Search results for "New York City Economic Development Corporation"
Don’t be fooled by the name: Main Street in downtown Flushing is decidedly nongeneric. One of the busiest commercial strips in New York, Main Street’s shops and restaurants cater to the 69 percent of Flushing residents who identify as Asian, particularly the neighborhood’s sizable Chinese and Korean populations. As in East Harlem, East New York, and Long Island City, the Department of City Planning (DCP) is studying rezoning possibilities for Flushing West. The DCP would like to activate underutilized industrial space along the waterfront, giving the downtown room to grow westward.
The Flushing West Neighborhood Planning Study (FWNPS) is building on a master plan initiated in 2011 by the Flushing-Willets Point-Corona Local Development Corporation. With a $1.5 million Brownfield Opportunity Grant, the LDC tapped SHoP, AKRF, and Mathews Nielsen to study zoning and land use between Flushing Creek and downtown Flushing. The master plan outlined strategies to spur economic development, add affordable housing, improve city services and infrastructure, and broaden access to the waterfront.
The FWNPS is now in its environmental review and public scoping phase. The plan’s rezoning proposal targets a 32-acre, ten-square-block area east of Flushing Creek, bounded by Northern Boulevard, Prince Street, and Roosevelt Avenue.
Since May, the DCP has invited residents to articulate Flushing’s core needs in a series of public meetings. Residents identified primary concerns, like building more housing for seniors, preventing displacement of small businesses, improving streetscapes for pedestrian safety, creating separate bike lanes, building more recreation space, and cleaning up the heavily polluted Flushing Creek.
Thomas Smith, director of studies for the DCP’s Queens office, explained that existing zoning in downtown Flushing “already allows for a significant amount of development potential.” The zoning encourages hotels (because of a low parking requirement), and buildings with wide, low bases topped by residential units.
New zoning would encourage similar mixed residential-commercial development, and adhere to current land use near Northern Boulevard: heavy manufacturing on the waterfront and light manufacturing inland. Those fearing a Williamsburg- or Greenpoint-style tower building boom need not worry. Airport zoning for LaGuardia, across Flushing Bay, sets restrictions on the height of buildings in adjacent neighborhoods.
Though plans from 1998 set out to beautify the waterfront, today the public access area is narrow and uninviting. Downtown streets leading to the water are long and drab, doing little to entice the eye and move pedestrians creekside. The proposed zoning changes would allow for a 40-foot-wide access area, a new street network, and restaurants and shops along the waterfront. At a November DCP public hearing, councilman Peter Koo praised the DCP’s plan, but encouraged the agency to clean up Flushing Creek, claiming that “no one wants to go there because it stinks!”
Besides poor water quality, the affordability of affordable housing is a top community concern. Smith explained that the rezoning would allow for affordable housing rates at 25/60 or 30/80. Translation: In some new construction, 25 percent of units will be available to households making up to 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), or, 30 percent of units will be available to those making 80 percent of the AMI. In 2015, the AMI for a three-person household in New York City is $77,700 for a family of three. If approved, the plan could add 938 total units of housing. Of those units, 516 to 619 units would be permanently affordable.
Jung Rae Jang, an organizing fellow at the Flushing-based MinKwon Center, noted that the AMI affordable housing guidelines are a poor fit for the neighborhood, which has an AMI of approximately $39,000. To Jang, “the city’s 25/60 plan simply does not address the [average] income level of the Flushing downtown area, and for people who are making less than that.”
A coalition of community organizations has formed the Flushing Rezoning Community Alliance to speak out on the zoning changes that could negatively impact current residents. The DCP hopes that, after a public comment period, the neighborhood plan will be approved by fall 2016.
The South Brooklyn Marine Terminal (SBMT) is now up for grabs. On Thursday, November 5, Maria Torres-Springer, head of the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), announced that the agency is seeking bidders for a 39-year lease on the currently unused waterfront site in Sunset Park.
“The 72-acre South Brooklyn Marine Terminal is the only maritime site in Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island with direct access to rail, making it a vital component of the city’s manufacturing and waterfront infrastructure and a location primed to open waterfront access to businesses throughout New York City,” Torres-Springer told AN.
The reactivation of the port is in line with the city’s 197-A plan and the 2009 Sunset Park Waterfront Vision Plan, which looks for ways to update the area’s “antiquated industrial infrastructure and develop Sunset Park into a 21st century model for diverse, dense and environmentally-sustainable industry.”
Earlier this year, a scuffle between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council—specifically councilman Carlos Menchaca who reportedly lost his place as co-chairman in the Brooklyn Democratic Party as a result—nearly killed the proposal to revive the terminal. Adjustments, such as cutting down the original 50-year lease and agreeing to redirect five percent of the site’s rental revenue to a community fund, allowed the groups to reach a compromise and move forward.
New York City’s economic health is reliant on transporting goods and, according to the EDC, efficiencies of scale are crucial due to the large size of the port and metro region. In 2014, the Port generated over $21.2 billion in personal income and $53.5 billion in business income. Due to the SBMT’s easy access to rail, the city expects that even as activity grows, moving cargo directly from barges to trains can reduce traffic congestion. One barge can hold the equivalent of up to 58 trailer trucks and one rail car can hold the equivalent of up to four trucks. Shifting cargo to a barge and rail system also comes with environmental benefits. According to the EDC, one gallon of fuel can move one ton of cargo 514 miles by boat and 450 miles by train, compared to 59 miles by truck—statistics that factor into the city’s sustainability agenda as well.
