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Urby

Ironstate president David Barry talks placemaking, retail, and developing Staten Island

David Barry has made a name for himself developing mixed-use projects in retail and hospitality, including The Standard, East Village and the W Hoboken. His new residential project, Urby Staten Island, is on the market on the borough’s North Shore, with 900 units and a mix of retail, including a coffee shop, a bodega, and a communal kitchen—all supplied by an on-site farm.

AN’s senior editor Matt Shaw sat down with Barry to discuss his experience in developing hospitality and retail, and how that is informing his approach to Urby and the neighborhoods around it.

The Architect’s Newspaper: At Urby, you focus on public space. Is this something you have been thinking about throughout your hospitality work, or is it new to this project?

David Barry: It’s been a little bit of an evolution that we’ve crystalized in this project. I’ve done a lot of apartments over the years in these outer-borough locations. More recently, I have been doing hotels—what is called, roughly, “lifestyle” hotels or what used to be called “boutique” hotels. There has been an evolution in real estate as people move to urban areas but are on the move and cyber-connected all the time. I think this has given rise to a desire for urban residents to connect more to their spaces, to connect to each other more, and to move in the direction of a community.

When you’re programming those spaces, the end goal is really just to create a product that people connect with better and to provide a better experience.

We can put in a screening room and just let it exist, but in my experience, I’ve learned that there was an opportunity to take another step further and get people to connect to your product in a way that creates an emotional connection in a way that the big brands weren’t doing until recently. That’s what we’re striving to do with Urby.

Does this connection come through the retail and the shared spaces in Urby?

Yeah, I think the retail is really more about place-making and that has been around for a while: I look at Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk at Seaside, Florida, or any of that kind of stuff. We need to get life on the streets; we need to get retail mixed in and incorporate mixed-use development.

What’s a little more unique about Urby is that we are not just leasing curated retail out to third parties and creating a place, but we are taking those public spaces and being more thoughtful about how to make them an everyday piece of people’s lives. So instead of having amenities that you might use once in a blue moon, we tried to be really, really thoughtful about what is going to enhance somebody’s experience on a daily basis. We want to ensure that our commitment to programming is going a little bit beyond with things like the urban garden or the communal kitchen or the coffee shop that is embedded into the lobby. It is about connecting people around food and wellness in a sense.

I think that because Staten Island is a little bit more of a green, spacious borough, and we had a pretty substantial roof area, we thought that a roof garden could engage residents. We have a farmer-in-residence who helps residents participate—the fruits of that labor are eaten by anybody in the cafe or in the kitchen. 

How are you thinking about retail at Urby?

In this instance, we’re spending a lot of time being very particular and choosy about who we want to go into that space. Because the retail is about place-making, there’s an equation where you can’t necessarily squeeze every single dollar of rent out of it if you want this place to be made in a unique and a different way. That’s what we’re striving for—to create a place that’s authentic and that hosts regional retailers and restaurateurs, whether they’re from Staten Island, Brooklyn, New York, or New Jersey. It’s not a mall concept where we’re preleasing to national credit. We’ve learned to recognize that upfront and to pay a lot of attention to how you choose the retailers and how you support them.

The architecture of the buildings and the pedestrian experience are very important. There are thousands of decisions and some of them have bearing on the neighborhood in general, while others just have bearing on residents or particular constituencies within the building. We tried to pay attention to the architecture and how the building fits into the community, particularly with respect to pedestrians. I think we’ve been really thoughtful about both of those considerations in this project: How pedestrians experience the building and the development in terms of the sidewalks and the landscaping and the street width, etc.

What role does design play in all of this?

Design has played a huge role in this project. We specifically went to Europe to find a non-American architect for this property. Not because I discriminate against Americans, but because we’re trying to think about using space differently and have a different viewpoint on creating smaller urban social spaces and public spaces. The way the Europeans think about space with their city centers that have been so tight and so constrained with a lot of people next to each other for so long, you know. I think it was really interesting to bring in creative firm Concrete from Amsterdam. It feels very different than anything else you’ve experienced, at least in the residential sphere, and a big part of that is the European sensibility and this European eye and creating spaces that encourage people to mingle or connect.

It’s interesting to bring that into the New York area because it is becoming a world city. We’re all more cosmopolitan, we travel a lot, and it’s neat to take things from different societies. I think one thing Europe has that’s great is the piazza, right? That whole street culture and plaza culture is some of the best in the world, you know, in terms of how Europeans use their indoor-outdoor space and connect with each other. It’s been really interesting to work with Concrete and bring that over here to experiment with it.

