All posts in City Terrain

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Tunnel Vision

Regional Plan Association calls for a new Port Authority Bus Terminal at the Javits Center
The Regional Plan Association (RPA) has published a report that calls for major changes to how transit is operated between New Jersey and Manhattan. In 25 years, the report explains, daily commuters into Manhattan from New Jersey increased by 70,000 to 320,000. "Our current system of trains, buses, subways, ferries, and roads does not have enough capacity to serve another 72,000—let alone another 150,000," said the RPA. The report goes adds that while rail journeys from Penn Station have almost tripled, bus travel is where major growth has taken place, increasing by 83 percent. As a result, the RPA's biggest proposal is for a new Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) at the base of the Javits Center. This $3 billion project would not mean destroying the current PABT in Midtown, it said, but it would create an additional bus hub to relieve the Midtown terminus. "The ramps connecting the Lincoln Tunnel and the PABT are immovable and any solutions must keep them in place," the RPA argue. "Any other building site large enough for existing and expanded PABT operations will be enormously expensive; and any relocation will put the PABT passengers further from their destinations and the extraordinary subway connections they now enjoy." While having some bus routes into Hudson Yards is a good idea, access to the #7 train may not be adequate from a capacity perspective. Secondly, that train doesn't go anywhere useful for those coming into Manhattan—it's a line that primarily services Queens. The RPA, however, had other points to make, notably stressing the importance of the Gateway Project. "The new tunnels must be in place before the existing tunnels fail. Simply put, this is the highest infrastructure priority for the nation." Furthermore, the RPA called for Gateway to be turned into a through-running service, no longer terminating at 7th Avenue, but going onto Sunnyside Yards in Queens by going eastward under Manhattan. Planning consultants ReThink Studio also have a scheme similar to this. Keeping with rail travel, Vishaan Chakrabarti and PAU's proposal to move Madison Square Gardens to an adjacent site was praised by the RPA, creating what it called a "beautiful train station." All in all, this plan would be executed in phases. These phases were outlined and can be found below.
Phase One Build gateway tunnels and a bus terminal in the basement of the Jacob Javits Convention Center. Phase Two Build Gateway East with through service at Penn South. Constructing Penn South with fewer, wider platforms and two new East River tunnels would increase throughput at Penn Station by 30% and greatly expand rail service for New Jersey Transit, Long Island Rail Road, and Metro North riders. New direct rail service into Penn Station for Bergen and Monmouth counties would reduce travel times and shift bus riders to rail in these under-served counties, relieving highway congestion and pressure on the bus terminals. Phase Three Build new tail tunnels to expand service and meet future capacity needs
The report in full can be found here.
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Good Neighbors

New development in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood aims to staunch gentrification

While Chicago has not faced the same levels of displacement due to gentrification as cities like New York and San Francisco, a number of its neighborhoods are experiencing rapid shifts in population and demographics. In particular, neighborhoods like Pilsen on the city’s near South Side, historically home to a large Mexican population, are being eyed by developers as the next hot neighborhood, worrying long-time residents. In at least one case, though, the developers are listening to local concerns and attempting to mitigate any tensions that may arise in the vulnerable neighborhood.

ParkWorks, a proposed 7.85-acre development in the heart of Pilsen, is taking special care—architecturally and administratively—to work with the neighborhood. On the developer’s side, Property Markets Group (PMG) organized a number of community meetings to hear from the people who will be most affected by the new multibuilding mixed-use complex. Rather than the typical presentation followed by a question-and-answer session, the meetings could better be described as public critiques. Presentation boards and texts were displayed, with developers and architects on hand to discuss the issues on a more personal level with area’s residents. Yet the community involvement is planned to extend past these initial meetings.

When complete, the project, which will include hundreds of new residential units, will provide a higher percentage of affordable housing than any other private development in Chicago, according to PMG. The development also plans to employ local residents: Two-thirds of the development’s staff will be hired from within the neighborhood, and businesses moving into any of the 10,000 square feet of retail space in the development will be given a 20 percent discount on rent if they hire one-third or more of their staff from the surrounding community. During construction, an employment center is set to be opened on the project’s site to help enable more local employment. Recognizing the area’s demographics, much of the proposal’s communications have also been bilingual, in English and Spanish.

