Search results for "NYC Department of Housing, Preservation and Development"

Placeholder Alt Text

Agencies of Change
Hunters Point South and Long Island City
Courtesy NYCEDC

The Bloomberg Administration is arguably one of the most pro-development governments in city history. Since he took office, the Mayor has used city agencies to unleash the forces of New York real estate while also steering those forces to meet goals for a cleaner, greener, and more equitable city. PlaNYC, the catch-all name for the Mayor’s bundle of 132 sustainability initiatives, creates a framework for over 25 city agencies to collaborate on a vast array of projects, from the new East River Ferry service to a $187 million investment in green infrastructure. While some programs such as MillionTreesNYC, are making streets leafier one tree at a time, many of the Mayor’s initiatives have reshaped the city in profound ways. As the administration counts down its remaining days in office, AN checks in with the individual agencies whose projects have had the most impact on development in the city.

By Alan G. Brake, Molly Heintz, Julie V. Iovine, Branden Klayko, Nicholas Miller, and Tom Stoelker.

Willets Point
Courtesy NYCEDC
 

New York City Economic Development Corporation

The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) is not a city agency at all but a non-profit with a mission to spur local development, but the Mayor appoints seven members of the organization’s board of directors, including the chairperson.

The NYCEDC, which has grown from a staff of 200 to over 400 during Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor, has its hand in hundreds of projects across the city. “Our goal has been to diversify development across five boroughs,” said NYCEDC President Seth Pinsky. And just because Bloomberg’s term is coming to a close, don’t think things are winding down. The Applied Sciences campus on Roosevelt Island is just getting underway and, as of June, the city had acquired 95 percent of the land required to move forward with Willets Point, a five million square foot development that includes the remediation of a contaminated site.

 
Hunter's Point South (left) and Seward Park (SPURA) (Right).
courtesy NYCEDC; HPD
 

Major Initiatives: According to NYCEDC, the Waterfront Vision and Enhancement Strategy (WAVES) Initiative is a “sustainable blueprint for realizing New York as a premier waterfront city.” Under the umbrella of the initiative are 130 projects across more than 500 miles of city coastline. Twelve city agencies are involved along with investment of $3 billion over the next three years.

The City’s Coney Island Revitalization Plan calls for a mixed-use neighborhood with 5,000 new units of housing plus retail, an effort the city predicts will generate 25,000 construction jobs and 6,000 permanent jobs.

The South Bronx Initiative was launched by the Mayor in 2006 to create a strategic plan to support private investment, development, and infrastructure planning in that area. Working with HPD, NYCEDC developed retail corridors that would support new housing.

NYEDC has also increased outreach to communities impacted by its projects. The State says too much, recently citing EDC for playing “a behind-the-scenes role in the lobbying activities” on behalf of Willets Point and Coney Island developments.

Coney Island
Courtesy NYCEDC
 

Status: The statistics on WAVES initiatives are detailed: 34 projects completed; 71 projects on schedule; 14 projects with delays; 5 projects reconsidered; 1 project not yet started. Projects include New Stapleton Waterfront, a seven-acre development on the site of the former Navy Homeport in Staten Island, featuring 900 rental units, retail, and a waterfront esplanade. “The RFP was issued in late 2007, then the financial crisis hit causing us to lose all the original respondents. But we managed to persevere. We found a new developer, Ironstate Development of Hoboken, broke the projects into phases, and rejiggered some of the site uses,” said Pinsky.

At Coney Island, before construction can start, the proper infrastructure has to be in place—namely sewers. “A lot of the areas had never had substantial development, and in order to build housing and retail, you need to have adequate infrastructure,” said Pinsky. As part of the Coney Island plan, the City is putting $150 million into infrastructure alone.

Impact: “There used to be vacant lots in the South Bronx, and now there’s density, a hustle and bustle. I wish that EDC and HPD would work together more to do mixed-used projects—that’s the type of synergy we need.”
Magnus Magnusson, Magnusson Architects


Zoning initiatives adopted, 2002-2012.
Courtesy DCP
 

New York City Department of City Planning

Major Initiatives: Under the Bloomberg Administration, the Department of City Planning has been more active than at anytime since the days of the Lindsay Administration’s vaunted City Planning Commission. Since 2002, 40 percent of the city has been rezoned (115 rezonings covering more than 10,300 blocks). Under the direction of Commissioner Amanda Burden, the department has adapted for the 21st century many of the initiatives first conceived under Lindsay, including large-scale mixed-use developments such as Hudson Yards (with customized zoning and financing mechanisms for infrastructure improvements) and Willets Point while amplifying community involvement through intensive public-private collaborations—the High Line, South Street Seaport—and enabling coordinated efforts across agencies in order to address sustainability goals and open space and streetscape improvements. In Greenpoint/ Williamsburg, planning partnered with HPD to structure a new Inclusionary Housing Program along the waterfront, while collaborating with the Parks Department to ensure that the new two-mile waterfront esplanade would remain fully accessible to the public.

But it will most likely be the attention to detail that will be remembered most about Burden’s reign, from the creative zoning encouraging cultural uses on 125th Street to the bar-style balustrades along the East River Waterfront Esplanade.

East River Esplanade.
Tom Stoelker / AN
 

Status: Subject to major rezonings, some neighborhoods are already reaping the hoped–for rewards although not always as originally envisioned. A 2004 rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn to transform it into a major business hub has been slow to take off, even as it has triggered a residential boom—26 new buildings; 5,200 units. This summer, the emergence of the Brooklyn Tech Triangle, New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress campus, and MakerBot’s move to MetroTech are adding some momentum. The 2005 rezoning of the Greenpoint /Williamsburg waterfronts has added fuel to the ascendance of the Brooklyn waterfront, while rezonings of Bedford Stuyvesant North, West Harlem and the South Bronx will inevitably take much longer to catch on.

Attention is currently focused on a big final push to rezone East Midtown and redirect development towards the East Side triggering changes with potentially more impact on the core skyline than anything along the waterfronts.

Impact: “Mayor Bloomberg restructured city government by having agencies responsible for land use and economic development report to a single Deputy Mayor. Strong leadership at City Hall has coordinated multiple Mayoral agencies, not just those concerned with economic development, to help shape and realize our ambitious rezoning initiatives. It has been through the coordinated and directed efforts of multiple agencies that we have been able to achieve adoption and ensure implementation of our ambitious plans.”
Commissioner Amanda Burden, Department of City Planning


In Williamsburg, developers of the Edge (Below, left) and Northside Piers (below, right) were required to build waterfront esplanades (above) as public amenities.
Jesper Norgaard
 

New York City Department of Parks and Recreation

Major Initiatives: New York City comprises 29,000 acres of parkland. Over the past decade, the Bloomberg Administration has added more than 730 acres. While Central Park has long been a major economic generator of funds ($656 million in increased tax revenues in 2007 generated by adjacent properties increasing in value by proximity to the park), increasing riverside accessibility at Greenpoint and Williamsburg’s former industrial sites, Hunters Point South, Hunts Point and along the city’s 520 miles of waterfront have become key initiatives of the administration, and the progress is notable. Commissioner Adrian Benepe has made no secret that the administration’s definition of success lies in creative financing with a bedrock of public-private partnerships. The commissioner pointed to the Central Park Conservancy as the great “friends of” model, but hand-in-glove cooperation with City Planning and the Department of Transportation has reshaped waterfront parks and their upland streetscapes by courting development.

 
Jesper Norgaard; Courtesy Toll Brother
 

Status: There are 160 active capital projects in the parks department. Of several near-term priorities, three waterfront projects are engaging in public-private developer involvement. In Greenpoint/Williamsburg the city is cobbling together parcels to create public parks linked with privately owned pubic spaces (POPS). A 2005 rezoning required developers to build the POPS at the river’s edge in return for substantial floor area ratio increases. The zoning encouraged Toll Brothers to build Northside Piers, Douglaston to create Williamsburg Edge, and JMH to restore 184 Kent. The 30-acre Hunter’s Point South allowed for park designs by Balsley/Weiss/ Manfredi with Arup and residential towers developed in part by Related and designed by SHoP. In the Bronx, a grass roots riverside cleanup eventually led the Department of Environmental Protection to supply land for Barretto Park.