How do you think this retail environment and improvements will radiate out from Urby?

Where we’re located in Stapleton is really the historic part of Staten Island, and so it got disinvestment and kind of went off people’s radar. I hear a lot of stories from people saying things like, “Oh my God! Bay Street! When I was a kid, we used to go there, and my father used to take me to a restaurant and we would go out after.” That is what I think Urby is. I think it’s like a reason to check out the North Shore of Staten Island.

It’s going to have a really great impact on Bay Street. I think there are some really neat things about the scale and the architecture of that street and the little park there, Tappen Park. I think what it really needs is some attention and some notoriety, and I think that once people have a reason to come to that neighborhood, it will get some. Typically,it’s done often with artists who go to places like Williamsburg and Bushwick and then, before you know it, they’re having some little pop-up things or some art shows or their friends are opening a cafe or whatever it is, and that is getting people talking about it. Staten Island had been a story of kind of suburbanization. Why? Because the Verrazano Bridge opened in ’62 and, boom, the floodgates turned on in Staten Island, and that was a period of time when the world was kind of deurbanizing. So it developed in a bit of a peculiar way, because the people that inhabited the South Shore and those new developments on the mid-island and South Shore had kind of written Bay Street off.

Why did you feel this site was appropriate for this kind of strategy?

Well, part of the strategy with this is that it’s just getting so prohibitively expensive to live in Manhattan or in the well-trafficked Class A locations. Part of the attraction of this location was that it’s formerly industrial and the neighborhood needs some revitalization. It has great mass-transit links, particularly for Staten Island, in that it’s got a subway stop that goes directly to the ferry and it’s on the waterfront.

It connects into Bay Street, which is historically a street with a lot of retail, a lot of restaurants. During most of my career, a lot of the story for the outer boroughs has been the redevelopment of these formerly industrial places in Williamsburg, Bushwick, Long Island City, Staten Island, South Bronx, Jersey City, right?

So I really saw this North Shore waterfront as a continuation of that movement of expansion to the outer boroughs where housing is more reasonably priced. This was a great opportunity to start with mass transportation and riverfront access in a borough that has not had a lot of creative investment or development in the last 20 or 30 years. The elected officials, the community leaders, and the regular old residents seem to be very excited. The EDC [Economic Development Corporation] just opened the park that’s in front of Urby, and the city is really working hard through various departments like EDC to also attract attention to this neighborhood, and I think it’s one that needs investment and has a lot of potential, and the same thing with the elected officials in terms of, you know, of Staten Island because I think that most people recognize that for a society, for a city, for a community to thrive and to move into the future, there needs to be investment of some sort into that community. They’re incentivized and they’re excited and they’re being helpful about getting more private investment attracted to that area.

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DSB

Denise Scott Brown on the unknown history of architecture and planning at the University of Pennsylvania

As architects descend for the 2016 AIA National Convention, the City of Brotherly Love will be in the spotlight. Philadelphia was just named a World Heritage City, the first in the United States. Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi will be awarded the AIA Gold Medal during the convention and a new mayor is fighting to preserve the city’s landmarks, which include the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Philadelphia City Hall, and a host of modern and postmodern relics—not to mention the urban fabric that composes the neighborhoods. For this occasion, editor-in-chief William Menking and senior editor Matt Shaw sat down with Scott Brown at her and Venturi’s home in suburban Philadelphia. (Also, our "reader" of past articles can help you get up to speed on Philly, the AIA, and this year's speakers.)

The Architect’s Newspaper: Can you talk about what brought you to Philadelphia to study and teach?

Denise Scott Brown: Peter and Alison Smithson, our gurus at the London Architectural Association (Peter wasn’t teaching there then) intrigued us with their New Brutalism. After the war, young architects with passion wanted to follow Le Corbusier’s urban visions and rebuild Europe’s cities, and the brightest wanted to study urban planning in America first. But the Smithsons contested the idea of “decanting” the London poor into the rural, middle-class “New Towns,” and produced models following their street-life patterns for rebuilding in cities on bombed sites. This is what Brutalism stood for then, not the overwrought use of unfinished concrete. The Smithsons and Louis Kahn met over debates on this subject through CIAM and their 15-year correspondence is in the Smithson archives at Harvard. So when Peter said the only place to go for city planning was the University of Pennsylvania because Louis Kahn taught there, Robert Scott Brown and I went.

