Search results for "New York City Department of Transportation"

Placeholder Alt Text

Milwaukee's New Gateway
A proposal by James Corner Field Operations.
Courtesy James Corner Field Operations

As high-profile developments in downtown Milwaukee creep closer to the city's iconic, Santiago Calatrava–designed art museum, a $30 million design competition aims to unify the two with a new civic space. The so-called Lakefront Gateway Plaza project attracted 24 proposals, with four teams emerging as the finalists earlier this year: GRAEF, AECOM, Office of James Burnett, and James Corner Field Operations each lead a group of designers and consultants vying for the job.

In conceptual renderings recently made public, the design teams presenting visions of serpentine pedestrian bridges, illuminated sculptures, and globular dollops of lush public lawn. Public officials will pick a winner later this year. They are currently soliciting public feedback through community meetings and a website.

Courtesy City of Milwaukee
 

The project is a collaboration between the city of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, and the state of Wisconsin, but it is seeking private funds for construction (each of the four finalists received a $20,000 stipend from the city to complete their designs). Project briefs asked designers to stay within a budget of $25 million to $35 million, but at publication city officials could not say who would pick up the tab.

“I have not heard any limitations on where we will seek funds,” said Jeff Fleming, spokesman for the Milwaukee Department of City Development. “So, foundations, government grants, individual philanthropy, and even fundraisers are all possible.”

 

Courtesy Graef
 

GRAEF, Milwaukee-based engineering, planning and design firm, has in their corner PFS Studio, Dan Euser Water Architects, Rinka Chung Architecture, and Newaukee. Their proposal frames the 1.5 acre space as an "urban confluence," and tucks a curvilinear pavilion beneath the descent of a wending footbridge lined with tall grass. Towards Lincoln Memorial Drive it presents a sheltered glass facade, while towards Lake Michigan it cradles a water feature and ice rink. A snake-like sculpture lifts off the ground, and is shown glowing purple in one firework-splashed rendering.

 

Courtesy James Corner Field Operations
 

James Corner Field Operations, most famous for their work on New York City's High Line, leads a team that includes LaDallman Architects, Robert Silman and Associates, Kapur & Associates, Mailu Knode, Dan Euser Water Architecture, HLB Lighting, and Applied Ecological Services. Their plan emphasizes green features such as stormwater retention, and presents a series of spaces in a "procession to the lake." Two oval mounds of green space cleave off the lakefront terminus of the bridge, which gradually meanders toward ground-level after reaching the site.

 

Courtesy Office of James Burnett
 

Houston-based Office of James Burnett is a landscape architecture firm responsible for Chicago's Riverfront Plaza, and has on their side Johnsen Schmaling Architects, Buro Happold Engineering, Focus Lighting, Shore Art Advisory, K. Singh & Associates, and Fountain Source. They cite Frederick Law Olmsted's nearby Lake Park as historic inspiration, as well as modernist Dan Kiley’s Kiley Gardens. Melding the two influences, they hope to create “a playful, continuously evolving dialogue between natural systems and the built environment,” according to the proposal. Renderings show a year-round caravan of food trucks and clusters of drumlin “play mounds.”

 

Courtesy AECOM
 

Global design giant AECOM's team is URS, Tillotson Design Associates, Cynthia Reeves, and Delta Fountains. Dubbed “The Hanging Gardens of Milwaukee,” their concept winds its pedestrian bridge over the site, spiraling around landscaped areas and a terraced amphitheater.

The plaza project is part of a larger infrastructure program that includes improvements to lakefront streets and highways, as well as bike infrastructure and private development. Its planning follows a controversial widening of Lincoln Memorial Drive by Wisconsin's Department of Transportation last year.

