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More details emerge for the new Center for Community and Entrepreneurship in Flushing, Queens
A New York nonprofit powerhouse has commissioned two local firms to build out its mission in Flushing, Queens.
Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), an advocacy and community development agency based in Flushing, selected JCJ Architecture and Leong Leong to design the Center for Community and Entrepreneurship, a 90,000-square-foot business incubator and event space that will serve as a fulcrum for the neighborhood.
The announcement comes at a time of great growth for the neighborhood, a major commercial center for New York’s Asian-Americans. 70 percent of Flushing’s 72,000 residents are Asian, and the area is home to one of the world’s largest ethnic Chinese enclaves. “Vibrant,” that go-to good streets descriptor, doesn’t adequately capture the level of activity along Flushing’s main thoroughfares—Roosevelt Avenue, Main Street, and College Point Boulevard. Main Street is second only to Times Square in New York City foot traffic. Here, shoppers from all over the region access multi-story mini-malls through ground-level stores whose wares spill onto packed sidewalks that the city is spending nearly $8 million to widen.
The Center for Community and Entrepreneurship addresses a dark side of this prosperity: International real estate investment and a growing population have raised property values and commercial rents, making it tough for new enterprises to get off the ground. The center will sustain AAFE’s holistic development approach and build on its legacy of community investment. Since its founding 42 years ago, the organization has created more than 800 units of affordable housing and given $44 million in loans to 1,000-plus small businesses.
For design inspiration, the two firms looked both at AAFE’s mission and the surrounding area. “In Flushing, there are already a lot of pre-existing hybrid typologies,” said Dominic Leong, cofounding principal of Leong Leong. “It’s an interesting urban context—because of the history and the influx of immigrants from Asia, there are mixed-use typologies that just don’t exist anywhere else in the city. This project falls in line with that DNA, and takes it to an institutional level.”
The building’s seven-story gradient of public-to-private use beckons residents inside, while the program—a twist on the Flushing commercial typology of stacked retail—tackles challenges posed by the neighborhood’s rapid growth. A public plaza at 39th Avenue and College Point Boulevard, the architects explained, anchors the building to the neighborhood by drawing people in from the street, while private offices occupy the upper levels.
The space is organized as four connected volumes, each joined to an outdoor terrace. At ground level, the plaza’s 5,000-square-foot marketplace connects to Flushing’s street life, while upstairs, a flexible event space opens onto an adjacent terrace. A three-story open staircase, wide enough at its base for seating, connects the space through the third level. “From the plaza up to the stairs, you are metaphorically tracking the mission of AAFE,” said JCJ principal Peter Bachmann.
A third-floor incubator will provide co-working space, where emerging businesses will get assistance from the AAFE-affiliated Renaissance Economic Development Corporation. “The center is not only about providing affordable space,” said Christopher Kui, AAFE’s executive director. “It’s about networking opportunities and resources.” The nonprofit, whose offices will occupy the fourth floor, will lead entrepreneurship classes geared specifically to small businesses. As they grow, firms can rent space on floors five through seven.
A reflection of the hybrid program, the facade is most transparent at the two lowest and most public floors. The glass increases in opacity as the eye ascends to the upper, non-public floors, explained Chris Leong, Dominic’s brother and cofounder of the firm. The lot line wall is clad in metal panels and roughly mirrors the glass walls’ spacing.
Overall, the building respects its lot line, but, unlike a “jewel on the block,” it’s not trying to define itself against its context, Dominic said. It has a slight curvature in plan that brings it up the lot line, while the corner lot ensures that adjacent developments will respect the building’s profile.
AAFE awarded the project to the firms last fall, and the center is expected to be complete in 2018. Leong Leong and JCJ have mutual respect for each other’s desire to work with mission-driven organizations, and the architects stressed the strengths they bring to the project. JCJ has seven offices and a deep portfolio of community-minded projects, while Leong Leong is known for bringing its impossibly cool aesthetic to projects like the U.S. Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale and the Anita May Rosenstein Center, a new campus for the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
In Flushing, both firms see architecture as a platform for community. “We are in a post-icon paradigm. This generation is trying to understand a different way to relate to context.” Dominic said. “Here, we interface with the community on the urban level of the plaza, then create building forms that respond to those criteria.”