The EDC will be releasing a Request for Proposals in the upcoming weeks and subsequent time lines will depend on the tenant and negotiations.
New York opens the Randall's Island Connector, linking the South Bronx to one of New York City's best parks
“The Times Square of the South Bronx” is an apt moniker for a place more commonly known as “the Hub”. Situated at the crossing of subway lines, bus routes, and major thoroughfares, the Hub is one of the busiest commercial districts in New York City. The corner of East 149th Street and Third Avenue constitutes the center of this half-mile, spoke-like network of traffic arteries that radiate into the Melrose and Mott Haven neighborhoods. You cannot stand in one place here: Hordes of commuters boarding buses and entering and exiting narrow subway entrances sweep you along. Street vendors occupy much of the sidewalk selling everything from sunglasses to sodas. Salsa music blares from curbside radios and the heavy smell of food being fried at street stands wafts through the air. On a weekday afternoon in June, virtually all passersby were Hispanic or African American, and a great many were wearing jeans and sneakers. No hipsters were apparent, and no one was wearing a suit.
Throughout this bustling area there are still stately old masonry theaters from the era when the magician Harry Houdini and actors such as Lionel Barrymore performed here. Today, many of these historic buildings are bedecked in a riot of awnings and signs advertising beauty parlors, pawnshops, and electronics stores. In some cases, billboards and posters—such as a long brown one advertising Envy Nails—cover entire rows of second story windows. Alongside the faded Beaux-Arts buildings are more recent arrivals—Lego-like cinderblock structures with plate glass windows. You can see unfulfilled potential in the dusty upper story windows of 149th Street‘s sturdy old loft buildings decorated with faded “Offices for Rent” signs that might be appropriate for tenants such as tech startups or design studios.
In many ways the Hub is still recovering from the dark days of the 1970s, when the South Bronx became the most notorious symbol of urban blight in the country. Community District 1, which includes the Hub, lost 43 percent of its population during that decade. Fires and abandonment destroyed up to 97 percent of the building stock in some census tracts. Take a turn off East 149th Street, one of the Hub’s main drags, and north on Bergen Avenue and you will find trash-strewn sidewalks and fenced-off, weed-covered lots abandoned for so long that small trees have taken root. Back when the Bronx was burning, many property owners stopped paying taxes, and the city used foreclosures and eminent domain to acquire a vast inventory of such properties. However, the area as a whole has improved recently, thanks in part to better policing, say local residents such as Tanjy Davis, a former restaurant owner out for a walk with her daughter. “Brook Avenue has changed so much,” she said. “They used to have prostitution over there and young kids were shooting guns.”
There are signs that the South Bronx as a whole is reviving. In 2013, the Opera House Hotel, the Bronx’s first luxury boutique hotel opened for business in a renovated 1913 theater on 149th Street. And in the past year there has been a tremendous amount of real estate speculation in the Bronx. According to the New York Daily News, multifamily sales rose 67 percent and sales of development sites were up by 85 percent. However in the area around the Hub virtually all the new residential buildings have been built as affordable housing, and they owe their existence to generous government subsidy programs that generally include the sale of city owned land to private developers for nominal sums of money. A case in point is Via Verde, the award-winning affordable housing development completed in 2012 at the corner of 156th Street, just beyond the empty lots on Brook Avenue. Via Verde received a slew of subsidies from the New York City Council, NYC Housing Development Corporation, The New York State Affordable Housing Corporation, the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), and other government agencies.
Much of the new City-subsidized development in and around the Hub is targeted toward alleviating poverty. The 88,000-square-foot Triangle Plaza Hub is currently under construction on the site of a former municipal parking lot at 149th Street. The $40 million development will provide the South Bronx with essential goods and services that most Manhattan neighborhoods take for granted, including a primary care medical center for the federally designated medically underserved community. Triangle Plaza Hub will also house a Fine Fare Supermarket, which will benefit from tax incentives under the City’s FRESH program for grocery stores selling nutritious, affordable produce and meats in underserved communities.
The potential capstone to the Hub’s redevelopment is a proposed $345 million project called La Central, slated for the last large assemblage of vacant city-owned land in the South Bronx. A draft proposal for the project calls for a mixed-income affordable housing development of five buildings with 992 rental apartments, 2.2 acres of publicly accessible open space, and a host of new ground-level retail spaces. The project, which spans three existing blocks including a superblock created years ago by the de-mapping of a city street, will fill in the gaping hole between the residential developments along Brook Avenue, such as Via Verde, and the commercially-oriented areas around the Hub.
With so many government approvals and so many government subsidies required for such a large project to move forward, community support is critical. The draft proposal was presented at Bronx Community Board 1’s land use committee in June by a development team that packed the hearing room. There were representatives from La Central’s lead developer, the Hudson Companies, as well as the non-profit development partners for the project, which include Common Ground and the YMCA. In addition, there were representatives from a large design team that included FXFOWLE, MHG Architects, and Future Green Studio.
Aaron Koffman, a principal at the Hudson Companies, told the community board that La Central’s facilities and amenities were intended to provide services and recreational opportunities for the entire neighborhood. “It is about community, education, and affordable housing—those are the three pillars,” he said. One such space is a 10,000-square-foot studio and classroom space for BronxNet, a non-profit public access television station devoted to community-based programming and broadcast skills trainings for local residents. BronxNet would be joined by spaces for other non-profits, including music education program Music Has No Enemies, a day care center, and the South Bronx’s first YMCA, home to a diabetes prevention program run by Montefiore Medical Center.