But before we left, we read an article in Time Magazine about Philadelphia and the planning we would encounter there thanks to its liberal reform government. A “white noose” of suburbs lay around the neck of a center city that was half black and half white, and measures were under discussion to keep blacks out of Philadelphia’s center. I was surprised. This was not happening secretly—it was openly discussed—just like in my sad and miserable country of South Africa, people in Philadelphia were practicing apartheid.

In the 1940s, South Africa was in social turmoil. I grew up with it and came away with a guilty conscience and sympathy for African needs. In England there was socialism and more turmoil, but in the late 50s, America decorum ruled—sloppy joes, long skirts, and bobby sox were in style—not protest. Yet within two years, the social turmoil familiar to me was here, too. We arrived from our experiences of Africa and Europe with lots of questions, and were happy to find not answers, but ways to search for them. At the semester’s end Herbert Gans, our sociology professor, said, “You came with such interesting questions. Where are the answers?” We were all very young, but I have since said to Herb, “You didn’t have answers, why did you expect us to have them?”

In the 1940s Kahn belonged to a citizens’ group for city planning that convened under the reformed government and was good at purveying planning facts via metaphors intriguing to architects. The ideas in his famous street plan came from this group—our transportation professor, Robert Mitchell, belonged too, and behind Lou’s plan I recognized the content of Mitchell’s lectures.

Robert Scott Brown and I entered planning school hoping to study early modern planning ideas, like Arturo Soria y Mata’s linear city. We thought it was an interesting solution to urban-rural disconnection in mass cities. Trains, we suggested, should travel at 100 miles an hour. When teachers observed that would be too fast for transit stops, we replied, “That doesn’t matter!” We were early modern machine romantics.

Formulating the questions was Penn’s planning school’s strength. But we learned it from social scientists and activists, not architects. Faculty and students in the architecture department were unaware it was happening.

The planning school was in the school of architecture?

Yes. How did a great socially based planning school develop in a school of architecture? The key was research. When federal urban renewal programs were created in the 1940s, research was mandated. But where would you put it? At first, architecture schools where cities were designed were the only receptacles for this largesse. So Penn’s Institute for Urban Studies hired Mitchell, architect turned transportation planner; Martin Meyerson, who came out of Penn and the University of Chicago; Herbert Gans, a city planning doctoral student (Penn’s first); C. Britton Harris and Jack Dyckman from Chicago; William Wheaton from Princeton and Harvard; and a young Paul Davidoff from Yale Law School. They were high-powered people, some, like Wheaton, were influential in Washington and were rainmakers for the school.

Universities use programs to fund activities temporarily while they are of interest. The Graduate School of Fine Arts’ Institute for Urban Studies was one of Penn’s first, but more followed as other departments tapped federal urban-related money. The presence of its young researchers was one of the reasons Robert Scott Brown and I found Penn to be the most exciting intellectual atmosphere we’d been in on three continents. People at Penn were thinking about the things we were thinking about, and thrilled to have us. But this was not so among the architects.

Architect planners like David Crane, our student advisor, had the same straddling problems I had. Whereas in London, architects approached urban planning because it was the going game, in America, you went there when you found you were not good at design. So I was seen as a non-designer in Penn architecture and was not invited to participate as I had been in England. But the American architectural elite had not yet caught up with Team Ten and the New Brutalism. Lou of course knew them and I introduced them to Bob and my students. By that time Robert was dead, people here had rallied to help me, I had formed lifelong friendships, and in 1960 I had begun teaching in the planning department.

In 1961, I started teaching the fall semester theories course for architects and was given a joint appointment in architecture and in planning. This meant I was the only full-time person teaching in architecture. The architects spent three afternoons a week in the school, whereas I was there day and night. To connect the studio and the theories course, I gave studio crits at night, so I had good ties with beginning architecture students, and very good ties with planning students by teaching studio and kibitzing in their theory course taught by Paul Davidoff. So, I saw things that few faculty, and none in architecture, saw, especially around the turmoil going on in social planning. It was 1961—an enlivening time in American cities and at Penn. But the architects didn’t notice.

What was the turmoil about?

There was social unrest in cities related to injustice and particularly to urban renewal, seen as “human removal.” And when the social planners erupted at Penn, architects asked, “Who are these people horning in on our field? We were doing very nicely without them.” They said, “don’t fix what ain’t broke.” So eventually all the planners left Penn, as well as many architects who were not Harvard-trained modernists. This was because research money dried up with Nixon and Reagan, but also because our dean, great in many respects, saw Harvard as the shining model for architectural education. So nonconformists were not reappointed, and beyond the social planners, Crane and I left and Bob too, and Penn lost the opportunity to be the first school to build on the early links then forming, over our somewhat mangled bodies, between the social and the physical in architecture.

