Search results for "Downtown Brooklyn"

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Streetcar Named BQX

New details emerge for the BQX, New York City's proposed waterfront streetcar route

At breakfast talk hosted by the Brooklyn Waterfront Research Center earlier this month, Harris Schechtman, national director of transit at Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants, gave academics and members of the public a full run-down of plans for the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), a proposed waterfront streetcar link that would connect neighborhoods between Sunset Park, Brooklyn and Astoria, Queens.

The nonprofit Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector, a coalition of real estate investors, transportation planners, and development boosters, hired Sam Schwartz to develop the plan in December 2014. 14 months later, the mayor officially debuted the plan in his State of the City address. (Schechtman noted the "unprecedented" turnaround time from concept to debut.)

A New Yorker himself, Schechtman presented a case for the streetcar by confirming what most commuters observe every morning: Buses are feeders from the subway, while existing subway lines are overcrowded. Ferries, meanwhile, can only accommodate only 3,000 riders per day. The streetcar is a "Goldilocks solution," enthused Schechtman, who, prior to joining engineering firm Sam Schwartz in 2001, spent nearly 32 years at the MTA, including nine as the vice president of operations. The catenary-free, battery-powered streetcars can carry 175 passengers, compared to the Select Bus Service's (SBS) 100.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22XH4-nNjlA

The route map that's circulating in the media is a "very and deliberately vague description of the route," explained Schechtman. "The BQX project is a project in motion." Even so, Schechtman was able to lay out some specifics: When it begins operations in 2023, the streetcar will glide along a 15 mile north-south route from Astoria to Sunset Park, with 30 stops, each about a half-mile apart. Exclusive lanes, where streetcars can travel at 12 miles per hour, will comprise about three-quarters of the route, while 15 percent of the tracks will feature a contiguous-with-the-roadway, "SBS-style" design, that will slow travel to 10 miles per hour. Trains will arrive five minutes during rush hour, and every ten minutes off-peak; Sam Schwartz estimates that daily ridership will reach 52,000 by 2035.

Schechtman had strong words for those who view streetcars, like the one in car-dependent Dallas that has 200 riders per day, as dinky tourist boondoggles. "The [streeetcars] that are failing are the ones that were failing when they went to the drawing board. These efforts give streetcars a bad name. The BQX is not a cute tourist attraction, but real transit that carries a helluva lot of people." The annual operating costs are estimated to be between $26 and $30 million, with $17 million in projected fare revenue.

With the MTA struggling to finance even basic capital improvements, where is there money for a new infrastructure project? The BQX is a NYC DOT project, and thus operates outside the MTA's purview. Its design relies on existing zoning, doesn't compete with other development priorities, and assumes a 3.5 percent growth in taxes that go to the city, according to Schechtman. The biggest cost will be the relocation of below-grade utilities.

According to Schechtman, the city hired an independent consultant to review the work and the consultant validated Sam Schwartz's findings. A third consultant is now reviewing the streetcar plans. "We offered the plan to the city on a silver platter," Schechtman explained. "We took an idea on no one's radar—and [dealt] with all the key issues and fatal flaws. The plan so powerfully supports the goals of the city; we said to the city, 'We are going to take that burden off of you, we invite you to take a look at our plan.'"

AN reached out the DOT and the Mayor's press office, but as of this time AN has not been able to confirm Schechtman's description of the planning and review process.

A highly skeptical crowd grilled Schechtman on specifics. How will the streetcar pass smoothly through bustling downtown Brooklyn? (There are fears that a dip inland towards Atlantic and Flatbush avenues will be a bottleneck.) Why build a new transit system in a floodplain? (The embedded tracks are more flood- and stormproof than other forms of transit.) This seems like a gentrification plan. (It is, although the line should benefit residents of waterfront NYCHA projects, too. The streetcar is intended to entice developers to build housing, which could be required to respond to newly-enacted zoning that mandates affordable housing construction along with market-rate development.) Will fares be cross-honored with the MTA? (We're working on it.)

The public input process has just begun: on May 9, a public meeting was held in Astoria, and on May 19, another meeting will be held in Red Hook. A draft of the final route should be ready by the end of this year. In the meantime, check out the Friends of the BQX's recently launched website for updates, project FAQs, and a spate of shiny new streetcar renderings.