FXFOWLE partner Dan Kaplan described how the project was designed to enhance the Hub with substantial open space within the development and a public plaza on an adjacent lot. Its street walls with ground-level retail seek to connect the buildings to the existing neighborhood fabric, and a pedestrian thoroughfare will reestablish a neighborhood connection lost when a section of East 152nd Street was de-mapped years ago. The massing ranges from a 25-story tower on the northern part of the site to 12-story buildings with two-story attached maisonettes. Articulated facades with recessed sections and bands of different colored bricks are intended to break down the scale of the development into smaller elements so as not to overwhelm immediate neighbors, among them low-lying warehouses along Bergen Avenue.
Because HPD is in charge of selling the land, the critical subsidy for such developments, it is able to exact a great many concessions in return. For La Central, HPD is mandating that the developers meet special green design standards established for affordable housing, setting the terms on the affordability of the units, and even requirements that the units be larger than those currently required by the city’s building code. The city‘s various stipulations might appear to be a difficult proposition for a private developer, except for the fact that the taxpayer will undoubtedly be picking up the tab for many of the features and amenities described in the draft development proposal. If the La Central deal goes through, the Hudson Companies and its non-profit partners will be able to buy the land for their development for a dollar per tax lot and potentially benefit from a number of subsidies that could include various government loans, tax-exempt bonds, and tax abatement programs that can last for up to 40 years.
Building state-of-the-art affordable housing can be quite profitable for private developers according to housing advocates. “The Hudson Company is certainly going to make money off of this and off of anything that is city sponsored,” said Moses Gates, Director of Planning & Community Development for the Association of Neighborhood and Housing Development, “If you have all of these great design elements, it is not the developer paying for them,” said Gates. “It is the public paying for them that is how it works, the developer has their return in mind and if they want to do all of this cool fancy stuff, they find funding for it and that funding is various subsidy programs.”
The proposed rents for La Central are designed to be affordable for households from a wide range of the income scale: between 30 percent and 100 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), or equivalent to an annual income of $18,150 to $60,500 for an individual or $23,350 to $77,700 for a family of three. The housing units awarded through government run lotteries that generally attract a tremendous number of applicants. In 2014, the tenant lottery for 2,500 subsidized apartments in New York City drew 1.5 million applications—a 600 applicant to unit ratio. To help preserve the neighborhood, the city is requiring the developers to fill 50 percent of the units at La Central with local residents from Community District 1.
However, despite being given preference on 50 percent of the units, for many Community District 1 residents, the rents will be unaffordable. According to data from New York University’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, in 2013 Community District 1 had a 16 percent unemployment rate and half of household incomes were under $21,600. Further, close to a third of households in Community District 1 are “severely rent burdened”—which means that their rent equals at least 50 percent of their monthly pretax income.
Although his organization is focused on helping the poorest New Yorkers find housing, Anthony Winn, Chief Operating Officer of the influential local housing advocacy organization Nos Quedamos (We Stay), said that it is critical to have developments that can accommodate a variety of income ranges. “Often times you get an overemphasis on housing for the poor, which is important,” said Winn. “But when you are trying to grow and develop a community, you want to keep a balance between making sure that those with the most need are served while also making sure that you are not creating a concentration of poverty.”
For La Central to move forward, the land that it is slated to occupy must be rezoned from its current manufacturing designation to allow a residential use. And because the project involves a rezoning, the sale of city owned land and other government actions, the plan must pass through the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), a lengthy process that requires approvals from various agencies and public hearings before the New York City Council and the local community board. At the CB1 hearing on La Central, residents expressed concern about the building slated to be solely owned by the non-profits Common Ground and Communal Life, which would provide 96 studios at 30 percent AMI, 60 percent of which would be set aside for veterans with mental illness and low-income elderly people with HIV/ AIDS from throughout the city. Several board members said that the proposed supportive housing should address the needs of local elderly residents rather than accommodate populations with serious problems from across the city. Hudson’s Koffman responded that government financing was not available for an alternative supportive housing program and that his company was addressing guidelines set by the City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD): “We are doing nothing different from what they [HPD] are doing all over the city.” However, many at the hearing said that their community already bears too much of that burden. “There is and there has been a concern with an oversaturation of particular populations that cause major quality of life issues,” said Bronx Community Board 1 Land Use Chair Arlene Parks, “and the burden on a police department, the 40th Precinct, who already is so overburdened that they cannot respond to all of things we have going on here.”
Although the supportive housing component of the proposed La Central project remains contentious, the overall program wins praise from community members. “We are looking to have a diverse population in the district and for different persons of different incomes to be able to afford to live here,” said Cedric Loftin, District Manger of Community Board 1. “Those portions are going to have to be discussed, but we feel that the project will meet those needs.”
“It looks like a very exciting project in terms of what it is going to do for the community dynamic,” said Winn from Nos Quedamos, although he noted that his organization has not yet taken a formal position on the project. “There is diversity in what the structures are going to look like,” added Winn. “They are bringing in a diversity of formats in terms of the housing units, and it is looking at community use and community resources that go beyond the residents of the building—that YMCA, for example, is going to serve the greater Bronx community.”