The city is building parks at Hunter’s Point South to facilitate development compatible with an urban waterfront.
Courtesy NYCEDC
 

Impact: “The difference between now and 1979 is that you didn’t have the dozen or so major nonprofits involved, so that I think that will insure that whoever takes over at Parks, maintenance will not be an afterthought.”
Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Department of Parks and Recreation

“Before we bought the Banknote Building we were certainly aware of what had been accomplished at Beretto Point and Hunts Point and saw that as a tangible sign of the city’s commitment to the peninsula. It was a strong symbol that things were happening here.”
Jonathan Denham, co-president of Denham Wolf


 
LPC has approved both contextual such as St. Vincent’s (left) and contemporary designs like One Jackson Square (right).
Courtesy FXFowle; KPF
 

New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission


Though Landmarks has added 31 new historic districts, landmarked structures represent a tiny fraction of the city’s buildings; Click to enlarge.
Courtesy LPC
 
 

Major Initiatives: Though landmark districts encompass a mere three percent of the city’s landmass, their effects can stretch beyond landmark borders. Developers argue that the districts inhibit growth and preservationists believe they spur it. Under Mayor Bloomberg, the Lamdmarks Commission has been known to allow huge projects within districts, such as the Rudin Managment’s St. Vincent plan, especially when highly contextual. At other times, new buildings are allowed to challenge the status quo, as in Hines’s One Jackson Square, which sits just up the street from St. Vincent’s. To make for a more transparent process, Commissioner Robert Tierney said that new rules will be introduced next year to codify procedures and allow online permitting. But this has not mollified concerns from developers. Two Trees owns more that 2 million square feet within the DUMBO historic district. “People like to live in DUMBO before it was a landmark district,” said Two Trees’ Jed Walentas. “The fact that it’s landmarked just makes it more expensive.”

Status: Pre-Bloomberg, there were 77 historic districts and 9 historic district extensions, encompassing approximately 22,400 properties.

Currently there are 108 historic districts  and 18 historic district extensions, encompassing approximately 28,500 properties.

There are 30,000 landmarked sites throughout the city, including 1,316 individual landmarks, 10 scenic landmark sites, and 114 interior landmarks.

 
Protected buildings in DUMBO (left) and the new DUMBO historic district (right).
Courtesy Two Trees; LPC
 

Impact: “Yes, it’s a process that requires significant resources and time, but maybe for the developers who are able to work through our process, it’s worth it.”
Chair Robert Tierney, Landmarks Preservation Commission

“There’s a time and a place for landmarking; where it becomes scary is when it becomes an anti-development tool during a hot real estate market.”
Brooklyn developer Jed Walentas


   
Left to right: Madison Square Plaza; Dutch Kills Green; Broadway leading to Columbus Circle.
Courtesy DOT; Linda Pollack; Courtesy DOT
 

New York City Department of Transportation

Major Initiative: Pedestrian Plazas

Status: Recognizing that streets in New York account for 25 percent of the city’s area yet pedestrian amenities were scarce, DOT created Sustainable Streets, a multimodal transportation policy for the city, calling in part for improving streetscapes for pedestrians and cyclists and creating new public spaces from underused roadways in targeted locations such as Times Square, Herald Square, the Flatiron District, and now Vanderbilt Avenue. Also in 2008 and 2009, DOT undertook the Green Light for Midtown program to improve the streetscape along Broadway, created new plazas at Madison Square’s iconic Flatiron Building, and built a ribbon of new public space along a new Broadway Boulevard connecting Herald and Times squares.

In June the study, “If You Build It: The Impact of Street Improvements on Commercial Office Space,” showed how improvements work together to create a backbone along Broadway. Hotels, in particular, are taking advantage of older building stock. In recent years, the Ace Hotel, the NoMad Hotel, and the Flatiron Hotel have all opened in previously overlooked blocks of Broadway; Marriott plans an Edition Hotel in Madison Square’s Clock Tower Building. Astor Place may be the next hot spot. With over eight acres of new pedestrian space planned there, it is the site for one of the first new spec buildings in the past 20 years.

 
Madison Square Plaza after DOT's pedestrian improvements (left) and the conditions before (right).
Courtesy DOT
 

Impact: “Once it was valuable to be right on the park, but now it’s also valuable to be near the park as the pedestrian improvements and bike lanes connect everything together. It’s not just Broadway, but areas around them forming a cohesive whole.”
Janet Liff, a commercial broker in Midtown South

“We have definitely seen vacancies decrease and rents increase. We’ve seen a massive amount of hotel development at the north side of the Flatiron District. In particular, large commercial tenants see these improvements as their front yard. It was the perfect storm of investment in the community.”
Jennifer Brown, Executive Director of the Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership


Hunter's Point South.
Courtesy HPD
 

New York City Department of Housing Preservation & Development


Via Verde.
Courtesy Dattner
 
 

Major Initiative: The New Housing Marketplace Plan calls for the creation and preservation of 165,000 units of affordable housing by 2014.

Status: HPD counts more than 125,000 units towards this goal. By the end of fiscal year 2011, 35% of housing started under the plan was new construction, 65% preservation. The agency has been more successful at preservation of affordable housing than new construction, due in part to the real estate downturn. HPD is currently “getting started on and finishing out” many new construction projects and closing in on construction, according to Deputy Commissioner for Development RuthAnne Vishnauskas. “You will definitely see progress towards getting towards the marquee goal for new construction sites.” Seward Park (now in ULURP) on the Lower East Side and Hunter’s Point South (under construction) in Queens are major new developments that the agency hopes to complete by 2014, each of which will include more than 900 units of affordable housing.

Impact: “New York City is lucky and unique in that we have a very strong for-profit sector that builds affordable housing. That part of the sector never really wanes. There were for-profit developers doing affordable housing even when the economy was low.”
RuthAnne Vishnauskas, Deputy Commissioner for Development


 
Two examples of Blue Roofs.
Courtesy DEP
 

New York City Department of Environmental Protection

Major Initiative: DEP signed a consent agreement with the New York State Department of Environmental Protection (which enforces federal EPA standards) to comply with the federal Clean Water Act standards, improve the health of the city’s waterways, and dramatically reduce the number of combined sewage overflows.

Status: DEP is currently developing Long Term Compliance Plans (LTCP) for ten New York City Waterways as well as a citywide LTCP, the first of which will be completed in 2013 and all of which will be finished by 2017. DEP is also expanding gray and green infrastructure throughout the city—including bioswales, and green and blue roofs—moving from pilot projects to larger scale implementation.

On July 1, DEP mandated a ten-fold increase in the amount of stormwater that must be retained on site for all new construction projects, dramatically reducing stormwater flows. DEP worked with the real estate and development community to create flexible options for retention systems, including pervious surfaces, green and blue roofs, storage tanks, and recycling systems. Cleaning New York’s waterways, from the Gowanus Canal to New Town Creek to the Bronx River, will also open up desirable waterfront sites for redevelopment. Investing in green infrastructure will in general benefit the development community, according to DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland.

Impact: “We spent a lot of time doing outreach to stakeholders, including the real estate community. They wanted more options and more guidance for how to meet the new standards. Green infrastructure improves the social spaces of the block and makes them more desirable. It improves the triple bottom line.”
Commissioner Carter Strickland, Department of Environmental Protection


 
East River Ferry Route (left; click to enlarge) and a ferry navigating the East River (right).
Courtesy Billybey Company; Branden Klayko / AN
 

New York City Economic Development Corporation/ Department of Transportation/Private Operators

Major Initiative: East River Ferry Service

Status: A three-year pilot program for East River ferry service connecting rapidly developing sites in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens including Hunter’s Point South and the Williamsburg waterfront launched in June 2011. The public-private partnership is part of Mayor Bloomberg’s Waterfront Vision and Enhancement Strategy (WAVES) calling for sustainable development along New York’s waterways. Initial projections estimating 409,000 annual trips were shattered as over one million rides were logged in just over a year of service. Responding to the popularity, private ferry operator, the BillyBey Ferry Company, began offering local food options on all of its 149-passenger ships and launched larger, 399-passenger boats on weekends.

