Search results for "NYC Parks"

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Citizen Jane

New documentary delves into the history and legacy of Jane Jacobs
This is a story about our global urban future… It’s also a story about America’s recent urban past, in which bureaucratic, “top down” approaches to building cities… with little or no input from those who inhabit them…. Citizen Jane: Battle for the City shows that anti-democratic approaches to city planning and building are fundamentally unsustainable; a grassroots, “bottom up” approach is imperative to the social, economic, and ecological success of tomorrow’s global cities. …Jane Jacobs… single-handedly undercuts her era’s orthodox model of city planning, exemplified by the massive Urban Renewal projects of New York’s “Master Builder,” Robert Moses.
So reads the official website for the new film, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City which opened the DOC NYC film festival on November 10. It clearly sides with Jacobs’s David rather than the Moses’s Goliath. As Paul Goldberger says, “They were famously at odds with each other. It really did become a war between opposing forces. Today, we’re still fighting these battles across the world.” It’s a great story with large implications for our world. There is compelling archival footage and photos, and a panoply of talking heads including Mary Rowe, Michael Sorkin, Roberta Gratz, Thomas Campanella, Ed Koch, Alex Garvin, and Goldberger. Jacobs’s rich lore is more than just a face-off with Moses (Rowe told me that in the 10 years she worked with Jacobs in Toronto, she never mentioned Robert Moses once). Jacobs saw shades of gray, used her powers of observation to spot “un-average clues” or exceptions, and was unencumbered by the theory and doctrines of the planning practice. The irony is that Jacobs's analysis of what she saw in front of her has now been codified into a gospel to be followed slavishly (Citizen Jane is very different from the imperious Charles Foster Kane, the fictional Citizen Kane). It reminds me of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, a parody on the Messiah (Brian was born on the same day as his next-door-neighbor, Jesus Christ) who exasperatingly says to his adoring followers, “You must all think for yourselves!” to which they parrot back "WE MUST ALL THINK FOR OURSELVES!” Jacobs was nimble and inventive, a listener and watcher, and then a doer. Jacobs’ lessons are enormous. Although I applaud the filmmaker taking a point-of-view and championing Jacobs, what concerns me is an oversimplification of the story and the facts. Understanding that films can only give broad strokes and focused arguments, we still need to be mindful that there are many factors at work. (The terms “single-handedly” and “undemocratic” in the citation above are clues.) Moses came out of the Progressive Movement in the 1930s and created public spaces such as parks, swimming pools, playgrounds, and beaches to make life better for all. Post-War, he expanded his purview to “construction coordinator” (in all, he held twelve titles such as NYC Parks Commissioner, Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority Chairman, Head of the State Power Commission—all unelected) which gave him powers over public housing. He declared a war on slums, calling them a cancer, and his solution to the urban blight was to tear down and rebuild. With ample federal funds available, the aim was to erect an “expressway tower city,” in Jacob’s words. Goldberger cites this was a commonly-held belief at the time, but there was a price to be paid, and Jacobs was the lightening rod that pointed this out in stark relief. The light bulb for Jacobs was East Harlem. The neighborhood contains the highest geographical concentration of low-income public housing projects in the United States, 1.54 square miles with 24 New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments. Also known as El Barrio or Spanish Harlem, in the un-renovated areas Jacobs observed an ecosystem, not chaos, with a vibrant underlying order, rhythms and complexity, and density as beauty. And she observed that the intentions of the planners in urban renewal developments like this were unmet (when she asked Philadelphia developers why their new structures in Society Hill weren’t working the way they were billed, she says she was told it was because people were stupid and not using the spaces in the right way.) To the filmmakers, the contrast in planner rhetoric and Jacob’s common-sense observation is epitomized by the god-like, birds-eye view from the sky looking down (Moses) vs. the view from the street (Jacobs). Moses’s heartlessness and disregard are shown when he says of the people who had to be displaced to make way for his construction, “You can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs” (attributed to Vladimir Lenin, among others). And he smashed many dozens of eggs to make his plans real. Referring to Jacobs’ book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Campanella says “When Death and Life comes out in the '60s, it’s a clarion call. It’s Martin Luther nailing those 95 theses to the cathedral door. The book is really the first cogent, accessible articulation of a whole set of ideas that questions the mainstream thinking about our cities.” We are shown proof of the insurmountable folly of “urban removal,” evidenced by the blowing up of Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis. In film footage, we are shown that this was not an isolated example; we see the implosion of the Murphy Homes in Baltimore, Lakefront Homes in Chicago, and Mill Creek in Philadelphia dynamited into oblivion, admitting they were colossal mistakes. It’s a complicated picture. Let us not forget that this East Harlem was not the desirable neighborhood it is today. El Barrio was one of the hardest hit areas in the 1960s and 1970s as New York City struggled with drug abuse, race riots, urban flight, gang warfare, the highest jobless rate in New York City, teenage pregnancy, crime and poverty, and a food desert. Tenements were crowded, poorly maintained, and frequent targets for arson. Public housing projects may not have been the ideal solution, but the problems were manifold and many were hungry for modern, clean alternatives. The other big building issue is car traffic. The film shows the 1939 Worlds Fair General Motors Futurama, showcasing highways and pristine cities and suburbs. As the NYC Parks Commissioner, Moses was deeply involved with the fair, so might this be where he became enamored of the highway as the solution to the city’s ills? Is this when he transformed from the pre-war “angel” Moses who built public amenities for the common man to post-war “devil” Moses who destroyed the fabric of the city that is presented here? There is no question that the automobile was given priority by Moses over the street ballet, but the situation is not always that simple. (In New York City, there is no alternative to surface delivery of goods throughout the city, even if you are able to transport by rail or boat to a depot.) The Cross-Bronx Expressway did bifurcate the Bronx and destroy neighborhoods, but can we really blame it for turning the South Bronx into Ft. Apache? No doubt it was a factor, but there was also the crack epidemic, white flight, abandoned buildings, gangs, redlining, arson (remember “the Bronx is Burning”?) and other social, economic, and political forces. With a collective sigh, we are still relieved that the Lower Manhattan Expressway was never built, however the drawings shown to illustrate Moses’s plan are in fact an inventive, futuristic post-Moses scheme by Paul Rudolph funded by the Ford Foundation between 1967-1972 (Moses was out of power by 1968) which featured monorails, people movers, and a surreal Lego-like vertical expanse of housing lining the expressway. Also more complex is the Moses Washington Square plan to extend Fifth Avenue so traffic could go through the park. The opposition by Jacobs in 1958 does not tell the whole story. In the film, there’s a provocative photo from that year sporting a banner that reads “Last Car Through Washington Square” indicating that traffic already traversed the park. In fact, Moses had been trying to revamp traffic plans around the square since the 1930s, first with a circle around the square nicknamed the “Bathmat Plan,” then the “Rogers Plan” in 1947 which also rerouted traffic around the square and removed the fountain. There was opposition each time. As for other uses of documentary materials to bolster an argument rather than being accurate journalistically, this one is personal: I saw my apartment complex, East River Housing, clearly labeled, in a series of shots throughout the film, and used as an example of Moses’s public housing that destroyed neighborhoods; however East River was built as socialist housing by the International Ladies Garment Workers (ILGWU) and never part of the pubic housing system. No distinction was made, and it is a tower in the park design that actually works. What Jacobs did was right for her neighborhoods, her time, and many axioms are universally true, but they have been taken to be gospel, much the way that modernism was perverted by developers to make easy, cheap, boring buildings rather than a gem like the Seagram Building. The film is as much about the future of cities as it is about the past, but there are few suggestions about how to cope, except to go back to Jacob’s observations and let the old survive. It’s not about finding new solutions or even a new Jane Jacobs. It’s about codifying and simplifying her efforts.  See what you think for yourself—it’s worth a look. Citizen Jane: Battle for the City. Directed by Matt Tyrnauer Other architecture and arts films of interest at DOC NYC (November 10 - 17):