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Strand Plan

New renderings, community vision revealed for WXY–designed Brooklyn Strand
Today, 40 stakeholders released the Brooklyn Strand Community Vision Plan, a set of recommendations for developing almost 50 acres of public space that links the Brooklyn Bridge to Downtown Brooklyn. The plan focuses on broadening connectivity along the corridor by making the space more attractive and pedestrian-friendly, and improving access to the waterfront between the Navy Yard, DUMBO, and Downtown Brooklyn. In 2014, Mayor de Blasio announced a set of plans to further catalyze the growth of downtown Brooklyn. One of these plans was the Brooklyn Strand, now a disjointed set of parks, greenways, and plazas bisected by highway feeder ramps that present wayfinding challenges even to seasoned New Yorkers. Since then, New York–based WXY Architecture + Urban Design has led not-for-profit local development corporation Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Department of Transportation, and over 250 community stakeholders through an intensive planning process to re-vision the Strand. Recommendations from the just-released community vision include enhancing non-car links between Borough Hall Park, Columbus Park, Korean War Veterans Memorial Plaza, Cadman Plaza, Commodore Barry Park, the Bridge Parks, and Trinity Park; a "Gateway to Brooklyn" adjacent to Brooklyn Bridge Park with a viewing platform; creating a permanent market at Anchorage Plaza; reopening the long-shuttered Brooklyn War Memorial to the public; broadening access to Commodore Barry Park; widening sidewalks; installing public art to animate under-utilized public space; realign Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) ramps to make the pedestrian experience less alienating. “The Brooklyn Strand Community Vision Plan is an exciting and ambitious effort to reconnect Downtown Brooklyn’s historic neighborhoods to each other, reinvigorate open space and improve access to the waterfront,” proclaimed New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) president Maria Torres-Springer. “The Plan is the result of an extensive and collaborative community engagement process, and it provides a promising roadmap to the future for this historic business district. At NYCEDC, we look forward to continuing our work with the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, community stakeholders and elected leaders, and to making the reinvigoration of the Brooklyn Strand a reality.”
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Join us!

10 Must-See Events at NYCxDESIGN
The Architect's Newspaper's editors are involved with quite a few of the fantastic events happening during NYCxDesign from May 6-17. Here are the can't-miss happenings to add to your calendar if you will be in New York for design week! BKLYN Designs What: In addition to showcasing new furniture and accessory designs, BKLYN designs will also be hosting more than 30 sessions of panel discussions, workshops, demos and more that include tastings and walking tours. When: May 6-8, 2016 Where: Brooklyn Expo Center, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY May 7, 2pm - Design and Fabrication Methods in Interactive Architecture The Architect's Newspaper's (A|N) Senior Editor Matt Shaw and three Brooklyn-based fabricators discuss the latest in fabrication methods that integrate digital, interactive, and social media technologies. Frieze New York What: Frieze takes place on Randall's island as one of the world's top contemporary art fairs with brand-new installations and pieces by well-known and up-and-coming artists. Sit down with an AN Interior issue in the Frieze Reading Room! When: May 5-8, 2016 Where: Randall's Island Park, New York, NY Wanted Design What: For the second year in a row Wanted Design spans two boroughs with locations at the landmark Terminal Stores building on 11th Avenue in Chelsea as well as Industry City, which has quickly become a hub for designers and architects in Brooklyn.| When: May 7-17, 2016 Where: Brooklyn, Sunset Park, 220 36th Street, Brooklyn, NY When: May 13-16, 2016 Where: New York, Terminal Stores, 269 11th Avenue AN Cocktail Crawl What: Join A|Ndesignjunction + Dwell on Design and multiple showrooms in the Flatiron District for a night of cocktails and design! Smuttynose Brewing Company kindly providing their craft beer at each stop along the way! Register here. When: May 11, 2016, 6:30-8:30pm Where: Flatiron District, CLICK FOR MAP designjunction + Dwell on Design What: Debuting this year at the ArtBeam warehouse space in Chelsea, the UK's leading design exhibition will provide a pop-up workspace by WeWork and a cafe featuring new designs from Muuto and Vitra. Additionally they are hosting speakers including Caroline Baumann, director of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museums, architects Matthias Hollwich of HWKN, and Dong-Pink Wong and Oana Stanescu of Family, just to name a few. When: May 13-15, 2016 Where: ArtBeam 540 W 21st St, New York, NY RSVP HERE for 50% off: DESIGNJUNCTION May 13, 8:30am-10:00am, RIBA Breakfast The Architect's Newspaper and RIBA USA New Chapter are hosting an 'Architects Breakfast.' The breakfast begins with a presentation by special guest speaker Kai-Uwe Bergmann, partner at BIG Architects. RSVP Here ICFF What: This year marks the 28th annual ICFF, America's largest luxury furniture trade show. There are 165,000 square feet of new designs that will be attended by over 33,000 interior designers, architects, retailers, and more. When: May 14-17, 2016 Where: Javits Center, New York, NY May 14, 2:00pm-4:00pm Join A|N editors and Fermob designer Tristan Lohner for an afternoon pick-me-up at Fermob's booth #2010. Register here. May 14, 3:00pm-4:00pm - Design: The Architecture of Storytelling Olivia Martin, A|N Managing Editor, joins Michael Shvo of 125 Greenwich Street & Alex Mustonen of Snarkitecture in a discussion covering the space between design and architecture, exploring the boundaries of each discipline. May 17, 11:00am-12:00pm - Architectural Interiors Today Matt Shaw, A|N Senior Editor, brings Dan Wood, Principal, WORKac, Eva Franch i Gilabert of Storefront/OfficeUS, Florian Idenburg of SO-IL, and Bryan Young of Young Projects to ICFF to share their experience manipulating volume, texture, structure, and materials to create inspirational spaces that bridge the gap between architecture and interiors. Seaport Culture District Downtown Dialogues: Arup SoundLab What: Matt Shaw will in conversation with Raj Patel, Principal, Global Leader Acoustics at Arup. The conversation is part of a series of one-on-one discussions between design-oriented professionals based in lower manhattan and respected design journalists are being held at the Seaport district during design week that are open to the public. When: Monday, May 16th 2016 Where: Seaport Studios - Floor 2, 6:30pm-8:00pm
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Common Ground