Impact: “The East River Ferry Service is still in a trial period, but so far it’s exceeded all our expectations.”
EDC spokeswoman Jennifer Friedberg

“The early signs are remarkable in terms of economic vitality. The life that’s been embedded into the neighborhoods along the ferry service is remarkable. At the Edge development in Williamsburg, once ferry service was in place, marketing for the Edge worked much better. I have heard interest from developers in Long Island City on being near the ferry. It’s easy, frequent, steady transportation, especially when the only alternative is the overcrowded 7-line in Queens. Now, we’re looking for a permanent form of subsidy to keep the pilot going. The cost is one third of the subsidy of the average express bus service, so it’s a real bargain.”
Roland Lewis, President of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance


     
Left to right: One57; The Sheffield; The Willow; 50 West Street.
Courtesy Extell; UT Borrower; AKA Partners; Time Equities
 

Back To Building

MEANWHILE, private development is beginning to rally on its own, whether driven by an economic upswing or the irresistible momentum of the pendulum swinging back into action. Condominiums and tall towers are leading the way, more than a few on 57th Street, propelled apparently by that incomparable shaper of urban form, commercial competition:

Pyramid
12th Avenue & West 57th Street
35 stories
Durst

The Sheffield
322 West 57th
58 stories
UT Borrower

One57
157 West 57th Street
90 stories
Extell

The Willow
120 West 57th Street
29 stories
Ark Partners

105 West 57th Street
52 stories
JDS Development

432 Park Avenue
& 50 East 57th Street
89 stories
Maklowe

 

250 East 57th Street
59 Stories
World-Wide Group

250 West 55th Street
39 stories
Boston Properties

Tour Verre
53 West 53rd Street
78 stories
Hines

Baccarat Hotel
20 West 53rd Street
45 stories
Starwood Capital Group/Tribeca Associates

International Gem Tower
54 West 47th Street
34 stories
Extell

 

Gotham West
550 West 45th Street
31 Stories
Gotham Organization

Hyatt Times Square
135 West 45th Street
54 stories
Extell

GiraSole
555 West 34th Street
65 stories
Moinian Group

Manhattan West
West 31st – 33rd Streets
66 stories
Brookfield

One Hudson Yards
56 stories
Extell

 

99 Washington Street
50 stories
Holiday inn

111 Washington Street
57 Stories
Pink Stone Capital

56 Leonard Street
57 stories
Alexico Group/Hines

Courtyard & Residence Inn
1715 Broadway
68 stories
Granite Broadway Development

50 West Street
65 stories
Time Equities

Four Seasons
99 Church Street
80 stories
Silverstein Properties

Placeholder Alt Text

Proposals About New Microapartments Highlight Benefits and Drawbacks
Take a minute to imagine what you would do if you had to cram your life into 270 square feet. In a typical ranch-style home, 270 could be a master bedroom, or a small living room, or a one-car garage. Now how about 220 square feet? It might make a shed or a bedroom. Now imagine this 15 by 18 foot or 15 by 15 foot space as your home. Though it might sound more like another Ikea advertisement, two high-rent cities—New York and San Francisco—have been playing with the concept of permitting very small “micro-apartments” to alleviate high rents. By creating smaller housing, the idea goes, prospective renters will have a less expensive option and the city will be able to increase the density of residential units without increasing building size, always a contested point in neighborhood planning. On the West Coast, Berkeley developer Patrick Kennedy is advocating for his "SmartSpace" concept for San Francisco, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.  Each unit would have 150 square feet of living space with a kitchen, bathroom, and closet giving the apartment a total of 220 square feet. It has been rumored that San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener will bring a proposal to reduce the minimum-square-footage zoning requirement—currently 280 square feet—to the city’s Board of Supervisors though nothing has been released by the San Francisco City Council. In New York, Mayor Bloomberg and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) have proposed a micro-living model for New York City,  and they recently announced an open competition—called “adAPT NYC"—for a micro-unit building to be built in Kips Bay on the east side of Manhattan. With accompanying site-specific waivers for zoning regulations for residential density and minimum-dwelling-unit size, the city government’s proposal has retained a larger amount of control over what they consider to be a pilot project. The attention given these two projects on either coast reflects both the micro-unit’s potential as a solution for New York and San Francisco’s frenzied rental markets, as well as society's interest in a form of housing yet unexplored in U.S. cities. The most immediate concern raised by architects attending an NYC HPD pre-submission conference held at the Center for Architecture is the qualifications written into the adAPT NYC competition. Among other required developer qualifications, the evaluation criteria of the competition, only 30 percent consideration is given to the design. The price offered to the city for the city-owned land gets ten percent, giving wealthy developers an edge. Meanwhile, the size of the property constrains the scale of the project. A mock-up by HPD shows only eight units per floor and an overall program of seven residential floors, making the scale too small to entice wealthy developers or make a substantial impact on affordable housing in the city. Overall, the restrictions overshadow innovation. A more embedded issue with the development of smaller spaces is how a change in apartment size functions within the larger regulatory system. Regulations, such as those associated with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other codes, put stringent requirements on design, potentially restricting the possible solutions for addressing the design of an apartment within such a small area. Another objection addresses yet another nebulous consideration: can a 220-square-foot space be sufficient for occupants? Not only does this question hinge, quite literally, on multipurpose design elements such as the bed/shelf/couch or kitchen/workspace/storage combinations, but on quality of life questions. Common amenities are suggested as a solution to small apartments, such libraries, gyms, game rooms, and home theaters. But including common rooms compromises the inclusion of more apartments. Images of crowded tenements still resurface in debates about residential density. While small spaces can be made comfortable with high quality and often expensive space-saving designs, will all micro-apartments come with these amenities or will the regulatory changes simply become an opportunity to increase density? Juli Weiner addressed this question most succinctly in a recent editorial for the New York Times:
I’m so glad you could make it to my microhousewarming. Ha-ha, no, there’s still going to be a lot of fun, I’m just calling it that because of how much I’m loving my new Kips Bay-area, Bloomberg-administration-ordered, 275-square-foot microapartment. You can put your coat right ... there on your shoulders! Please keep your coat on. One of Gerald’s friends brought a hat, so unfortunately space is a bit tight in the closet.
Placeholder Alt Text

Where Have All The Flowers Gone?
With stalled development undermining its public/private funding model, the Hudson River Park does not generate enough income to pay for maintenance and infrastructural problems.
Courtesy Hudson River Park Trust

Greening the city has meant a glorious and historical expansion of its parks and waterfront amenities. But building new parks is far more complicated than planting bulbs and bushes. And even as the city has demonstrated great initiative in creating new parks, how it plans to maintain them—physically as well as financially—is far more uncertain. Caitlin Blanchfield takes a stroll through the variegated schemes for keeping up New York’s parks and esplanades.

 

New York City is currently in its greatest period of park expansion since the 1930s. With 29,000 acres of land already in the stewardship of the Parks Department, tracts flanking the Hudson and East Rivers are being turned over to green space, restored wetlands, and recreational use. Where once there were rotting piers and toxic sludge, New Yorkers kayak in the Hudson and schoolchildren catch (and release) sea horses under the Manhattan Bridge. As Nancy Webster, executive director of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, put it, New York’s new parks “redefine an understanding of local geography and provide a unique sense of place for New Yorkers” by recapturing its identity as a port city.

Cutting the ribbon is one thing. Keeping a park usable, healthy, and engaging for decades to come, quite another. Capital projects far outstrip park maintenance in the City’s budget. According to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, the budget for capital projects, which includes opening new parks and restoration projects that require heavy construction, is around $1.6 billion annually. The maintenance budget, which is dedicated to horticultural care and facility upkeep, is around $300 million.

“Maintenance and operations have a separate and vastly smaller stream than capital projects, yet capital design has no knowledge of maintenance and operations funding, which should dictate design strategies,” said Deborah Marton of the New York Restoration Project, an organization that functions as a wealth reallocator, distributing funding from private donors, city, and state across the boroughs, particularly in the Bronx, Harlem, and Central Park. “Parks are often allowed to fall into disrepair because they will then get capital dollars. We’ve inherited 19th-century ideas about how cities and budget are structured. Much of the city’s public spaces are in the jurisdiction of different organizations: the Housing and Preservation Authority, the MTA, Port Authority, and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. This division is anathema to how we currently think about public spaces.”

 
Hampered by non-starter RFPs, Pier 40 still needs $100 million in repairs (left). Hudosn River Park’s popularlity has influenced waterfronts in cities as far away as Paris and Sydney (right).
Courtesy Hudson River Park Trust
 

With city and state funding providing just under 65 percent of current maintenance and operation budgets, ensuring that parks are properly maintained has fallen to strategic alliances of privately interested citizens and varying models of public/private partnerships committed to overseeing long-term sustainability and funding. While some, such as the Hudson River Park Trust and the Brooklyn Bridge Corporation are legislated entities, many other organizations, like friends groups working in small community parks, are entirely voluntary, leaving the places they steward at the whim of charitable resources.

“Maintenance and operations have a separate and vastly smaller stream than capital projects, yet capital design has no knowledge of maintenance and operations funding, which should dictate design strategies, ” said Deborah Marton, senior vice president of the New York Restoration Project.