Community-based organizations in Melrose, especially Nos Quedamos, have a formidable track record when it comes to influencing development outcomes. In the early 1990s, city officials made plans to raze the remains of a 30-block swath of Melrose and replace it with massive new developments. Neighborhood leaders found out about the City’s tabula rasa plan and formed Nos Quedamos to preserve what was left of their neighborhood. The New York City firm Magnusson Architecture and Planning (MAP) worked pro bono with the group to produce the alternative Melrose Commons Urban Renewal Plan in 1993. The plan, which included local residents in the design process and prioritized their housing needs, was adopted by the city the following year. “The vision was for a mixed-income neighborhood,” said Magnus Magnusson, Principal of MAP. “And although it was very hard to envision middle income there originally, we felt that it was very important to make the buildings look like middle income.”
The South Bronx is still one of the five poorest congressional districts in the country. But some of the government subsidized housing built in Melrose Commons over the past decade undoubtedly would attract a long line of prospective affluent tenants were they located in one of the city’s pricier precincts. One such development is the MAP-designed Aurora, an eight-story, 91-unit condominium building located on a tree-lined block of Washington Avenue. The boxy, brick-faced building is a good neighbor—it features setbacks to break up the massing and a supermarket and restaurant featuring Mexican food made from family recipes at ground level. The Aurora, which received subsidies from the Affordable Housing Corporation and the Bronx Borough president’s office, has every amenity on a checklist for middle income housing: bamboo floors, ceramic bathroom fixtures, and a gracious landscaped terrace for residents with play equipment for children.
According to the architects and developers who designed the recently completed Melrose Commons, because city-subsidized affordable apartments are built to guidelines imposed by HPD and are generally larger, they are also often are of better quality than market-rate units under construction in wealthier neighborhoods. And as opposed to the tower-in-the-park typology prevalent in other urban renewal areas, the affordable housing developed in Melrose typically relates to the street, with ground-level retail along the avenues and lower-scale townhouse buildings along side streets.
Although the South Bronx has not yet managed to attract much market-rate housing, the population moving into its affordable housing has become increasingly income diverse. “For many years the top income level at the typical new building in the South Bronx was 60 percent of AMI,” said Ted Weinstein, HPD’s Bronx director. In the case of La Central, the development proposal calls for half of the units to be between 80 percent and 100 percent AMI.
The city’s development policies in the South Bronx have also won support from affordable housing advocates. “On the whole it has been an unqualified success,” said Moses Gates from ANHD. “However, the availability of City-owned land has been critical to subsidizing that success,” explained Gates. “When you have land that is government-owned, you can go from the ground up and say how do we make it happen, rather than everybody throwing out bids and just taking the highest one.”
Over the past decade, in addition to shepherding the construction of thousands of units of rent stabilized affordable housing in the South Bronx, HPD has promoted the use of environmentally friendly designs and materials by awarding competitive points for green features in requests for proposals and by instituting minimum green building standards. “In the old days it was how many units and how cheap,” said Les Bluestone, a developer who in 2009 completed the Eltona in Melrose Commons, the first LEED Platinum affordable rental building in New York State. Bluestone credits the city for raising the bar: “The Bloomberg administration started looking at quality issues that weren’t studied so much in the past, and that is continuing under the present [de Blasio] administration.” Melrose Commons became the first neighborhood in the city to join the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Neighborhood Development Pilot Program (LEED-ND) in 2010.
Sustainable design certainly provides a host of benefits for people from any socio-economic group. But in the South Bronx, green features can be critical to the physical and economic health of low- and moderate-income residents. “In affordable housing, when it is a family of three and every dollar counts, the fact that utility bills could be knocked down by a significant percentage makes a difference,” said Kaplan, the architect from FXFowle. The development, which is aiming to achieve a LEED Silver rating, also includes a plethora of green features, such as solar panels to power a co-generation plant, which will reduce reliance on the city’s electric grid by 50 percent. A rooftop variable refrigerant flow system will eliminate the need for wall air conditioning units, allowing for tighter sealing throughout the building.
One of the primary ways La Central will reduce energy loads is through traditional block and plank construction, which utilizes precast concrete planks for the floor system and concrete cinderblocks for bearing walls, in contrast to the steel-beamed, market-rate buildings with glass facades being built in other parts of the city. “With market-rate housing you are trying to maximize the amount of glass that you have within the confines of the energy code and that generally means 45 percent glass,” said Kaplan. “La Central and other affordable housing projects we are designing are probably within 20 to 25 percent range for glass,” he said, noting that despite advances in glazing, glass generally is the biggest source of heat transfer in residential buildings.
The green features at new developments like La Central also have the potential to reduce the South Bronx’s high rates of asthma, linked in part to substandard building conditions like mold infestations. At The Eltona, developer Les Bluestone prohibited smoking and installed continuous background ventilation to reduce the impact of formaldehyde off gassing from residents’ furniture. In addition, non-toxic pest control systems such as non-cellulose wall structures and steel mesh termite barriers prevent the infestations like the recent ones that have been linked to repertory problems in New York City public housing projects. According to a recent Mount Sinai study, The Eltona’s features appear to have substantially reduced asthma attacks among residents. “It was absolutely amazing,” said Bluestone. ”People who were being hospitalized multiple times a month all of a sudden weren’t going to the hospital.”
La Central will not be the most high-tech or environmentally sustainable building in the area around the Hub. Across Brook Avenue from the fenced off vacant lots where La Central is slated for construction is the aforementioned Via Verde, designed by Dattner Architects and Grimshaw Architects. Via Verde is the most state-of-the art affordable housing development in New York City. With its colorful prefabricated aluminum, cement and wood panel facade, and rooftop farm, it can hold its own against the new iconic buildings along the High Line in Manhattan. Further, although it features ground-level retail and a community health center, Via Verde is a relatively self-contained development—a gated courtyard, although originally intended for public use, is generally open only to residents. And with 222-mixed income residential units, Via Verde is much smaller than the La Central development, which with its commercial spaces, public thoroughfare, and large public greensward promises to redefine the neighborhood. “One of the reasons that we like La Central from a design point of view is that it is bigger than a single building,” said Kaplan, “and we had an opportunity to create a neighborhood.”