  • Ballad of Fred Hersch
  • California Typewriter
  • Chasing Trane
  • David Lynch: The Art of Life
  • Finding Kukan
  • Ken Dewey – This is a Test
  • The Incomparable Rose Hartman
  • L7: Pretend We’re Dead
  • Long Live Benjamin
  • Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures
  • Miss Sharon Jones
  • The Nine
  • The Pulitizer at 100
  • Raving Iran
  • Sacred
  • SCORE: A Film Music Documentary
  • Serenade for Haiti
Shorts:
  • I NY
  • L-O-V-E
  • The Artist is Present
  • The Creative Spark
  • The Sixth Beatle
  • To Be Heard
  • Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present
  • Winter at Westbeth
  • Wonderful Kingdom of Papa Alaev
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Rock the Vote

Van Alen Institute explores how to improve the voting experience
It's election day and The Architect's Newspaper hopes you make (or already made) your trip to your polling place! But as with almost every human activity, design plays a critical role at the ballot box (remember those hanging chads?). In preparation for 58th Presidential election, the Van Alen Institute hosted a competition (dubbed "Open Poll") where interdisciplinary teams explored how to improve the voting experience. Open Poll asked how design could incentivize voting, make it more accessible for all, utilize the streetscape, and bring new energy to the democratic process. The winning team took home $1,000 and the Van Alen Institute will work with them to further refine their proposal. We've included the winning proposal below, along with the two other finalists. For more on the competition, see the Van Alen website. Winning Proposal: Voting at Your Fingertips: A National Celebration of the Democratic Process Team: Racha Daher, Alexandra Gonzalez, and Elena Kapompasopoulou The current voting process is inefficient, strenuous, wasteful, non-inclusive, and prone to human error. This proposal aims to change the way the voting process works, so that it is easier and inclusive, and is accurate, secure and transparent. It aims to change the mindset of the voting experience so that it becomes a national celebration of the democratic process, strengthening social and community ties. To do this, several strategies are to be implemented: 1. Digitalize the voting platform to facilitate the democratic voting experience (multi-step identity verification: SSN number, fingerprints, photo). 2. Increase number of public institutions that serve as polling stations (churches, post offices, libraries, city halls, schools). 3. Change the voting day to Sunday to allow all-day family events. 4. Transform parks and public spaces into event areas, re-engaging in activities, while broadcasting voting results to promote transparency. 5. Utilize street infrastructure for political engagement. 6. Hold national festivities to celebrate the democratic process. Finalist Proposal: In Between the Lines Team: Larissa Begault and Julia Borowicz Most voting in NYC takes place in public schools, which provides an opportunity for civic engagement to occur within these educational institutions. Our proposal offers a curriculum of collective storytelling and cultural archiving. Given the current political rhetoric around national identity we need to reflect on diversity. This curriculum engages parents through excavating their histories while empowering children as the future generation of voters. Students collect their family history, highlighting diverse heritages across the U.S. Once workshopped, the stories become an interactive artifact distributed to voters in line. Showcasing their plurality allows neighbors to find common ground through unexpected conversations around identity and difference. Addressing these themes bridges challenges around belonging and citizenship. This proposal offers an occasion to reflect on what unites us. Finalist Proposal: Re-Thinking Urban Elections Team: Vahhab Aboonour and George Dimos Our proposal examines the importance of public spaces, like parks, plazas or college campuses, as democratic archetypes promoting social interaction and political education. We are re-thinking the poll site, incorporating elements from the ancient Greek agora and the Parisian café scene, as a place where political conversation can spontaneously occur. We propose that Election Day becomes a national holiday that both public and private organizations respect. Voters are therefore given more time to travel to their poll sites and share views with their communities. Furthermore, the private sector can actively participate in the electoral process, with college campuses serving as poll sites, and students working at the polls, getting paid through their workstudy awards. Voting then becomes an educational and celebratory public event.
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The Dark Side

All-black Richard Meier-designed tower starts construction in midtown Manhattan
When we saw the "Rare Albino Graves" proposal for Miami surface last year, one wonders if perhaps Richard Meier too had his eyes on bucking his own trademark color palette. The Pritzker Prize-winning architect did offer some explanation as to why his design for 685 First Avenue—his firm's tallest residential building in New York—dons a "Terminator-black" facade. “We asked ourselves, can formal ideas and the philosophy of lightness and transparency, the interplay of natural light and shadow with forms and spaces, be reinterpreted in the precise opposite—white being all colors and black the absence of color?” said Meier in a press release. “Our perspective continues to evolve, but our intuition and intention remain the same—to make architecture that evokes passion and emotion, lifts the spirit, and is executed perfectly." Developer Sheldon Solow has owned this site since the turn of the century, but plans have been a long time coming. Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM) initially worked on a masterplan for the five-acre site in 2008 which involved an office block, six residential towers, and public parks. Some of that land had since been sold off by Solow and now construction has finally started on the site (initial exterior renders were revealed in May earlier this year). Back then, the Wall Street Journal was far from complimentary in describing Meier's work as “a plain rectangular slab." "The new building, except for its color, is vintage Meier inside and out, a polished specimen of neo-Modernist simplicity.” Sources close to AN also poured scorn: “A cheap lighter.” “Nice gap tooth.” “Looks like they hired no one to design it.” “Should have stuck to white.” The 556-unit tower will rise to approximately 460 feet (42 stories). 408 of these units will be available to rent while the remaining 148 will be condos. This programming is expressed through 685 First Avenue's facade with a double-height divider—emulative of a rogue Tetris piece—that can be found on the 27th floor. Above that gap is the project's 148 condos, of which 69 will provide balconies and views of Midtown Manhattan. Renders of these luxurious interiors can be seen in the gallery above. Along with the living units, amenities include specific rooms for games, yoga, work (on laptops/tablets), dining, as well as a children's play area and a 70-foot swimming pool and fitness center. These will be located on the building's second floor, while at ground level, residents at the public will have access to retail services.
