Search results for "New York City Department of Transportation"

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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.
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SOFTlab's "Nova" pavilion brightens cold New York nights with psychadelic light
Suburban folk mark the change of seasons with spring peepers, the sound of leaf blowers, and first frosts. City dwellers rely on other environmental cures: pumpkin spice lattes, heat season, and festive public art installations. Last week, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership Business Improvement District (BID) and the Van Alen Institute welcomed crowds to SOFTlab's Nova, the 2015 winner of the Flatiron Public Plaza Holiday Design Competition. Perched inside North Flatiron Public Plaza at the intersection of Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and 23rd Street, Nova invites passersby into a kaleidoscopic interior to view area landmarks—the Empire State Building, the Flatiron, and the Met Life Tower—on its mirrored surfaces and through its many exposures. When activated by sound, LEDs pulse to intensify the psychedelic visuals. The design has definite antecedents in SOFTlab's pavilion at this year's SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas. Here too, the firm partnered with 3M to create a multicolored neon canopy that showcased the company's products. Van Alen and the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership invited New York–based architecture and design firms Bureau V, Method Design, Sage and Coombe, Studio KCA, and SOFTlab to submit proposals for the competition. Competition jurors included Van Alen and the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership directors and board members; Michael Bierut, partner, Pentagram; Aleksey Lukyanov, partner, Situ Studio; and Wendy Feuer, NYC Department of Transportation's Assistant Commissioner of Design + Art + Wayfinding. "The installation illustrates how interactive public art can change the perception of an environment thereby allowing people to experience it in a new way," Feuer explained in a statement. "We count on organizations like the Partnership to commission these exciting installations making NYC streets ever more inviting." This is the holiday design competition's second year. Last year, INABA won the competition with their installation, New York Light. See the gallery below for more images of Nova.  
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Planning East Harlem
Brian Godfrey / Flickr

In the coming years, wide swaths of New York will land on the city’s drawing board for comprehensive rezoning. In September 2015, the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) released the East New York Community Plan. The plan, now in its public comment period, calls for increased density and affordable housing via mandatory inclusionary zoning in a largely low-income Brooklyn neighborhood. A city initiative, the planning process was organized by the DCP with input from local groups.

In East Harlem, however, residents, community groups, and facilitators flipped the script. Stakeholders are collecting residents’ feedback on their neighborhood for the DCP’s input. The group’s project, the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan, began in May 2015 and targets the area governed by Community Board 11 (CB 11). The project’s meticulous approach to community-based planning has the potential to impact neighborhood planning citywide.

The project partners are city council speaker (and area representative) Melissa Mark-Viverito, CB 11, the Manhattan borough president’s office, and social justice advocacy group Community Voices Heard. New York’s WXY Studio and Hester Street Collaborative are facilitating the development of a draft of the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan. Other participating organizations include a charter school, labor unions, a tenants’ association, the New York Restoration Project (NYRP), and El Museo del Barrio. These groups lead steering committees that help draft and approve recommendations.

To all parties, planning goes beyond zoning to encompass the individual and social context. Adam Lubinsky, WXY’s managing principal, emphasizes that the planning is entirely community driven, and is not about showcasing the vision of a particular designer or firm. So far, hundreds of residents have participated in the process. Ultimately, Lubinsky hopes that East Harlemites “put together key principles and ideas so city planning will look at that and understand that” for the official zoning ultimately adopted by the DCP.

The process starts with a series of community visioning workshops for residents to voice what they love and what they would change in East Harlem. Workshops include a discussion of policies that affect the neighborhood. A session on zoning and land use, for example, uses participatory visioning strategies that “get people thinking about the nature of the area,” said Lubinsky.

Ideas from the workshops are taken up by 11 subgroups, each facilitated by a different stakeholder. Topics include open space and environment, culture, education, childcare, housing preservation, affordable housing, NYCHA, economic and workforce development, senior citizens, health and safety, and transportation. A proposal from a committee headed by the NYRP, for example, suggests that “developers [should] provide green infrastructure within and/or adjacent to new developments” to fortify East Harlem against “threats from climate change.”

The subgroups create proposals that are refined in a public comment period. The final plan will be presented in early 2016 to the DCP to inform the final neighborhood rezoning.

Will WXY and Hester Street be involved in the design? Hopefully, Lubinsky states, the “capacity-building process is self-perpetuating. I don’t know if they’ll need us.”