With close to half of its units slated for renters making above 80 percent AMI and 11 percent slated for renters making up to 100 percent AMI, La Central promises to alter the demographics of this poverty stricken community. However, there is no way that the proposed development with its low- and moderate-income guidelines and its supportive housing component can be construed as being an agent for the kind of gentrification that is sweeping other New York City neighborhoods. “Somebody like me, who doesn’t make that much money, still makes too much money for buildings like these,” said Winn from Nos Quedamos. “If you make halfway decent money, you cannot get in because you make too much for the rental requirements and the number [of units] available at 100 percent AMI usually is just a fraction of the building, and then there is competition for those units.”
The developers hope to complete the ULURP process by April 2016 and purchase the property from the city the following month. Much about the project’s design could change as a result of the various reviews required under the city’s land review process. However, neighborhood leaders say that things are off to a good start. “Community-based organizations are aware of what will be happening on the site and I am sure that there will be interactions short-term and long-term,” said Loftin from Community Board 1. “People are going to be looking at bringing educational engagement to the process and also seeing involvement long term, once the project is developed—so we are very excited.”
We are all familiar with the story of American design practices and development companies working in China’s booming markets. Less discussed is the growing interest of Chinese capital and architectural talent in the United States. Here, Ann Lui wades into the increasingly two-way street of these intricately entangled economies.
Much has been written about United States architects and developers finding opportunities in China’s building boom, which is seemingly on perpetual fast forward. American architects are building small and large in the East—from corporate offices’ design of tall towers, such as KPF’s Shanghai World Financial Center, to the exhibition of boutique firms at Ordos 100, the new community in Inner Mongolia featuring houses designed by 100 architects from 27 countries. Yet, as the U.S. economy recovers from the recent recession, the trend is becoming paralleled by a flow in the other direction. Cities across the U.S., which once saw mostly outbound traffic of architectural design and real estate investment, are now brokering a two-way exchange. Metropolises from New York to Detroit have seen growing real estate interest from individual Chinese buyers as well as large developers. In parallel, Chinese architectural design practices—especially young and innovative ones—are seeking commissions in the U.S. and opening local offices to pursue new work. A fast-growing economy in China and decades-old bi-national relationships in architecture and development are resulting in new types of partnerships in the building industry, rooted in two deeply linked economies.
In the beginning of 2015, two noteworthy buildings made headlines in Chicago, capturing the breadth of new exchanges with China in the city’s architectural scene. In November, design publications headlined Beijing-based MAD Architects’ unveiling of a scheme for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art on the city’s lakefront. Founding principal Ma Yansong proposed—in his own words—a “futuristic” mountainous building in partnership with two Chicago offices. In April, stakeholders watched in a hotel ballroom as final plans were unveiled for the Wanda Vista: Three towers in Lakeshore East by Studio Gang, the highest of which, at 1,200 feet, will be the third tallest in the city. Behind the scenes, these towers are bankrolled at a cost of $1 billion by the Beijing-based developer Dalian Wanda Group. Set to break ground in 2016, according to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, these Chinese-funded buildings are estimated to add 2,000 construction jobs to the city.
Bi-national exchanges between China and the U.S. in Chicago’s built environment are also simmering at a smaller scale. According to the National Realtors Association, in 2014 Chinese buyers purchased $22 billion dollars of United States real estate, more than any other foreign group. Chinese buyers represented 24 percent of all foreign sales nationally, up from 19 percent the previous year. According to Sam Van Horebeek, a director at East-West Property Advisors, a company that connects Chinese buyers to U.S. realtors, his clients are buying real estate in the United States to diversify assets, as investments, or for immigration purposes such as supporting a child enrolled in an American university. Increasingly, cities like Chicago are becoming of more interest. “In the past, it was only New York, Boston, or San Francisco,” said Van Horebeek. “Now there is more interest in second tier or third tier cities. We expect that to continue. There’s a higher demand than ever before and it will accelerate.”
More broadly, Chicago’s new relationships with Chinese real estate investors and architects serve as a microcosm for broader currents of interest from China in the U.S. building industry. Wang Jianlin, chairman of the Dalian Wanda Group and one of China’s richest men, announced his attention to further his real estate investment in the U.S. beyond the Windy City. “Investing in Chicago property is just Wanda’s first move into the U.S. real estate market,” he said in a press release. “Within a year, Wanda will invest in more five-star hotel projects in major U.S. cities like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.”