Where did you go next?

Bill Wheaton invited me to be a visiting professor at Berkeley, so I taught there during the Foul Speech movement, one semester after the Free Speech movement, at Berkeley. Then I went on to start a school of architecture at UCLA. I was one of three founding faculty members there, and I taught studio as I had learned from Dave Crane’s planning studios. This was the model for the Learning From Las Vegas studio, and is the reason why every school of architecture now has one teamwork, urban project studio with a visit somewhere. Sadly they’re often junkets, not real research.

This model of teaching comes out of planning?

Yes but it needed adapting for architects and very careful putting together. Dave Crane pushed me at Penn to study regional science, an economic discipline, nicknamed “city physics.” It helped me greatly in connecting form and forces with architects. But at UCLA I taught urban design and brought in experts from various fields. The principal was George Dudley, who I had worked with in New York, and Henry Lu, Peter Kamnitzer, and I were faculty.

I ran the first studio and set the model for interdisciplinary teaching via studio. “Determinants of urban form,” my subject, investigated the forces that make form, and how to design with them. In team studios everyone shared information collected for the project with everyone else and we all shared the project. In that way everyone saw how the whole thing was put together.

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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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Postindustrial

Our studio visit with Somerville, Massachusetts–based Landing Studio

The offices of Landing Studio are cluttered with “industrial fossils,” as principal Marie Law Adams calls them: vials of rock salt, cross-sections of old oak piers, a chunk of slag discovered during the demolition of a jet fuel tank. In between the piles of design books, they form a trail of breadcrumbs back to the firm’s founding in 2005, when Adams was hired along with her partner and co-principal Dan Adams to make an attractive public space out of a defunct shipping terminal in Chelsea, Massachusetts. That project went on to win awards for the way it reconciled industrial and recreational uses on the site without diminishing either. It’s typical of Landing Studio’s work, which brings high design to industrial clients that typically don’t get much more sophisticated in their design process than making sure they clear the zoning board.

That work continues today, in the fittingly unrefined Boynton Yards District of Somerville, Massachusetts. Several employees share a unit with the firm Reverse Architecture in a converted four-story mill building whose other tenants include two chocolatiers and a fencing club. The building is like Landing Studio’s work itself: Not exactly postindustrial, but wrapped in the eclecticism and grittiness that the word implies; not just a pretty relic of the past, but something still alive and evolving.

“People, when they hear about our work, immediately start talking about postindustrial sites,” said Dan. “That for us was very jarring, that in the design community people would always say, ‘Oh industry, that’s an interesting niche.’ Industry probably shouldn’t be thought of as a niche. It’s much larger.”

When it comes to urban planning, the partners said, that reductive “postindustrial” mindset often means disparate industrial uses get lumped together. Oil tank farms and salt piles are very different uses that present different opportunities for a designer. But without a firm like Landing Studio, they’re usually glossed over with the same “industrial site” protocol.

“There’s no character like the architect who would negotiate between traffic engineering, civil engineering, and everything that would add up to the operations on the site,” said Marie. “It’s kind of a reflection on the urban landscape. The traditional role of the architect to mediate between a lot of disciplines is something that I think is a new way of working with industrial clients.”

Rock Chapel Marine and Port Chelsea, Massachusetts Landing Studio’s Chelsea harbor project is still the only publicly accessible portion of the town’s industrial waterfront. Bordering a dense residential neighborhood, the six-acre site turns a jet fuel and asphalt-batching terminal into a shared landscape for public recreation and road salt storage. “Do you just try to eliminate industry? Well, how does that serve the sustainability of the region? You’re just displacing the burden somewhere else,” said Dan. “In the case of the Boston Harbor, now it’s very nice to live near the water, but how do you preserve the viability of the region?”Unlike Duisburg-Nord in Germany or the High Line in New York, he says, this is still an active industrial area. “People now like the industrial aesthetic, so it makes it easier for them to stomach actual active industry,” said Adams. “Even though that’s just a kind of dead trophy.”