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Manhattan Transfer

Hudson River Park/Pier 40 deal reveals the tangled web of calculated collusion that shapes NYC
“Follow the money” is the immortal, if apocryphal, phrase uttered by Deep Throat, offering the key to unlocking the mysteries of Watergate. Understanding cities requires similar forensics. Urban morphology maps the flow of cash with concrete precision and the New York skyline is a literal bar graph of investment and return. The manufacture of real estate (what some quaintly refer to as “architecture”) is our leading industry and the art of the deal the epicenter of our creativity. Money not only talks, it designs and “planning” in most American cities is almost entirely devoted to refining the process of spatial arbitrage. There’s a project underway on the Manhattan waterfront that spins this tangled web with a remarkable combination of clarity and opacity, exposing the freakish calculated collusion of intentions and outcomes that shapes the city. The story begins in September 1985, when the death knell was sounded for Westway, a lunatic land manufacturing scheme to shove the Manhattan shoreline four hundred feet into the Hudson all the way from 40th Street to the Battery. Beneath this massive fill was to have been embedded an Interstate—the most expensive per mile ever constructed—replacing the terminally rusted West Side Highway. Planners were looking for the most extravagant scheme possible and were strongly supported by public officials (including Rockefeller, Koch, Cuomo the Elder, and Moynihan), the development community, and the construction unions. Visionary rhetoric and seductive greensward images notwithstanding, it was all about the money: The Feds would have picked up 90% of the $2.1 billion ($10 billion in today’s dollars) price-tag and the resulting 220 acres of new real estate—100 for a park and the rest a free-fire development zone—and would have been the most spectacular piece of physical fiscalization in the city’s history. But if the magnitude was singularly impressive, the impetus was widely shared. Cities all over the country had been committing urban suicide—ramming highways through their yielding tissues (often of color)—to get their hands on that government cash and New York—cresting in the Robert Moses era—had been an absolute champ. Westway was opposed by a coalition of environmentalists, mass transit advocates, community activists, and progressive pols but was finally killed by a Federal court ruling that its sponsors had failed to consider the landfill’s potentially adverse impact on the Hudson’s striped bass population. This narrowly-decided opinion nevertheless proved a turning point in the urban highway wars: In its aftermath, Bella Abzug–sponsored legislation allowed a trade-in of highway money for mass transit (to the great benefit of our subways, busses, and pedestrians) and other cities—from San Francisco to Seattle—began tearing down the waterfront highways, a continuing trend. Today, instead of Westway, we have a surface “boulevard” that—if billions cheaper, tree-lined, and lit by ornamental luminaires—is still too much of a surrender of this precious edge to traffic. Along the road’s waterside, though, runs the lovely, if incomplete, Hudson River Park which—while far from big enough to meet demand— offers great pleasures as it struggles towards durability and completion. Instrumentally, the park both reproduces and inverts the Westway principle. Westway proposed to use public funds simultaneously for public benefit (a highway and a park) and to create opportunities for the accumulation of private wealth, which would, in theory, yield further public return in the form of income from land sales and real estate taxes. The current park, on the other hand, although built substantially with public funds for public use, is not exactly a public work, inasmuch as it is obliged to finance its own future by directly attracting private capital. This parlous paradigm of the “public-private partnership” has, in our Republican age, become the default strategy for “public” development and has deeply embedded the culture of the trade-off (literal pay to play in the case of the park) in our civic life. The genius of progressive taxation for “general revenue” is that, in theory, it embodies that equitable proposition, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” If the U.S. system is wildly distorted on both collection and distribution sides, ability and need are nominally meant to be determined democratically. Unfortunately, when democracy lurches towards plutocracy, the distortions on both ends grow to the inevitable detriment of public needs. As the system becomes more and more regressive, the question of public benefit is increasingly situated in the elective territory of philanthropy—optional altruism—rather than collective responsibility. A tax code designed to favor private fortunes (with the corollary commonweal reliant on trickle-down) begs the question of their public disposition: ceding this to individual interest, itself answerable to charity, guilt, avarice, deductibilty, and political power in varying degrees, depending on whether the fortune belongs to the Koch Brothers, Bill Gates, Andrew Carnegie, sundry Rockefellers and Fords, or the Clinton Foundation. The demonization of shared—“redistributed”—wealth is a trope as abiding as it is rank: one reason that Bernie was ultimately unsuccessful is our generalized hostility to high-tax. Scandinavian-style “welfare states” (every citizen a welfare king or queen!) and the sapping canard of the individual initiative-killing effects of “hand-outs” from big nanny. Even in “liberal” New York, we’ve long since internalized Trumpism as policy: Everything’s a deal. “Return” on public investment must not simply be quantifiable (gross municipal happiness anyone?) but literally monetized. This calculus undergirds the arcane systems of swaps and bonuses that radically territorialize and delimit our practices of urban planning and improvement, with the result that we now insist that virtually every public enterprise (save, of course, warfare—although Trump’s neo-imperialist, spoils-to-the-victor, proposals might bring this too under the umbrella of self-finance) demonstrably pay for itself. Thus, instead of public construction of housing we have inclusionary zoning, instead of public education we have charter schools and rising college tuition, and instead of public healthcare we have the confusions and insufficiencies of a rapacious marketplace. And, littering New York, we have those oxymoronic POPS—“privately owned public spaces”—a sad archipelago of plazas and lobbies (Trump Tower’s among them!), purchased in a currency of lost light, air, revenue, equity, and pride. Any trade begs the question of who gets the better of it. Are the view-blocking luxury apartments now built in its midst too high a price for the excellent Brooklyn Bridge Park? The conundrum lies less in the answer than the question, with its predicate in a fragmented, discontinuous, idea of public space. Its further, and all too legible, implication is that the location and quality of such spaces depend on their realization in places where they can graft values from already successful environments. Precisely because the investment is both self-serving and easily recouped in a rising gyre of adjoining real estate prices, private money pours into Central Park, those condos rise in Brooklyn, the High-Line flourishes, and Barry Diller wants to build a Fantasy Island on piles in the Hudson—just beyond the window his office—in the “undeveloped” waters between the piers of the park. Like Brooklyn Bridge Park, Hudson River Park is administered by a trust, a legal arrangement in which someone’s property—in this case New York City’s and New York State’s—is managed by someone else. The Hudson River Park Trust was created by the State Legislature in 1998—during the Pataki administration—and is nominally controlled by a thirteen-member board of directors, five appointed by the Governor, five by the Mayor, and three by the Manhattan Borough President. The Trust’s board, however, is backed by another larger and perhaps more important one: the self-perpetuating “Friends of Hudson River Park,” charged with fund-raising for on-going construction and maintenance and largely comprised of investment bankers and real estate types (as well as—for cultural leavening—Martha Stewart and David Chang, of Momofuku fame). Both boards are dominated by Madelyn Wils, the Trust’s President and CEO since 2011, a shrewd and well-connected operative with long executive service on the city’s Economic Development Corporation, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and—as Chairman—Community Board One, in lower Manhattan. It has fallen to Wils to deal with fact that the park, legally obliged by the terms of the trust to self-finance, is stone-broke. Her duties thus include not simply supervising the operation of the park but, most crucially, fulfilling the Trust’s mandate to “ensure the park’s future financial self-sufficiency by developing the remaining commercial nodes.” These “nodes” include both the actively commercial piers under its control (the Chelsea Piers sports complex, the New York Waterway ferry terminal, the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, etc.) as well as the unrealized potential of other undeveloped piers (or deals for new ones like Diller’s island). Its largest such asset is the fifteen-acre Pier 40, former terminus of the Holland America line, which occupies a charismatic spot between Greenwich Village and Tribeca, west of burgeoning “Hudson Square,” an area recently rebranded and rezoned to incite development and supersede its industrial past by attracting “creative” and tech uses, luxury housing, and a froth of Portland-sur-Hudson amenities to go with. Pier 40 currently accounts for approximately 30% of the Trust’s revenue—mainly from parking nearly 2,000 cars (a truly idiotic use for one the city’s most wonderful sites)—but is crumbling and urgently needs extensive rehabilitation. It’s best known by