Other Chinese developers have entered the U.S. real estate market, often in partnership with local companies. In 2013, the Shanghai-based Greenland Group purchased a 70-percent stake in Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards project from Forest City Ratner Companies and is functioning as an “active partner” involved in construction as well as financing. Across the East River in Manhattan, China Vanke, the nation’s largest real estate developer, is building a glassy 61-story condo building on Lexington Avenue. In Los Angeles, Greenland invested $1 billion in residential towers and a hotel, in part of the city’s push to reactivate the Broadway corridor. Even smaller cities, like Tacoma, Washington, are benefiting from Chinese investment: Shanghai Mintong Real Estate is constructing a two-tower hotel and condo complex in downtown. Financially strapped Detroit has also attracted foreign real estate interests: This year, Dongdu International purchased three iconic buildings in the city’s downtown. The increased forays by large developers are in part due to the availability of EB-5 visas, which allow financiers to acquire green cards for investment purposes, drawing more Chinese capital to U.S. cities. Other reasons for the uptick include broader economic changes in China, characterized by a stronger yuan and a marked decrease in the nation’s own real estate market, which just dropped to a five-year low, according the country’s National Bureau of Statistics. “At an annual Chinese real estate convention,” said Van Horebeek, “one [developer] told me that in a two- or three-day convention during which there were a lot presentations on different topics—when typically most would be about the Chinese property market—[this year], one third were about America. So you have Chinese developers, major ones, discussing their plans for expansion overseas.”
As Chinese developers increasingly look to the U.S., the country’s architects are also looking to enter the market. Two decades ago, most Chinese architectural designers would have been headed for state-run architectural practices. Yet beginning in 1993 with Atelier FCJZ, the firm often billed as the nation’s first private architectural practice, Chinese architects are establishing independent firms with international reach. Yung Ho Chang, who founded Atelier FCJZ, is a former head of the architecture department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He built his career in U.S. academia before establishing his now prolific practice in Beijing. Today, many Chinese architects are trained abroad and establish offices in the U.S. with an international scope. “For this generation of Chinese architects, I think it’s very natural for them to practice in any place,” said Ma Yansong, the designer of the Lucas Museum. “This generation feels already that they are in the global scene.”
Recently, young Mainland Chinese architecture firms have garnered international accolades and are maintaining U.S. offices, paving the way for more commissions abroad. Wang Shu of Amateur Architecture Studio won the Pritzker Prize in 2012, the first time the accolade was awarded to a Chinese citizen. The firm OPEN Architecture was founded in New York City in 2011 by Li Hu and Huang Wenjing, closely followed by a Beijing branch. While the office’s projects are mostly in China, OPEN Architecture’s increasingly international practice was recognized for its design of “Garden in the Garden,” which spoke to both mass production and traditional Chinese landscape, at last year’s Venice Biennale. Studio Link-Arc, selected to design the 2015 China Pavilion at the Milan Expo, was founded by Yichen Lu and also operates out of New York.
This model of young cutting-edge practices with bi-national roots is characterized by SO-IL, a firm founded by Jing Liu, a Chinese-born architect, with Florian Idenburg, who is from the Netherlands. The firm’s project “Pole Dance” was constructed for the P.S.1 Young Architects Program in 2010 and the office has since gone on to design commercial and cultural projects in the U.S. and internationally.
Ma Yansong argues for the positive potential of Chinese developers with both civic and investment interests in the U.S., especially when paired with design architects whose agendas focus on context and revitalization. “I don’t work with many commercial developers in China,” said Ma, “but I think that the Greenland Group, in the U.S., has a good vision. Many large developers come for the market, for financial reasons, and of course Greenland has financial targets too, but they really want Greenland to be a local office [in the U.S.]. Those are the same reasons we come to the United States. We want to bring new ideas to the American city and we want to find people who share the same vision. That’s why we have the office in Los Angeles, to try to blend into the community and understand what is going on.”
On one hand, China’s growing role in the U.S. architecture and real estate scene can be chalked up to the globalized economy, in which the borders of nations have become less significant in light of multinational corporations and fluid trade. On the other hand, the architectural exchange between the two nations deserves closer inspection. In early 2014, the Chicago Tribune ran a series of articles titled, “Designed in Chicago, Made in China,” which profiled the work of Chicago architects working in the East. Yet undergirding the lucrative commissions for U.S. architects working abroad are the architectural and real estate currents going in both directions between the two nations, emerging from the complexity of two deeply linked economies. As the architectural exchange between China and the U.S. increasingly flows both ways, critics and professionals will continue to navigate a new iteration of an old encounter that brings both fresh competition and new opportunities.
It evolved from a small group of artists in New York to a large group of folks across the country … neighbors have started to talk about performances or people in their families who perform that might get involved. And so we've really expanded from an immediate, emergency kind of dialogue to one that's about culture and talent that's already in the neighborhood, and how it can have a stage there at the House Opera.McEwen bought the two-story home for just $1,200 in a public auction, paid off its delinquent property taxes, and got to work raising money for its second act. So far the project has received financial support from Graham Foundation, Knight Foundation, Taubman College – University of Michigan, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, as well as numerous individual benefactors including Mark Gardner, Theaster Gates and Dr. Larry Weiss.
San Francisco, California
Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects / Auerbach Glasow French
Pelli Clarke Pelli’s $1.89 billion Transbay Center in San Francisco, set to open in 2017, promises to catalyze the redevelopment of its downtown neighborhood, centralize the Bay Area’s vast transportation network, and serve more than 100,000 rail, subway, and bus passengers a day.
San Francisco–based Auerbach Glasow French (AGF) designed the lighting scheme for the four-block-long project. The goal was to accentuate the architecture and make the glassy structure glow from within. “The building wants to feel like it’s filled with light,” said AGF principal Larry French. Achieving this effect came with its challenges. One, the project is aiming to be one of the most energy efficient transit structures in the country, so daylighting had to be a large component of the design. Two, towers surround the site, casting long shadows. In answer, the design team developed an inventive method to pull in as much natural light as possible while using the most efficient fixtures available.