While the developers managed local relations, the project’s architects and planners, Chicago-based Cordogan, Clark & Associates, have worked to provide for the existing community through design. Notably, 50 percent of the development has been set aside for open green space. This includes courtyards and transverse walkways through the site. The heart of the buildings’ campus will also include an “arts walk” along South Peoria Avenue, which bisects the site. The property is also immediately adjacent to the future Paseo Trail, an urban linear park being developed on a former rail line.

Density is often an indicating factor in gentrification, with either swift drops or increases signifying drastic uncontrolled change. In the case of ParkWorks, the project is filling two large, completely empty tracts of land. Thanks to the large amount of open space in the plan, its density will be slightly lower than the surrounding neighborhood. While this will be a net gain for the neighborhood’s density, it is as if the site were filled with the typical two-flats that populate most of the neighborhood.

There is no question that Pilsen, and many neighborhoods like it, are changing. While as a whole Chicago’s population is declining, white millennials are flocking to the city, affecting the demographics and density of particular areas. Many new city dwellers are the adult children of a generation that fled the city to the suburbs starting in the 1960s, making room for the communities that now define Chicago. So, when any development is built, it will undoubtedly attract residents from outside the existing community—it is an experiment in social integration. For the good of the city, and its many diverse communities, one can only hope that experiments like ParkWorks are successful.

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But It's Farley From Over

New renderings revealed as Moynihan Train Hall reaches major construction milestone

Moynihan Station today, 10:45 a.m. – Dramatic stage lighting in New York colors illuminates bare steel trusses, a backdrop to the podium where the governor will talk up the new train hall, any minute now. Tables in the far back of the room, behind a crowd of hundreds of construction workers and sweaty guys in suits, are loaded with Penn-Farley coasters and free cider donuts. It's humid, dark, and a little dusty, but despite the large gathering, there was just a little news at the former post office today: The project's about to start full-on construction.

Governor Andrew Cuomo was in the city to announce a construction milestone at the Penn-Farley complex, the soon-to-be bigger and (hopefully) better train station on Manhattan's West Side. This was the last time the James A. Farley Post Office, re-christened as the Moynihan Train Hall, will be open to the public before it's transformed into a transit hub by SOM. Contractors had just knocked out the McKim Meade and White–designed hall's second-floor mezzanine, a move that allows the major interior build-out to begin.

In June, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESD) inked a $1.6 billion deal with a developer-builder team to transform the structure into a retail-office complex and train station. The three companies—Related Companies, Skanska, and Vornado Realty Trust—will contribute the largest share ($630 million) towards the project, with New York State kicking in $550 million. Money from Amtrak, the MTA, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, and federal grants round out the project costs.

The 255,000-square-foot station will serve Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak riders. Like the World Trade Center Oculus, or its slightly older cousin at Fulton Center, Moynihan's skylit concourse will be ringed by retail, more than 700,000 square feet of it. To make transfers easier, the just-completed West End Concourse will connect Moynihan to Penn Station, just across 8th Avenue. Construction began in September and the train hall is expected to be complete in 2021.