Approaching its 35-year anniversary, the Central Park Conservancy is a paragon of success for public/private partnerships. In the late 1970s, slashed budgets and municipal neglect had rendered the park both dangerous and in catastrophic disrepair, at which point concerned citizens banded together and formed the conservancy. Since then it has raised $650 million and developed a sophisticated system for managing its 843 acres.

The key, said Conservancy president Douglas Blonsky, “is total vigilance.” Central Park is lucky. As Blonsky readily admits, it is the backyard of New York’s wealthiest residents and has a profile higher than any other park. Of a more than $42 million operating budget, 85 percent comes from the prosperous patrons who are stacked in the high-rises framing its perimeter. Such a model is simply not plausible in places without the density and affluence of Central Park’s constituency.

“There is no one model that works; it’s not one size fits all. There can only be one Central Park Conservancy,” said Benepe. The parks commissioner advocates for entrepreneurship, saying that funding alliances arise organically to creatively meet the needs and conditions of each park. In the city’s recent park projects, that spirit has had a decidedly development-friendly bent. Brooklyn Bridge Park and Hudson River Park, both waterfront sites with complex programs incorporating recreation, leisure, and environmental remediation, have gone the way of rents, not altruism.

Hudson River Park includes a popular cycletrack that serves as an artery for the city's cyclists.
Courtesy Hudson River Park Trust
 

In the late 1980s, after Brooklyn’s waterfront had ceased to be the shipping hub of decades past and had deteriorated to house a dwindling number of warehouses, a group of concerned citizens rallied to turn the narrow space between Piers 1 and 5 into park lands, rather than the housing, retail, and parking development it had been slated to become. Advocates raised grants and secured capital funding for a build out, but because the cost of operating and maintaining a park on the waterfront is so high, Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki decided that a different funding stream, separate from the Parks Department budget, should be created to ensure the long-term sustainability of the park. They established the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation to operate commercial development on just under 10 percent of the 1.3-mile-long park. The Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy was subsequently created to manage programming. Based on financial models like Battery Park and Hudson River Park, the ground rent and taxes are intended to cover park maintenance and operations. On the city’s side it’s sacrificing ground rent and taxes, while the park allocates what could be public space to private use, which has incited some to lambast the park as a front lawn for high-end real estate, or as Project for Public Spaces’s Fred Kent put it, a “dead waterfront.”

 
Freshkills park as a landfill in the 1990s.
Courtesy DEP
 

At the southern tip, One Brooklyn Bridge Park is a luxury condominium complex with waterfront views and ground-floor retail (first store to move in: a dog spa). Since its completion in 2008, it has netted $14.8 million dollars, which has funded all park security, maintenance, and waterfront infrastructure costs. As the park continues construction, a hotel and residence will go up on Pier 1; two residential buildings are slated for Pier 6. Retail development on Water Street and John Street in Dumbo will also augment commercial revenue.

In part, this blend of private development and public space arose to meet the unique needs of the site: the pilings on which the park is built are subject to deterioration from salt water and aquatic microbes and must be checked every three years. As the river regains its vitality—the result of industry decline and waterfront greening— and teems with healthy, hungry critters, these pilings will need more frequent assessment and replacing. Reinforcing pilings on Pier 5 in concrete totaled $11 million. According to Nancy Webster, revenue from commercial development has been a successful stream of income, capable of footing the self-sustaining maintenance and operations bill so far. With the first review since 2008 on the horizon, she predicts the model will continue to function, so long as the hotel and apartments bring in projected profits. Currently, negotiations are underway with developers for hotel and residential development on Pier 1. Retail locations on John Street in Dumbo and Pier 6 are still undeveloped, and the development corporation is looking into alternative revenue sources from the sale of properties near the park now owned by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., which would have to take place by the end of 2013. At the same time, portions of Piers 3, 4, and 6 remain unfunded, their future uncertain.

“One advantage to our model is that we will have capital reserve for unseen maintenance emergencies. We will have funds to react as things come up. In other parks when emergencies arise, the city cannot fix them in a timely fashion,” said Regina Myer, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation.

 
From shipping hub to hip adress, Brooklyn Bridge Park supports commercial development on ten percent of its 1.3-mile length (left). picturesque wood piers in Brooklyn Bridge Park need to be replaced as aquatic borers increase with healthier waters (right).
Courtesy Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation
 

Across the river and on the west side of Manhattan, Hudson River Park faces such a predicament. The legislation that enacted Hudson River Park as a city- and state-owned entity in 1998 has proved too limited to allow for the kinds of development that would net the necessary funding. The issue at Hudson River Park is twofold, explains Madelyn Wils, the Hudson River Park Trust’s executive director. With two piers still undeveloped, the Trust does not have the income it anticipated when the act was first created. Unforeseen infrastructural problems are also proving a drain on the budget. For instance, the bulkheads on top of which the park is built and that hold up Route 9A (the Westside Highway) are costly to shore up; many of them failed to withstand Hurricane Irene last summer. Moreover, wooden Pier 40 is fast decaying after plans for its development were halted in 2006, when the Trust was unable to find a developer or development plan that met the stipulations of the Hudson River Park Act.

Compared to the uses at Brooklyn Bridge Park, the act is narrow, excluding housing, commercial office space, hotels, and manufacturing. What was likely intended to protect the waterfront from overly privatized development has left the Trust in a quagmire of dead-end Requests for Proposals (RFPs). Currently the park, which stretches from Midtown to Battery Park, allows commercial maritime and ferry ports, entertainment, retail, and commercial recreation. But, according to Wils, respondents to RFPs have rejected those uses, leaving the trust in search of viable commercial development in the park, and looking to make marinas or generate commercial activity in the water itself. Exacerbating these financial strains, Chelsea Piers, tenants on three piers from 17th to 23rd streets, are suing the Trust to repair damages caused by marine borers over the past 20 years.

On Staten Island, Freshkills aims to be the next generation of parks offering passive and active recreation, native species, and innovative funding, such as harvesting methane for sale from the landfill beneath the meadows.
Courtesy James Corner Field Operations
 

According to the Pier 40 Development Feasibility Study by HR&A Advisors and Tishman/AECOM, released privately in May, Pier 40 needs about $100 million in repairs. The report found that the best source of ongoing income—adding the least traffic impact—would be 600 high-end rentals (as the Trust cannot sell its property) and a 150-room hotel. Other revenue-producing ideas under exploration include tax-exempt bonds and the more controversial Park Improvement District.

When created, the Trust was envisioned as an exemplar for in-water parks—influencing waterfronts in cities as far away as Paris and Sydney—but that has also exposed the park to unforeseen costs, such as retrofitting the decaying piers that are fodder for marine borers and battered by wind and brackish water. “Twenty years ago no one knew healthier water would mean more voracious aquatic borers, so you can’t build with wood. We’ve learned, for example, you have to use certain pavers to withstand water pressure from the currents,” Wils explained. Renting out berths for ferries and commercial cruise ships have racked in rent, but not enough to assuage these unpredicted high costs.

On Staten Island, Freshkills, the Parks Department most recent and expansive project, opening to the public later this year, must navigate not only an aquatic site, but also one atop a former landfill. Unlike Brooklyn Bridge Park and Hudson River Park, Freshkills— at 2,200 acres, three times the size of Central Park—does not have any trust, corporation, or conservancy in place to fund its annual operations. Not easily accessible by foot or subway, Freshkills is no magnet for the types of public/private partnerships that make other waterfront parks financially self-sustaining. According to Tara Kiernan of the New York City Parks Department, Parks is establishing a nonprofit Freshkills Park Alliance to fundraise for the park.

 
At 2,200 acres, Freshkills, here in a rendering by James Corner Field Operations, is three times the size of Central Park (left). Urban kayaking is a popular in-water activity at all New York’s waterfront parks (right).
Courtesy James Corner Field Operations (left); William T. Davis (right)
 

To be built out over the next 30 years, Freshkills represents the next generation in experimental models for how a park can coordinate a complex program of restoration, recreation, concessions, and passive enjoyment, almost all within the city’s budget. Using active landscape design guidelines and the insights of 21st-century landscape architecture and responding to community input, Freshkills has been designed by James Corner Field Operations as a sustainable landscape using native plants and restoring natural habitats that, as long as healthy, will maintain themselves—and hopefully prevent it from meeting the same fate of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, where a pastoral park with shade trees and lawn grass built in the low-lying lands near Flushing Bay was overtaken by salt grasses and invasive species.