P.R.O. Public Practice exhibit at the NYIT Old Westbury campus closes this weekend
For design and architecture enthusiasts in the New York City area and Long Island, it’s your last chance to see the architecture exhibition Public Practice at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) Old Westbury campus before it closes after May 1. The solo show features models and drawings by Brooklyn-based architecture firm, Peterson Rich Office, also known as P.R.O. The exhibit is hosted in the NYIT architecture gallery and holds six P.R.O. conceptual projects that the firm created over the past four years. P.R.O. co-founders Miriam Peterson and Nathan Rich are visiting professors at the university. The school invited them to produce both an exhibit as well as a lecture under the theme of public practice. The projects address design in the context of small public spaces and propose temporary and adaptable installations for parks, sidewalks, plazas, and more. The concepts are “experiments in public space: quick, small-scale design exercises that engage issues related to the public realm in and around New York City,” explained Nathan Rich. “Each proposal is adaptable to multiple sites, and intended to generate dialogue about public space within its built context. They address specific urban conditions, but could be installed in a wide variety of spaces.” The six P.R.O. projects all feature two renderings as well as a ¼ scale 3D printed model. The models rest on mirrored tables “that reflect the public space around our designs, inviting viewers to consider how they might be a part of the work,” said Rich. There’s Stoop (2016) that considers the stoop as means of transition between public and private space along New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) fences. “The stoop, a common space for interaction, is precisely the mediator between the public and private realms that is lacking in NYCHA campus planning,” Rich said. “At a time when affordable housing is very much in the public discourse, we decided to use this familiar form to think about how we can chip away at the edges of public housing superblocks, and start to think about integrating them back into the urban fabric.” There’s also Brooklyn Cloud (2012), conceived as a temporary traveling exhibit for downtown Brooklyn spaces that cannot be developed. “As a reaction against the static, sculptural designs that are more typical of architectural installations in public spaces, we conceived of this installation as a series of white air dancers: nylon tubes powered by high velocity fans.”
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Brooklyn's Landmarks Preservation Commission has given the green light