locals for holding several large—and much beloved—playing fields in an area that is one of the most underserved with recreational space in the city. Cash must somehow be milked from this alpha cow. Thus, on her arrival, Wils and Board Chair Diana Taylor took control of the then moribund “friends,” loading it with wealthy donors. This move was not without turbulence, including the 2012 purge of uber-developer Douglas Durst (who did not go quietly), nominally over a fight about the Trust’s intention to build housing on Pier 40, which Durst thought might be more profitably exploited by something more commercial. Indeed, over the years, a variety of contentious schemes for the pier have been mooted, including construction of offices, housing, shopping malls, theme parks, a permanent home for Cirque du Soleil, more parking, the expansion of NYU, and other not-exactly-park-like uses. However, this being New York, the pier also offers possible monetization through the sale of its very lack of development: by cashing in on its air rights. The main impediment to this has been that New York’s air rights regulations restrict their transfer to another site within a single block or zoning lot, technically obliging the pier’s rights to be fully exploited on the pier itself. Re-enter the State Legislature. In 2013, the Hudson River Park Act was amended to permit the transfer of the park’s air rights (in toto around 1.5 million square feet) to “receiving sites” within a zone a block deep on the other side of West Street, the park’s landside boundary, running from 59th Street to Canal Street. This amendment was crucial both in establishing the park’s most potentially lucrative revenue stream and in enabling a particular deal already in the works between the Trust, the city, the state, and a consortium of developers (one of whom—Michael Novogratz—who subsequently and profitably sold his share—just happened to be the chair of the park’s “friends”): the transfer of 200,000 square feet of development rights to a site directly across West Street, now occupied by the ginormous, three-block-long, St. John’s Terminal Building, erstwhile end-point of the High Line (and, interestingly enough, with Bloomberg LC its major tenant). Throughout this multi-party negotiation, the key intermediary was the PR firm of James Capalino. Capalino is a long-time donor, fundraiser, bundler, and pal to Bill de Blasio who, in 2015, somehow made more money ($12.9 million) than any other lobbyist representing clients to the city. Capalino’s much in the news these days, implicated as the fixer in the lifting, by the city, of a deed restriction on the (now former) Rivington House AIDS Nursing Home on the Lower East Side, allowing it to be converted to upmarket condos. Capalino represented the building’s owner—VillageCare, a non-profit—which sold the building to the Allure Group, a for-profit nursing home company, which, with the restriction lifted, flipped the building to the Slate Property Group, realizing (per The Wall Street Journal), a profit of a cool $72 million. Capalino now works for the Chinese developer Dalian Wanda, itself a partner of China Vanke, part of the consortium that bought Rivington. At the end of August, de Blasio—although claiming to know nothing about the deed deal approved by his administration—cut his erstwhile fundraiser loose: “I have not been in touch with Mr. Capalino….I do not have contact with him anymore.” According to a timeline put together by the excellent Danielle Tcholakian of DNAinfo, Capalino e-mailed First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris in late January 2014 (just after the mayor’s inauguration) with a copy to Carl Weisbrod, who was himself appointed Commissioner of City Planning a week later! The e-mail: “Tony, for the past twelve months, my firm has been working with Madelyn Wils on a proposal to secure a $100 million contribution by our client, Atlas Capital, to the Hudson River Park Trust to fund the cost of rehabilitation/stabilizing Pier 40 for continued recreational use. We are in discussions to have the residential project over St. John’s Terminal become an ESD (Empire State Development) project through a State sponsored general project plan.” In fact, the Trust, the ESD, and the developer had already inked a secret Memorandum of Understanding in December of 2013 that fixed the scale of the project and the $100 million price for the enabling air rights. According to Crain’s, this had been signed-off on during the waning days of the Bloomberg administration by Robert Steel, the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development. Bloomberg (as well as Wils and Weisbrod) apparently also supported the use of the “general project plan” to be overseen by the ESD, a process which the developer was eagerly seeking (via copious lobbying by Capolino’s firm) as a means of circumventing the city’s more rigorous Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), an end-run the developer believed could save many years (and bucks) in obtaining approvals. Negotiations between the state, city, Trust, and developer—lubricated by the continuing ministrations of Capalino—were proceeding briskly in camera until May of 2015 when the secret MOU became public. Consternation from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (“Shocked is an understatement for how we all felt”), Assembly Member Deborah Glick (a leader in the fight against building housing on the pier itself but also an original sponsor of the Albany transfer legislation, believing it the only hope for saving the pier), the media, and the public, resulted in an about-face by the de Blasio administration—with the immediate agreement of the developer (who clearly knew who his friends were)—to renounce the MOU and the General Project Plan route and to go through ULURP. ULURP—now nearing its conclusion—runs a statutory 200 days from the submission of the developer’s plans and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). During ULURP, these are reviewed, successively, by the affected Community Board (CB2), the Borough President, the City Planning Commission (which is obliged to hold a public hearing and did so on August 26), by the City Council (which may hold a public hearing), and finally by the Mayor. The Community Board and the Borough President are authorized to make recommendations (including rejection) but these are entirely non-binding. The Planning Commission, the Council, and the Mayor have actual power but, in the case of this project, the Planning Commissioner, the ambitious local Council Member, Corey Johnson (who now has great power over the endgame), and the Mayor have long since come out in strong support of the deal and it’s unclear whether push-back from CB2, Borough President Brewer, a few members of the Planning Commission, and many in the community (including the energetic Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation which has been trying hard to use the deal to leverage its own struggle to preserve a large swathe of Greenwich Village just north of the site) will materially affect the final outcome. Indeed, their concerns had little impact on the Planning Commission which, on October 17, voted to approve the project without substantial modification. Since the proposed development departs radically from the site’s existing zoning, the Department of City Planning (a government agency that reports to the politically appointed City Planning Commission) prepared a revised zoning map to define a “Hudson River Park Special District” that could receive—and advantageously use—the transfer by greatly increasing allowable bulk, changing designated uses, permitting additional parking, and building in exceptions to the “contextual” strictures that govern the scale and character of construction nearby, including those revised to create the Hudson Square Special District a block away. The parameters of the new receiving site, to the administration’s credit, would also bring the project under the Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning regime, which obliges the developer to provide a meaningful percentage of affordable housing in the mix but which also further ups the site’s permissible bulk. The end-point of ULURP is approval, rejection, or modification of these zoning changes, which—if passed—will provide the legal space for the deal to be consummated. And the project? Its design is a particularly ripe variation on the “form follows finance” mentality at the core of the way New York City plans and is larded with bluff (a big box store, vast amounts of parking, extremely tall towers, and a truly grotesque “as of right” alternative scheme (a standard-issue developer threat that could be built without special approvals should this deal come a cropper). The plans have been skillfully reverse-engineered from the Trust’s primary imperative to realize the $100 million from the deal and are driven by its better-get-it-done-now recognition that public resistance to any further transfers into CB2 will be strenuously opposed, ditto possible transfers to other communities elsewhere along the waterfront. Indeed, recent push-back to the plan from CB2 and the Borough President has specifically demanded that transfers from the park to the adjacent neighborhood be strictly capped at 200,000 feet. Architecturally, the plan (albeit the work of good architects) is a bad one, both in its general outlines and in its particulars. Most strikingly wrong is the almost complete disconnection of the special district—on which would rise by far the largest project ever constructed in CB2—from its surroundings (including Pier 40 itself) and its total failure to anticipate and conduce to future changes, including the much-wished restoration of the street grid obliterated by the St. John’s Building and by the equally long, single-story, UPS facility running parallel in the blocks behind it. The vigorous development taking place on all sides (as well as future advances in logistics technology) will eventually create pressures on UPS (and nearby FEDEX) and provision should surely be made to restore the streets now erased, and to