Marginal Boston A temporary installation developed for the 2015 Boston Design Biennial, Marginal dug deep into the history of its site: the Boston Greenway. With the help of Fitzgerald Shipyard, Landing Studio salvaged eight oak pilings from the Boston Harbor, which were originally used to make new industrial land for the growing port. “Throughout the harbor there’s still this kind of message of the interface between land and water,” said Marie. “That’s how Boston was built, basically by wharfing out piers.” Landing Studio sliced the old piers into 2,000 discs and stacked them into a grid of 18 LED-illuminated piers on dry land in downtown Boston.“We like this continuum: when is something global or local? When is it industrial or natural?” said Dan. “These artifacts, they’re at the margins of our definitions of things.”

Marginal Boston A temporary installation developed for the 2015 Boston Design Biennial, Marginal dug deep into the history of its site: the Boston Greenway. With the help of Fitzgerald Shipyard, Landing Studio salvaged eight oak pilings from the Boston Harbor, which were originally used to make new industrial land for the growing port. “Throughout the harbor there’s still this kind of message of the interface between land and water,” said Marie. “That’s how Boston was built, basically by wharfing out piers.” Landing Studio sliced the old piers into 2,000 discs and stacked them into a grid of 18 LED-illuminated piers on dry land in downtown Boston.“We like this continuum: when is something global or local? When is it industrial or natural?” said Dan. “These artifacts, they’re at the margins of our definitions of things.”

Infra-Space 1 Boston Designed collaboratively with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and engineering firm VHB, Infra-Space is the first in a series of unlikely urban revivals. Using lighting installations, bike paths, and stormwater-absorbing landscape design, Landing Studio turned 13 acres of unused land underneath the I-93 viaduct in Boston’s South End into a multi-modal transportation hub. Paid parking sustains the site financially, while recreational use turns a once foreboding underpass into an inviting public space. “The architecture of the freeway becomes really open and monumental,” said Marie.

(Courtesy Landing Studio)

Lumen. (Courtesy Landing Studio) Lumen New York City This summer, Landing Studio will contribute to their fourth “LUMEN,” a one-night film and performance art festival in New York. On a maritime salt dock on the northern shore of Staten Island, Landing Studio builds salt pile landscapes with theatrical illumination, turning mounds of salt into a convertible gallery for artist installations.
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LIC Rising

Queens’s first supertall skyscraper set to break ground in 2017
Queens looks to be in line for it's first supertall skyscraper, situated on 23-15 44th Drive in Long Island City. Rising to 984 feet, the building will house 774 luxury apartment units inside 78 stories, as well as just under 20,000 square feet of retail and commercial space and 225 parking spots, located between the basement and second floor. New York practice Goldstein, Hill & West Architects are behind the project, which totals 969,000 square feet. With Midtown Manhattan less than five minutes away (by car/subway), the tower, known by its official name as "City View Tower," is in a prime location. Neighboring upmarket restaurants, the building is also joined by nearby Gantry State Park (which features a riverside esplanade, a fishing pier, and a playgrounds), and a host of art galleries, notably the MoMA PS1 and Sculpture Center. Other transportation links include walkable access to the East River Ferry and the Long Island Rail Road. Originally, development firm United Construction and Development had planned for a 963-foot tower, however, a 21 foot increase allows the skyscraper to be classified as a "supertall" due it being 300 meters (984 feet) or over. Due to a site elevation of 16 feet, the building will reach a height of 1,000 feet above sea level, and the project has to submit a request to the Federal Aviation Administration for approval to build. According to New York Yimby, plans are also progressing through the Department of Buildings with few alterations being made over the past couple of months. That said, they report a supposed increase of 114 from the planned 660 housing units listed on the developer's page. Ground is set to break on the project at some point next year with completion penned for 2019. Goldstein, Hill & West Architects also have another luxury tower in the making for the area. Located on 42-12 on 28th Street in Long Island City, the tower will be smaller than their "City View Tower" accommodating only 477 units, reaching 634 foot. Amenities are set to include a resident lounge, pool house, full spa and observation deck.
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WXT+DDC+DOT

Revamping Astor Place-Cooper Square for pedestrians and public space

Exemplifying the eternal Robert Moses-Jane Jacobs dialectic, New York’s Astor Place-Cooper Square area has long reflected too much Bob and not enough Jane. Excessive vehicular space has bred human-car conflict points, with pedestrians facing “a super-wide roadway . . . unclear at various traffic lights which way you are supposed to cross,” as noted by Claire Weisz of WXY (formerly Weisz & Yoes). The neighborhood around Cooper Union has become a midrise mélange, ill-serving its role as a campus and gateway between NoHo and the East Village. The chief open space is the under-lit, fenced-off Cooper Triangle, habitable mainly by rodents: A wasted opportunity in the park-starved area between Washington and Tompkins Squares.