The centerpiece of the 1.5 million-square-foot, five-level project is the Light Column, a massive steel structure that pierces the building’s multi-story Great Hall. The column is uplit and downlit by powerful fluorescent spotlights mounted on its frame. Similar lighting is attached to the building’s exterior columns and beams. Thus far LEDs are not powerful enough to fill the hall’s vast volume, said French, but that may change as technology advances, so the fluorescents may be switched for LEDs before construction starts. “Trying to keep the technology current is very difficult because of the very long lead times,” said French. The team began working on Transbay eight years ago, and the first construction documents were completed four years ago.
Most of the building’s vertical surfaces are washed with LED fixtures, emphasizing their planes and bouncing light out of the building. LEDs also line the railings of the escalators and stairs, and are present in gaps between areas with lower ceilings, such as in the bus deck below the rooftop park. French chose moderation over excess when it came to distributing the fixtures. “We tried not to have too much going on. A building can get busy very quickly,” he said.
During the day, the artificial light supplements the natural illumination enabled by the design. Glass curtain walls on all four sides of the building are covered with perforated metal “awnings” that allow dappled light to filter inside in geometric patterns.
Natural light flows in from above through three elliptical skylights, with ceramic fritting to limit heat and maximize privacy. The two smaller skylights measure about 65 feet by 40 feet, while the largest, hovering over the Light Column, measures 85 feet by 65 feet. Daylight also enters through a translucent and multi-layered 150-foot-long glass floor, which is part of the center’s 5.4-acre rooftop park. The Great Hall has its own glass floor that admits light into the center’s lower levels. It is a similar system to the rooftop, but measures about 40 feet in diameter.
Sunlight is balanced during the day with strategically placed fixtures, which were calibrated through extensive lighting studies. “You don’t want to bring in too much natural light and have dark contrast areas,” explained Heather Kim, a senior associate at Pelli Clarke Pelli.
The combination of natural and artificial light is punctuated by “Parallel Luminous Fields,” a light sculpture designed by James Carpenter for Shaw Alley, a covered pedestrian passage leading to the center’s main entrance. The piece consists of 54 illuminated pairs of cast acrylic resin glass pavers set into the wave pattern of the ceiling and illuminated benches set into the pre-cast concrete floor. These two planes of light will create a sense of movement leading people into the center.
This varied combination of light sources is meant to aid with wayfinding and make users feel as comfortable as possible. But it doesn’t hurt that it adds a little “magic,” as French put it. “It’s exciting. The building is really going to be quite striking,” he said.
Sam Lubell is AN’s West Editor.
Pioneer Village Station
Alsop Architects, SGA / IBI Group, Realities United
When The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) opens six new stations along its Toronto York-Spadina Subway Extension, subway riders in Canada’s biggest city will not only be connected to an extra 5.3 miles of track. Thanks to an installation that doubles as platform lighting and a work of art, riders at the Pioneer Village Station will also gain a glimpse into the personalities of their fellow train riders.
Working from 3D models developed by station designers Alsop Architects and SGA/IBI Group Architects, Berlin-based Realities United created a station-specific art installation that allows visitors to broadcast a written message on an LED scroll displayed above the train platform. Dubbed LightSpell, the piece is composed of 40 LED chandeliers, organized into a row of 16-segments capable of displaying letters, numbers, and special characters.
According to the artists’ project description, “LightSpell is an experiment in public interaction and will entail various aspects of the theme of the freedom of the individual versus the interest of the larger group.” The intent is to anonymously display what riders type into the station’s five message kiosks, without filtering or oversight from TTC. That is still up for discussion, said Realities United’s Jan Edler, but he hopes “to come to a fruitful agreement with the stakeholders.”
“It is a democratic installation: Any wording—however rude, stupid, offensive—will inevitably also be the light source serving the demands of the community of other waiting people,” continues the project description. “We do believe that the interest to use the system in a stupid way will diminish once the students notice that there is NO censorship and hope that it will rather be used creatively,” Edler told AN by email.
The station sits at the intersection of Steeles Avenue and Northwest Gate on the edge of York University’s campus. Lighting is an integral part of the station’s design. “It’s a true hybrid between an art installation and function,” said Bruce Han, an architect with IBI Group.
While the illuminated messages of LightSpell comprise the bulk of the lighting along the subterranean platform, a conical opening in the roof at the platform’s center conveys natural light from above. Elsewhere in the station, the design team worked to include natural light wherever possible. Large triangular windows rise from ground level in the station entrance, filling the circular space with daylight. Metal poles topped with fluorescent fixtures lead visitors into the station, whose jellybean-shaped volume connotes playfulness, said Han.
When completed in fall 2016, the Spadina extension will be the first TTC rail line to span the city limits of Toronto. Pioneer Village Station includes a 1,900-space parking lot as an accommodation to suburban commuters in the adjacent city of Vaughan.
“We wanted to create a new public focal point that would encourage future development as well,” said Han. A swooping, cantilevered canopy shelters a regional bus terminal for York Regional Transit. Together with the train station entrance, the transit hub’s entrances serve as sculptural focal points, bisecting the parking lot.
Taking inspiration from rock-climbing walls, the architects wrapped the weathering steel-clad building with triangular planes and knobby shapes. Inside, above the escalator and stairs leading down to the platform, IBI added a light installation of its own: a cylindrical volume of perforated steel that transmits the glow of tubular LEDs inside through a peppering of small holes at its base.
Pioneer Village Station is not the only station along the York-Spadina extension that has been designed with an integrated art installation. TTC hired artists to enliven all six new terminals along the route, using funds from the “one percent” program it bakes into public construction costs. Whatever opinions subway riders have about the program or the new station’s design surely will not go unheard—just keep an eye on the LightSpell scroll once it is up and running.