Capitalizing on less-than-idyllic site conditions, the sanitation department is already harvesting methane gas from the landfill below Freshkills, which it is selling back to National Grid, generating $12 million in revenue for the city. The park is also partnering with research institutions and local universities to investigate water quality, soil restoration, habitat restoration, and reforestation, among other environmental issues, opening up opportunities for grant funding. New York Department of State, Division of Coastal Resources, and the Federal Highway Administration have thus far contributed $12 million to the project.

While such initiatives dynamically wed stewardship and financial sustainability, they are but a drop in the bucket considering that Freshkills master plan has a $100 million price tag—in part so high because of the cost of remediating landfill seepage. As construction is still so heavily underway, the park has yet to determine its future maintenance budget.

As landscape architect and Columbia University professor of landscape architecture Kate Orff points out, “Maintenance is a park.” And parks that go unmaintained have the potential to do more than just becoming unkempt; they can be dangerous. Parks budgets have been downsized 30 percent, according to Wils of the Hudson River Park Trust. Parks Commissioner Benepe voices concern about how parks will be able to retain funding in the future. As great parks projects continue to roll out, it’s essential to pair a zeal for creating public space with an even greater dedication to keeping them safe, accessible, and vital for the long run.

Placeholder Alt Text

Streamlined
A design comparison of a delivery notice from the U.S. Postal Service.
Courtesy Touchpoint

Going to the DMV is nobody’s idea of a day at the park, but the emerging field of service design aims to change that. The Brooklyn-based nonprofit Public Policy Lab (PPL) incorporated last year with the goal to improve interactions between public services and those served by them through research, advocacy, and technical assistance.

Explained PPL executive director Chelsea Mauldin, “At the DMV, it’s important to look at how we interact with the created artifacts of that service—the physical space, the forms, the actual driver’s license. There’s a sequence of service steps you encounter.” By studying these interactions, service designers can decipher the strategic goals of public policy and improve efficiencies between the public agencies and their audience, while also saving money.

PPL’s first major initiative is a collaboration with the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and Parsons’ new interdisciplinary service design program, the DESIS Lab. Following a scoping meeting in late January, the team will spend a year studying how the agency interacts with its clients—developers, property owners, and residents—to recommend pragmatic and implementable design ideas. “This is an out-of-the-box collaboration,” said Kaye Matheny, the HPD assistant commissioner for strategic planning. “We’ll be evaluating how people engage with HPD—what are our touch points across the city, how do they engage with us, and how do we improve that?” A second phase of the partnership will study the impact of HPD’s providing over $8.7 billion to neighborhoods since 1987. “We want to understand how our investment has shaped and defined neighborhoods,” said Matheny. Achievable recommendations could begin implementation next year.

While service design has long been employed in the private sector, Mauldin believes this approach has broad applications in the public sector. She said service design is picking up where public space design began several decades ago. “At this point, everyone’s just learning. It wasn’t always the case that public spaces needed thought or design,” Matheny said, but now she added, “it’s becoming clear that there is a need.”

Placeholder Alt Text

Sugar Rush
Looking from the waterfront beneath the Williamsburg Bridge in a rendering of the approved Domino Sugar Factory redevelopment in Williamsburg
Rafael Viioly Architects

A last ditch effort to stop development at the Domino Sugar refinery fell through on May 25 when State Supreme Court Judge Eileen Rakower dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Williamsburg Community Preservation Corporation. The group claimed that the project’s developer, the Community Preservation Resources Corporation’s (CPRC), along with Department of City Planning and City Council, did not conduct the proper land use and environmental reviews.

Though City Council-member Steve Levin opposed the development, he was pleased to see the lawsuit dismissed. “The accusations in the lawsuit were unfounded,” said Levin. “It named the City Council as a respondent, and it seems pretty clear to me that the Council didn’t act in an arbitrary or capricious manner. So I agree with the ruling, but that doesn’t negate that I still have issues with the project.” Levin said that the density and height of the proposed complex would stress the area’s overburdened transportation and infrastructure.

Domino

the multiuse plan envisions an office tower on the esplanade

Opponents are still grumbling about several issues they have with the Council. The plan for the 220,000-square-foot multiuse development designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects includes 2,200 housing units and a promise from the developer that 30 percent will be set aside for low to moderate income, but City Council only required 20 percent. “They don’t really care about affordable housing,” said Stephanie Eisenberg, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “They never intended to build 30 percent. The City Council was not duped; they read.” Still, Eisenberg and Levin share some common ground. “It leaves the city footing the bill for all the infrastructure,” she continued. “Plus, you can’t put more people on the L [train] or the JMZ.”

Levin held out the hope that East River Ferry Service launched on June 14 might alleviate some of the commuter congestion. It’s an idea that has been floated before, but seems to have gained momentum with New York City Economic Development Corporation’s (NYCEDC) pilot program. There are already stops north and south of the site at North Sixth Street and Schaefer Landing. CPRC Vice President Susan Pollock said the developer has been in contact with NYCEDC. “As the demographics change we hope to have a stop at the project,” she said.

Domino 3

Beyer Blinder Belle will be responsible for renovating the factory

It’s exactly such critical mass that concerns Eisenberg. “It’s just so dense on a very narrow site,” she said. Architect Rafael Viñoly finds the crowds appealing. “I think that density is what makes New York. If you had to refine some parts of the city, then Brooklyn has a ways to go,” he said. “The people who are concerned don’t see that the proposals for density are completely normal. The city continues the evolve.”

Before any crowds, the money must be found. Pollock said that while developers were “having a lot of productive conversations” regarding some $2 billion in financing, legal issues are complicating matters.

For Viñoly, there are certain priorities within the plan. “It’s very important to complete the waterfront park, and that will make a huge difference in how the project is read,” said the architect. Pollock agrees, noting that the developers invited members of the community to the site for an event and was surprised to hear how many had never seen the view. “It was astounding the number of old timers who have never before been to the waterfront there,” she said. “The site runs along five streets that stop dead at Kent Avenue. It is very important that it integrate into the community.” The new plan extends the streets onto the property, culminating on a great public lawn overlooking the East River and Manhattan skyline. Pollock said that the project is on target to start construction in 2012.

Placeholder Alt Text

Ben Prosky
Stefan Sagmeister designed the poster for the 2008 fall lecture series at GSAPP (left) and the poster designed by 2X4 for the Columbia Building Intelligence Project held in Tokyo in 2010 (right).
Courtesy GSAPP

The fact that schools of architecture repeatedly pull off great events is nothing new. Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous 1951 lecture at Columbia has been meticulously archived; Harvard’s annual Walter Gropius lecture has been given by one of the most established practitioners in any given year since 1961. Nor is it uncommon for schools to deliberately organize provocative conferences as when Yale fostered a real ideological battle in a public forum between Peter Eisenman and Leon Krier in 2002. As recent history has demonstrated, interesting debates and critical experimentation are no longer the purview of agents like the IAUS—established in the 1960s as an alternative to the institutions mentioned previously—which are again returning to university culture. As Rem Koolhaas insists at his academic lectures, architectural ideas have a broad audience beyond captive student audiences conven-iently dwelling in studios adjacent to the university auditorium.

At the same time, I believe that the production of architectural events in universities is more and more of a curatorial act. In addition to the professors and deans traditionally involved, more engaged administrators are not only coordinating and organizing events but also giving input and direction. The need for additional curation is clear, these events are occurring at a sometimes dizzying rate, with a typical week consisting of a Monday night panel discussion on sustainability issues in China, a Wednesday evening architecture lecture by Richard Rogers, a Friday lunchtime debate on urban zoning policy, and a Saturday conference on African cities. Furthermore, the ability and desire of these ambitious events to draw outsiders—practitioners, retirees, artists, policy makers, students from other schools and faculties—has an indelible impact upon the school’s students, faculty and discourse at large. In producing programming, not just in the form of events but also exhibitions, publications, and relevant web content beyond that with an academic link, a school can instigate discussion and inspire collaborations that reach beyond the existing culture of the place.

What does it mean for schools to have such overactive public programs? It seems obvious: to serve the students and faculty and to give them avenues in which to communicate about their work. However, public programs should not simply replicate the school’s agenda but also help to produce it. By creating venues, forums, and mediums, schools can explore what it they are curious about outside the classroom. In turn, ideas that come out of an academic event should influence the school, shape its pedagogy, and sway its discourse. By inviting other interests in and producing friction with diverse ideas, the school can better define how it thinks about itself.