Brooklyn’s first skyscraper over 1,000 feet given approval
Late last year, AN picked up a trail that SHoP Architects were planning a "super skinny supertall" skyscraper set for 9 DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn. Now, the project has finally gathered some momentum: it's been granted approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). According to 6sqft, the LPC showered the project, which is being back by Michael Stern’s JDS Development and the Chetrit Group, with compliments. They reportedly described the project as “flawless” and “enlightened urbanism at its best.” Developers had to tread carefully, considering the proximity of the skyscraper to one of Brooklyn's historic architectural treasures. Occupied most recently by JP Morgan, the development is giving the landmarked Classical Revivalist Dime Savings Bank a new breath of life. In doing so, developers will turn the hall into a public and retail space and restore the lavish interior decor and ornate exterior marble facade. The LPC were inclined to comment that the restoration “improved the vision of this historic landmark” with one commissioning member remarking that it was "similar to the Parthenon sitting on the Acropolis.” You can find SHoP's LPC presentation here. To accommodate the skyscraper, which will sit adjacent the Beaux-Arts banking hall, developers are also asking for two local low-rise buildings to be demolished to make way. If (or rather when) realized, the skyscraper will be the boroughs first 1,000+ in height, rising to 73 stories high topping out at 1,066 feet. Hexagonal forms can be found throughout tower as an homage to the footprint of its neighbor. Gregg Pasquarelli of SHoP Architects reportedly said how they wanted to put forward a different tower design compared to the slab-like high-rises also going up around the area. Subsequently, the skyscraper's facade at street level aims to evoke the fluted ionic columns of the Bank through reflective glass fenestration with bronze mullions alongside white marble columns. As the tower stretches upward, the bronze ribbons join grey spandrel and vision glass panelling. Here black metal is employed in a similar, linear fashion running up the building's facade. Set to be complete by 2019, SHoP's Brooklyn high-rise will house around 500 apartments, all available to rent. In this selection, a range of luxury condos will be thrown in while 20 percent will be kept below the market rate.
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Salt Shed: In Praise of the Urban Object
WXY and Dattner Architects' Spring Street Salt Shed joins a select few buildings in New York City that can be considered estranged urban objects as much as architecture.
Field Condition
The city consists of a multitude of architectural and infrastructural objects. We tend to resist the description of “object,” for we typically find that the life of urbanity comes from events, not blunt material things. It is through programmatic activities that we experience the vibrancy of human occupancy that lends quality to the experience of the city. These activities come so much to the fore that architecture often drifts into a backdrop experienced in a habitual state of distraction. In a city such as New York, architecture is often only noticed by someone unaccustomed to it—the tourist—or when a change in demolition or construction reconfigures it. Even so, these changes usually amount to new amenities, new restaurants, new residences, new offices; changes that fit comfortably within the set of activities of the city, and after a brief period of acclimation settle into the background again. But not all urban structures are so easily assimilated. There are a collection of buildings in the city that always strike one as other, as something not easily reduced to the events of inhabitation. I define these as objects, for these structures maintain their objecthood over a longer period of time than other buildings. Two examples in downtown Manhattan that testify to this quality are the Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel Ventilation building and the lower west side’s new Salt Shed. Even though I know the nominal usage for these structures (for air exhaust and salt storage respectively), I don’t know how I can use them. I cannot enter these structures, physically, visually, or even conceptually, for in a way they are buildings that are not for people, their function is on a different scale of material organization. As such, these buildings remain objects that resist reduction to the relations of human events.
Albert Vecerka / Esto
This “objectness” can often be viewed negatively as these constructions do not in themselves provide any activities for urban street life. I would like to argue otherwise. The positive appreciation of a city should not be reducible to the amount of people on a street, to the amount of restaurants, to the amount of shopping, to the price per square foot of commercial exchange. This reduction of the city to commerce is one of the underlying drivers of how urban success is measured. Manhattan real estate crossed one trillion dollars in worth recently, and this number seems to attest to the strength and vibrancy of the city. Stone, glass, and concrete disappear into an abstraction of economic data. The reader may now quickly suggest that the Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel Ventilation building and the Salt Shed are nothing if not gigantic components in the economic engine allowing car traffic to access the densest part of the city and continue to function during inclement weather. This is, of course, correct regarding the functional necessity of these buildings. But, this is not the crux of the argument. When I walk past Battery Park, the ventilation building always strikes me. Why? It is not a beautiful building; it is not even that interesting as an architectural design, so why does it hit me? One reason: It is a freestanding building with no windows. This makes me think, ‘what the hell is going on in there?’ The absence of aperture suggests that this thing may not be for human inhabitation. It is the following condition where things get interesting.
Field Condition
The elongated intensification of attention that the exhaust building created forces me to look at all of the buildings nearby differently. They leap out of their background for a moment, and become exactly what they are, aesthetic objects in the city. And during this experience I see the city for the material fact that it is. This is what a successful urban object can do. It disturbs, or estranges, the background of reality for a moment and allows an engagement with the city in an alternate matter. Without moments like this, the city quickly becomes a habitually consumed image, smoothly operating as a backdrop for tourism, domesticity, labor, consumption, and investment. This is why I quite like the new Salt Shed. The first time I saw it I had the reaction of “What the hell is this?” Yes, it does have a striking form of faceted geometry and a raw exposed concrete surface that speaks a language of difference in relation to its context. But, as important as these formal and material aspects are for the architecture, they are doubled when I realized that I could see no doors or windows, no exterior indication of interior use, the appearance of a single solid mass. I have no idea if this structure serves its function successfully. (I hope it does, for I would like it to stay). I also have no idea about the symbolic associations desired by the architects. My interest in the building is not to be found in these explanations of functional or cultural meaning. Instead its strength is similar to the best aesthetic abstractions; it resists interpretation and obscures easy understandings. When you see it, you don’t know what to do with it. It forces you to look at it longer, more intensely, differently. This aesthetic shift offers a re-engagement with the city in its vicinity, it pushes the background to the fore for a moment and allows one to consider just how abstract and artificial the construct of “the city” as material reality actually is. It is in these moments that the aesthetics of the city come alive, which is quite a wonderful gift to the City of New York.
