building Day on September 11 and Climate Heritage Mobilization on September 12 and 13. The summit is meant to in part build momentum for COP24 in December, the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Still, even if radical decarbonization guidelines are agreed upon at the summit and adopted by the AIA and business leaders in attendance, such a shift likely wouldn’t be enough to reach the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s target of limiting global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celcius. The Paris Agreement and temperature targets are only reachable if the world were to produce negative emissions and sequester CO2 on a massive scale, a technology that’s still several years away. Still, the AIA has pledged to continue pursuing its sustainability and environmental health goals, as seen in its recent call for a blanket ban on asbestos in building products after the fracas last week.
Escape from New York
Jail tower proposed by New York City officials
As part of the plan to close Rikers Island by redistributing inmates to smaller jails across four of the five boroughs, the Daily News reports that city officials are looking to build a 40-story jail tower at 80 Centre Street in Lower Manhattan. Perkins Eastman, along with 17 subcontractors, has been tapped to redesign the smaller community-oriented jails in each borough and orient the new developments toward a rehabilitative model. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office had released a list of preferred community-chosen locations in each borough back in February, but ran into opposition with their sites in the Bronx. Now the plan for the Manhattan location appears to have changed as well, as the city is looking to top the nine-story 80 Centre Street with a jail tower that could contain affordable housing. The initial location in Manhattan, an expansion of the Manhattan Detention Complex at 125 White Street, was deemed infeasible for the number of inmates that would need to be housed. Rikers currently houses 9,000 inmates, but the city is hoping to cut that number to 5,000 through bail and sentencing reform and distribute the population throughout the new sites. Closing the jail has been the goal of vocal activists for whom the facility embodies gross abuses of the criminal justice system. Mayor de Blasio has recently come to support the push for closure. If the jail tower moves forward–80 Centre St. is one of two sites under consideration–the 700,000-square-foot Louis J. Lefkowitz State Office Building would be gutted and the preserved facade would serve as the tower's base. The granite, art deco building is currently home to the marriage bureau, and was completed in 1930 and designed by William Haugaard; according to the city’s official building description, Haugaard kept the building squat to avoid casting shadows on the nearby courthouses and Foley Square. The jail’s vertical shape would mean that men and women would need to be separated on different floors, as would the hospital area, outdoor space, recreation areas, and classrooms. AN will follow this story up as more details become available.
Car Capping Critics
New York City might limit the number of drivers using ride-hailing apps
Last week, the New York Times reported that New York City officials are “moving to cap the number of vehicles driving for Uber and other ride-hailing services,” amid concerns over congestion, the exploitation of drivers' wages, and the livelihood of the city’s iconic yellow cab drivers. If passed, the legislation would make New York the first major American city to limit the number of for-hire vehicles. A recent report by Schaller Consulting titled The New Automobility: Lyft, Uber and the Future of American Cities suggests that shared ride services such as UberPOOL and Lyft “while touted as reducing traffic, in fact add mileage to city streets.” They are reported to increase congestion on city streets by up to 160 percent. The Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) in total added 5.7 billion miles of driving in the nation’s nine largest metro areas. The rivalry between taxi and Uber drivers has pushed down the price of riding in the city, and there are increasing concerns over the dwindling wages of Uber drivers and the estimated 70,000 app drivers who earn less than the minimum wage. TNCs are known to recruit more drivers than needed to minimize their customers’ wait time. Taxi drivers aren't faring much better; as customers have flocked to app-based rides, drivers have felt the weight economically. Since December, six taxi drivers have committed suicide over their failing businesses. As the city debates the merit and harms being done by app-based car companies, the cap had been suggested by the City Council as a potential solution to these problems. However, the cap may not work as intended. As Streetsblog NYC theorizes, “an Uber ceiling will encourage permit-holders to rent their idle vehicles to other drives who want in.” It is believed that the cap could further dilute driver earnings. Uber and Lyft recently offer an alternative by proposing to create a $100 million fund for the medallion drivers in exchange for doing away with the cap. The Verge reported on the “hardship fund,” which was “summarily rejected” by the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office. The TNCs are expected to continue to scramble to rally against the bill. The City Council will vote on it next week.