At Columbia GSAPP, where I have directed the events program for the past six years under the direction of dean Mark Wigley, we have strived to create such conditions by blurring the lines where classroom, practice, industry, and professional development can meet, as in the conferences on materials, including glass, concrete, metals, and plastic, chaired by professor Michael Bell.

Of course, it has been a challenge for design schools that have departments in addition to architecture, such as urban planning, urban design, historic preservation, landscape architecture, and real estate development to produce public programs that address the interests and concerns of all included. Architecture departments tend to take a minimum of three years to complete and therefore have the most students. But a well-curated program can facilitate interaction amongst all departments and instigate curiosity about other disciplines, mirroring the cross-disciplinary approach currently favored by the profession. For example, the architecture student who comes to developer Douglas Durst’s talk may begin to understand that convincing his peers in the real estate development program that good design is a good investment may someday lead to a commission—just as listening to Steven Holl discuss housing projects in China might lead a research trip to Shenzhen to examine the existing urban fabric, or a discussion with Amanda Burden about New York’s planNYC might inspire a debate among urban planning and architecture students that could lead to a proposal for a joint design-development studio.

Crafting a communications plan for announcing and informing diverse publics within and beyond the school is a constant challenge. Whereas museums have long-term planning in their DNA, schools have not been traditionally accustomed to organizing themselves this way. Their fluid and experimental nature can throw this process. Attention to mailing lists and email listserves is not often a priority, undermining the programming or outreach ambitions.

Schools tend to be omnivorous when it comes to their visual identities. They have a wonderful way of promiscuously working with a host of graphic designers. Whereas cultural institutions aim for consistent branding, a school can choose a sober design approach for one exhibition, while the same school’s lecture series poster might be outrageously bright. These posters, programs, and postcards are sometimes the only traces remaining of significant events and become somewhat collectible. A well-detailed program for a conference can essentially become the Cliff Notes for the audience or the table of contents for the symposium publication.

The events program that I directed at Columbia was well received but did not go unchallenged. I noticed that event fatigue can set in. Complaints came from professors that there were too many programs on too many nights with not enough time to think in between. Students created their own rogue series advertising that they would invite the people “they choose” rather than the speakers chosen for them, and they sometimes stopped attending even the most compelling school lectures. The effort to produce creative and graphically stimulating communications materials was also met with contentious remarks from faculty and students who felt that the designs were sometimes too confusing or too colorful, while others considered them not bold enough. Then again, alums sometimes write to tell me that they are using past posters as decoration on their office walls!

No matter how ambitious a series is, it cannot satisfy everyone’s interests. An embarrassment of riches and offerings is not a bad problem to have. One can only hope that by offering up such a diversity of ideas that there is always something with which to engage. Sometimes an event on a particular scholarly subject that draws a modest audience of 25 engaged attendees can be just as worthwhile as a lecture by a famous architect filling the auditorium with 300 people.

Having recently been appointed the Assistant Dean of Communications at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, I step into a role with a communications mandate at its core. The position oversees an already creative and experienced team running the departments of events, exhibitions, publications, Harvard Design Magazine, and web content. Under the direction of the Dean Mohsen Mostafavi, the goal is to give more possibilities for interdepartmental collaboration and broader reach and impact.

In a time when museums have dwindling departments of architecture, curatorial positions in architecture are few and far between, and cultural institutions are cutting back on architecture programming, it is more important than ever for schools to take their role seriously as major producers of architectural discourse. To produce material that is accessible within academic walls and also reaches out to the profession not only serves the school, but the entire community.

Placeholder Alt Text

Housing Hold-Up
The Briarwood Organization recently completed the Solara in the the Bronx but has had trouble filling it because banks are reluctant to lend to buyers.
Courtesy the Briarwood Organization

As part of a complex deal with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the state, and private groups, 21 of the city's most dilapidated public housing complexes finally became eligible for annual federal subsidies today, as well as an investment of more than $400 million. The deal is one of many helping to keep affordable housing afloat during the downturn, as chronicled in the following story from Issue 05.

Whether it is the past boom or the recent bust, affordable housing seems always to be in urgent demand. During the good times, rent-controlled and rent-stabilized units vaporized, and now sky-high rents have still not come back to earth.

Blame for these developments often falls on the business-friendly Bloomberg administration, but affordable housing advocates and developers argue that, were it not for the mayor's efforts, the city could be in much worse shape. “Their affordable housing plan is one of the foremost in the country,” said Josh Lockwood, executive director of Habitat for Humanity New York City. “It’s pretty amazing that they’re on track in the middle of this recession.”

Lockwood was referring to the New Housing Marketplace plan, updated on February 22. The centerpiece of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s affordable housing efforts, the plan was first laid out in 2002, and greatly expanded in 2005 on the eve of the mayor’s first re-election. It called for 165,000 units for some 500,000 residents by 2013, half of which would be created through new construction, often within market-rate developments, half through preservation of existing affordable units.

The mayor announced that the program was indeed on track (with just under 100,000 units so far), but it will now take a slightly different tack, emphasizing retrofits and preservation over construction. In spite of the plan’s continued success, it is not immune to the current economy: Keeping it afloat will cost the city an additional $1 billion, and the completion date has been pushed back to 2014.

Holly Leicht, Deputy Commissioner for Development at HPD, sees these changes as a virtue, not a failure. The city initially capitalized on new construction, leveraging inclusionary zoning and tax credits to entice developers to build in affordable units to their new "luxury" projects. With construction credit still frozen, almost no units are  being created through this route, so the department has shifted its money to the other half of the equation, preserving units through tax credits and low-interest loans.

“A lot of owners, particularly in Mitchell Llama housing, may have seen a pot of gold before, but now that pot of gold is gone, and they are much more interested in talking to us,” Leicht said. This is an especially enticing approach for the department because it has already committed heavily to such developments. Keeping them affordable now extends that investment. It also has a faster turn around than new construction, where many promised units remain unbuilt. “It’s taking longer, but we always anticipated this would be a long-term strategy,” she said. Still, Leicht said she believes the worst is over, and the department still managed to realize 12,500 affordable units last year, down from a high of 17,500 in 2008.

New programs have also sprung up to help the city in its quest for more affordable housing, though they are experiencing varying degrees of success. The city has received two rounds of Neighborhood Stabilization Program funding from the federal government, which uses innovative data-tracking to fund small-scale projects, from homeownership assistance to foreclosure purchasing, helping head off the sort of disinvestment that plagued the city in the 1970s and ‘80s.

One program that has yet to bear fruit, however, is one of the most celebrated, at least by the politicians who created it. With upwards of 600 stalled construction projects in the city, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn proposed the Housing Asset Renewal Program, or HARP. The program, announced last summer, would use city money to provide bridge loans to stalled projects, with $25,000 to $50,000 provided for each unit the developer converted to affordable housing. The goal was to create about 400 affordable units.

So far, none have gone ahead. A deadline was originally set for December, but it was pushed back to April for lack of quality bids. Leicht said there are better offers coming in now, with more variety—not just small projects in the outer boroughs. The problem remains that few lenders, even with foreclosures in the offing, are willing to take the necessary discounts the program demands.

“It’s a great idea,” said Jerilyn Perine, executive director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council, a local nonprofit research organization. “Ironically, because people are optimistic about our future here in New York, they aren’t willing to take a hit yet on their investment.”

As with most problems since the collapse, blame has fallen on the bankers. James Riso, a principal at affordable housing developer the Briarwood Organization, said he used to close two to three apartments a day in his projects but is now lucky to see that many a month. Meanwhile, most developers are holding on, so competition remains fierce for the few affordable ground-up projects out there, forcing Briarwood to do more construction management, which is actually where the developer has it’s roots. “We’ve come full-circle,” Riso said."You have to adapt to your circumstances."

Habitat for Humanity has, it has actually been prospering. It recently partnered with New York State to develop super low-interest mortgages for homeowners. With the proceeds, Habitat is now able to take out construction loans for the first time, expanding its building program. The group has also been negotiating short sales to keep buildings occupied and using its volunteers to clean up community centers and parks, making distressed neighborhoods less so. “Now’s the time to get creative,” Lockwood said.

Placeholder Alt Text

A Grander Concourse
The city's proposal envisions apartment towers and waterfront open space as a focal point of the Lower Concourse rezoning.
Courtesy NYC DCP

Designed by Alsatian-born engineer Louis Aloys Risse, the Grand Concourse in the Bronx was modeled after the Champs-Élysées in Paris, and boasts one of the highest
concentrations of art deco architecture in the world. But not all of the great boulevard’s five miles are so distinguished. Along the southern tip, stretching from 150th Street to the Harlem River, gas stations, auto body shops, and disused lofts predominate, remnants from the area’s industrial past.