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Renderings revealed for impending transformation of Brooklyn Navy Yard's Building 77
These days, the Brooklyn Navy Yard's looking ship-shape: Green Manufacturing Center, Dock 72, Steiner Studios, and Admiral’s Row are undergoing redevelopment. Now, the Navy Yard's largest building, Building 77, is in the midst of a top-to-bottom renovation, and there are new renderings of what the space will look like, inside and out. The one-million-square-foot building, a former ammunition depot, will include 16,000 square feet of rooftop space and eight 1,200-square-foot terraces. The top two floors, branded as The Beacon, offer stellar views of Downtown Brooklyn and Manhattan, 11-foot ceilings, and 140,000 square feet of commercial space, Brownstoner reports. Due to the Navy Yard's large size and distance from rail transit, there's an internal transit system in the works: a two-loop shuttle service will bring workers to nearby subways and the LIRR. The best part? Shuttles will have free wifi. For the bike-inclined, seven Citi Bike stations will be installed. A 1,600 space parking lot is the main concession to car culture. If ease of access is not enough to entice potential visitors, then the promise of Nova lox and herring in cream sauce by legendary appetizing store Russ & Daughters should lure the Jewish soul food–loving masses. Russ & Daughters is the anchor tenant of Building 77's 60,000-square-foot food hall, according to leasing documents released by the Brooklyn Navy Yard. To sweeten the deal for not-in-Brooklyn business owners shopping for new space, Building 77 is participating in the Relocation and Employment Assistance Program (REAP), a New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) program that gives business income tax credits to businesses that are currently based below 96th Street in Manhattan, or outside of New York entirely, that are bringing jobs to the outer boroughs (and some areas above 96th Street). When all construction is complete, it's estimated that the Navy Yard will employ 16,000 and have a yearly economic output of $2.35 billion. Take a look at the gallery below to see more images of Building 77's impending transformation:
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State of the City
The fabric of New York—from shoreline to skyline—is getting a thread-count upgrade, much of it due to the success of ongoing projects like Vision Zero, coastal resiliency efforts, and a spate of new public ventures coming down the pike. In his annual State of the City address in early February, Mayor Bill de Blasio championed accomplishments from 2015 and shed light on what’s to come: New Yorkers will see projects and policies that could facilitate new commutes, provide civic and green spaces in the outer boroughs, and reshape neighborhood density via rezoning. Streets and Shores
Two large-scale, controversial rezoning proposals, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning For Quality and Affordability (ZQA), reached the City Council early February. Councilmembers heard public testimony for and against the measures, which are intended to increase the amount of affordable housing and create more interesting streetscapes in exchange for increased density in special districts. The full Council will vote on the proposals—the most sweeping zoning changes since 1961—in March.
Rezoning may change the look of the streets, and it’s almost guaranteed more pedestrians would be around to see it. Since the launch of Vision Zero three years ago, traffic fatalities have fallen annually, with a drop of almost nine percent between last year and 2014. (Although City Hall may not want readers to know that traffic-related injuries spiked by more than 2,000 incidents in the same period.)
The initiative is New York City’s version of an international campaign to end traffic-related deaths through better street design and harsher penalties for traffic offenders, and it has a record-setting $115 million budget for 2016. More than a quarter of that money (plus $8.8 million from the NYC Department of Transportation’s capital budget) will go to road improvements in Hunters Point in Long Island City, Queens, especially at busy nodes along main thoroughfares Vernon Boulevard and Jackson Avenue.
The low-lying neighborhoods are some of many flood-prone areas that will benefit from the $20 billion in climate-change-resiliency measures that launched following Hurricane Sandy. Included in that figure is a massive project coming out of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild by Design competition to protect Manhattan from rising seas. The City has selected AECOM to lead the design and build of these coastal resiliency measures, formerly known as the Dryline (and before that, BIG U). The project team includes Dewberry, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and ONE Architecture. BIG and ONE provided the original vision for the 10-mile-long project, and are now working on Phase One, the $335 million East Side Coastal Resiliency Project. That phase, which should go into constriction next year, deploys a series of berms and floodwalls from East 23rd Street to Montgomery Street on the island’s Lower East Side. Phase Two extends the project from Montgomery Street around the tip of Manhattan up to Harrison Street in Tribeca. Although those ten miles of coastline could be safer, the other 510 would still have a lot to fear from global warming. Fortunately, the Department of Design and Construction’s Build It Back RFP is having an immediate impact on those who lost homes to Sandy. By last October, the program, which rebuilds homes ravaged in the 2012 hurricane, broke ground on around 1,900 projects and finished construction on 1,200 others.
Targeted Reinvestment The recovery impetus extends beyond the property line and out into neighborhoods. In his speech, the mayor singled out three outer-borough neighborhoods—Ocean Hill–Brownsville, the South Bronx, and Far Rockaway—for targeted reinvestment. Civic architecture often heralds or spurs financial interest, and these neighborhoods happen to be the sites of three public projects by well-known architects in plan or under construction. Studio Gang is designing a 20,000-square-foot Fire Department of New York station and training facility in Ocean Hill–Brownsville in Brooklyn, while BIG is designing a new NYPD station house in Melrose in the Bronx. In Queens, far-out Far Rockaway, battered by Sandy and isolated from the rest of the city by a long ride on the A train, is anticipating both a $90.3 million, Snøhetta-designed public library and $91 million in capital funds for improvements in its downtown on main commercial roads like Beach 20th Street. On and Beyond the Waterfront In New York, a trip to the “city” is a trip to Manhattan. This idea, however, doesn’t reflect how New Yorkers traverse the city today: Older, Manhattan-centric commuting patterns at the hub are becoming outmoded as development intensifies in the outer boroughs. It’s estimated that this year bike-sharing service Citi Bike will have 10 million rides. The system is adding 2,500 bikes in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens to accommodate the increased ridership. The East River ferry service will begin this year, knitting the Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan waterfronts together in patterns not seen since the 1800s. Along the same waterway, the project that’s raised the most wonder (and ire) is the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), a streetcar line that would link 12 waterfront neighborhoods from Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to Astoria, Queens. The project proposal comes from a new nonprofit, Friends of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (FBQX), which