Change hasn’t come quickly, but it’s coming. WXY has partnered with the Department of Design and Construction (DDC), Transportation (DOT), and Parks and Recreation (DPR), as well as with landscape architect Quennell Rothschild & Partners, lighting designer Linnaea Tillett, plantsman Piet Oudolf, and contractor Triumph Construction, to remap streets and upgrade the plazas. Adhering closely to the 2011 iteration of a plan vetted in community meetings since 2008, the team is creating an environment that blends landscaping and infrastructure: high-efficiency lighting, granite benches, stepped seating, bicycle racks, a new water main, catch basins, center medians, bioswales, and a dignified allée framing the Foundation Building. Construction began in 2013, and DDC projects opening this summer.

Anticipating Vision Zero by several years, Weisz said, “The plan tried to rationalize the desire lines with the actual street layout,” correcting dangerous conditions. At Fifth and Sixth Streets, “you would find yourself in the middle of Third Avenue without being able to cross the street at a normal crosswalk,” and the subway-entrance island between Eighth and Ninth was “really narrow for the amount of people on it.” With vehicles banned from eastern Astor Place and from Cooper Square below Sixth Street, “you’ll be able to walk pretty easily from Fifth Street all the way  to the subway without having to cross traffic.” A tree-lined Alamo Plaza will replace two lanes of Astor Place, and an 8,000-square-foot Village Plaza will emerge from Cooper Square’s west sidewalk, replacing disorienting lanes and dead zones of striped-off asphalt.

“Essentially, the goal is to continue to encourage the street ballet of the neighborhood,” Weisz said.

“We believe this particular design takes the approach of Jane Jacobs to create spaces that favor the community,” said DDC spokesperson Shavone Williams, stressing community outreach from design through construction.

The DDC “was very much a co-designer on this rather than a client working with consultants,” Weisz said. “[The collaboration was] amazing—we have three agencies, almost with equal billing here, and two community boards.” Maintenance partners include Village Alliance for the Alamo and subway plazas, DPR for Cooper Triangle, and Grace Church School for the Village Plaza.

WXY’s design signature includes zipper benches and environmentally friendly cast-iron drinking fountains developed for DPR (shaped to accommodate water bottles and to vent wastewater into planters and gravel, not hard pipes). Distinctive black cobra-head davit poles will support energy-efficient LED fixtures above Village Plaza. Swales will enhance storm drainage, reducing combined sewer overflows. Tony Rosenthal’s rotating cube Alamo, currently off-site for restoration, will return to its original position.

Village Alliance, City Lore, and other cultural activists have worked with DOT to reinstall components of Jim Power’s Mosaic Trail—“a treasure map” revealing local history, said Bowery Poetry Club proprietor Bob Holman, a City Lore board member. “That the city, which has so long ignored this treasure, is helping to renovate the poles displaced by the renovation and will install them as a piece of public art,” Holman said, “is New York City at its best.” With varied color temperatures distinguishing pedestrian spaces, streets, and buildings, the team expected that “Power’s ceramics would really pop.”

Weisz foresees a return of informal vibrancy as the plazas draw lunchers, seniors, performers, students, and others (Though not nocturnal revelers: The Triangle will be locked at night). By inviting people to linger, these plazas may help energize local businesses assaulted by chain stores and rocketing commercial rents.

Interruptions in Manhattan’s street grid represent the revenge of the organic and historic against the hyper-rational. Sites that syncopate the 1811 plan’s marching rhythm are both robust and sensitive: They are activity magnets, yet they create welcome eddies in urban flows. 