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Killing It

James Corner Field Operations' Freshkills Park moves closer to realization
James Corner Field Operations' plans for Freshkills Park in Staten Island inched closer to fruition this week after New York City authorities awarded a $23 million contract to Lomma Construction Corporation to carry out the first phase. Occupying what was once the Fresh Kills Landfill site on Staten Island, the North Park will cover 21 acres and be open by 2020. In an email to The Architect's Newspaper (AN), a spokesperson for NYC Parks said that North Park had been identified as an area for simple recreational facilities, vast natural settings, meadows, wetlands, and creeks. "It is envisioned as a lightly programmed natural area connecting with Schmul Park in the Travis neighborhood, extending the rich habitat provided in the adjacent William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge, and capitalizing on one of the quietest and most sheltered areas of Fresh Kills," they said. Inside visitors will be able to find an observation tower from which they can look over the Arthur Kill River and watch birdlife on the marshes. When complete, Freshkills Park will be 2,200 acres—almost three times bigger than Central Park, second only to Pelham Bay Park. It will be the largest park built in New York City since the 19th century. 450 of its acres will be wetland. The Phase One work will also mean that come 2020, the public will be able to use broad pathways, "secondary paths," a seven-acre seed farm, a forested plateau, a composting comfort station (i.e. a composting public bathroom), a picnic lawn, a waterfront overlook deck, a bird observation tower, and a bicycle repair station. A parking lot for 67 spaces will also be included. Some areas of the park are now open to the public, though only during certain times of the year. According to DNAInfo, two parks connected to Freshkills have already been completed: the Richmond Avenue greenway and one entrance to North Park, Schmul Park.

Authorities expect the whole of Freshkills Park to be fully open by 2036. More information can be found on the park's website, here.

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The Big Bet

Las Vegas gambles its future on sports, conventions, and leisure

As Las Vegas recovers from the Great Recession, city and business leaders are betting that the region’s future lies in a more diverse set of recreational offerings than the ones that made the city famous. Though many of the transformative projects are still in the planning or construction phases, the signs are clear: The boom-and-bust region is moving away from a strictly gambling-focused urbanism toward one more broadly defined by indiscriminate leisure, including sports, large-scale conventions, relaxation, and even traditional mixed-use urbanism.

Most spectacularly, city and business leaders triumphed in their quest to lure the Oakland Raiders to Sin City with a new $1.9 billion stadium designed by Kansas City, Missouri–based Manica Architecture. The stadium, to be built for the 2020 season, features a horseshoe-shaped seating arrangement that faces an operable building wall oriented toward the Strip. The complex will feature a celebration terrace containing a 120-foot tall cauldron honoring storied Raiders coach Al Davis, as well.

Adding to the sports frenzy, local architects YWS recently unveiled plans for a 30,000-square-foot Esports venue, Las Vegas’s first virtual sports facility. The complex will contain a multilevel arena, large-scale video wall, and a broadcast studio, all expected to open in early 2018.

The city is scrambling to prepare for the Raiders by embarking on $900 million in road and transit improvements, including a potential 1.14-mile monorail extension. The link would create a five-mile-long elevated train line connecting the stadium with 12 hotel and casino properties and the Las Vegas Convention Center. To boot, state agencies recently proposed a $12.5 billion plan for a new light rail system for the city.

The city is also looking to expand and upgrade its existing convention center by adding 600,000 square feet of exhibit space to the aging complex. The bet here is for Las Vegas to draw larger convention crowds, competing with cities like Orlando and Chicago (which are also expanding their convention centers). The new convention center is expected to draw an additional 610,000 visitors to the city, plus $810 million in revenue for good measure.

Closer to the forthcoming stadium, work has been underway to diversify the city at the street level as well. Recently completed streetscape improvements by planning firm Cooper Robertson, Marnell Companies, and !melk landscape architects for the Park—an eight-acre pedestrian plaza and park located between the New York-New York and Monte Carlo resorts—have brought a bit of big-city life to the Strip. Designers on the project reoriented retail spaces to face what was formerly an alley and demolished a temporary sales center to create a new pedestrian park. Donald Clinton, partner at Cooper Robertson, said, “We were tasked to come up with new dining and entertainment uses that could actually face the strip.” When asked, “How can we upgrade what we’re doing in front of these older casinos?” Clinton explained that the project sought to bring new tenants to the reprogrammed street who could benefit from being near foot traffic while also connecting to the new, !melk-designed park. The design features a variety of native trees and shrubs, swale areas, and large, sculptural shade structures that collect water. The park is flanked on several sides by plaza areas serviced directly by brewpubs and cafes.

