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Don’t be fooled by the name: Main Street in downtown Flushing is decidedly nongeneric. One of the busiest commercial strips in New York, Main Street’s shops and restaurants cater to the 69 percent of Flushing residents who identify as Asian, particularly the neighborhood’s sizable Chinese and Korean populations. As in East Harlem, East New York, and Long Island City, the Department of City Planning (DCP) is studying rezoning possibilities for Flushing West. The DCP would like to activate underutilized industrial space along the waterfront, giving the downtown room to grow westward.
The Flushing West Neighborhood Planning Study (FWNPS) is building on a master plan initiated in 2011 by the Flushing-Willets Point-Corona Local Development Corporation. With a $1.5 million Brownfield Opportunity Grant, the LDC tapped SHoP, AKRF, and Mathews Nielsen to study zoning and land use between Flushing Creek and downtown Flushing. The master plan outlined strategies to spur economic development, add affordable housing, improve city services and infrastructure, and broaden access to the waterfront.
The FWNPS is now in its environmental review and public scoping phase. The plan’s rezoning proposal targets a 32-acre, ten-square-block area east of Flushing Creek, bounded by Northern Boulevard, Prince Street, and Roosevelt Avenue.
Since May, the DCP has invited residents to articulate Flushing’s core needs in a series of public meetings. Residents identified primary concerns, like building more housing for seniors, preventing displacement of small businesses, improving streetscapes for pedestrian safety, creating separate bike lanes, building more recreation space, and cleaning up the heavily polluted Flushing Creek.
Thomas Smith, director of studies for the DCP’s Queens office, explained that existing zoning in downtown Flushing “already allows for a significant amount of development potential.” The zoning encourages hotels (because of a low parking requirement), and buildings with wide, low bases topped by residential units.
New zoning would encourage similar mixed residential-commercial development, and adhere to current land use near Northern Boulevard: heavy manufacturing on the waterfront and light manufacturing inland. Those fearing a Williamsburg- or Greenpoint-style tower building boom need not worry. Airport zoning for LaGuardia, across Flushing Bay, sets restrictions on the height of buildings in adjacent neighborhoods.
Though plans from 1998 set out to beautify the waterfront, today the public access area is narrow and uninviting. Downtown streets leading to the water are long and drab, doing little to entice the eye and move pedestrians creekside. The proposed zoning changes would allow for a 40-foot-wide access area, a new street network, and restaurants and shops along the waterfront. At a November DCP public hearing, councilman Peter Koo praised the DCP’s plan, but encouraged the agency to clean up Flushing Creek, claiming that “no one wants to go there because it stinks!”
Besides poor water quality, the affordability of affordable housing is a top community concern. Smith explained that the rezoning would allow for affordable housing rates at 25/60 or 30/80. Translation: In some new construction, 25 percent of units will be available to households making up to 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), or, 30 percent of units will be available to those making 80 percent of the AMI. In 2015, the AMI for a three-person household in New York City is $77,700 for a family of three. If approved, the plan could add 938 total units of housing. Of those units, 516 to 619 units would be permanently affordable.
Jung Rae Jang, an organizing fellow at the Flushing-based MinKwon Center, noted that the AMI affordable housing guidelines are a poor fit for the neighborhood, which has an AMI of approximately $39,000. To Jang, “the city’s 25/60 plan simply does not address the [average] income level of the Flushing downtown area, and for people who are making less than that.”
A coalition of community organizations has formed the Flushing Rezoning Community Alliance to speak out on the zoning changes that could negatively impact current residents. The DCP hopes that, after a public comment period, the neighborhood plan will be approved by fall 2016.
Meet The Green Line: How Perkins Eastman would remake Broadway through Manhattan into a 40-block linear park
Wilshire Boulevard is impressive for both its length as well as its remarkable collection of notable architecture, much of it pedigreed within L.A.’s historical time line beginning in 1895. Wilshire was also made for the automobile. Over the decades it has evolved into a mélange of typologies and styles, to be viewed by most Angelenos through the rearview mirror of their car rather than by the lone flaneur pounding the pavement. To attract attention in the parade of largely unremarkable architecture that makes up the majority of building stock along the boulevard, only the brash and bold will do.
The newly redesigned Petersen Automotive Museum by architects Kohn Petersen Fox stimulates the senses. Brash and bold it most certainly is, with an undulating steel facade wrapped in slick red and silver ribbons of LED-lined steel panels. The ribbons project from the eclipsed shell of Welton Becket’s Seibu Department Store supported on tubular struts. Produced in Kansas City and brought to L.A. by semi-truck, each ribbon was computationally designed to fit together in the field, thereby reducing on-site coordination. Expertly engineered, flawlessly fabricated, and installed on time and on budget by Matt Construction and Zahner Inc., this energetic renovation of the original Petersen is KPF’s romance with the visual image of aerodynamics of a racecar in a wind tunnel. But this flirtation reads as an excuse to produce visual exuberance, and what we’re left with is an articulated billboard, nostalgically hawking the cosmetics of a familiar, and more primitive digital age.