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New York City bike lane art scores high points with videogame references
The New York City Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Art Program has partnered with nonprofit New York Cares to paint two bike lane barriers in styles that will appeal to true 90s kids. On Columbia Street, between Atlantic Avenue and Congress Street in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, 30 volunteers assisted artist Nancy Ahn to paint 1,000 feet of concrete barrier. The piece, Crushing It, is influenced by pixelated video game graphics of the 1990s. Like Donkey Kong, cyclists get to "collect" coins and bananas as they traverse the path. Up in the Bronx, the two organizations collaborated on another barrier beautification on East 161st Street between Gerard Avenue and Concourse Village West, in the Concourse neighborhood. 20 volunteers pitched in to help artist Sarah Nicole Phillips paint “Cats in Repose,” a linear piece inspired by the artist's own languid black cat. The DOT notes that these projects are intended to beautify the otherwise drab concrete dividers, and add a measure of delight to the daily commute. The cat painting, like its Brooklyn sibling, seems designed to appeal to millennials specifically, although who doesn't love colorblocking, cute felines, and Nintendo? DOT Art is currently soliciting RFPs for temporary, site-specific installations for Summer Streets events. A minimum of two artists (in any medium) will be chosen, and artists can receive up to $20,000 to realize their projects. To see past installations, check out the program's Flickr page.
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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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Could pneumatic tubes on the High Line help New York achieve zero waste by 2030?
When New York City's massive, visible-from-space Fresh Kills landfill closed in 2001, the city began trucking its garbage—around 14 million tons annually—to other states. Former Mayor Bloomberg tried to soften this unsustainable solution with a 2006 plan to transport waste by train and barge instead of trucks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 192,000 tons per year. Now, with Mayor de Blasio's ambitious "zero waste" plan for landfills by 2030, the need for revamped waste management systems is pressing. Could old-school pneumatic tubes help the City meet its goal? Pneumatic tubes seem like a futuristic waste disposal technology, but they are widely employed in Europe and parts of the U.S., including New York's Roosevelt Island and Disney World. Indeed, some parts of New York used to get mail delivered by pneumatic tubes. How could this system work on a large scale today? ClosedLoops, an infrastructure planning and development firm, has been researching this question for five years. The team hopes to create a pneumatic tube system, the High Line Corridor Network, underneath the High Line park on Manhattan's Far West Side. Now in the pre-development phase, the team chose the High Line to test their prototype because its height eliminates the need to tunnel beneath the streets. Waste would be sucked from the park and nearby buildings and deposited in a central terminal for overland carting to landfills outside of New York. As of December 2015, NYS Energy Research and Development Authority and NYS Department of Transportation (DOT) are on board, and the DSNY (plus the NYC DOT) have offered to support the grant proposal for the project. If trash tubes were installed citywide, it would be possible to track who produces the most (and least) waste, and mete out fee-for-service accordingly. The project will take a few more years to come fully to fruition. In the meantime, there are plenty of places to see pneumatic tubes in action, including your local drive-thru: https://www.flickr.com/photos/benfrantzdale/5022238452
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Anything but boring: World’s largest tunnelling machine, Big Bertha, is stuck under Seattle, Tweets an interview
Big Bertha, Seattle's famous tunnel boring machine, is stuck underground again. Bertha was running for just under a month following a two year delay to fix a broken cutter head. And the machine has taken to Twitter, as we imagine it can get lonely so far beneath the city. A little over two weeks ago, a large sinkhole formed while Bertha was drilling the over-57-foot-diameter Highway 99 tunnel to replace the earthquake prone viaduct. No one knows exactly why it happened. Just earlier that day, a nearby Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) barge tilted, offloading tunnel dirt into Elliot Bay and dismantling part of a dock. The 15-foot-deep, 20-feet-wide, and 35-foot-long sinkhole was quickly filled with 250 cubic yards of concrete and sand. But Bertha is still stuck. STP wants to start Bertha again, but the Washington State Department of Transportation (WDOT) hasn't given them the necessary written permission to move forward yet. SDOT says they need more information. But enough of the dismal facts and figures. And now, for something different: The nonprofit blog Strong Towns interviewed @StuckBertha, Bertha's unofficial Twitter account, in January. Enjoy some excerpts from their tongue-in-cheek conversation, below. Check out the full interview on the Strong Towns blog. We all hope Bertha gets unstuck very soon.
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Zoning Out?
NYC Planning contends that ZQA will fight bland streetwalls and create more lively streetscapes, as seen here in the East Village.
Simon Collison / Flickr

In November and December, all five of New York City’s Borough Boards, and 50 of 59 Community Boards, voted against one or both of two proposed text amendments, for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH). Though the boards’ decisions are advisory and nonbinding, they reflect widespread public dissatisfaction with the changes that would allow denser new development in exchange for more affordable housing.

At a December public hearing, the City Planning Commission (CPC) got an earful from the public on both measures. Union members, affordable housing activists, the AARP, preservationists, and politicians spoke out for and against the proposed changes. Everyone wants to live in a neighborhood with quality public space and vibrant street life. Everyone wants to live in an area that they can comfortably afford, where new construction is sensitive to the existing neighborhood fabric.

It’s the plans’ specifics that engender disagreement. Critics contend the plans serve developers’ interests and won’t do enough to prevent the displacement of low-income residents.