The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) recently unveiled plans to redevelop a former Bronx juvenile prison into a mixed-use development centered on affordable housing.
WXY architecture + urban design (WXY) is collaborating with Body Lawson Associates (BLA) to transform the infamous Spofford Juvenile Detention Center into the Peninsula, a $300 million project that will create 740 units of 100 percent affordable housing.
Claire Weisz, principal-in-charge of WXY, said that “no parts of the former prison [were] being reincorporated” into the development. “The goal is to create a campus that incorporates living and working to reimagine this promontory place in Hunts Point,” she added.
The rest of the team—Gilbane Development Company, Hudson Companies, and Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY)—was chosen through a 2015 request for expressions of interest (RFEI).
The team is working with longtime neighborhood stakeholders like the Point CDC, BronxWorks, Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education, Urban Health Plan, Sustainable South Bronx, and others.
In 2014, Majora Carter—the urban revitalization activist and founder and former executive director of Sustainable South Bronx—partnered with AutoDesk to imagine alternatives to the Spofford site, which operated as the Bridges Juvenile Center when it was shuttered by the city in 2011 over appalling conditions and inmate abuse.
Along with the typical deliverables that come with a project this size—retail, community, and green space—the Peninsula will bring 49,000 square feet of light industrial space to the Hunts Point neighborhood.
Weisz said that “recreating and reconnecting the street grid” while “making a courtyard space [that] expresses the permeability and openness to the community” was a “priority of the team’s proposal.” Victor Body-Lawson, principal at Body Lawson Associates, added that the team “designed the courtyard as a hub that will foster interactivity between the community, residents, and visitors while melding commercial, manufacturing, and residential activities around a central space.”
In addition to providing housing, the plan integrates different types of workspaces, including artist work studios and light industrial space for Bronx-based businesses to both launch and expand. The Peninsula will host a business incubator, job training facilities, school space for pre-kindergarten (an on-site Head Start program will be incorporated into the project) and higher education, 52,000 square feet of open space, and an 18,000-square-foot health and wellness center operated by Urban Health Plan. “The housing and these work spaces will together create a lively and open addition to the neighborhood of Hunts Point,” said Weisz.
Food, too, is key to the Peninsula: The NYCEDC stated that in addition to a 15,000-square-foot supermarket, local favorites like Il Forno Bakery, Soul Snacks Cookie Company, Bascom Catering, and Hunts Point Brewing Company will be setting up shop in the development. According to Weisz, these “will serve as anchor tenants for the Peninsula because they provide access to fresh produce, offer health care services, and strive to be part of a larger vision that benefits their growing business and the community they serve.”
The five-building development is coming online in three planned phases: Phase one is expected to be complete in 2021, with phase two coming online the year after and the third phase set to open in 2024.
AN Editors' gift picks
Dark Age Ahead was Jane Jacobs’s last and perhaps most dystopian book. In it, she foretells the nationalist, anti-neoliberal political wave sweeping the western world today. Jacobs explains our current situation as a necessary crisis resulting from our transition toward a technology-focused society.