However, no one can debate that the Petersen now visually owns the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire. A monster truck previously blasted out of the old museum’s facade in an attempt to communicate the contemporary program within. A sleek wrapper has replaced those marketing gimmicks, but programmatic ambiguity remains the architectural imperative of the new Petersen. Becket’s big box is still formally present, but now clad in KPF’s red and silver skin, it’s got “bling” in surplus. Behind the stainless-steel ribbons is a utilitarian rain screen of red corrugated steel, completing a textbook example of Venturi’s decorated shed, but one that offers no clever cues toward its program, nor its larger cultural purpose.
Herein lies the true problem for the Petersen Automotive Museum: The building’s dominating opacity doesn’t work for a block of Wilshire soon to be subway adjacent, and it is assumed, will host more pedestrians as a result. The few sections of glazing at the ground floor are certainly welcome, but the contemporary flaneur needs continuous storefronts stocked with spectacle in order to turn their gaze away from their smart phone. Becket’s original design was certainly no more transparent, but can be excused given its time and program—a postwar department store whose patrons entered from the rear through the parking garage. The contemporary museum visitor may often arrive on foot.
To their credit, the design team at KPF did challenge the client’s brief, which ruled out a curtain wall for both its cost and environmental impact on the collection. They developed the entry as a concourse, or sectional promenade through the building that includes visual connections to the ground floor galleries and restaurant from the interior of the building. This nod to the changing urbanism along Wilshire allows the public to filter into the lobby from both the sidewalk and the parking garage at the rear, either to visit the museum, grab a meal at the restaurant inside the Petersen lobby, or journey onward to LACMA nearby.
The Petersen board championed opaque galleries as an obvious way to mitigate environmental and acoustic issues facing the design. Local architects House Robertson gave the windowless, showroom-like galleries a cosmetic update, but the interiors could have used a more aggressive spatial upgrade in order to push for a stronger urban interface. It is not unusual for another firm to handle the interior of a project this large, but House Robertson ought to have taken more cues from KPF’s facade. Save for a large, open spiral stair—spatially promising at first glance, it reads upon closer inspection as an uninspired cousin to the escalators that once traversed the original department store.
Contemporary architectural discourse has already moved passed the computationally driven exercise of simply wrapping buildings as a means of expression. The really hot projects in the academy right now embrace a kind of complex geometry that migrates from exterior to interior in ambiguous ways, challenging how a building interconnects with both its external context and its users. There’s an opportunity for that moment in the concourse, and where the ribbons wrap to form a shallow brise-soleil on the roof deck, but without a material link from interior to exterior, the projected facade never gains spatial muscle, despite being cantilevered several feet off the primary volume of the museum.
“It makes better sense, of course, to acquire an existing disused building and impose your commercial personality on it with symbolic garnishes,” remarked Reyner Banham on the topic of iconic roadside architecture in Los Angeles: The Architecture of the Four Ecologies. But Banham was referring to a burger stand, not a museum. The Petersen board has a track record of searching for an iconic personality for their building by adding such “garnishes” to Welton Becket’s original structure, and the newest offering does little to improve the museum’s connection to the city beyond. While the Petersen’s founding mission may revel in the grand days of car culture, L.A.’s moved on to bike lanes and rapid buses, and is anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Purple Line Subway extension. Looking east down Wilshire Boulevard, one imagines subway riders emerging from below and skipping the Petersen Automotive Museum entirely beyond perhaps the quick selfie; it’s architecture and collection the vestige an urban idea that Los Angeles just doesn’t need anymore.
You Know I'd Bike 1,000 Miles: New York City celebrates milestone achievement in bike infrastructure
While major cities in Europe and across the world are experimenting with the car-free lifestyle, the American South is not likely on anyone's radar as the next to embrace the trend. A neighborhood in Nashville, Tennessee, however, has promised to not use cars for an entire week, leaving them at home as part of the "Don't Car Campaign."Having started on September 19, 30 participants will go carless until the 25th. “Parking has been a big issue here,” said Jamie Brown, a member of the Nations Neighborhood Association (NNA) board speaking to the Nashville Business Journal. “The residential density is getting higher. One [house] goes down and two or three go up,” she said. “Now we’re starting to see condominium and apartment units." Elaborating on the parking difficulties in the area Brown went on to say: “We’re worried about how [new development] is going to affect our overflow parking in the street. We don’t have sidewalks in our neighborhood. The developers keep telling us this is a walkable neighborhood, saying it’s close to downtown. … We wanted to test that concept.” The NNA campaign to go car-less highlights the outdated transit system currently in place, adjudged by the Nashville MTA as insufficient for the growing local population. The city, according to the Nashville Business Journal, is fortunate in that it is walkable and pedestrian-friendly with plenty of bike lanes. Abstaining from car usage then shouldn't be that much of an issue. “People in other neighborhoods have reached out and told us this is a great idea,” Brown said. “We hope the campaign could be done by other neighborhoods.” The team of 30 who will record and document their experiences seeks to be a leading example of how a population can get by without being dependent on cars. They also want people to start seeing how capable their transportation infrastructure really is.