Placeholder Alt Text

Growing Tall and Going Big: San Francisco studied density bonuses to generate affordable housing
This Fall, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors will consider a proposal made by the city's Planning Department concerning the possibility of "relaxing" height and density limits for many of San Francisco's western neighborhoods. If enacted, the program expects to transform some of San Francisco's uninhabited residences and unused space into affordable housing units for newcomers. The city is exploring a density bonus program, which allows developers to gain building height among other incentives. The proposal, according to the San Francisco Business Times, would allow developers to build two-stories taller than normally allowed. Most parts of San Francisco restrict heights to four or six stories. Other provisions would allow parking minimum waivers and reduced setback and side yard requirements. That's all in exchange for building affordable housing. San Francisco hopes the plan could spur 7,000 new units of housing, 3,000 of those affordable. The proposal has been met with strong opposition from some neighborhood groups, the Business Times reported. Some San Francisco residents – in particular the Sunset and Richmond districts – are reluctant to expose themselves to neighborhood change. Western neighborhoods claim rezoning would render the community vulnerable to conflict, citing dense construction, parking concerns, and impacts on the transportation system. “Building density just for the sake of density isn’t the answer," Planning Department Chief John Rahaim said in a statement earlier this year. "We need to be concerned about quality of life and living space.” He acknowledged, however, that the city is in need of new affordable housing.
Placeholder Alt Text

Signs of life: Artist Steve Powers tacks thought-provoking 'ICY Signs' around New York City
Manhattan-based artist Steve Powers is offering a non-caffeinated pick-me-up for weary NYC commuters with his pop art–style street signs mounted on light poles around the city. Bearing food-for-thought slogans with themes of life and love against a pictograph or logotype, such as "I get lost to get found" stamped on a briefcase, the signs are designed to inspire smiles and/or introspection.   Titled ICY Signs, the temporary public art signage project takes after traditional handpainted signs. Powers uses the common sign as a tool to overstate the importance of signs to guide us through a confusing world. "It’s drag yourself to work day," reads one. Another depicts a lighthouse stamped with the word "You" beaming light onto the word "Me." The artist envisioned the signage as an emotional wayfinding system which encourages pedestrians to not only navigate the city streets but explore their own inner alleys and avenues. The 30 signs are being exhibited at four of the intersections earmarked as Summer Streets – part of an annual celebration of car-free NYC streets in which seven miles of streets are reappropriated by pedestrians and cyclists for three consecutive Saturdays in August. Powers’ artwork will go up at four Summer Streets rest stops: Midtown at 25th Street and Park Avenue; Astor Place at Astor Place and Lafayette Street; SoHo at Spring Street and Lafayette Street, with the majority to be displayed at Foley Square at Duane Street and Center Street.
Placeholder Alt Text

Just don't call it Frisco: Could Trump top a San Francisco tower?
New York has one, Chicago has one, and now the Chronicle’s John King alerts us that San Francisco might see a Trump-brand tower in its future. No one is taking bets on the conservative presidential candidate’s name emblazoned on a highrise located in one the most progressive cities on the planet, but King is stirring the pot to call attention to a land auction hosted by Transbay Joint Powers Authority on September 2. On the docket: a parcel of land on the 500 block of Howard Street, where zoning allows for an 800-foot tower. Five development teams will bid against each other. According to King, “[I]dentities are being kept secret until the live auction to, in the words of bureaucrats, 'preserve the integrity of the competition.'” Will Trump be one? The Chron’s critic is wagering a guess, suggesting that with minimum bid at $160 million, the live auction could set off a bidding war that would help pay for the Transbay Transit Center. Designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli, the center expected to serve eleven different transportation systems and feature a rooftop park. The tower on the offer would join others in San Francisco's Transbay district by Studio Gang, OMA, SOM, and Foster and Partners. Gang’s undulating 40-story tower recently came under fire for its soaring height, which community activists protested would cast a shadow over the public Rincon Park on the Embarcadero waterfront. King’s argument, however, is not that Trump will soon be mixing it up in the town of Milk and Moscone (or the new SF: Twitter and Uber) but that design is pushed off the table for the sake of raising cash. In 2007, the city held a design competition for the transit center and neighboring tower. This auction comes with no design strings attached. “Standards are slipping,” he wrote and continued: “If the check clears, good enough. Let the city’s Planning Department sort through messy questions about how the tower looks or whether the developer will try to push for extra space.”
Placeholder Alt Text