think about—to plan for—what will happen on these newly created blocks, including parks and schools. The plan placed on the table was clearly an opening gambit, stuffed with calculatedly negative capability in the form of too much stuff but also with a series of artful deficits that might open avenues for more positive demonstrations of cooperation. For example, the public space component is, by the developer’s own arithmetic, so sparse that the project will produce a net decrease in local public space per capita. The DEIS is also deeply suspect and blithely concludes that this humongous erection will have virtually no seriously adverse impacts on traffic, solar access, public services, and other critical infrastructure. Equally irresponsible is the developer’s long-standing resistance to including a school to serve the kids among the thousands of new residents. Finally, the plan is non-committal about its internal distribution of the mandatory affordable dwellings (as well as the actual degree of their affordability), although it appears they’re going to be primarily small units for seniors and concentrated in a single building, facing the UPS garage (the presentation package—full of street level perspectives rendered to obscure the mammoth bulk of the buildings looming out of frame—disingenuously depicts a rare apartment at the back of the building with a water view through a wee gap in the surrounding condos). All of these issues might be addressed in a revised proposal and both CB2 and Borough President Brewer have demanded a number of adjustments. But there’s a sad, deckchairs on the Titanic, quality to even the strongest of these, which, in the end, fall for the plan’s artful misdirection. The salient, undeniable, fact is that the project is vastly over-scaled. The tallest of its towers—at 420 feet—is three times the height of the surrounding built texture and certain to have a deeply deleterious and distorting impact on the neighborhood that it and its companions will overwhelm. The complex will also irrevocably alter the profile and rhythm of the Hudson riverfront as a whole, a contemptuous interruption in a continuous—and historic—low to mid-rise skyline that now stretches uninterrupted from Chelsea to Tribeca. An authentically “contextual” solution would simply extend the scale of the existing street wall, which tops out at around fifteen stories. Urbanistically speaking, this is clearly the right way to go. In the report issued by her office, Brewer tellingly—if somewhat wistfully—observes that, given the city’s reliance on private development for the direct financing of public facilities, “the developer has a private interest that is paramount to any public interest.” Yes, and? Alas, no public body or official seems willing to walk away from the specific public return on this expression of private interests: the $100 million for Pier 40 repairs, the “up to” 476 units of affordable housing, the now rejected curb on further bulk transfers into CB2’s backyard, and support for land-marking the nearby South Village, a decision that rests with another, nominally independent, agency. As the negotiations enter their end-game, a variety of predictable gambits are being played. Westbrook Partners, the majority stakeholder (Atlas still holds a minority share), has just let it be known that it’s “rethinking” the project because of a weakening in the residential market and might be forced to revert to a purely commercial, as-of-right, scheme. More, Crain’s reports that Westbrook is actively looking for an equity partner for the site, which both suggestively reinforces the threat to abandon residential use entirely and almost certainly reveals the real plan beneath the plan: to get approvals for the maximum project and then flip the whole thing and walk away with the cash. The public-private daisy chain keeps yielding moments of delirious, if nauseating, irony. The City Planning Commission (Chairman, Carl Weisbrod) held a hearing on September 19, during which a few minutes were devoted to listening to the responses of the City Planning Department (Director, Carl Weisbrod) to questions raised about the project at their August meeting. A visibly nervous planner from the Department was obliged to present her answers to a body presided over by her boss, the man who had been most instrumental in structuring the deal now under review! And, while we’re still in ironic mode, there’s another I find especially hard to overlook: The projected cost of Barry Diller’s little entertainment island has now reached $200 million. The design (by Thomas Heatherwick) is tasty enough but the money would surely be better spent (and the island’s entertainment program easily accommodated without displacing the ball fields) were it to be used on Pier 40—100 million for repairs, 100 for theaters and trees. And, Diller would have an irresistible counter to Doug Durst, who has been biliously bank-rolling lawsuits to thwart Barry’s plans, out of some truly pathetic billionaire pique. I make this suggestion seriously as one of a number of ways to manage and coordinate both direct investment in the park and the sale and use its air rights. Another would be to expand the Hudson River Park Special District to encompass Hudson Square (and the UPS site which will surely be transformed at some point) and to radically disaggregate the 200,000 square feet into much smaller increments that could be added as a series of bonuses to the on-going wave on construction in the area. Yet another would simply be to gerrymander a 1.5 million square foot skyscraper (or add just a few additional stories to several already proposed) into the thicket of towers under construction in Hudson Yards further uptown, an area already given over to large-scale building and one that has a huge underbuilt perimeter (including the Javits Center) into which even these enormous numbers could easily be made to disappear. Our representatives should steel themselves and fight for the big picture, for something much better than this too-many-eggs in one basket contrivance. The project is far, far, too big for the bearing capacity and character of its site and nibbling at the edges of the design—reducing parking, slightly shrinking a tower, 86-ing the big box that everyone knows is only there to disappear, redistributing bulk a bit, getting a few more affordable units, adding a wee plaza at grade—will make little real difference. If public money cannot be made available for maintaining the public park (or housing the poor), the question of the fungibility of air rights—if that is to be the Trust’s primary asset—must be regulated with much greater invention and subtlety: Having crossed the West Street Rubicon, there’s no reason this conjured property “right” cannot be more broadly and appropriately distributed. Indeed, the question of the creation and deployment of these rights lies at the very core of the way in which we define public space. It’s our air, after all! The complete failure of the DCP, the Trust, or any other public (or quasi-public) body to formulate a rigorous, sustainable, and beautiful plan for this part of town is simply dereliction. Not simply have they acquiesced in a completely barse-ackwards mode of defining and financing genuine and general public interests and slighted a truly collective—and expansive—vision of community needs, benefits, rights and desires, their “spot” planning mentality totally ignores a truly mammoth elephant the stalks the room: the inevitability of sea level rise that will almost certainly inundate this low-lying place, piers, special districts, underground parking, twee little shops, and all. While our public servants blithely order another cup of bouillon, an iceberg looms on the horizon. Time to change course! It’s not too late! While the City Planning Commission has voted to approve the plan almost entirely as originally presented, the Council (which tends to defer to the local member) and the Mayor can still intervene, although de Blasio in unlikely to oppose a creature he was so instrumental in stitching together. The Commission altered the scheme only in cosmetic or predictable ways: the Big Box is now gone as are the “public” bridges over Houston Street. The developer has also agreed to provide 10,000 square feet of subterranean recreational space that would be publicly “available” on unspecified terms. A little more open space is to be squeezed in at grade. However, no modification of the project footprint was demanded to reconnect the street grid, no guarantees were offered about a cap on transfers into CB2, no reduction was made in height, and nothing was said about the larger context of the project, including the form and use of Pier 40 or the character of the extended neighborhood. As part of the deal, however, the South Village Historic District has been placed on the Landmarks Commission’s agenda at its regular November 1 meeting for a vote to “calendar” it, launching a process of hearings, deliberations, and possible designation that can last as long as two years. It’s likely to be fewer as the professional staff at Landmarks is expected to offer a strongly favorable recommendation to the Commissioners. Although the precise manner by which the exquisite timing came about remains murky, the agreement to hear the case was surely the result of strong—and long—advocacy by the Greenwich Village Historic Society (GVSHP), CB2, Councilperson Johnson (who now holds a great many cards), and others, and Andrew Berman, the energetic Director of GVSHP (with Johnson’s apparent support) has threatened to fight to derail the project should the South Village landmarking fail to go forward. Courage to them both! And to those who are opposed to dumping any further FAR into CB2 and to all who advocate for more public space, affordable housing, and rational planning. Yet, whatever the outcome of the landmarking gambit, the fundamental contradiction at the heart of both project and process looms huge, both literally and conceptually. I’ve met virtually nobody with a non-financial stake in the new building who supports it as a piece of architecture or planning, simply as the formal resultant of a negotiation for something else. This is the heart of the deal, the inevitability that there will be winners and losers. The developer wants to build a gigantic project and has surely calculated its return with precision, using a knowable metric of profit. The city—in all its roots and branches—is obliged to a far more notional heuristic for determining the cost of our benefit. Would it be a good deal if it only produced the hundred million for the pier? The hundred million plus the affordable housing? Pile repair and housing plus the South Village Historic District? Should the developer be offered another 100,000 square feet to build a school? To decrease the building footprint by going higher still? That we have tipped so far to inducement rather than obligation as a planning strategy is a tragic, indeed Trumpian, marker of the decay of the commons. This collusive failure of imagination, responsibility, and democracy is staggering, if all too typical. Time to demand a vision that grows from our shared “right to the city”, planning that looks beyond a contracting, bottom-line, approach to the possible and sees our architecture not simply as an outcome but an aspiration. No deal!