The scheme was enriched by the speculative development of the Populous-designed T-Mobile Arena, an LED-clad, diamond-inspired structure that seats up to 19,000 and contains a slew of VIP zones, lounges, and nightclubs at the end of the new promenade. Clinton explained that the city’s new approaches to urbanism were “still evolving,” but one thing is clear: Las Vegas is quickly becoming more than a gambler’s paradise.

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Misstep

$243 million later, NYC's Department of Transportation still fails to meet ADA regulations for street curbs

About 80 percent of New York City’s street curbs are not in line with federal standards for the disabled, as first reported by DNAinfo.

A recent study by a federal court monitor revealed that even after $243 million in taxpayer funds over the last 15 years were allocated to build curb cuts, the city failed to keep them up to the Americans With Disabilities (ADA) regulations. Curb cut, or curb ramp, is the term for a ramp created by grading down a sidewalk to meet the surface of the adjoining street.

There are 116,530 ramps across the city; some were built to ADA standards but never maintained while around 4,431 curbs were simply built without ramps.

Special Master Robert L. Burgdorf, who is also the original author of the ADA Act of 1990, blamed the city’s 2002 settlement with the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association. In a report he submitted to federal court, he noted that the settlement did not set up any timelines for building curb cuts, nor did it require ADA compliance for curb cuts.

“It is quite plausible that the 2002 stipulation may actually have slowed down progress in achieving accessibility of the curb ramps of New York City,” he wrote in the report.

According to Burgdorf, the city only built 198 ramps in 2016, down from 6,667 ramps in 2002.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) responded by saying it increased the budget—$800 million over the next 10 years—for inspection and construction of these ramps. “As the nation’s largest municipal transportation agency, NYC DOT takes its responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) very seriously,” Scott Gastel, a DOT spokesperson, said to DNAinfo.

Burgdorf’s report recommended that the city survey all curbs within 90 days, install ADA-compliant ramps for the curbs without them in five years, and repair all of the noncompliant ramps within eight years. However, city officials estimate that it could take another 20 years before all curbs are brought up to standard,

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Worst Case Housing Needs

HUD report reveals housing affordability crisis unfolding across America

The nationwide affordable housing crisis is nearing a record high: More than 8 million renters in 2015 had "worst case housing needs," according to a report released last week by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Very low-income, unassisted families who pay more than half their monthly income for rent and/or live in severely substandard housing are labeled as worst case needs residents. The Worst Case Housing Needs: 2017 Report to Congress reveals that in 2015, 8.3 million households had worst case needs, a 66 percent spike since 2001 and a number approaching the record high of 8.48 million in 2011.

According to the report, cases “cut across all regions of the county and include all racial and ethnic groups, regardless of whether they live in cities, suburbs, or rural areas.”

Most of the nation’s very low-income renters—those who earn less than 50 percent of Area Median Income—reside in the South (6.7 million), followed by the West (4.5 million). The areas with the highest concentrations of worst case households among very low-income renters, however, were in major urban areas: the New York metropolitan area, the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and the Chicago metropolitan area.

HUD's report revealed that while ongoing economic recovery will help increase incomes for very low-income renters, other factors continue to drive the affordable housing crisis. The report cites severe rent burden—those paying more than 50 percent of their income towards monthly rent—as one of the primary factors. Out of the households with worst case needs in 2015, 98.2% had severe rent burden.

The other main cause includes a scarcity of units with affordable rents. Despite an increase in overall rental units and in median renter’s income over the past two years, monthly rents also increased and the shortage of affordable and available units for this population became more severe. For the poorest renters, rent hikes outpace income increases, according to the report.

Nationwide, only 66 affordable units exist for every 100 extremely low-income renters, and of that, only 38 are available for occupancy.