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With help from a TIGER grant, the Bronx River Greenway is one mile closer to completion
As of October 27th, the Bronx River Greenway is one mile closer to completion. The United States Department of Transportation awarded a $10 million TIGER grant to the city to build three bridges and a three-quarter mile path connecting the South Bronx's Concrete Plant Park with nearby Starlight Park. Though modest in scale, the grant adds momentum to the decades-long movement to green one of the most industrial areas in the borough. Two of the bridges will be built over the Bronx River—one near Westchester Avenues and the other adjacent to 172nd Street. The third bridge will be laid over Amtrak rail lines at East 172nd Street. When this critical link is complete, cyclists and pedestrians will be able to enjoy 1.8 miles of trails along the river, from East 177th Street to Bruckner Boulevard. Currently, recreation-seeking Bronxites who wish to travel between the two parks face a daunting and dangerous trek across a Sheridan Expressway access ramp. The New York State Department of Transportation committed funds to the project in 2008, but the DOT had to negotiate usage rights with Amtrak. The Acela runs adjacent to the Bronx River, in between the two parks. In total, the project is estimated to cost between $29 and $32 million. Federal, state, and local governments, as well as nonprofits, have pledged $12 million towards the project, in addition to the TIGER grant. Still, there is  $7 to $10 million dollar funding gap for the project. Construction will begin June 2016 and be complete by 2020.
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This tangle of highways in Providence, Rhode Island, could give way to a green boulevard
According to Moving Together Providence has the potential to be a "world model for urban design." That is of course, if the city decides to go ahead with their ambitious proposal of tearing up the 6/10 connector which joins Routes 6 and 10 between Olneyville and the interchange with Interstate 95, replacing it with a bicycle- and bus-friendly green boulevard. Currently, the connector makes use of eleven bridges, nine of which are over 50 years old and are in need of repair. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation estimates that such restoration would cost upwards of $400 million. Moving Together argues that instead of using those funds to fix infrastructure that will inevitably have be repaired again, the money should be used to transform the connector into a green boulevard with special bus and protected bike lanes. That's something, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo has said she would like to see take place. Today, the connector heavily prioritizes private and commercial vehicle access into, out of, and through the city center. This has been the case for so long now, that the system has since become deeply embedded into Providence's urban fabric. However, these outdated priorities may have to make way for the contemporary demand of more efficient transportation connections that address communal, environmental, and economic needs—the triple bottom line. Naturally, there is a popular concern that removing such a widely used highway will only increase traffic. Nevertheless, urban planner Alex Krogh-Grabbe dispels these fears, saying that traffic is only increased as capacity is added, a concept known as "included demand" whereby people only use a service (in this case the highway) due to its presence. In taking away a travel option, routes into the city are actually diversified, with drivers taking many different journeys via local streets. An example of this can be seen in New York City. In 1973, the West Side Highway was removed due to a partial collapse. At the time, some 80,000 vehicles used the highway daily. Officials were baffled when traffic in the surrounding neighborhoods didn't increase with the elevated highway's closure. Now that highway is a wide boulevard running alongside the Hudson River Greenway with a much used bike route. Another dramatic transformation can be seen with the Cheonggyecheon Highway in South Korea. Here the removal of the much used highway saw a 600percent increase in biodiversity, a 35 percent drop in particulate pollution, and up to a 50 percent increase in land values within the vicinity. Aside from the obvious health benefits, protected bike lanes bring economic reward, too. In New York City, local businesses on the 9th Avenue protected bike lane witnessed a 49 percent increase in retail sales (compared to the borough average of 3 percent). In terms of safety, studies have shown that such lanes can contribute to a 90 percent reduction in injuries per mile and as for reducing emissions, choosing to cycle to work can reduce household emissions by 6 percent—a viable options for half of the United States who live within 5 miles of their workplace. Buses, too, can aid in this area. Dedicated lanes separate buses from general traffic allowing them a faster journey into the city unclogged with traffic, allowing them to carry many more people. All in all, the scheme offers a progressive and viable alternative to the highway that now slices through the city. Whether Providence's residents will take to the idea though, remains to be seen.  
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A Prescription for Place
Herlev Hospital in Denmark by Henning Larsen.
Courtesy Henning Larsen Architects

In the early part of the 20th century, design for illness was a grim affair. Driven by the dread of infectious disease—especially tuberculosis and other contagions found in dense, dank cities—doctors and architects turned to the transparent, hygienic values associated with modernism. Cures included moving patients to specialized, isolated environments with unornamented white or glass walls and ample sunlight that were elevated on pilotis and off the unsanitary earth.