Jason Sayer, Editorial AssistantBudget Brutalism When your love for concrete is bound only by your wallet then you’ll be pleased to know of Polish firm Zupagrafika and British artist Oscar Francis. If you feel like recreating your own Brutalist block, Zupagrafika has you covered with a cardboard edition of Ernő Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower (also known as Trellick Tower). If that doesn’t take your fancy, Oscar Francis’s wash bag comes enamored with a print of Sulkin House in Hackney, north east London on it. Art Deco Wrapping paper Art Deco and geometry go hand-in-hand so the style seems ready-made to be used for pattern work, in this case, on wrapping paper. This subtle approach will most likely bring a warm smile to most design types before they’ve even opened your gift. Just make sure the gift is as good! Frank Lloyd Wright Bird Feeder Frank Lloyd wright had an affinity for the natural world, often celebrating it in his work—Falling Water being the most obvious example. "Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you,” he once said. Now you can feed Frank’s feathered friends with this bird feeder whose glass artwork emulates patterns found in the architect's Darwin D. Martin house in Buffalo. Audrey Wachs, Associate Editor
Stop. Close your forest of Amazon Prime tabs right now, and make a gift to nonprofits that make our built environment more just, equitable, and beautiful. Better yet, make a donation for the architect in your life: She has enough crap already, and you get a tax deduction. Win-win, right? Here’s a few suggestions:If you care about fairness and equity in the field, become a member of the Architecture Lobby. The national organization promotes the value of architecture in the public realm and advocates for structural change within the profession to produce better working conditions. For general donations, the group’s Architecture Initiative funds public forums and the Lobby’s educational mission. To the uninitiated, gender and architecture have more synergy than meets the eye. Organizations like QSPACE, a queer architectural research organization based at the New Museum’s NEW INC, center sexuality and gender in its analysis of the built environment. In addition to donations, the group, founded this year by GSAPP grads, also solicits technical expertise for ongoing projects. QSPACE isn’t the only group accepting in-kind donations. In the wake of the Oakland warehouse fire that killed 36 people, architects Melissa J. Frost and Susan Surface founded national nonprofit Safer Spaces to help artist-run venues and live/work lofts get up to code. Right now, the group is soliciting donations of fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, and other fire prevention tools, as well building services, project assistance, and plain old-fashioned cash. Check out their local meet-ups and skill-share document here. For the architect-urbanist, a great way to give back to your city is a gift to your nearest Community Development Corporation (CDC). These nonprofit, hyperlocal organizations typically operate in disinvested, low-income neighborhoods to develop affordable housing, spur economic development, plan neighborhoods, and make streets beautiful. There are CDCs in nearly every city, and for New Yorkers, this list from NYU’s Furman Center is a good place to start.
What's new with the BIG U?
Like the ESCR, the LMCR visioning process will begin with extensive community engagement to figure out what, exactly, neighbors want to see on the rivers' edge. The firms plan to take lessons from the ESCR, now in its final stages of design, to this one. Besides the resiliency measures that provided the impetus for the construction, Bergmann said the East Side ESCR constituents expressed a strong desire for more green space, open space, and recreation areas.
Initial renderings for the ESCR depict sinuous parks, lighting to illuminate dark and foreboding highway underpasses, and novel play spaces that bring citizens close to the waterway. BIG and ONE Architecture are working in concert to design the 2.5-mile strip, which costs an estimated $505 million, in collaboration with local, state, and federal agencies. Construction is expected to begin in 2018.
For that project and for the LMCR, Bergmann says there's no one design solution that fits all of the waterfront, especially the working waterfront. What Bergman called the LMCR “pinch points”—the tighter areas beneath the raised FDR Drive, or the Staten Island Ferry Terminal—present distinctive design challenges, though he said it’s too early to speak to specific solutions. Public meetings began this summer, and with the next set of meetings planned for February, "we hope the community can see there is traction and movement forward from a devastating event like Hurricane Sandy."The city says that by 2018 the LMCR team is to deliver an actionable concept design for the project area, with design and implementation to follow.
The plan, as its realized in stages, differs from the original BIG U, the sexy proposal that wowed both architects and the bureaucrats at HUD. When it first debuted, the floodproofing infrastructure extended all the way up to West 57th Street. “My hope," Bergmann said, "is that the vision will reach its full intention because that completely protects the entire lower Manhattan area."
The only component that's fully funded is the ESCR, so in order to realize both components—and possibly the whole BIG U vision—government at every level would need to open their budgets. Although Trump's infrastructure plan seems like it will focus on prisons, pipelines, and border walls, maybe the president-elect will put aside his climate change denial for a moment to help out his hometown?
Partisan political discourse still pretends as if there’s a climate change “debate,” yet the government is already acting extensively to prevent crises from rising global temperatures. Across the country, local and federal agencies are working with architects and planners to protect communities and redevelop neighborhoods in the aftermath of climate-related natural disasters. But what happens to residents who are too poor to get out of the way of storms—and too poor to return—and why is anyone rushing to live in disaster zones?
Catastrophic natural disasters share a common feature with accelerated processes of economic development: at vastly different rates, both can result in large-scale displacement. An article by Brentin Mock on environmental news site Grist uses a pithy phrase for the disparate impact climate change can have on lower-income residents: it’s the “ultimate gentrifier,” he wrote, citing the exodus of more than 300,000 low-income residents from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
The description may be provocative, but studies by environmental scientists at the EPA’s Climate Change Division partly support the notion. Within the 6,000-square-mile area at high risk of flooding by 2100 due to a mid-range two-foot sea-level rise, almost 750,000 residents belong to the most socially vulnerable groups. These are most likely to be disproportionately impacted by storms and least likely to have the resources to move.