Shifting Gears
Courtesy NYCDOT

On a New York City map, the seven-mile roadway that cuts through Queens is designated as Queens Boulevard. But to many New Yorkers, the notoriously dangerous street is known by another name: the Boulevard of Death. According to the city, 185 people (most of them pedestrians) have been killed on the boulevard since 1990; over that time, scores more have been seriously injured. For Mayor de Blasio—who wants to eliminate traffic deaths through a street safety campaign called Vision Zero—overhauling the Boulevard of Death was an obvious place to focus his attention.

In March, the Department of Transportation presented a $100 million plan to transform an especially hazardous 1.3-mile section of the street where 42 people were killed or seriously injured between 2009 and 2013. The plan would fundamentally change the geometry of the street by widening sidewalks, shortening crosswalks, reorganizing slip lanes, and creating pedestrian plazas and protected bike lanes.

“Work has begun to turn Queens Boulevard into a Boulevard of Life—literally remaking this street, rewriting its future, making it safe for all,” said the mayor at a press conference along the street as construction kicked off in July.

 

Transit advocates and numerous elected officials from Queens and around New York heralded the redesign of Queens Boulevard—especially its inclusion of protected bike lanes—as a “safe streets” homerun. But to these same stakeholders, the laudable transformation of Queens Boulevard is an exception in the DOT’s track record of creating safe streets for cyclists. In the Vision Zero era—after Michael Bloomberg waged, and largely won, the battle to make New York more bike-friendly—the so-called “bicycle lobby” and its allies are questioning the DOT’s commitment to protecting people pedaling around town.

As work was just beginning on Queens Boulevard, the DOT presented a $60 million plan to remake part of another notoriously dangerous roadway in New York: Atlantic Avenue. The redesign included traffic calming measures to protect pedestrians, but like many recent road diets proposed and implemented by the department, it lacked any bicycle infrastructure. To the added chagrin of cyclists, as these plans have been rolled out, existing bike lanes across the city have been worn into oblivion while others have failed to reappear following street resurfacings.

 

In July, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James wrote a public letter to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg inquiring about these issues. After lauding the department’s commitment to Vision Zero, she asked why certain road diets were missing bicycle infrastructure and urged the department to make bike lanes the “default option when a street is up for a redesign.”

Paul Steely-White, executive director of the non-profit Transportation Alternatives, said the DOT must be bolder about implementing bicycle infrastructure if it is serious about eliminating traffic fatalities by 2024. With the rate of bicycling increasing, neighborhoods clamoring for bike lanes, Citi Bike now doubling in size, and the mandate of Vision Zero, he believes the department has all the political capital it needs to do so. “It’s no longer a political issue, it’s simply a DOT performance issue,” he said. “There is a residual shyness from a lot of DOT professionals who are perhaps gun shy from the bike lanes battles of the Bloomberg years,” he said. “But politically, socially, we’ve evolved beyond that and it’s time for the agency to catch up.”

 

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo said the criticisms levied at the department are not reflective of the reality on the ground. “People should be impatient, they should want things to come quickly, but there has been a process,” he said.

Russo explained that while certain road diets may exclude bike lanes, they can be the first step in convincing skeptical communities that precarious streets can become complete streets. “We have to get people from A to C,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean every single street has to have a bike lane initially or when you do a project.” In the Vision Zero era, he continued, redesigning a dangerous intersection might initially get priority over a bike lane. The idea is that once a street is made safer for all users (cyclists included), the DOT can go back to a community board with a more substantial focus on cyclist safety.

 

To Ben Fried, the editor-in-chief of StreetsBlog, a popular pro-transit publication, this strategy amounts to unnecessary “self-censorship” on the part of the DOT. Since road diets often meet community resistance whether they include bike lanes or not, the DOT “might as well propose the bike lane anyway,” he said. To many advocates, the best way to create support for bike lanes is to implement bike lanes.