first surfaced in January of this year. Its founders include the heads of transportation advocacy and policy groups Regional Plan Association and Transportation Alternatives; directors of neighborhood development groups; and real estate professionals like venture capitalist Fred Wilson and Helena Durst of the Durst Organization. The full plan, commissioned by FBQX and put together by consultants at New York–based engineering and transportation firm Sam Schwartz, is not available to the public, although the company’s eponymous president and CEO shed some light on the plan with AN. “Within an area that has so many [transit] connections, what we are addressing is transit that goes north–south,” explained Schwartz. His firm’s plan calls for a 17-mile route that roughly parallels the coastline, dipping inland to link up to hubs like Atlantic Terminal and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. At a projected cost of $1.7 billion, why not choose the bus, or bus rapid transit (BRT)? The team considered five other options before deciding on the streetcar, Schwartz explained. “The projected ridership is over 50,000 [passengers] per day, while ridership for the bus and BRT maxes out at 35,000 to 40,000 per day.” Streetcars, Schwartz elaborated, can make fine turns on narrow streets, reducing the risk for accidents. They will travel at 12 miles per hour in lanes separate from other traffic, and, to minimize aesthetic offense and flood-damage risk, overhead catenaries will not be used.
Although sources tell AN that the city has a copy of the plan, City Hall spokesperson Wiley Norvell denied any relationship between de Blasio’s streetcar proposal and the plan commissioned by FBQX. (Although it’s not unusual for the city to consider the recommendations put forth by outside groups: In 2014, the city adopted many of the Vision Zero recommendations created by Transportation Alternatives.)
Norvell stated that the city’s plan calls for a $2.5 billion, 16-mile corridor that will be financed outside of the auspices of the (state-funded and perpetually cash-strapped) Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) using a value-capture model. The streetcar line’s success, essentially, is predicated on its ability to raise surrounding property values. The increased tax revenues, he explained, could be plowed back into a local development corporation, which would then use the funds to capitalize the project. Critics wonder why the streetcar is being privileged over other initiatives, such as the Triboro RX proposal, a Utica Avenue subway extension, and the not-completely-funded Second Avenue subway, that would serve more straphangers. Though a fare-sharing system could be brokered with the MTA to enhance multimodal connectivity, critics point out that the streetcar line’s proposed stops are up to a half mile from subway stations, bypassing vital connections between the J/M/Z and L. The Hills on Governors Island Are Alive and Ahead of Schedule With a growing population and growing need for more parks, the city is looking to develop underutilized green space within its borders. The Hills, a landscape on Governors Island designed by West 8 and Mathews Nielsen, is set to finish nearly one year ahead of schedule. The news coincided with the mayor’s announcement that the island, a former military base and U.S. Coast Guard station, will now be open to the public year-round. The city has invested $307 million in capital improvements to ready 150 acres of the island for its full public debut. Forty-eight new acres of parkland (including the Hills) will open this year. The Innovation Cluster, a 33-acre business incubator and educational facility that builds on the example of Cornell University’s campus extension on Roosevelt Island, will bring several million new square feet of educational, commercial, cultural, research, and retail space to the island’s south side. The Trust for Governors Island, a nonprofit dedicated to stewarding and capitalizing on the island’s assets, will release an RFP to develop the vacant land and historic district by the end of this year, and construction could begin as early as 2019.
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Downtown Brooklyn Partnership releases new report on robust development in Downtown Brooklyn
On its tenth anniversary, the local nonprofit development corporation Downtown Brooklyn Partnership has released a report that details just how well the development of downtown Brooklyn is going. Downtown Rising: How Brooklyn became a model for urban development demonstrates how, since its 2004 rezoning, private investors have put more than $10 billion into Downtown Brooklyn. The report was commissioned by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and produced by the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy at NYU. “Downtown Brooklyn has harnessed its determined capacity for creative change to undergo a true rebirth over the past decade,” said Tucker Reed, president of the Partnership. “This report demonstrates just how far strong civic leadership can go when it’s bolstered by smart public investment, and provides the first definitive account of how we came so far, so fast—and where we need to go from here.” At a panel hosted at NYU and moderated by Professor of Urban Policy and Planning Mitchell L. Moss last week, Reed, Joe Chan (executive vice president, Empire State Development Corporation), Regina Myer (president, Brooklyn Bridge Park), and Hugh O'Neill (president of economic consulting firm Appleseed) discussed the report and next steps for downtown Brooklyn. Since the creation of a central business district in the Group of 35 report, Downtown Brooklyn has transformed itself into a tech hub, a center of arts and culture, a nexus of higher education. Between 2000 and 2013, the district's population grew by 17 percent. The number of residents with a bachelor's degree nearly doubled, and median household income grew by 22 percent. Reed mentioned that, as part of its community development goals, the Partnership "is working on workforce development" to close a skills and opportunity gap among residents without a college degree. The report has five recommendations for continued growth which center on clearing barriers for development through incentives and flexible zoning, as well as greater investment in transportation, the arts, and public space:
  1. Downtown Brooklyn and the city should ensure that innovative new companies have room to grow through increased—and targeted—commercial office space investment.
  2. The city should learn from the 2004 rezoning of the area, which allowed flexible permissive zoning and land use policies and resulted in a surge in development. The city should avoid trying to achieve narrowly defined policy objectives by enacting overly detailed zoning restrictions and prescriptions.
  3. The city should continue to invest in innovative public space improvements, such as the Brooklyn Strand initiative and completion of Brooklyn Bridge Park, that make Downtown Brooklyn a more attractive place to live, work, invest, do business, and visit.
  4. Developers and property owners, non-profit organizations, and the city need to work together to ensure that cultural institutions, arts organizations, and individual artists can continue to play a vital role in the ongoing transformation of Downtown Brooklyn.
  5. The city needs to address long-standing gaps in the area’s transportation networks, including lack of transit access to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, difficulties in getting between the core of Downtown Brooklyn and the waterfront, and the scarcity of good options for travel between existing and new waterfront neighborhoods and growing concentrations of jobs along the East River.
What do you think: Will these strategies keep the neighborhood on its upward development trajectory, or is the celebratory document failing to consider downsides like the loss of affordable housing and the decimation of independent retail on Fulton Street?