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RFP for Parks, Race, and Representation

Designers, here's your chance to shape public space in Charlottesville, Virginia
This past week, white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue from a downtown park. As multiple news sources reported, the rally's violence culminated in chilling brutality when protestor James Fields rammed his car through a crowd of counter-demonstrators on a nearby pedestrian mall, injuring 19 and killing one. It's beyond question that the far right gathered on Saturday to spread hate in a public space. It just so happens, too, that this latest domestic terrorist attack coincides with the city's in-motion plans to redesign two main public parks—including the one with the Lee statue—around justice and equity. Back in June, the city issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to develop a master plan that enhances the connection between Justice Park and Emancipation Park, as well as the parks themselves. Located two blocks away from each other, the two parks, formerly named for Confederate General Stonewall Jackson and Lee,* respectively, were sites of this weekend's protests. Among other changes, the city would like to develop better gathering spaces in both parks and memorialize former slaves in Justice Park. To prepare a design, the document asks participating firms to get acquainted with MASS Design Group's Memorial to Peace and Justice, a project in Montgomery, Alabama to honor victims of lynching. The RFP grew out of a report released in August of last year by the Blue Ribbon Commission, a group city officials convened to address race and representation in the city's public spaces. With statues of Confederate generals and a slave auction block in parks, as well as the preserved Reconstruction-era Freedmen’s Bureau, the commission's final report "[acknowledged] that far too often Charlottesville’s public spaces and histories have ignored, silenced or suppressed African American history, as well as the legacy of white supremacy and the unimaginable harms done under that cause." The chosen designer is expected to engage with the community extensively. In Charlottesville, city officials imagine that public history for the 21st century may be illuminated with new art, placemaking initiatives, and wayfinding. Interested? The deadline is approaching fast: Submissions are due this Thursday, August 17. *The park's renaming is in process, pending a court decision later this month.
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Soundview and LES

NYC Ferry seeks approval to build docks for two new routes

New York City’s ferry service, which has seen a surge of popularity amidst the city's current transportation crisis, is looking to add two new routes that will cater to the Lower East Side, the Bronx, and Queens, by next summer, as first reported by DNAinfo.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation (NYEDC) filed an application with the Army Corps of Engineers earlier this month to expand the NYC Ferry service by building docks along the Soundview and Lower East Side route.

The Soundview route will stop at Clason Point, East 90th Street, East 62nd Street, and terminate at Wall Street’s Pier 11. The Lower East Side route will make stops at Long Island City, East 34th Street, Stuyvesant Town, Corlears Hook, and also end at Wall Street. The application also included a request to construct 22 floating docks for a “homeport” and boat barge at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a site that is going under extensive redevelopment.

The Army Corps is seeking comments and suggestions for the proposed new docks, one of which at the South Bronx landing is nearly 58 feet long. The responses will then be used to “issue, modify, condition, or deny a permit,” according to DNAinfo.

The ferry system is Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $55 million plan for a five-borough network that focuses on connecting residential areas to Manhattan’s business districts, as well as bringing increased transportation access to the city’s underserved communities. Rides are operated by Hornblower, a Californian company that has previously operated in New York before, and cost the same amount as a subway ride ($2.75). Current routes include an East River, Rockaway, and South Brooklyn. An Astoria ferry route is slated to begin on August 29.

This second phase of expanding NYC Ferry’s services, which only launched in May, comes after reports revealed the system had hit the one million rider mark in July. Both routes, if the application is approved, will begin next summer.

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Travel Plans

New towers will rise atop Chicago Union Station as part of redevelopment

The redevelopment of the Chicago Union Station has been a long time coming. The 1925 Beaux Arts station has seen minor repairs in the past few years, but a recently released master plan envisions a complete redevelopment of the historic building and the surrounding area.

Led by Riverside Investment & Development Co., the Goettsch Partners–designed master plan will take the form of 3.1 million square feet of new commercial, retail, and residential space. Divided into three phases, work will begin in the historic headhouse and continue to neighboring properties, owned by Amtrak, above the below-grade railroad tracks. When complete, five new towers will rise above and around the station.

“This building was envisioned by Daniel Burnham in the 1909 Plan for Chicago as the city’s primary rail station,” said Amtrak President and CEO Charles W. “Wick” Moorman IV to the press at the announcement of the master plan. “It is in that spirit, that we have big plans for both this headhouse building and nearby properties owned by Amtrak.”