As for the condition of the existing bike network, Russo, who bikes to work from Brooklyn, understands cyclists’ frustration about faded markings and vanished paint. He said the winter was especially harsh on existing lanes, but that “under Vision Zero we have money we never had dedicated to upgrading our markings, and we’ve been growing that operation.”

Overall, the DOT is bullish on its bike lane record—especially outside of Manhattan. The department highlighted bike networks it has proposed or implemented in Long Island City, Ridgewood, Queens, Brownsville and East New York, and around the Harlem River. Each of these plans includes a mix of bike infrastructure from shared lanes to protected lanes to bike pathways. In August, Commissioner Trottenberg also announced that the DOT would be presenting plans for a bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue, a project cyclists and local officials have been requesting for years.

The DOT plans to install 50 miles of bike lanes per year, at least five of which will be protected.

Placeholder Alt Text

Reimaging Spaces Under the Elevated
Dutch Kills Green park adjacent to elevated tracks in Long Island City.
Courtesy Linda Pollak / Design Trust

Building on its success in developing research that led to the High Line and the first purpose-built NYC Taxi, the Design Trust for Public Space partnered with the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) on a two-year research project exploring in-depth the 700 plus miles of elevated infrastructure across New York City, and the spaces below. The results of this study have been published in a new book entitled Under the Elevated: Reclaiming Space, Connecting Communities.

The book was developed by Design Trust fellows Neil Donnelly, Susannah Drake, Krisanne Johnson, Chat Travieso, and Douglas Woodward. Together, the team analyzed spaces under bridges, highways, subway tracks, and rail lines as a comprehensive network of underutilized urban space. They envisioned new strategies for developing these sites, as well as a criteria for choosing the most potentially useful ones.

Existing uses of the space along Division Street under the Manhattan Bridge (left), and Division Street Pop-Up installation (right).
Neil Donnelly / Courtesy Design Trust for Public Space
 

Douglas Woodward, vice president of Design + Development at Edison Properties told AN that the project started in 2001 when the Design Trust recommended that the 33 urban spaces under the High Line should be considered equally important as those above it. Edison Properties wanted to figure out what to do with the plots they owned, so they approached the Design Trust, who put out a call for fellows. "Rather than having an urban designer or architect, we felt we should have a landscape architect," explained Woodward.

Drake approaches urban design with an ecological focus, having previously received EPA grants for pilot projects to improve stormwater management on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. However, this is only one part of the larger equation of Under the Elevated. "We always want to improve underused places, ecologically, culturally and socially," said Drake. "These are places where transit cuts through human scale things."

Elevated transit infrastructure in New York City (left), Broadway and Flushing Avenue under the elevated JMZ subway line in Brooklyn (right).
Courtesy Design Trust; Krisanne Johnson for the Design Trust
 

NYCDOT, a collaborator on the project, has been searching for and realizing innovative urban design strategies in recent years, illustrated by such work as the Plaza Program and the Green Infrastructure Unit. Its mission for Under The Elevated is to empower communities to improve those leftover, underused spaces, and reconnect them to the urban fabric.

What is next for the program? "We are talking to the DOT now, trying to find some sites to kick the program off," said Drake. "We are all committed to it, but until we have something on the street it won’t seem that real to me. We have the pop-ups, but we need something permanent." Without having to abide by the same stringent regulations as most long-term urban design projects, pop-ups have proved to be a good tool for experimentation. The pilot projects, while more permanent, are still recognized as tests which can push the envelope.

View of the landing of the Queensboro Bridge (left). Under the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, the pilot charging stations could become permanent productive landscapes (right).
Susannah C. Drake / Courtesy Design Trust
 

The program addresses a range of issues from policy and ownership to simple problems, including measures to reduce noise and increase light. Neil Gagliardi, director of urban design at NYCDOT, says that the information from the study is very useful, and the agency is committed to moving forward with the ideas proposed. (NYCDOT owns, or at least operates nearly all of the spaces.)