Where Have All the Artists Gone?

In 2010, Far Rockaway resident Patti Smith proclaimed that “New York has closed itself off to the young and the struggling” and she recommended other cities like Detroit and Poughkeepsie where they should consider living. “New York City,” she said, “has been taken away from you. So my advice is: find a new city.” Sadly, Patti is right: Many artists are giving up on New York because of the high cost of residential real estate and studios. In addition, if The New York Times is to be believed, many young artists just starting out are bypassing New York for more affordable cities like Los Angeles and second tier towns where a live-work studio can be had for a fraction of the price of a walk up tenement in Crown Heights. A recent Times article, “Art Scene Heats Up in Downtown Los Angeles” quotes L.A.-based artist Sterling Ruby. “Culturally we’ve always been overshadowed by the film industry, [but] now the art world is at a weird parallel with it,” Ruby, the Times writes, works in a four-acre studio complex in Vernon, California, just south of Downtown. A four-acre studio?

New York will not soon be replaced as a preeminent marketplace for art—given the city’s enormous wealth, tradition, and gallery infrastructure. But what has made New York such a unique and exciting city for the past 60 years is that art is not just consumed here, but is also produced in the five boroughs.

Is it possible that New York can continue as a creative center for artists in all mediums given the struggle for affordable space in the city? Maybe?

Last year there were signs that the city was catching up to the problem and offering viable solutions for the art community. Mayor de Blasio announced plans to develop 150 units a year (over the next ten years) of artists’ housing alongside a separate 500 units of workspace. In this plan, low-income artists can qualify if they make between $29,400 and $47,000 a year, with families of four qualifying between $41,951 and $67,120. Only artists and musicians falling within these annual salary ranges would qualify for the new units. The mayor’s office proposed four artist developments that are currently in the RFP stage: 55 Stuyvesant in Staten Island, Spofford (the former juvenile detention center) in the Bronx, the Slaughterhouse project in Manhattan, and a Downtown Brooklyn South site. These projects spread across the city are important first steps but for a city that needs scores of Westbeths, it is not addressing the enormous need.

It will be hard to compete with southern California’s low residential property values, but other European cities like Paris and Berlin have developed strategies to create, fund, and maintain housing for artists. So must New York City find a model that works in the five boroughs or the city will lose one of its greatest cultural assets—artists and cultural production.