The headhouse, originally designed by Burnham and completed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White after his death, is considered a Beaux Arts masterpiece. With its 110-foot-tall skylit great hall, the headhouse has often been used as the backdrop of films, most notably in the climax of the 1987 movie The Untouchables. The new master plan calls for a dramatic addition to the headhouse: Initial designs call for two 12-story residential towers to be added to the top of the building. The existing top portion, which is currently office space, will also be redeveloped. While adding towers to the top of the historic structure may seem drastic, it should be noted that the original design called for a commercial skyscraper to sit atop the building. This technique of matching civic spaces with office high-rises was once popular in Chicago, most famously in the cases of the Auditorium Theatre and the Lyric Opera House.

The rest of the development will follow another once-common building practice associated with Union Station. Immediately to the south of the headhouse, three new towers will take advantage of air rights over a set of 14 tracks that run into the station. The Chicago Daily News building and the Chicago Main Post Office, two of Chicago’s most recognizable art deco icons, were built in the same way, straddling the tracks to the north and south of the station.

Along with the towers, the master plan calls for improvements to the passenger experience as well. Despite serving over 50,000 guests a day, the station, which is mostly underground, is outdated and generally unpleasant. Street-level retail, historic restoration, and a new food hall will all be addressed in the redevelopment. A hotel has been proposed for above the headhouse, and publicly accessible terraces and plazas are also included in the master plan.

Considering Chicago Union Station is the only major train station in Chicago, and the third busiest in the country, its surroundings have seen surprisingly little development over the years. The most recent addition to the area is a $40 million bus transit center designed by Chicago-based Muller+Muller. Ironically, that station will have to be demolished and rebuilt to be integrated into the proposed master plan. But, since no hard dates have been set to implement the new plan as it negotiates the financial side of the project, the transit station is safe for now.

While every major development in Chicago brings with it scores of critics and champions, this one has the potential to spark particularly lively discussions. If the architecture of the project at all resembles the renderings of the master plan, many Chicagoans will have something to say about putting two glass towers on top of their much-loved Beaux Arts landmark.