"This is the first comprehensive approach. It is good to look at [underused spaces under the elevated] as a system and how they can benefit the city,” explained Gagliardi. “We are testing some solutions over the next few months mainly around lighting, because it is the main complaint we get." NYCDOT has engaged Sam Schwartz Engineering to look at the spaces on Livonia Avenue in Brownsville, and has also sought the expertise of other designers whom the agency has worked with in the past. The goal is to establish a toolkit of tried-and-tested strategies to enhance spaces under the elevated.

View of a fenced-off space beneath the tracks at Broadway Junction (top). Redesign recommendations for Broadway Junction in Brooklyn (above).
DCP; Susannah C. Drake /  Courtesy Design Trust
 

NYCDOT has identified pilot sites to inform its larger framework called the EL Space Program. It will address sites in Sunset Park's Industry City at 36th Street and "Rampland" in Long Island City along Dutch Kills Street—with the hope to get funding for a more comprehensive program. The pilot program is funded through public and private sources and will depend partially on how the Department of City Planning (DCP) rezones these areas. NYCDOT is working with City Planning to incorporate elevated spaces into housing and zoning initiatives. For example, The Jerome Avenue area in the Bronx has been the focus of recent rezoning efforts, and the city has expressed interest in improving lighting in places under the elevated infrastructure as part of its economic development strategy.

Project Underway along the Rockaway Freeway.
Zoë Piccolo / Courtesy Rockaway Waterfront Alliance; Design Trust
 

The question is whether these improvements will come to fruition.

"I think it’s more real than the High Line," said Gagliardi. "We need comprehensiveness to help plan strategies and plan criteria. What places are best used for industrial operations? Which are best for the pedestrian?"

The ultimate success of this program will likely be the strategies born from this study. These forgotten, underused tracts, however, are not just found in New York City. They are ubiquitous in most cities in post-industrial America. The study has far-reaching potential, and could serve as a lesson in how to exploit and make good use of underutilized spaces.

Under the Elevated: Reclaiming Space, Connecting Communities is available for $30.00 from the Design Trust.

Placeholder Alt Text

Here's the massive water slide planned for New York City's Summer Streets, when pedestrians take over Park Avenue
In a blatant attempt to please fun-loving New Yorkers, the city's Department of Transportation has announced that a massive Slip 'N Slide will be part of this year's Summer Streets program. The annual free event turns over Park Avenue, from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park, to pedestrians, cyclists, and now childhood attractions. Slide the City will be stationed at Foley Square in Lower Manhattan as part of a faux-beach orchestrated by Vita Coconut Water. The slide will stretch all of 270 feet, which makes it a pretty long slide, but is it long enough for New York? Probably not considering when Slide the City arrived in Salt Lake City last year it was a full 1,000 feet—four times longer than what New York's getting next month. A 270-foot slide is better than a zero-foot slide, sure, but come on Mr. Mayor, what gives? But Summer Streets isn't only about moderately-sized giant water slides. This year, the DOT also teamed up with Culture NOW to create self-guided public art and architecture tours. And if for some reason water slides and architecture tours aren't your thing, you can busy yourself with soccer events, a zip line, parkour training, arts and crafts workshops, and postcard decorating. Three weekend of Summer Streets are planned on August 1, 8, and 15. Check out the video below if you want to see countless Utahns sliding down their 1,000-foot-long slide, waving their selfie sticks with reckless abandon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvvoVD_5PHE
Placeholder Alt Text