A map of the recently approved rezoning.
 
The city hopes to transform the area's disused waterfront.
 
Historic loft buildings will be preserved, some as residences, others as factories.
 
All images COURTESY DCP
 
 
Now, the city hopes to transform this stretch of Mott Haven into a modern-day, mixed-use, mixed-income community—a 21st-century version of Risse’s vision—through a rezoning plan approved by the city council on June 30. The plan, which covers a 30-block triangle where the river bends, calls for a mix of preservation and new construction to create market-rate and affordable housing and some manufacturing, while opening up parts of the waterfront for the first time in decades.

Though some contend the plan may only spur further gentrification of the South Bronx, it has been widely embraced for its equity. “I think the community as a whole will create an environment for development we have not seen in a long time,” said Cedric Loftin, district manager for Community Board 1. “It creates an opportunity for jobs and housing.”

The heart of the plan transforms the lowrise industrial landscape into midrise residential lots, mirroring the eight- and 12-story apartment houses to the north. In a much bolder move, most of the formerly industrial waterfront is being given over to the type of highrise development that now characterizes the Brooklyn and Queens waterfronts, with 40-story residential towers surrounded by parks and open space. A 2.2-acre park is also planned for the upland section of the district.

The Department of City Planning, which developed the rezoning plan, has set aside loft buildings adjacent to MetroNorth and the Major Deegan Expressway as manufacturing facilities that would retain so-called green-collar jobs. Meanwhile, lofts in more suitable areas will be converted for residential use. The plan uses the city’s inclusionary housing bonuses to encourage affordable housing development by offering additional density in exchange for making 20 percent of a project affordable.

But Harry Bubbins, executive director of Friends of Brook Park and a longstanding critic of the rezoning, fears it could have adverse impacts on surrounding areas. “It’s the same cookie-cutter gentrification model the Bloomberg administration has deployed throughout the city,” Bubbins said. He argued there is not enough infrastructure or public amenities to support an influx of new residents.

Chauncey Young, the education organizer at Highbridge Community Life Center, maintained a healthy skepticism about the city’s goals. “Our concern is how long it’s going to take,” Young said. “These are the guys that promised us a park after the Yankees took ours, and still nothing’s been built. As long as they keep their promises, though, this plan can work.”

A version of this article appeared in AN_07.29.2009.

Placeholder Alt Text

HARPing on Affordable Housing
The HARP program is as much about protecting surrounding neighborhoods from blight as it is about completing stalled projects.
Matt Chaban

Last year’s bursting real estate bubble left the five boroughs littered with vacant and half-built projects, many of them market-rate units few can now afford. But city officials are hoping to rescue some of those stalled projects, create much needed affordable housing in the process, and begin to steady the real estate market as a result. Wednesday, the City Council and Bloomberg administration announced a $20 million program known as HARP—as in Housing Asset Renewal Program—that would subsidize the conversion of upwards of 400 stalled market-rate units into affordable ones.

By thawing frozen projects, the hope is to free up financing to finish construction on those that are not yet built and to fully occupy those that are. (The imprimatur of the city should help with financing, as well.)  Meanwhile, the city will help stabilize these buildings and their surrounding neighborhoods, thus avoiding the blight that plagued the city during the decline of the 1970s and 1980s. With 138 stalled projects confirmed by the Department of Buildings, and countless more unaccounted for, there are plenty of projects in need of support.

“Private developments that sit vacant or unfinished could have a destabilizing effect on our neighborhoods, but we’re not about to let that happen,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. “This program holds out the promise of addressing the unintended blight caused by vacant sites, while transforming what would have been market-rate buildings into affordable housing for working class New Yorkers.”

City officials expect only some units of buildings entering HARP will be converted to affordable units--just enough to get them back on track.
Matt Chaban

The program is the result of a council taskforce on affordable housing launched in 2008, though many of its ideas crashed along with the housing market. Instead, the taskforce began outlining HARP, which speaker Christine Quinn introduced in February during her State of the City address. The council then turned to the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development to implement the details and administer the program, which is still in the pilot phase. The cost is also shared between the council and the city through the reallocation of existing capital funds.

The city will issue a request for funding applicants—a sort of RFP with a rolling deadline—in July that is expected to run through December. Applicants will be judged on three criteria: those who offer the deepest discounts, require the least amount of subsidy, and provide the most “stabilization” to the neighborhood. For instance, a single building in need of subsidy in a ten block radius would be more likely targeted than 15 buildings in need within a five block radius, according to Andrew Doba, a council spokesperson.

While details of the plan are still being worked out, the expectation is that most of the money will be spent in the outer boroughs, where the greatest speculation and destabilization took place, and also where the city can stretch its money the furthest. For each unit of a project pledged as an affordable rental unit, applicants will receive $50,000 an amount officials emphasize is about a third to a half as expensive as the typical rate paid for new affordable units. Both unfinished and finished-but-empty projects are eligible for the program, though the expectation is that only a portion of a project’s total units would be converted from market-rate to affordable.

Vacant yet completed projects, such as 66 North 1st Street in Williamsburg, are also eligible for the program, and could account for a sizable portion of the funds as they can be more readily occupied.
Courtesy Curbed.com

But first those seeking money must agree to take a loss on their projects, as the city insists that the program is not intended as a handout or bailout. “This will require real sacrifice from the banker and the developers,” Catie Marshall, a spokesperson for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said. “We’re not going to bankrupt anyone, but we’re not making them whole, either.”

Marshall said the department expects to get many of its applications from banks that have foreclosed on projects and want to get rid of them as quickly as possible. When money will begin to flow out remains to be seen, but it could be as soon as the department begins getting applications back. “We could start working on projects, depending on what comes in and how clean it is, by the Fall,” Marshall said. If the pilot phase goes well, the city will consider expanding it or even making it a permanent housing program.

Developers large and small, not-for-profit and high-end are already hailing the project. “I see a plus-plus for the city of New York, both for the people in the neighborhoods, who won’t have to look at these half-built buildings anymore, and the affordable housing users who will have shelter,” said Vincent Riso, a principal at the Briarwood Organization, which has been developing affordable housing since the 1980s.

Projects proposed for empty lots are also eligible, though few are expected to qualify because of the considerable amount of subsidy they would require to get off the ground.
Matt Chaban

Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, acknowledged that while the program would not directly benefit his members—many of the city’s biggest name developers—it would provide a benefit by absorbing excess inventory and stabilizing lending. “I think it’s a creative use of rather limited city resources, and at the same time to throw a little help to a developer in challenging times,” he added. “It will create opportunities that did not exist before.”

And given the continued stasis in the financial markets, HARP could be the only opportunity for developers to get projects off the ground. “There’s so much inventory, why would a bank finance any new construction?” said Julien Vernet, Briarwood’s marketing director.

The only criticism of the program so far was that it would primarily support middle-income families because lower income housing would require greater subsidies. “They can either serve a large number of folks with a moderate income or less folks with low income,” Josh Lockwood, executive director of Habitat-NYC, said. “We just hope there’s room in the conversation for low-income families.”

But Lockwood was also quick to praise the program as one-of-a-kind. “They’re light years ahead of anywhere else just trying to make this work,” he said. “I just hope other cities will follow.”

Placeholder Alt Text

Sustaining the Pratt Center

Looking back through the past five decades of development in the five boroughs, the Pratt Center for Community Development has played an active role in the issues shaping the city. From RFK’s community development agencies in the 1960s to housing preservation and building reclamation in the 1970s and ‘80s, from community development and job creation initiatives in the 1990s to community rezoning plans over the last decade, the center has been an important influence in the city’s typically top-down planning and land-use policies.


Friedman
COURTESY PCCD
 
 

Now, as sustainability comes to the fore, the center announced last week that Adam Friedman will take the reins at the center. Friedman, the former director of the New York Industrial Retention Network (NYIRN), has made it his mission to help push sustainability at the community level and to continue the work of integrating the Pratt Institute’s diverse art and design faculty into the center’s work.

“That’s why I came, to bring all these resources to bear on the issues,” Friedman said in an interview. “The issues really aren’t that different with NYIRN, but the center can provide so much more support.” For example, Friedman said he would push for more local resources to be used in the school’s industrial design department. “It creates good paying jobs for local manufacturers while also building important understanding and relationships for students,” Friedman added.