Michael Sorkin is the President of Terreform, the Principal of the Michael Sorkin Studio, Distinguished Professor of Architecture and Director of the Graduate Program in Urban Design at CCNY. A planning and architectural study of this site has been prepared by Terreform and may be downloaded from its website. Comments are greatly welcome.
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Design and Construction Excellence 2.0

DDC picks 26 firms to design New York's new public buildings
Today the New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC) announced the latest round of local firms pre-qualified to design public projects in the five boroughs. Through the Design and Construction Excellence 2.0 Program, the 26 firms will have exclusive access to respond to Requests for Proposals (RFPs) through 2019 for projects with an estimated cost of $50 million or less. The program, founded in 2005, is designed to reduce the time it takes for the agency to procure design services: Once selected, firms can submit "mini-proposals" for public buildings, additions and renovations, parks, and plazas that are then evaluated and selected by committee for construction.  The program's recent projects include Snøhetta's Times Square pedestrian plaza, Dattner and WXY's Spring Street Salt Shed, Studio Gang's Brooklyn firehouse and training facility, and BIG's police station in the Bronx. Firms from the last round of the program (2013-2016) worked on 53 DDC projects and billed more than $26 million in design fees. “By promoting quality design, we can improve our city’s long-term resilience and sustainability, enhance access, mobility and public services, and contribute to the unique character and rich culture that make New York special,” said Public Design Commission executive director Justin Garrett Moore, in a statement. “For over a decade, the DDC's Design and Construction Excellence Program has been one of the City's best tools to deliver quality public projects. This new round of DCE 2.0 firms builds on that legacy and reflects the diversity, creativity, and expertise that we need to help build our City and improve the quality of life in neighborhoods throughout our five boroughs.” Nine of the firms selected for this round are owned by women or people of color. In fiscal year 2015, the DDC gave one-third of its contracts—valued at $242 million—to Minority- or Women-owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs), part of the mayor's goal to award 30 percent of all city contracts (in dollars) to MWBEs. This year's list, below, is divided into four categories based on company size, and includes 12 prior participating firms:   Micro firms (1 to 5 professional staff, eligible for projects projected to cost up to $5 million) Small firms (6 to 20 professional staff, eligible for projects projected to cost $2 to $15 million) Medium firms (21 to 50 professional staff, eligible for projects projected to cost $10 to $35 million) Large firms (Over 50 professional staff, eligible for projects projected to cost $25 to $50 million)
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Gilder Center

Studio Gang's AMNH expansion gets the green light from Landmarks Preservation Commission
Today the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) unanimously approved plans for a major expansion to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York. In almost 90 pages of presentation materials, representatives from Studio Gang, preservation consultants Higgins Quasebarth & Partners, and landscape architects Reed Hilderbrand demonstrated to the commission and the public how they would demolish three museum buildings constructed between 1874 and 1935 to make way for the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation. In a radical but elegant departure from AMNH's mélange of Victorian gothic, Beaux Arts, Richardson Romanesque, and contemporary buildings, the 195,000-square-foot Gilder Center, inside and out, takes formal cues from geological strata, glacier-gouged caves, curving canyons, and blocks of glacial ice. "Sleekness was never a goal—we wanted a richness of texture," explained Studio Gang design principal Wes Walker, in a pre-meeting model walkthrough with The Architect's Newspaper (AN). The pink Milford granite the designers intend to use for the facade is the same stone used for Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall, the museum's main entrance on Central Park West. The Gilder Center granite will be sliced into two- and three-inch-thick bricks and arranged in diagonal bands on the facade to create the attractive variation that's produced by ornament on the neighboring 19th-century buildings. Bill Higgins (of Higgins Quasebarth) and Jeanne Gang detailed how the unconventional form will fit in with—and enhance—those buildings: The original, aggressively rectilinear master plan calls for architectural focal points on each of the museum's main facades. The angular forms are complemented by a playful, curvilinear landscape—plans show undulating paths that flank the imposing buildings. The rectangle/curve relationship remains at the Teddy Roosevelt entrance, and the Gilder Center, directly across the complex, extends and amplifies historic precedent—"[it's] an insertion into the historic fabric," said Gang. For AMNH, the new building is both an addition and connective tissue that bridges disparate programs. Museum president Ellen Futter explained that her institution needs to expand to accommodate five million annual visitors: Though its classroom and exhibition space will augment the museum's offerings, the Gilder Center is also a switchboard, connecting ten buildings at 30 different points. Inside and out, transparency and accessibility define the design. Vertical glazing on the facade lets visitors see deep into the structure, like looking into a fjord. Where the museums of past centuries defined their monumentality with great granite steps, the Gilder Center's no-step entrance allows for seamless access for people with mobility impairments or strollers. The addition will also open up sightlines to Building One, AMNH's first structure, via a passageway and additional gallery space. Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer, councilperson Helen Rosenthal's office, AIA New York, the Van Alen Institute, and the Columbus Avenue BID spoke in support of the addition, but preservation and neighborhood parks groups were not as bullish on the project. The Historic Districts Council (HDC), while offering that the Gilder Center "defers sensitively" to existing buildings, questioned the facade detailing and expressed concern about the building's exposed interior. The structural concrete columns that define the main space, HDC claims, are not clad in the same quality material as the facade. The group suggested Studio Gang refine the design further. Residents and members of park preservation groups spoke out against the Gilder Center because it encroaches on Theodore Roosevelt Park, and its construction requires the removal of seven mature trees. In response, Reed Hildebrand divided the layout into slow and fast programs—slow, or passive recreational activity will be directed away from the Gilder Center entrance, a meandering paved walkway shaded by (new) trees and curving flower beds. 80 percent of the addition will occupy the museum's existing footprint, and less than two percent of the 10-acre park will be sacrificed to AMNH. Noting the designers' willingness to adjust their designs in response to community concerns, the commissioners offered additional suggestions. Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said that the cultural aspect of the museum was often absent from the conversation around the design, while other members suggested that the architects reconsider the stucco planned for a northern exterior wall. Commissioner Frederick Bland, an architect, noted that the essence of AMNH is its "excellent" architecture that has accrued on the site over time. He praised the design team's vision and level of detailing, adding that at this stage it can be dangerous to intrude on the details of another architects' design vocabulary. "Very seldom do you see a design this soaring and open," said commissioner Wellington Chen. "It's a stunning piece of architecture—the commission can be proud in approving the project," said Srinivasan. After hours of tension, a palpable wave of relief emanated from the assembled architects. After the LPC's vote, a smiling Jeanne Gang told AN that her team had to move the modeling and detailing much farther along than usual for this round of approvals. "We had to make the parametric model way ahead to figure out the coursing and interfaces with the masonry," she said. Next, the Gilder Center moves onto design development and through the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process towards an expected groundbreaking next year.