This urban intervention in Chicago would let citizens control colorful lights under the "El" with their smartphones
Chicago is best known for Wrigley Field and the Sears Tower (yes, the Sears Tower), but one of its most prominent urban features is the elevated train tracks that form the “Loop,” or the downtown area bound by this snaking steel goliath. However poetic the idea of the “El” might be, it brute steel structure could, like most raised infrastructures, use some improvements. To draw attention to improving the El, the Chicago Loop Alliance has even outlined a plan called Transforming Wabash, which focuses on one heavily trafficked throughway underneath train tracks. The Wabash Lights is a site-specific installation that would convert a stretch of the tracks into a programmable light show with over 5,000 LED tubes. Urban instigators Jack C. Newell and Seth Unger need your help to Kickstart a pilot of the project, and, at the time of publication, they have less than a week to raise $13,000 to complete their crowdfunding campaign. The underside of the elevated train tracks above Wabash Avenue will be their test site for the lights, which the pair says embrace and celebrate the existing, rather than destroying the character of what is there. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jackcnewell/the-wabash-lights-the-beta-test From the Kickstarter campaign:

For most people visiting or living in Chicago, Wabash Avenue in the Loop is a dark, noisy, sometimes scary place to either avoid or walk quickly through. Positioned between the history of State Street and the futuristic playground of Millennium Park, Wabash Avenue is an underutilized resource in the city for art, culture, and business.

The design calls for 520 light tubes that are programmable every 1.2 inches, and Chicago residents can control the lights using a smartphone or computer. The project was initially entangled in a bit of a bureaucratic red tape, but it now has gained all of the approvals needed to move forward with a pilot outside of the Palmer House Hilton on Wabash Avenue. The duo has been working closely with the Chicago Transit Authority, the Chicago Department of Transportation, and the city government. To contribute to the project and see Chicago’s streets come to life, head on over to their Kickstarter page.
Placeholder Alt Text

NYC DOT's "Great Streets" vision for Atlantic Avenue lacks any bicycle infrastructure
As part of Mayor de Blasio’s mission to eliminate traffic deaths in New York City, his administration has committed $250 million toward its “Great Streets” initiative to redesign four of the city’s most dangerous arterial roadways: 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and Queens, Queens Boulevard, and  Grand Concourse in the Bronx. On 4th Avenue in Brooklyn—which is known as “the canyon of mediocrity” for its lackluster architecture—the Department of Transportation is making permanent a temporary road diet it put in place in recent years. Street adjustments like wider medians and banning left turns at certain intersections have paid huge dividends: On a 15-block stretch of the remade roadway, pedestrian injuries decreased 61 percent. The DOT did not include bike lanes in its road diet, instead opting for 13-foot-wide parking lanes. Construction has also just begun on the DOT's "Great Streets" remake of Queens Boulevard, a harrowing roadway dubbed the “Boulevard of Death." This transformation has been widely lauded in transportation circles for its inclusion of pedestrian pathways and protected bike lanes. But now the DOT has unveiled its $60 million plan to remake two miles of Atlantic Avenue, and like many recent street-calming measures undertaken by the department (Queens Boulevard excluded) it does little—if anything—to protect the city’s cyclists. On the dangerous section of Atlantic, most of which is in East New York—a neighborhood de Blasio wants to rezone to create affordable housing—the DOT plans to replace existing medians with longer and raised medians that have space for plantings and benches. The design would also implement left turn bays, high-visibility crosswalks, ban left turns at some intersections, and create mid-block crossings. The DOT says these strategies will calm traffic and reduce speeding. “The design proposed by DOT will make Atlantic look nicer and probably yield a marginal improvement in safety,” wrote StreetsBlog, “but it does not fundamentally alter the geometry of the street.” As part of its Vision Zero rollout, the DOT had previously re-timed traffic lights on Atlantic Avenue, and stepped-up traffic enforcement. It was also one of the first streets to have its speed limit dropped from 30 miles per hour to 25. The absence of any bike infrastructure in this “Great Streets” project is especially notable given the fatal bicycle crash that recently occurred just off Atlantic Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn. After the cyclist was killed, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams held a press conference at the intersection calling on the city to fast-track a redesign of the dangerous intersection. Adams also brought reporters on a bike ride along Flatbush Avenue to underscore the harrowing conditions cyclists have to contend with on many city streets. Last year, pedestrian fatalities in New York City fell to their lowest level in over a century, but cyclists' deaths rose from 12 in 2013 to 20. The DOT says it will finalize this plan with the Department of Design an Construction by August 2016 and start construction the following spring. It remains to be seen what the department has planned for the Grand Concourse.  
Placeholder Alt Text