Today, we talk about design for health, not illness. Rather than segregate the ill from the well, design strategies now aim to make environments conducive to healthier habits. Contemporary healthcare institutions—recognizing that waiting until acute diseases need high-tech attention is an inefficient form of care—are reaching further into public space and emphasizing prevention, nutrition, primary care, and triage. This more porous relationship between healthcare and communities comes with design implications at the civic, neighborhood, and residential scale. It even affects the personal level, as home care, smartphone health-monitoring apps like the FitBit, and telemedicine reflect and amplify two intertwined trends: the medicalization of everyday life and the deinstitutionalization of medicine.

Herlev Hospital in Denmark by Henning Larsen employs circular plans to organize the hospital as a “small city.”
Courtesy Henning Larsen Architects
 

Health at City Scale

In 2010, New York City’s Active Design Guidelines codified what many architects, planners, and public health officials already knew: that built environments could exert pathogenic effects—circulation patterns encouraging sedentariness and elevator overuse, poor lighting and air quality, food deserts, and streets subordinating self-powered movement to motorism. The Active Design Guidelines, however, recognized the need for a different approach and set forth a design philosophy in which existing environments could be redesigned as salutogenic, incorporating exercise and healthier nutrition into spaces and daily routines. From low-hanging fruit like stair prompts and wayfinding signage to the more complex redesign of streetscapes, office buildings, affordable-housing complexes, and entire communities, Active Design has become a globally recognized movement over the ten years of its Fit City/Fit Nation/Fit World conference series, yielding seven supplements to the original Guidelines and assuming institutional form with the 2013 founding of the Center for Active Design.

Some healthcare organizations have long promoted community health alongside hospital-centered interventions: Kaiser Permanente, for example, launched the first of its hospital-based farmers’ markets in Oakland in 2003, anticipating public programs like the New York City Department of Health’s Stellar Farmers’ Markets and Health Bucks coupon program. Civic-scale changes, from smoking bans to pedestrian-friendly street designs such as the wide medians and car-free plazas that began appearing under Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, transform public spaces so that healthy choices become intuitive norms, not exceptions.

Herlev Hospital in Denmark by Henning Larsen.
Courtesy Henning Larsen Architects
 

“At their heart the Design Guidelines are built around the idea that we need to get out of the clinic or the hospital setting as the only place that influences health,” said California-based designer and scholar Elizabeth Ogbu. “I’m seeing shades of this all around the country.” Ogbu, a veteran of Public Architecture and IDEO.org, is now founder and principal of Studio O and teaches at Stanford and UC Berkeley. Her aim is to use the power of design to defend principally underserved communities and try to deliver social impact. In London, Nairobi, New Orleans, San Francisco, and elsewhere, her work integrates healthcare and health education into projects that combine spatial and programmatic design, an approach she calls “architecture plus,”and added that “rarely is it about just the object of the building itself.”

Ogbu’s ReFresh project—which opened in New Orleans in October and is spearheaded by Broad Community Connections—is an adaptive reuse of a long-defunct grocery store along a major mid-city thoroughfare. A Whole Foods serves as the anchor tenant for the multifunctional health hub, along with eight other partners onsite, including a community teaching farm, a Boystown center, the nonprofit cafe and youth training program Liberty’s Kitchen, and Tulane University’s Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine.

According to Ogbu, health starts in the ReFresh lobby where there’s a station for health education, staffed by 50 percent neighborhood residents, who serve as greeters, information providers, and shopper guides. A trip for groceries might also include financial-management advice and other services. “The beauty of co-location,” she added, “is that here’s a partner you can potentially work [with] so that Boystown may be identifying at-risk kids during its program but can then plug in Liberty’s Kitchen, and those kids could also be bringing in their parents to take classes at Tulane’s community kitchen.”

Ogbu believes this “Trojan horse” works where more direct approaches fail. “Our clients can do a good job of anticipating the needs, but they don’t always have a full understanding of desires,” she said. “The desire is actually the thing that is emotional and that actually binds people to a place and creates behavior change.”