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The River Delivers

$40 million expansion of Bronx River Greenway breaks ground
The City of New York is closing a critical gap in the Bronx's longest greenway. The multiphase initiative to extend the Bronx River Greenway, an eight-mile network of parks and trails that runs through the borough and into Westchester County, will target missing links in the park's South Bronx section. At a groundbreaking for the next phases of the greenway last week, city officials detailed plans to restore the Bronx River shoreline, lengthen Starlight Park, and close a large gap in the greenway. The project's first phase will attempt to increase the Bronx's resilience to storms and flooding by naturalizing shorelines now fortified with artificial barriers and restoring wetlands. Phase two will knit existing but unconnected park parcels together, and connect Starlight and Concrete Plant Park with walking paths and bridges: One bridge will cross Amtrak lines at East 172nd Street, and the other will sit over the Bronx River, a southern extension of Starlight Park to Westchester Avenue. “The Bronx River Greenway provides the unique opportunity to walk, jog, run or ride a bike along the only freshwater river in New York City,” said NYC Parks commissioner Mitchell J. Silver in a statement. “Through the collaboration of our partners at the Bronx River Alliance, our elected officials, and community stakeholders, we’ve made a tremendous investment in restoring theBronx River and creating new opportunities for residents in the surrounding neighborhoods. This project will only serve to push forward the goals of our continued efforts.” The project is the result of partnerships between myriad local, state and federal agencies, including the Urban Waters Federal Partnership. Locally, the NYC Department of Design and Construction (DDC) is managing the project for the Parks Department, while New York–based NV5 (formerly the RBA Group) is the design consultant. The project has considerable financial backing. Mayor Bill de Blasio has put $12 million towards phase one, with an additional $4.4 million from the Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program, a federally funded program administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. In addition to several under-a-million contributions from local representatives, phase two will be funded by a $10 million TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation and congressman José E. Serrano's $4 million allocation.
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Armchair Planning Association

A new online planning platform lets residents shape a neighborhood from the comfort of their smartphones
In a creative digital shift, the City of New York has residents of one Brooklyn neighborhood tagging up a storm on a new urban planning platform designed to affect neighborhood change IRL. With the help of coUrbanize, a Boston-based city planning and community engagement startup, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) is testing its new toolkit of neighborhood planning ideas in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Building on community input gathered in The Brownsville Hundred Days to Progress Initiative and the department's guidelines for neighborhood planning, HPD is using coUrbanize's platform to aid the Brownsville Neighborhood Planning Process, a community planning initiative that seeks to increase the neighborhood's supply of affordable housing; add retail along Livonia Avenue, a main commercial artery; and enhance public safety with vacant lot revitalization, among other measures. Instead of convening residents in a church or a rec center basement, coUrbanize brings neighborhood planning meetings online, distilling the often-complex studies and terms that planners throw around with impunity (ULURP? CEQR?) into an easy-to-understand format and tag-able map that solicits residents' ideas. Founded in 2013 by graduates of MIT's School of Architecture and Planning, the site is geared towards people who want to participate in their community's planning but may not have time or schedule flexibility to attend a meeting. In Brownsville, a neighborhood where many have limited access to the internet and 37 percent of households live below the poverty line, HPD uses coUrbanize's platform to encourage residents text in feedback on areas the city has identified as sites for improvement. "We're committed to reaching voices not often heard, traditionally," said Karin Brandt, coUrbanize founder and CEO. The text messaging service also has a general line where people can voice ideas that aren't on the city's radar. In a welcome display of constructive feedback and civility—two attributes generally not reserved for online comments sections—Brownsville residents are using coUrbanize's platform to map places of interest in their neighborhood that they love, those that are just okay, and ideas for what could be better or built anew. Amid endorsements of spaces like the Osborn Street park and mural and the (Rockwell Group–designed) Imagination Playground at Betsy Head Park, many commenters called for more extracurricular activities for neighborhood youth, sit-down restaurants, and better amenities in parks. The Brownsville planning project is in the second stage of its four-stage timeline right now, with a final plan expected by February 2017. Right now, the coUrbanize toolkit is used mainly by municipalities in Massachusetts, but cities farther afield (Atlanta, San Antonio) are signing up. The City of Boston is using the platform to widen its community engagement for Imagine Boston 2030, the city's multi-pronged planning effort that comes with a stellar city nerd reading list. Check out the platform here.