But are rich people really are moving into areas where low-income residents are being displaced by storms? Sadly, in some cases, yes. A New York Times story on high-rise condo construction in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, reports that, far from retreating from flooded areas, a building boom is driving up prices.
Currently, local and federal agencies only spottily provide the necessary infrastructure and policy frameworks to protect against climate-related catastrophes ranging from forest fires in Southern California, earthquakes along the Pacific Coast, tornados and flash flooding in the Midwest, and hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. Adequate planning, federal aid, and environmental regulations can and should prevent disparate impacts of climate-change related severe weather events on low-income residents. In practice, prioritizing where to improve infrastructure falls to local governments that have worse financial constraints and often carry an implicit economic bias toward the most financially important areas.
In Alaska, higher temperatures are increasing erosion and thawing the permafrost, causing homes to sink in the mud. More than a dozen Inuit towns have already voted to move, including Newtok, which has acquired a relocation site through an act of Congress, and the 650-person Bering Sea village of Shishmaref, which commissioned AECOM’s Anchorage office to study the feasibility of relocation sites. Yet the cost of these moves, estimated at $214 million for Shishmaref alone, is far beyond the means of the inhabitants; a UN report on climate change and displacement notes the lack of state and federal governance structures to support these moves.
Some low-lying neighborhoods in New Orleans are undergoing a similar policy of unofficial abandonment, swallowed up by nature through neglect. These places are not gentrifying—they’re simply disappearing.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), reorganized in 2003 under the Department of Homeland Security and reformed since 2009 by Obama administration appointee Craig Fulgate, now talks about what it calls a “whole community” approach, emphasizing participation and engagement of a wide range of stakeholders. It needs to do more.
“FEMA has changed its rhetoric,” said Deborah Gans, who has conducted planning studies for low-lying neighborhoods in New Orleans and Red Hook, Brooklyn, most of which flooded in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy. “They don’t really know how to do it yet, but at least they’re talking the talk.”
In 2008, Homeland Security established the Regional Catastrophic Preparedness Grant program to encourage collaborative emergency planning in America’s ten largest urban regions. In New York’s combined statistical area, which includes New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, the Regional Catastrophic Planning Team coordinated a series of Participatory Urban Planning workshops that included city and state agencies, nonprofits, community groups, private sector representatives, and even local Occupy affiliates to streamline emergency preparedness, housing recovery plans, and recovery processes in five types of communities.
In the New York area, Hurricane Sandy has increased the sense of urgency. “In New York, about a third of our housing is within our six evacuation zones,” said Cynthia Barton, who participated in the workshops as manager of the Housing Recovery Program for the New York City Office of Emergency Management.
Barton leads the FEMA-supported initiative to prototype interim housing units, designed by James Garrison, which would substitute for the improvised mesh of hotels that sheltered displaced low-income residents in the aftermath of Sandy. The interim housing units, IKEA-like prefab condo boxes that stack up to three stories high in various configurations, facilitate an urban density allowing vulnerable residents to remain within their neighborhoods in the aftermath of severe storms.
“The basis for the project has always been that none of the federal temporary housing options would work in cities and that it’s very important to keep people close to home after a disaster,” Barton said. “In terms of economic stability for people and for neighborhoods, it’s important to keep people close to their jobs. It’s important for mental health reasons to keep people close to schools and close to their support networks.”
But on the federal level, long-term infrastructure improvements are not adequately funded. In New Orleans, landscape architect Susannah Drake of DLANDstudio is working on a gray and green streetscape program for 20 blocks of the St. Roch neighborhood. “The issue is that the base condition was low in terms of the infrastructure that existed,” Drake said. “We’re adding basic amenities for what would be a normal streetscape in New York, but we’re also dealing with the challenge of having very little infiltration and having a lot of water to manage…They’re not things the federal government is necessarily willing to pay for.”