Gary Hattem, chair of the center’s advisory board, said it is this unique approach to economic development that captured the board’s notice. “I think he can leverage the design capital of the institute with his incredible skills in economic development and sustainability,” Hattem said.

In addition to his work with NYIRN, Friedman served as director of economic development for former Manhattan borough presidents David Dinkins and Ruth Messinger. He has also taught urban planning at the Pratt Institute and Columbia University, and in 2005 he convinced the city to create Industrial Business Zones, one of NYIRN's longstanding goals to protect manufacturing businesses in New York.

Given the current economic downturn, and the city’s still high cost of living, it is a challenging time for the center, but these challenges underscore the importance of its mission. For Friedman, the key to preserving communities is not just about affordable housing and the quality of the urban fabric, but also creating and retaining sustainable jobs. “Part of the challenge is how you make these communities more hospitable for organic economic growth,” Friedman said.

That challenge remains to be addressed, but Friedman’s work at his previous job provides a template. At NYIRN, Friedman and his team fought to protect blue collar work—say, from encroaching hotel development—as well as create new models such as higher-end artisanal manufacturing and sustainable production.

“He’s a great leader with a diverse constituency, from labor to business to government,” Mike Pratt, chair of the institute’s board of trustees, said. “He really understands this city, and he’ll put that understanding to work at the center. We’re thrilled to have him.”

Placeholder Alt Text

Second Life
A local community group is trying to transform 23 Caton Place, a half-built property in foreclosure in Kensington, Brooklyn, into affordable housing.
Matt Chaban

Twenty-three Caton Place is like countless other developments that have sprung up across the five boroughs toward the end of the recent real-estate boom. A mix of middlebrow architecture and high-end finishes built in Kensington, Brooklyn, the 107-unit complex was overleveraged and ill-timed. It now languishes half-built and in foreclosure, its developer in bankruptcy and some 140,000 square feet of concrete left looming over the neighborhood.

But there is something special about 23 Caton that sets it apart from many of its sullen siblings, something that might also one day bind them all together: a neighborhood community group that had long opposed the project is trying, with the help of local politicians and former Pratt Center director Brad Lander, to buy the property and transform it into affordable housing, arguably the first such effort of its kind in the city.

The plan is still in its earliest phases—the first stakeholders meeting was held Tuesday—and could take years to resolve, but its backers are already hopeful that their efforts might serve as a blueprint for the plague of similarly stalled developments sprinkled throughout the city.


The development is adjacent to the Kensington stables, the last horse stables serving prospect park.
 
Matt Chaban
 
 

“Essentially, we are hoping to make lemonade out of lemons,” Mandy Harris, founder of the neighborhood group, Stable Brooklyn, wrote in an email. “The building is in serious financial trouble and it is a blight on the neighborhood. People in the neighborhood are generally pretty progressive-thinking, so we started daring to imagine what could be done with it that would actually benefit the community in the long term.”

Having worked with Lander on a rezoning plan for the neighborhood in response to 23 Caton and two other major luxury developments that cropped up in the low-scale neighborhood, Harris and her group turned to him for advice. The idea is to find a sympathetic developer who will buy the property from its lender, Corus Bank, and redevelop it.

Megan Miller, another member of Stable Brooklyn and a practicing architect, said that Corus has already suggested that it would sell if a reasonable offer was made, and that roughly 100 different parties have expressed interest to the bank. (Bank officials did not return calls seeking comment.) The problem is the bankruptcy filing, which began in Connecticut in August of last year. Numerous liens have been placed on the property as a result, and untangling them could take years, greatly slowing the process.

“I’m afraid five years from now, it could still be as is,” Miller said. Lander joked that “this is no Chrysler,” referring to the speedy bankruptcy being engineered for the auto manufacturer by the Obama administration. For its part, Community Board 7 has proposed turning the site into a school, because, as district manager Jeremy Laufer put it, "We don't want to see a dormant, half-built building there forever. It's dangerous, an eyesore, and damaging to property valuies."

Another challenge, albeit an intriguing one, is presented in the architecture. Despite frequent criticisms that the flood of luxury developments that have hit the city are anything but, there is still a certain formula that pervades, which often calls for balconies, floor-to-ceiling windows, and other architectural amenities that can be difficult to reverse in a building as far along as 23 Caton, which was designed by Karl Fischer Architect.


A rendering of the original building, designed by Karl Fischer Architect.
Courtesy Karl Fischer Architect

"It's not a clean box," Miller said. "It has all these geometries, so it's a bit pre-determined as to what you would end up with." Given that any affordable housing proposal would require these built-in "luxury" features to be "dumbed down," as Miller put it, that could actually increase the cost of the project and make it difficult to create affordable units.

Miller was also concerned about the structural stability of the building, though the Department of Buildings recently inspected the site and determined it sound. Given the current economic doldrums, Miller admitted that in the end, many architects might leap at the chance to work on the project.

Still, the group is moving ahead with its plans in the event a developer expresses interest. Should that happen, it appears they will be stepping into a favorable political climate.

In her State of the City address, Council Speaker Christine Quinn outlined plans similar to those Stable Brooklyn has proposed. A council spokesperson said details are still being worked out, and are largely contingent on the city’s cash-strapped budget, but the idea is to leverage city financing to lower rents in completed buildings that currently lie vacant, as well as to entice builders to finish half-built projects.

A spokesperson for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development said the department is considering similar measures, though they are less determined at this point, and lean more toward occupying existing buildings, as that is seen as a more cost-effective approach.

Even if comprehensive plans are developed to reclaim these myriad sites—such as tax breaks, special financing, and other incentives—there is not a one-size-fits-all solution, Lander said. He said that because each development has its own set of constraints, its own set of creditors, and its own set of legal proceedings, each would have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, a process that could take decades.

“It makes an awful lot of sense,” Lander said. “A lot people are talking about this. The problem is, how do you do it?”

Placeholder Alt Text

No One Buying New Housing Marketplace
There has been a lot of talk lately about how it is now up to the government to spend stimulate our way out of the current economic doldrums, and how much of that will come through infrastructure spending. One place where such investment is critically important is affordable housing, especially in light of all the foreclosures. While New York has fared better than other areas on that front, it is still unwelcome news that the city has rolled back the timeline for its New Housing Marketplace Plan. Back on December 14, Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave one of his weekly radio addresses, which focused on the rising foreclosure rate and how his administration was coping with the challenges that presented (text). In addition to mentioning expanded mortgage advice and anti-abandonment measures, the mayor highlighted the New Housing Marketplace Plan, which is run by the city's Department of Housing and Preservation:
"The New Housing Marketplace - our Administration's affordable housing initiative, and the most ambitious such effort ever made by an American city. Our ten-year goal is to fund development and preservation of 165,000 homes - enough to house the entire population of Atlanta."
But, the mayor continued:
"Now, with the economy stalling and even the most qualified developers having a hard time getting credit, we know we can't keep that pace up. So we're stretching out our schedule for completing the second half of our housing program to six years instead of the five years we'd planned for at first." [Emphasis added.]
As the Times pointed out today, "Mr. Bloomberg announced the extension in December during a speech and in one of his weekly radio addresses, neither of which received much attention beyond housing advocates." Whether it was impacted by the news the day before that HPD head Shaun Donovan would be taking over HUD for the Obama administration, we're also not sure (the HPD press office has yet to return our call). But according to the Times, a spokesman for the mayor said the extension was tied to Bloomberg's announcement in May that he would stretch a four-year construction plan for the city to five years amid signs of a declining economy. Still, this isn't exactly news. In September, when the mayor was trumpeting the successes of the program at its halfway mark, the Observer was already calling them into question. Eliot Brown reported that the administration was already shifting gears:
[A]s the financial industry hits major turbulence and the city’s once lush climate for development turns dry, the Bloomberg administration is struggling to meet its goals for new construction (currently targeted at 91,637 units) and will likely need to shift the balance more toward preservation (73,395 units).... Although city officials say the original plan emphasized preservation in its early years, the reality of an inclement market has caused reevaluation, and the administration says it will likely need to lower its goals for creating new units, and increase its goals for preserving current ones.
There are other factors at play, such as the impact of changes to the 421-a tax program, which, along with inclusionary housing bonuses--like those in many recent rezonings--encourage for-profit developers to include low and moderate income housing in their projects through tax breaks. But still, with the paucity of credit having dragged the city's construction sector to a halt and many predictions of a new recession, what the administration can do to continue to stimulate affordable housing remains an open question. This is especially bad news for out-of-work architects given all the affordable housing work they've had of late. Perhaps the mayor should try giving Secretary Donovan a call.