MIH aims to create permanently affordable housing in exchange for changes that substantially increase density. The changes under review are part of Housing New York, Mayor de Blasio’s 2014 plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over ten years. MIH would compel developers to set aside 25 percent of units in market-rate developments at 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), or 30 percent at 80 percent of the AMI. The AMI is $86,300 for a family of four in New York City.

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), a leading neighborhood preservation group, opposes ZQA. GVSHP maintains that ZQA will allow for out-of-scale buildings without creating more affordable housing. If ZQA is passed, buildings could be 25 feet taller, but include the same amount of affordable housing.
Courtesy NYC Planning
 

ZQA will modify rules on setbacks, height restrictions, floor area ratios, parking requirements, commercial and residential construction, and housing for seniors, in exchange for increased density. ZQA would also fight bland streetwalls, encouraging developers to create articulated facades, courtyards, and “other elements that provide visual variety.” These changes, city officials contend, will enable developers to build structures that will blend better into the existing fabric while accommodating a growing population. For example, ZQA could add five feet to the height limit for new buildings with ground floor retail. This would allow retail spaces with up to 12-foot ceilings, a height, according to officials, that increases a space’s palatability.

Under the proposed amendments, areas highlighted in purple could be upzoned by as much as 31 percent.
 

Vicki Been, commissioner of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development, noted that ZQA “creates no new development rights for market rate housing.” Furthermore, ZQA allows for more affordable housing by “reforming envelope constraints that have not kept up with modern design or building technology.”

Citing citywide residential vacancy rates of less than 3.5 percent, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen emphasized that “we are now in a crisis. We are in a literal housing emergency.” She noted that market rate units will “cross-subsidize” the affordable units, which will in turn free up more public funds for extremely low income housing and housing for seniors.

Critics inveigh against what they see as a “one size fits all” approach. “There has been no serious discussion of the social and physical infrastructure necessary to manage the development for which these plans allow,” said Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz, Jr. He questioned the increased density’s impact on schools, transportation, parks, and job creation.

Díaz endorsed a neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach, noting that, since 2009, there have been 14 res in the Bronx alone, part of the 124 res—affecting 40 percent of the city’s land area—that took place under Bloomberg. To achieve a truly mixed-income neighborhood, he argued, a range of very low through moderate income households should coexist in market-rate housing, rather than averages. “Yet, as currently written” Díaz said, “these new proposals would reshape the of the city with one broad stroke.”

Ultimately, many speakers asked for more time than the 60 days the CPC gave community and borough boards to review almost 500 pages of text amendments. Díaz stressed the time factor: “Something so profound as the future development of our city should not be rushed.”

Armed with comments from the hearing, the CPC will vote on MIH and ZQA early 2016.

Subsequently, the city council will review and vote on the measures, also in early 2016. The council’s decision is binding.

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Fordham Plaza, one of New York’s busiest transit hubs, is now one of the city’s most pedestrian-friendly
The NYC Department of Design and Construction (DDC) and the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) recently unveiled the redesigned, ultra pedestrian-friendly Fordham Plaza. Vision Zero's mandate to reduce traffic-related injuries and fatalities guided the $34 million renovation of the north Bronx transit hub. Bounded by Webster Avenue, East Fordham Road, and East 189th Street, the Grimshaw Architects–designed Fordham Plaza now boasts fresh plantings, as well as stationary and movable seating elements to provide a respite for the nearly 80,000 pedestrians per day that travel along Fordham Road. True to the plan released in 2014, the plaza features a new market canopy, kiosks, a cafe, and—rare for New York—a public toilet. The redesign was carried out in collaboration with the NYC Plaza Program, a NYC DOT program that has spearheaded the creation of 69 plazas, 16 of which are in development or currently under construction. A 40 percent reduction in asphalt created more space, and more safety, for pedestrians at Fordham Plaza. The plaza now sports shorter pedestrian crosswalks, "direct" crosswalks that discourage jaywalking, and a 25 percent increase in pedestrian-only space. These interventions should improve access to Fordham University’s Rose Hill Campus, right across the street. Fordham Plaza primary program is transit: 12 local and express bus lines, as well as the fourth-busiest Metro-North station. Bus stops were redesigned to improve pick up, drop off, and the loop-around, especially around East 189th Street and Webster Avenue, that guides buses off towards Westchester County, Manhattan, and all over the Bronx. OneNYC Plaza Equity Program will provide the Fordham Road BID with funding to maintain the plaza. $10 million came from a U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER grant, and $2 million from the state Department of Transportation.