In Ft. Oglethorpe, GA, Francis Cauffman designed these detached, house-like units to give residents a community that is intended to be more like home.
Courtesy Francis Cauffman
 

Local Connections and Flexibility

“A more diffuse, integrated, and almost retail approach to healthcare is becoming much more prevalent,” observed James Crispino, president and design principal at healthcare specialist firm Francis Cauffman. “The institutions are starting to realize that isolating themselves in these campuses and enclaves makes them a little difficult to access.”

Bottom-up attention to individual experience can also reconfigure dedicated medical institutions. Long wait times in hospital emergency departments (EDs) are one indicator that medical needs and resources are often misaligned, and not solely because of the health insurance system’s inadequacies.

Crispino described the patient mix at many institutions as a rough 80/20 rule, meaning 80 percent of challenging cases come from 20 percent of the patients. Decentralization of emergency services can help match the acuity of clinical conditions with appropriate facilities.

Respiratory infections or minor injuries can be better suited to community-based walk-in urgent-care centers, bypassing private physician appointment delays or expensive care in EDs; ambulatory centers can occupy retail spaces under 5,000 square feet—the size of a “big Starbucks,” Crispino noted. Many older buildings in New York and other cities have floor-to-floor heights that readily accommodate imaging and surgical equipment, facilitating adaptive reuse in chains like CityMD or the branded branch clinics of major hospitals like NewYork–Presbyterian and NYU. A new typology, the freestanding ED, has arisen at two of the city’s former hospital sites, the North Shore/Long Island Jewish system’s Lenox Hill HealthPlex in the former St. Vincent’s and Montefiore Westchester Square, formerly the Bronx’s Westchester Square Medical Center.

The ambulatory center for the Hotel Trades Council will include a health center with tech offices above.
Courtesy Francis Cauffman
 

A new ambulatory center that Crispino and colleagues have designed in Brooklyn’s Cultural District for the Hotel Trades Council dispenses with waiting rooms entirely. Opening in 2016, the 12-story, 165,000-square-foot HTC Brooklyn will be a mixed-use building with ground-level restaurants and retail, 65,000 square feet of medical facilities from the second through fifth floors, offices above, and a public park. Information technology obviates queuing: patients call in advance, check in at kiosks or by smartphone, and receive printed directions to examination rooms, aligned in staggered positions along corridors to make wayfinding signage visible at a distance with minimal supervision.

In Ft. Oglethorpe, GA, Francis Cauffman designed these detached, house-like units to give residents a community that is intended to be more like home.
Courtesy Francis Cauffman
 

In Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia (population 9,513 in 2013), Francis Cauffman is engaged in replacing an underused, over-scaled 500-bed hospital with a better-sized 100- to 120-bed facility, freeing up the 200-acre site for other uses, including a cinema, barbershop, bowling alley, parks, a few retail healthcare establishments, and about 1,500 residents in single and multifamily row houses. The senior-oriented plan calls for a pedestrian main street that links to the rest of Fort Oglethorpe and brings the elements of small-town life within a comfortable five-minute walk from any point for residents in their seventies.

Replacing its scandal-ridden predecessor, Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital in South Los Angeles brings dignity and health services back to the neighborhood.
David Wakely / Courtesy HMC Architects
 

In a drastically different environment, South Los Angeles, the decline and resurrection of a major healthcare center is inseparable from a community’s fortunes. Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital, a 461-bed facility opened in 1972 as a response to severe local needs highlighted by the 1965 Watts riots, grew so mismanaged and mishap-prone that neighbors called it “Killer King.” Patient deaths became national scandals, and MLK lost its Joint Commission certification and closed in 2007. The facility reopened this August as Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital, just days before the 50th anniversary of the riots. The reinvented MLK is “one of the first and most important steps in the reconfiguration of the Watts area,” said architect George Vangelatos, principal and healthcare practice leader of HMC Architects, designers of the renovated and “future-ready” hospital.

A new, glazed entrance lobby, reoriented on the building’s north side, bridges multiple elements (inpatient and outpatient services, elevator cores, and the cafeteria, overlooking a healing courtyard) as a “one-stop shop.” The 131-bed MLK is a full-service hospital in all respects but one, lacking a Level One trauma unit but including a 35-station ED that can fast-track large numbers of uninsured and primary-care patients, many of whom will arrive through a new bus stop or, soon, the expanded multimodal Rosa Parks Station three blocks away. Rapid triage takes place either at the ED’s dedicated entrance or at a station appended to the main entrance, sorting “bellyache and booboo” cases to a nearby outpatient center, low-acuity cases to an urgent-care component, and higher-acuity cases to the ED, said HMC’s Kirk Rose. (Ambulance drivers take trauma patients to St. Francis or County General, as they have since 2007.)

Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital in South Los Angeles.
David Wakely / Courtesy HMC Architects
 

MLK’s lighting, landscaping, and other visible upgrades give patients an implicit message of respect. Upper floors, once dedicated to offices, were converted to well daylit patient areas, and the $1 million public art program, the largest funded by Los Angeles County, recognizes the relation between aesthetics and healing, a staple of evidence-based design. Yet the most consequential changes may be the features promoting operational flexibility in a fast-changing profession.

“We have a fraction of the EDs we had twenty-five years ago in all of Southern California,” said Rose, citing local activist Sweet Alice Harris’ description of “kids with asthma needing to go twenty miles, and some of them not making it, [and] women giving birth in their house before the ambulance could arrive.” He suggested that the strain of using high-intensity facilities to provide primary care to starkly underserved communities is a reason EDs have been shutting down. “They are a huge financial drains on hospitals, sometimes dragging entire hospitals down with them,” he cautioned.

Denmark’s health policy took the opposite direction in 2008 with a national plan to centralize functions, particularly emergency care, in a few highly efficient “super hospitals” located outside the cities, reported Lars Steffensen, partner for healthcare projects at Copenhagen-based Henning Larsen. “We’re not especially fond of that idea,” he said. “The issue is how to design a very large hospital, a complex functionality in the outskirts of a large city, and our point of view was, we have to deal with this as a small town or small city in itself.”

Emphasizing the continuities rather than distinctions between a healing environment and a fully functional community, Henning Larsen’s medical projects draw from the firm’s extensive sustainability research and its experience with a competition in the center of Milan, where Filarete’s Ca’ Granda (Ospedale Maggiore), one of Europe’s oldest hospitals (founded in 1450, now part of the University of Milan), inspired their thinking about hospitals’ relation to urban density and outdoor space as well as their internal design: “the hospital in the city” and “the hospital as a city.”

Herlev Hospital, Denmark’s tallest building at 28 stories, is undergoing expansion, adding an ED and maternity/pediatrics center (among other components), with an estimated completion date of 2017. Henning Larsen’s design for the 560,000-square-foot extension combines a minimalist geometry with a biophilic philosophy recognizing the value of proximity to nature and sick patients’ high sensitivity to all forms of stimuli. Three discrete circular buildings sit atop rectangular bases, two comprising bed wards and all enclosed courtyards with carefully programmed landscaping and roof gardens. Water features are prominent throughout the scheme and patient rooms have large windows that look out onto rich, seasonally varied foliage. “These outdoor spaces are at least as important as all the indoor spaces,” Steffensen said. He described a spectrum of green spaces: “[The hierarchy goes] from a completely public park-like area, where actually the public from the rest of the city can pass through, to the extremely private garden for the most vulnerable patients in the pediatric department.”

Nationwide, numbers of inpatient beds are slowly dropping as specialty outpatients rise rapidly. “Statistics show that a patient stays in a bed for an average [of] three to three and a half days,” observed Steffensen, pointing out that the design also considers the wellbeing of the staff, who spend every day there. Triage and patient flow are pivotal: they direct 20–25 percent of patients to EDs and 70–80 percent elsewhere. Psychiatric conditions, he noted, account for significant proportions of cases initially believed to be acute somatic disorders, and Henning Larsen’s EDs thus include a common entrance for both types of patients.

The overriding consideration in hospital design, he said, is flexibility. “[Old hospitals] were built for one specific purpose, but they were built so generously, so they could easily transform for other functions.” The tendency toward hospital centralization, he finds, may ultimately be a pendulum that swings back: “We are never to believe that now we have the answer for the healthcare sector for the next century, because that’s not going to happen.”

The Ten Degree House by Höweler + Yoon is designed to be accessible for aging-in-place clients.