Fernando Romero has a plan to green Mexico City with the Cultural Corridor Chapultepec, a park-like linear thoroughfare
On a New York City map, the seven-mile roadway that cuts through Queens is designated as Queens Boulevard. But to many New Yorkers, the notoriously dangerous street is known by another name: the Boulevard of Death. According to the city, 185 people (most of them pedestrians) have been killed on the boulevard since 1990; over that time, scores more have been seriously injured. For Mayor de Blasio—who wants to eliminate traffic deaths through a street safety campaign called Vision Zero—overhauling the Boulevard of Death was an obvious place to focus his attention.
In March, the Department of Transportation presented a $100 million plan to transform an especially hazardous 1.3-mile section of the street where 42 people were killed or seriously injured between 2009 and 2013. The plan would fundamentally change the geometry of the street by widening sidewalks, shortening crosswalks, reorganizing slip lanes, and creating pedestrian plazas and protected bike lanes.
“Work has begun to turn Queens Boulevard into a Boulevard of Life—literally remaking this street, rewriting its future, making it safe for all,” said the mayor at a press conference along the street as construction kicked off in July.
Transit advocates and numerous elected officials from Queens and around New York heralded the redesign of Queens Boulevard—especially its inclusion of protected bike lanes—as a “safe streets” homerun. But to these same stakeholders, the laudable transformation of Queens Boulevard is an exception in the DOT’s track record of creating safe streets for cyclists. In the Vision Zero era—after Michael Bloomberg waged, and largely won, the battle to make New York more bike-friendly—the so-called “bicycle lobby” and its allies are questioning the DOT’s commitment to protecting people pedaling around town.
As work was just beginning on Queens Boulevard, the DOT presented a $60 million plan to remake part of another notoriously dangerous roadway in New York: Atlantic Avenue. The redesign included traffic calming measures to protect pedestrians, but like many recent road diets proposed and implemented by the department, it lacked any bicycle infrastructure. To the added chagrin of cyclists, as these plans have been rolled out, existing bike lanes across the city have been worn into oblivion while others have failed to reappear following street resurfacings.
In July, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James wrote a public letter to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg inquiring about these issues. After lauding the department’s commitment to Vision Zero, she asked why certain road diets were missing bicycle infrastructure and urged the department to make bike lanes the “default option when a street is up for a redesign.”
Paul Steely-White, executive director of the non-profit Transportation Alternatives, said the DOT must be bolder about implementing bicycle infrastructure if it is serious about eliminating traffic fatalities by 2024. With the rate of bicycling increasing, neighborhoods clamoring for bike lanes, Citi Bike now doubling in size, and the mandate of Vision Zero, he believes the department has all the political capital it needs to do so. “It’s no longer a political issue, it’s simply a DOT performance issue,” he said. “There is a residual shyness from a lot of DOT professionals who are perhaps gun shy from the bike lanes battles of the Bloomberg years,” he said. “But politically, socially, we’ve evolved beyond that and it’s time for the agency to catch up.”
DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo said the criticisms levied at the department are not reflective of the reality on the ground. “People should be impatient, they should want things to come quickly, but there has been a process,” he said.
Russo explained that while certain road diets may exclude bike lanes, they can be the first step in convincing skeptical communities that precarious streets can become complete streets. “We have to get people from A to C,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean every single street has to have a bike lane initially or when you do a project.” In the Vision Zero era, he continued, redesigning a dangerous intersection might initially get priority over a bike lane. The idea is that once a street is made safer for all users (cyclists included), the DOT can go back to a community board with a more substantial focus on cyclist safety.
To Ben Fried, the editor-in-chief of StreetsBlog, a popular pro-transit publication, this strategy amounts to unnecessary “self-censorship” on the part of the DOT. Since road diets often meet community resistance whether they include bike lanes or not, the DOT “might as well propose the bike lane anyway,” he said. To many advocates, the best way to create support for bike lanes is to implement bike lanes.
As for the condition of the existing bike network, Russo, who bikes to work from Brooklyn, understands cyclists’ frustration about faded markings and vanished paint. He said the winter was especially harsh on existing lanes, but that “under Vision Zero we have money we never had dedicated to upgrading our markings, and we’ve been growing that operation.”
Overall, the DOT is bullish on its bike lane record—especially outside of Manhattan. The department highlighted bike networks it has proposed or implemented in Long Island City, Ridgewood, Queens, Brownsville and East New York, and around the Harlem River. Each of these plans includes a mix of bike infrastructure from shared lanes to protected lanes to bike pathways. In August, Commissioner Trottenberg also announced that the DOT would be presenting plans for a bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue, a project cyclists and local officials have been requesting for years.
The DOT plans to install 50 miles of bike lanes per year, at least five of which will be protected.