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New Frontier

Saskia Sassen on how the powerless can "hack" global cities
The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) has partnered with urbanNext—a multidisciplinary platform for design promoted by Actar Publishers—to share articles on common topics every two weeks. This week, we’re pairing the urbanNext article below with AN’s “Modern design, pleasure, and media blur at “Playboy Architecture, 1953–1979.” The article below was authored by Saskia Sassen, is the Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology at Columbia University and a Member of its Committee on Global Thought, which she chaired till 2015.
Cities are complex systems. But they are incomplete systems. These features take on urbanized formats that vary enormously across time and place. In this mix of complexity and incompleteness lies the capacity of cities to outlive far more powerful but formal and closed systems: many a city has outlived governments, kings, the leading corporation of an epoch. Herein also lies the possibility of making—making the urban, the political, the civic, a history. Thus, much of today’s dense built-up terrain, such as a vast stretch of high-rise housing or of office buildings, is not a city; it is simply dense built-up terrain. On the other hand, a working slum can have many of the features of a city, and indeed, some slums are a type of city—poor, but deeply urban. It is also in this mix of incompleteness and complexity that the possibility exists for the powerless to hack power in the city, in a way that they could not in a plantation, for example, and to hack particular features of the city. They are thereby able to make a history, a politics, even if they do not get empowered. Thus, current conditions in global cities, especially, are creating not only new structurations of power but also operational and rhetorical openings for new types of actors and their projects. In these cities those without power can make themselves present: in the richest neighborhoods where they are the indispensable household support, in the corporate center where they are indispensable service workers, and so on. Thus powerlessness can become complex in the city. And this is, in itself, a transversal type of hacking. One way of conceiving of some of this is as instances of urban capabilities. In this essay I am particularly interested in two features of the city. One is that the global city is a strategic frontier zone that enables those who lack power, those who are disadvantaged, outsiders, and minorities who are discriminated against—even though it decimates the modest middle classes. The disadvantaged and excluded can gain presence in such cities in a way they cannot in neat, homogenous provincial cities. In the global city, they become present to power and to each other, which may include learning to negotiate their multiple differences. They can hack power and they can hack their differences of origin, religion, phenotype. The second feature is the strategic importance of the city today for shaping new orders—or, if you will, hacking old orders. As a complex space, the city can bring together multiple, very diverse struggles and engender a larger, more encompassing push for a new normative order. It enables people with different passions and obsessions to work together—more precisely, to hack power together. Global Cities Are Today’s Frontier Zones The large complex city, especially if it’s a global city, is a new frontier zone. In frontiers, actors from different worlds meet, but there are no clear rules of engagement. Whereas historically the frontier lay in the far stretches of colonial empires, today’s frontier zone is in our large, messy global cities. Cities are now the places where actors from different spheres have an encounter for which there are no established rules. The historic frontier lay at the creeping and expanding edges of empires; but those edges of empires no longer exist today. Today that space of encounter with differences lies deep inside our large, messy cities. Thus, these cities are strategic for both global corporate capital and the powerless. Much of the work of forcing deregulation, privatization, and new fiscal and monetary policies on governments actually took place in the corporate sector of global cities rather than in legislatures and parliaments. In this sense, then, the corporates hacked the city because that making of new instruments was a way of constructing the equivalent of the old military “fort” of the historic frontier: the corporate zone in our cities is a protected, de facto private space. And corporate actors have been doing this since the late 1980s in city after city worldwide to ensure they have a global operational space that suits their interests. The global city is then also a frontier zone because it is where strategic spaces of power can be hacked— though they rarely are, which has always surprised me. But global cities are also strategic places for those without power. They signal the possibility of a new type of politics, centered in new types of political actors. That is one instance of what I seek to capture with the concept of urban capabilities. It is not simply a matter of having or not having power. For the powerless, the city is a strategic space because the political goes well beyond routinized voting and having to accept corporate utility logics, or the dominance of narratives that strengthen powerful actors. Urban space in powerful cities provides new hybrid bases from which to act. One outcome we are seeing in city after city is the making of new kinds of informal politics. For instance, there is a kind of public-making work that can produce disruptive narratives, and make legible the local and the silenced. Political work gets done this way: it becomes the work of making a new kind of contestatory public that uses urban space as a medium, a tool to hack power, even if it does not bring power down. The Occupy movements that rose in countries in very different parts of the world were momentarily disruptive but educational in the long term. They rhetoricized inequality and provided a narrative to large sectors of the impoverished middle classes, usually a rather conservative and prudent sector. It has evolved as a politics that is making headway at the level of political speech and mobilization, but not necessarily system change: Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, the rise of a seventy-year-old long-term socialist in the United States as a presidential candidate appealing to all ages, but especially the young. Deeper have been the changes in Bolivia and Venezuela, encompassing a whole new vocabulary and governmental logic; less radical but still significant are Peru and Quito. All of these, across their differences, and with varying levels of intensity, share a partial or full repudiation of politics as usual. It also signals the possibility of making a new type of subject, one abundant in cities across time and place, but always somewhat rare: the urban subject that results from hacking ethnicity, religion, phenotype, inequality, physical disability. Old Baghdad and Jerusalem, industrializing Chicago and New York, early-twentieth-century Berlin and Buenos Aires were such cities. This is not to deny the specific histories and geographies that generated what I like to call the “urban subject.” The urban subject is at home with enormous differences of religion, ethnicity, etc. A city’s sociality can bring out and underline the urbanity of subject and setting, and dilute more essentialist markers. The need for new solidarities (for instance, when cities confront major challenges) is often what can bring about this shift. Urban space, especially a city’s center, can hack our essentialisms, as it forces us into joint responses, into crowded public transport, into highly mixed work situations, into public hospitals and universities, and so on. From there it can move us on to the appreciation of an urban subject, rather than more specific individual or group identities that might rule in a neighborhood. The big, messy, slightly anarchic city enables such shifts. The corporatized city or the office park does not. There is yet another type of hacking of long-time orders that is taking place today. It is the hacking of well-established larger units, notably nation-states, that are beginning to lose their grip on domains where they once had considerable control. This is an important even if partial and not always desirable change. In Territory, Authority, Rights, I identified a vast proliferation of such partial disassemblings and reassemblings that arise from the remix of bits of territory, authority, and rights, once all ensconced in national institutional frames. In Europe, these novel assemblages include those resulting from the formation and ongoing development of the European Union, but also those resulting in a variety of cross-city alliances around protecting the environment, fighting racism, and other important causes. These generate a European subject for whom protecting the local or global environment matters more than nationality. And they also result from subnational struggles and the desire to make new regulations for self-governance at the level of the neighborhood and the city. Against the background of a partial disassembling of empires and nation-states, the city emerges as a strategic site for making elements of new partial orders. Where in the past national law might have been the law, today subsidiarity and the new strategic role of cities make it possible for us to imagine a return to urban law. We see a resurgence of urban law-making, a subject I discuss in depth elsewhere (see Territory, Authority, Rights, chapters 2 and 6). For instance, in the United States, a growing number of cities have passed local laws (ordinances) that make themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants; other cities have passed environmental laws that only hold for those particular cities because they are far more radical than national law, or have developed currencies for local transactions that only function in those cities. These are among the features that make cities a space of great complexity and diversity. But today, cities confront major conflicts that can reduce that complexity to mere built-up terrain or a cement jungle. The urban way of confronting extreme racism, governmental wars on terror, and the future crises of climate change is to make these challenges occasions to further expand diverse urban capabilities and to expand the meaning of membership. Yet much national government policy and the “needs” of powerful corporate actors go against this mode. In the next section, I discuss a range of issues that illustrate how the powerless can hack power in the city.
This article originally appeared as Can Cities Help Us Hack Formal Power Systems? on urbanNext. 1- I develop this argument in “Does the City Have Speech?,” Public Culture 25(2) (April 2013): 209–21; see also Expulsions (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014; Dutch translation forthcoming with ACCO). 2- This is the process I describe at great length in The Global City, 2nd updated ed. (1991; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), and in Cities in a World Economy, 4th ed. (CITY: Sage, 2012). 3- The emergent landscape I am describing promotes a multiplication of diverse spatiotemporal framings and diverse normative mini-orders, where once the dominant logic was toward producing grand unitary national spatial, temporal, and normative framings. See Saskia Sassen, Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), chaps. 8 and 9. 4- One synthesizing image we might use to capture these dynamics is the movement from centripetal nation-state articulation to a centrifugal multiplication of specialized assemblages, where one of many examples might be the transborder networks of specific types of struggles, enactments, art, and so on.
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Building Boom