Without federal insurance and public investment in infrastructure, wealthy homeowners don’t tend to move into flood zones. But storm protection, unevenly funded by federal grants, frequently has to be supported by local real-estate development tax revenues that provide lopsided advantages to upper-income residents.
“There’s a historical inequity environmentally in a lot of these neighborhoods in need, and it’s exacerbated by climate change,” said Gans, who led a Pratt Institute planning study on how to locate emergency housing in low-lying Red Hook, Brooklyn. “New York City Housing Authority projects were generally located on land that wasn’t that valuable, and guess what? It tended to be low-lying and out of the way.”
The problem centers on whether to save the threatened neighborhoods or rezone them to exclude residential use. Shoring up a city’s flood defenses can become an opportunity to improve a neighborhood’s environmental equity, but using the prevailing market-based model, focusing stormwater infrastructure in a waterfront community will only push more housing into vulnerable areas.
“As long as we keep allowing people to build market-rate waterfront property, there will be gentrification,” Gans said. “Any development that takes place on the water will be so expensive that it will necessarily gentrify the waterfront. There’s just no doubt about it.”
In Red Hook and Sunset Park, AECOM recently released a plan to place 30-50,000 units of new housing on the waterfront—25 percent of it affordable—as well as subsidize a new subway stop, and implement green and gray infrastructure for coastal protection and flood management. Arguing for the plan as a boost to Mayor de Blasio’s OneNYC ambition to build 200,000 affordable units by 2020, the proposal also runs counter to the idea of limiting exposure to areas of growing risk.
“Why would you build more housing in an area that’s underserved by transportation and that’s in a really dangerous zone, a flood area,” asked Drake, who designed the Sponge Park concept as a green infrastructure element for the Gowanus Canal. “I’m not an economist, but I’m very pragmatic and down on building in flood plains.”
Officially, there is no means testing of emergency planning or recovery aid. Eligibility for the National Flood Insurance Program and high insurance rates affect individual decision-makers. Not so for public housing, where residents’ lack of access to resources makes issues of planning that much more grave. Because of its 6,500 public housing residents, two-thirds of the Red Hook is below the poverty line. Economically, the light-manufacturing industries scattered among its low-rises generate relatively little revenue for the city to justify hundreds of millions in flood protection.
The conflict between access to revenues and local needs seems to underlie the rapidly advancing East Side and Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency projects, sections of Bjarke Ingels Group’s winning Rebuild by Design competition proposal for the protection of Lower Manhattan up to 59th Street. The projects essentially erect a wall adorned with parks as a bulwark against the sea. They implicitly prioritize the centrally important economic drivers of New York City.
“Ultimately there’s a cost-benefit analysis,” said Drake. “I’m not saying that lives are less valuable in other parts of the city, but when you do an economic cost-benefit analysis between Lower Manhattan and Red Hook, and you’re looking on purely financial terms, then Lower Manhattan wins because it’s an economic driver of the city.”
If it can really be done for that amount, the estimated cost for the Lower Manhattan projects is negligible in comparison to the economic benefit. The Office of Recovery and Resiliency and the Economic Development Corporation of New York have dedicated $100 million to an integrated flood protection system (IFPS) for Red Hook. City capital is supporting a $109 million Raise Shorelines Citywide project that would mitigate sea level rise in Old Howard Beach, Gowanus Canal, East River Esplanade, Mott Basin, Canarsie, Norton Basin, and the North Shore of Coney Island Creek.
“Emergency planning should really be about future planning,” Gans said. “The way you avert an emergency is by making sure you have integrative future plans that don’t put people in harm’s way and mitigate all of the bad decisions you made historically.”
In contrast to the oblivious political climate change “debate,” local governments have already learned from recent extreme weather events that they need to act to improve their planning capacity and infrastructure. Federal agencies are also acting, putting limited resources into protecting against climate change-related disasters. Highly engineered solutions are possible, but they’re unwise as a long-term strategy in the absence of a leveling off of global temperatures and will be cost-prohibitive for low-income communities. Unless the next Congress is prepared to fund a national infrastructure program, the best way to equitably protect low-income residents will be to downzone vulnerable areas and build new public housing on higher ground. Otherwise, we’ll need to accept the fact that our celebrated revitalized waterfront is mainly for the rich.