Who wants to live in a city of only brokers and Wall Street financiers? New York seems to be strangling from its own success as it adds scores of new high-end apartments for wealthy art buyers but no room for the artists. The aforementioned projects are a drop in the bucket of the real need for affordable accommodations for artists but they point in the right direction. Fingers crossed!

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Toshiko Mori–designed contemporary art museum to open in seaside Maine town this summer
Each August, hoards of crustacean-aficionados descend on Rockport for the town's famous Maine Lobster Festival. You can do like David Foster Wallace, but why not head north to neighboring Rockland a little earlier to catch the opening of the Toshiko Mori–designed Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA)? The former chair of the Department of Architecture at Harvard GSD was tapped to design the CMCA's new home three years ago. Although Mori has designed for museums (including a 7,300-square-foot canopy at the Brooklyn Children's Museum) before, this is her first full-scale museum commission. The 11,500-square-foot building's wall-to-wall glass and corrugated metal exterior is designed to optimize Maine's "legendary light." In addition to 5,500 square feet of gallery space, the structure features an ArtLab and a 2,200-square-foot public courtyard. Currently under construction, the museum is slated to open on June 26, 2016. Founded in 1952 as an artists' cooperative, CMCA eschews a permanent collection in favor of providing a forum for living artists with ties to Maine to display their work. The museum operated out of a downtown fire station livery stable for fifty years as Maine Coast Artists before the museum assumed its current name and program under former director Mildred Cummings. Despite (or in spite of) its distance from major population centers and small size, Rockland is an arts hub: CMCA is across the street from the Farnsworth Art Museum, another art museum dedicated to Maine, and adjacent to the historic venue Strand Theatre.
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High in Brooklyn
Brooklyn skyline with new towers.
Courtesy KPF

For 80 years, buildings in Brooklyn followed a local rule: Rise no taller than the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower at 1 Hanson Place.

Then, a 2004 rezoning of downtown Brooklyn allowed for taller construction. In 2009, GKV Architects’ 51-story, 515-foot-tall Brooklyner broke the height barrier, besting the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower by three feet and 14 floors. In 2014, SLCE Architects’ 53-story 388 Bridge Street stole the high crown, rising 75 feet above the Brooklyner to become the borough’s tallest. SLCE’s newest Brooklyn building, the Ava DoBro, tops off at 575 feet to beat its sibling.

The slowly rising bar will be soon be shattered by a spate of tall—possibly supertall—new towers. It is rumored that SHoP will build a 90-story, 1,000-foot-tall residential tower at Fleet Street and Flatbush Avenue. It is confirmed that Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) will unleash a 600-foot-tall, approximately 40-story tower at 420 Albee Square. The 400,000-square-foot building will be the first nonresidential high-rise in downtown Brooklyn.

420 Albee Square, left, by KPF, and SHoP Architects planned 1,000-foot tower, the tallest in Brooklyn.
Courtesy KPF; SHoP Architects
 

The rezoning was supposed to create 4.5 million square feet of Class A office space in downtown Brooklyn. But, last year, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (a local development corporation) reported that only 250,000 square feet of office space has been built.

Elie Gamburg, director at KPF and lead architect on 420 Albee Square, echoed the partnership’s findings, noting that, so far, the rezoning has produced only residential towers.

KPF, he said, capitalized on a “trophy” corner to create “something of great impact, to really accentuate the verticality” of the building. Though the structure will be bound on all sides by other buildings, the prow-like curve of the facade, visible to travellers coming over the Manhattan Bridge and down Flatbush Avenue, will make a “full gesture to mark the project from those vantage points.”

Usually, a tower this size sits on full or half block sites. In Manhattan, this building’s floor plate would be 30,000 to 40,000 square feet, though 420 Albee Square’s floor plate is 16,000 to 18,000 square feet. “We developed a small floor plate with an off-center core to provide a big floor plate feel,” firm principal James von Klemperer explained.

When asked if there was anything particularly Brooklyn about this tower, Gamburg mused on stereotypical Brooklyn design—exposed brick, Edison bulbs, and converted warehouses. He drew a thread between the borough’s penchant for the past, its industrial legacy, and the cultural logic of late capitalism. “[We have] moved from a nostalgic idea to what the model for the city will be in the future. The office building achieves a new warehouse typology as a ‘warehouse for work.’”

Gamburg sees a reciprocal relationship between the building’s success and the success of the street. The frontage on Albee Square (Gold Street), across from the (COOKFOX-designed) retail development City Point, would be a prominent place for the lobby. Yet the lobby is positioned away from Albee Square so it doesn’t kill a vital retail strip.

Though Gamburg predicts that KPF’s tower will be a centerpiece of the Brooklyn Tech Triangle, he concedes, “great skylines are really the contribution of many players. It’s not a load that one building can carry on its own.”