Midtown East rezoning gets final approval from City Council

After five arduous years, New York City’s Midtown East rezoning proposal cleared City Council today, paving the way for new office towers to rise in the neighborhood.

The proposal, approved 42-0, updates the area’s zoning code to incentivize new, dense development and revitalize the flagging business area in order to compete with the Financial District and Hudson Yards. The 78 blocks in the area are currently home to more than 250,000 jobs and generate ten percent of the city’s property tax base, according toNew York Daily News article penned by Councilman Daniel Garodnick. The city anticipates 6.5 million square feet of office space being added to East Midtown.

Developers can build higher and gain more floor-area-ratio (FAR) by either buying landmarked air rights or making specific transit improvements (targeted mainly at subway stations). Several recent changes include the lowering of the air rights minimum: developers can purchase air rights at $61.49 per square foot, of which the proceeds will go toward a public realm fund. Developers are also required pay upfront for transit improvements if they choose to go that route; buildings will not be occupiable until those improvements are finished.

“The goal is to improve Midtown, not keep it as it is,” Councilman Garodnick said at the meeting.

The city has committed $50 million to start improving public spaces—before anything is built—and the first project includes a shared street on 43rd Street, near Grand Central Terminal. Over the next 20 years, the city estimates that up to 16 properties could take advantage of the rezoning.