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Community Parks Initiative

Nine more NYC parks slated to be fully rebuilt
It's not just New York City's Anchor Parks that are receiving renewed attention: Earlier this week, the city announced that nine additional parks would be fully renovated as part of the ongoing Community Parks Initiative (CPI). The CPI is $285 million project that was launched in 2014 and aims to improve "historically under-funded parks in densely populated and growing neighborhoods with higher-than-average concentrations of poverty," according to a press release. 60 parks will be rebuilt and 100 more sites will receive "targeted improvements and enhanced programming," such as "new pavements for basketball courts, new plantings, and aesthetic improvements." The CPI—which also features an annual $2.5 million budget for ongoing park maintenance—is also part of the Mayor de Blasio's oneNYC plan, which broadly aims to encourage economic growth, ecological sustainability, and resiliency, all while reducing inequality. “For health, for relaxation, and for happiness, great neighborhoods need the great neighborhood spaces the Community Parks Initiative creates,” said Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, in a press release. “This is why CPI is not only an investment in parks—it’s an investment in the well-being of millions of New Yorkers for generations to come.” The nine parks to be renovated are: Bronx · Garrison Playground · Playground 174 · Playground 134 · Plimpton Playground Brooklyn · La Guardia Playground · Weeksville Playground Manhattan · Abraham Lincoln Playground · Audubon Playground Queens · Almeda Playground According to the press release, 35 of the inaugural CPI parks have already broken ground on construction. 12 other parks are in the design phase and more sites will be added to the initiative next year.
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Art in the Park

NYC Parks to join $200K public art partnership with UNIQLO
Today, The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (NYC Parks) and Japanese clothing company UNIQLO announced that UNIQLO has committed $200,000 in a grant to be issued over the next two years. The “Art in the Parks: UNIQLO Park Expressions” grant will install original artworks by New York City­­–based artists in 10 parks (two parks per each of the New York City's five boroughs). The grant is part of NYC Parks’ broader initiative to bring frequent public art exhibits to parks that have not had cultural programming in the past. The participating parks are Joyce Kilmer Park and Virginia Park in the Bronx; Fort Greene Park and Herbert Von King Park in Brooklyn; Thomas Jefferson Park and Seward Park in Manhattan; Flushing Meadows Corona Park and Rufus King Park in Queens; and Tappen Park and Faber Park in Staten island. Over the next two years, 20 emerging artists who “submit the most compelling public art proposals” will each receive $10,000 to complete their projects for their assigned park. The first round of artists will be announced in January 2017 and the first artworks will be ready for public display in spring 2017. The announcement was held at 11:30am this morning at Fort Greene Park Plaza with NYC Parks commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, UNIQLO USA CEO Hiroshi Taki, UNIQLO global director of corporate social responsibility Jean Shein, city councilmember Laurie Cumbo, and artist Alexandre Arrechea, as well as local artists and community members. This project is one of several in which UNIQLO has engaged to better local communities. In addition to its clothing recycling program, an ongoing initiative that collects gently used clothing at its stores and delivers them to those in need, the company has donated millions to people in need, such as refugees, disaster victims, and disadvantaged youth.
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Hip to be Square

LOT-EK and Socrates Sculpture Park reveal renderings of “The Cubes”
In conjunction with New York’s Socrates Sculpture Park’s 30th anniversary, NYC Parks released the renderings for “The Cubes,” a two-story, 2,640-square-foot building that will house the park’s arts education, gallery, and administrative offices—the first permanent home for its facilities. "Once an industrial landfill, Socrates Sculpture Park is now one of the city's most exciting, interactive, and accessible spaces for public art," said NYC Parks commissioner Mitchell Silver in a press release. "With the installation of The Cubes, Socrates will be able to host year-round programming, reaching even more New Yorkers. We're grateful for our partnership with Socrates Sculpture Park and look forward to growing and expanding this cultural gem on the waterfront." The design, by local architecture firm LOT-EK incorporates LOT-EK’s original commission by the Whitney Museum of American Art, which hired the firm to create temporary offices for the museum when it was in the process of vacating the Met Breuer. The initial scheme used six shipping containers in a 720-square-foot-structure, so LOT-EK added 12 additional containers for 18 total to compose “The Cubes.” This architectural process reinforces the park’s mission to promote reclamation and revitalization as part of being a good environmental steward. Additionally, the firm added diagonal glass bands along the sides and roof of the structure, creating chevron patterned windows that offer floor-to-ceiling views of the park and provide transparency to visitors. The roof will feature solar panels. Within the footprint, 960 square feet will be used for an indoor multipurpose and education space, 480 square feet will be transformed into a deck area for outdoor programming, and 1,200 square feet will be offices and administration space. "We are thrilled to create a new home that will expand our programmatic possibilities and secure our future as an arts organization in New York City," said John Hatfield, Socrates Sculpture Park executive director, in a press release. "LOT-EK's design is an innovative contemporary work of architecture that conceptually and aesthetically reflects the Park's history, connects to the Park today, and provides a platform for its future." Currently, the park attracts more than 150,000 people each year with its contemporary art exhibitions and programming that includes an international film festival, dance, opera, jazz, and theater.
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Bad Omen?

NYC to rezone Jerome Avenue, signaling big changes for the Bronx
After scoring a win for his affordable housing policy with rezoning of East New York, Mayor de Blasio is setting his sights on the Bronx's Jerome Avenue. The Department of City Planning (DCP) released preliminary documents that outline plans to rezone a 73-block area of the southwest Bronx. The Special Jerome Avenue District is centered on its namesake street, the area's bustling commercial spine that teems with mom-and-pop auto body shops beneath the steel canopy of the 4 train. The rezoning would allow for large mixed-use residential buildings on the avenue, which is now zoned C8-3, M1-2, C4- 4, R7-1, R8 C-83, commercial designations that includes hotels, office space, and industrial uses like warehouses and auto shops. The entire area would be rezoned R7, R8, R9 (high-density residential); C4-4D (a medium-density commercial district with an R8A equivalent that can have 7.2 FAR in areas zoned for Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH); and topped off with C2-4 commercial overlays. The rezoning would indeed apply MIH, part of the mayor's plan to guarantee affordable housing as a condition of market-rate residential development, to almost all of the new district. Near the district's southern boundary, around McClellan Avenue, towers could rise up to 145 feet, YIMBY reports. At Tremont and Burnside avenues, around the northern end of the district, new buildings could be up to 120 feet tall; near West 170th street and all along Jerome, buildings could be 80 to 100 feet in height. The height increases are tied to setbacks that should allow light and air onto Jerome, which can grow forebodingly dark at night because of the elevated train. (Perhaps the city will crib from the Design Trust for Public Space's Under the Elevated, a project to revitalize 700 miles of public space that lies beneath elevated infrastructure.) The rezoning also includes promises to enhance parks and public spaces in the neighborhoods. In all, the DCP estimates that the rezoning will allow 72,273 square feet of community space, 35,575 square feet of commercial or retail space, and 3,250 new apartments. When the rezoning was proposed back in March 2015, residents worried it would be the doomsday toll for the auto shops, which offer skilled, good-paying jobs to a largely Latino workforce. The community's concerns are justified: The DCP estimates that 47,795 square feet of industrial space and 98,002 square feet of shop space will be eliminated. As a result, over 100 jobs will be lost. New residents would be more affluent than current ones, as measured by their expected average incomes. The city promises to do another study to analyze the impending displacement of auto shops, although there's no word on whether there will be an analogous study on the possibility of residential displacement. There's plenty of time to deliberate, protest, and offer feedback on the Special Jerome Avenue District plan, though. It must pass through the lengthy public approvals process, which includes meetings with community boards, the borough president's office, the City Planning Commission, and finally the City Council. The first public meeting, where DCP officials will be on hand to answer questions from the public, is scheduled for September 29 at the (Stanford White–designed) Gould Memorial Library Auditorium at Bronx Community College.