Courtesy Höweler + Yoon

 

Residential scale: reuniting generations

While Europe looks to a hospital as city model, what happens when home becomes hospital? Demographic trends favor the blurring of lines distinguishing fully independent living (an active “third age”), assisted living, and palliative care in nursing homes or hospice settings. Official estimates predict that by 2035 one in five Americans will be over 65, more than a third of UK residents will be over 60, and a quarter of China’s population will be over 60 (some 336 million people, more than the population of the U.S. today). Whatever medical advances lie ahead, they are unlikely to convince most of the elderly boomer generation that institutionalized life is widely desirable.

Naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs), along with more intentionally engineered age-friendly spaces, offer certain bulwarks against the debilitating isolation of a senior facility. However, in many locations aging in place poses challenges, particularly when elders living in auto-dependent sites reach a point where driving becomes hazardous, or when dementing disorders make familiar spaces strange.

The Ten Degree House by Höweler + Yoon.

Courtesy Höweler + Yoon

 

Cultures that emphasize filial care of elders may have valuable lessons for the age-phobic United States. Integrating built environments across generational lines can help people across broad spectra of ability and disability live in proximity with dignity and appropriate support. The Bridge House, located in McLean, Virginia, offers a strong example of design for multi-generational living. Designed by Höweler + Yoon and built in 2014, the residence appears as a single-family home when viewed from the front, while its rear elevation reveals three attached rectilinear volumes capable of housing three generations. Architect Eric Höweler describes Bridge House as a “post-nuclear-family house” and a potentially replicable model.

The Ten Degree House by Höweler + Yoon.
Courtesy Höweler + Yoon
 

The clients, first-generation Korean immigrants to the U.S. with adult children and grandchildren, occupy a suite in the smaller of two ground-floor volumes, minimizing use of stairs; the larger, more public volume holds shared programs: the kitchen, family room, dining room, and garage. An elongated upper volume cantilevers across the two ground-floor segments and houses the second and third generations along a single-loaded corridor, with master suites at each end, two central grandchildren’s rooms, and a rear roof terrace. Beneath the bridge, a central void with floor-to-ceiling glazing offers views into nearby woods, creating continuity between nature and domesticity while demarcating the first generation’s private zone. That gesture extends a strategy from another nearby Höweler + Yoon project for aging-in-place clients. The 10 Degree House, designed for the parents of architect Meejin Yoon, places a small courtyard on the narrow site while still observing local zoning’s setback requirements.

The Ten Degree House by Höweler + Yoon.
Courtesy Höweler + Yoon
 

Clad in anodized aluminum panels, the facade treatment reflects the owners’ practical concerns. “They said, ‘We’re going to get old; we’re not going to have energy to get out there and paint the house, so we want a zero-maintenance cladding material,’” recalled Höweler. “You never have to paint it, you never have to stain it, you never have to worry about woodpeckers and other things.” Defying the upstairs-master-bedroom convention of normative American single-family houses, Höweler points out, eases access to essential spaces in the event of future disability. Barrier-free entry ramps and a wheelchair-accessible shower, he added, also make the 10 Degree House exemplary in this regard.

Höweler + Yoon’s Bridge House is a “post-nuclear-family” dwelling that gives each generation its own private zones.
Jeff Wolfram / Courtesy Höweler + Yoon
 

Although Bridge House is already influential—three new clients have commissioned similar projects by the firm—its design required a complex dance with local codes. While courtyard houses inspired by East Asian traditions offer numerous advantages for extended families, they are difficult to reconcile with zoning that privileges the house as an object plopped in the middle of the lot with a large front lawn. “There is something about the zoning that institutionalizes certain kinds of land uses that don’t make a lot of sense,” Höweler noted. “[The courtyard typology] sounds progressive in this context, but it’s totally normal in a Korean context.”

Höweler + Yoon’s Bridge House.
Jeff Wolfram / Courtesy Höweler + Yoon
 

Bridge House essentially integrates three common domestic spaces geared toward seniors into a single building: the granny flat, mother-in-law apartment, and Hawaiian ohana unit. U.S. suburban zoning was commonly enacted for health and safety reasons and more nebulously to protect property values by limiting rental units. Interdependence between seniors, neighbors, children, and health providers is integral to active aging, yet zoning codes arguably express an impulse toward maximal separation of individuals and generations from each other—very twentieth-century, and a far cry from sustainable aging in place design. One suspects that as knowledge accumulates about how different designs affect health, and about how people would really prefer to live, that particular pendulum could swing in the opposite direction.