Chris Bentley is AN’s Midwest Editor
125th Street Corridor
New York City
West 125th Street in Manhattan between Broadway and the Hudson River has long been a no-man’s land of broken sidewalks and shuttered storefronts, a scar of urban blight in a neighborhood full of them. But it won’t be for much longer. In 2004, the New York City Economic Development Corporation hired New York City–based landscape architecture firm Mathews Nielsen to redesign the corridor as part of its West Harlem Master Plan. The $14.5 million street enhancement project was developed to improve access to the revitalized West Harlem Piers Park, which runs along the Hudson River between St. Claire Place and West 135th Street, while at the same time preparing the ground for the future development of Columbia University’s Manhattanville campus expansion. In March 2014, a decade after the design was commissioned, construction got started. By the end of 2016, this one-time blasted heath should be ready for the safe passage of college students and condo-dwelling urban professionals.
Mathews Nielsen’s design works within the guidelines of New York’s Complete Streets initiative to make the thoroughfare accommodating to people on-foot, cycling, and driving. Signaled crossings and pedestrian refuges aim to make the corridor safer for all, while trees and other plantings soften the urban environment’s hard edge. At the west end of 125th Street there is an intermodal plaza with a bus turnaround and a link to a ferry landing in the Hudson.
As it has done in many of its urban revitalization projects, Mathews Nielsen used existing infrastructure in the area to add flavor to its design. Old rails still imbedded in the pavement from the Third Avenue Rail System, for example, are being preserved as historic markers of sorts. More significantly, the design is making use of two steel arch structures that flank the site—one supporting the elevated tracks of the IRT subway on Broadway and the other the raised section of River Side Drive known as the 12th Avenue Viaduct. “There are these two incredible bookends of the 1 Train structure and the 12th Avenue Viaduct,” said Signe Nielsen of Mathews Nielsen. “We thought about those as a way to create a sequence as one moves toward the water.”
To accentuate this sequence at night, these structures are being illuminated with lighting schemes designed by New York City–based L’Observatoire International. The lighting approach was different for each structure due to their distinct formal qualities as well as the peculiarities of the agencies that maintain them. The MTA, for example, would not allow the design team to attach light fixtures to the IRT structure, so the fixtures are being mounted on U-shaped poles that thread through the subway platform’s arch. NYCDOT, which maintains the 12th Avenue Viaduct, had no issues with the attachment of light fixtures. Here the designers are nestling the fixtures in the hips of the arches, where they uplight the cathedral-like spans.
While both structures are lit with white light, here again there is a variation. The designers chose warm, 3000K white light for the MTA bridge, which is painted beige, produced by four 315W metal halide fixtures with narrow four-degree beam spreads to cut down on glare and light pollution. The subway crossing also features blue light that comes on when a train is approaching the station, produced by eight 28W LED fixtures with six-degree beam spreads.
The team chose cooler 4000K white light for the viaduct, which is painted gray, produced by eight 150W metal halide fixtures. Under the current project scope, the lighting scheme will only be applied where the viaduct crosses 125th Street, but it is modular and could be rolled out along the entire length of the bridge, a proposal that the design team has put forth to the local business improvement district, in case it feels like funding it.
Aaron Seward is AN’s Executive Editor.
2015 National Planning Excellence RecipientsDaniel Burnham Award for a Comprehensive Plan
- Vibrant NEO 2040 – Northeast Ohio
- Mueller Redevelopment – Austin, Texas
- First Last Mile Strategic Plan & Planning Guidelines – Los Angeles, California
- Making Planning Public: Newark Zoning Workshop – Newark, New Jersey
- Green City, Clean Waters: Philadelphia’s 21st Century Green Stormwater Infrastructure Program – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Boston Complete Streets Design Guidelines – Boston, Massachusetts
- moveDC – Washington, D.C.
- Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan – Louisiana
- Phase 1 Glenwood Refinement Plan – Springfield, Oregon
- The BIG U – New York, New York
- Tecnológico de Monterrey Urban Regeneration Plan – Monterrey, Mexico
- Honorable Greg Cox – San Diego, California
- Maryland Department of Planning – Baltimore, Maryland
- Raimi + Associates – California
- State Representative Harold Mitchell, Jr. and the ReGenesis Project – Spartanburg, South Carolina
- Donald Shoup, FAICP, PhD – Los Angeles, California
- Perkins+Will — San Francisco, California
2015 National Planning Achievement RecipientsThe Achievement Awards are a way for the awards jury to recognize good planning work and are similar to an honorable mention. National Planning Achievement Award for a Best Practice
- Realizing the Potential of The Porch: A Case Study in Data-Driven Placemaking – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Maryland State Arts Council – Arts & Entertainment Districts Program – Baltimore, Maryland
- Living Breakwaters – New York, New York
- Branch Brook Park – Newark, New Jersey
- Opa-locka Community Development Corporation/Gold Coast Section Pop-Up Park Initiative – Miami-Dade County, Florida
- Pop-Up Outreach for the Southeastern San Diego and Encanto Neighborhoods Community Plans – San Diego, California
- WalkBikeNC – North Carolina
- Tongva Park & Ken Genser Square – Santa Monica, California
- Greening Lower Grand Avenue – Phoenix, Arizona
- West End Community Plan – Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
- Les Isles/ Domtar Lands Redevelopment – Ottawa, Ontario, Canada