A Big Interesting Mess
Columbia University professor Richard Plunz discusses New York City affordable housing as part of an Inventory of What's Possible..
Courtesy IPA

On April 9 and 10, the Institute for Public Architecture and Pratt Institute School of Architecture held “An Inventory of What’s Possible,” a symposium organized to discern what can be done to implement Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ambitious plan to build 200,000 affordable housing units in the next ten years. The event consisted of visits to a variety of different public and supportive housing projects from various eras throughout the city, in addition to talks by professors, students, city officials, community activists, and the president of a residents’ association. They discussed new ideas, historic projects, problems, possible solutions, and opportunities that the current affordable housing crisis presents.

On April 9, participants toured housing ranging in time from Strivers Row by James Brown Lord, Bruce Price, and Stanford White (1893) to Via Verde by Dattner Architects and Grimshaw (2012) and in space from Roland Wank’s Grand Street housing in Lower Manhattan to Clarence Stein and Henry Wright’s Sunnyside Gardens in Queens and Twin Parks in the north Bronx. Richard Meier; Prentice, Chan & Olhausen; and Giovanni Pasanella all have buildings at Twin Parks. The tour drove home the point that New York City’s legacy is remarkable for its range, quality, and continuing success. It also showed that there are lessons to be learned—both positive and negative—from what has been built in the past.

After welcomes by Pratt Dean Thomas Hanrahan, and professor and AN editor-in-chief William Menking, panel discussions furthered historical perspectives, provided views of neighborhood activists, and presented new ideas about ways to attack the affordable housing crisis.

Jonathan Kirschenfeld, the founder of the Institute for Public Architecture, who had designed some of the housing visited the day before, noted, “We have 50 years of research on the public realm at Pratt in the institute founded by Ron Shiffman (Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development, or PICCED) and now directed by Adam Freeman. Housing—and the way we think about the public realm and the interior realm—defines our humanity as a city. New York is the quintessential innovator in thinking about housing in a dense place, willing to take chances and create new types of housing.”

Karen Kubey, who directs the Institute for Public Architecture, mentioned "Total Reset" an Institute Fellows residency program on public and below-market housing that took place last summer, noting that Michael Kimmelman had covered it enthusiastically in “Trading Parking Lots for Affordable Housing,” in The New York Times on September 14.

Later in the day, when Institute Fellows presented the findings from their work, Miriam Peterson, Nathan Rich, and Sagi Golan described the “9 x 18” plan that Kimmelman had praised. They proposed a new parking policy, especially in areas near pubic transportation, an attempt to create streets that promote an active lifestyle.

“There is much more parking on NYCHA sites than on other urban blocks. The idea is to replace parking lots with parking structures that house community facilities,” said Golan.

“A lot of the residents were willing to trade parking space for other amenities.” Another Institute Fellow, Kaja Kuhl, a Columbia GSAPP professor who goes to five neighborhoods every year with the 5 Borough Studio, talked about the importance of starting a conversation with each community. She uses “Postcards from Home” to learn how the residents view “home” and found that they see it as “neighborhood and community,” “privacy,” and even “food.” She said, “We heard that housing should be affordable,” and she showed some of the student projects that were inspired by these conversations. At the Forest Houses in the Bronx, students looked at the schools that surround the NYCHA development as a place to share school facilities like a library, a gymnasium, and computer labs with each other and with NYCHA residents by putting them on the housing authority campus.

Frederick Biehle, a Pratt professor and principal of VIA Architecture, had also considered restoring streets and reshaping the urban fabric in his studio that focused on the Ingersoll and Whitman Houses in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. He suggested “delineating public, semipublic, and private spaces” to counter the “sameness and banality” of the existing buildings. The studio proposed a new two-story base connecting two existing towers with semi-private space for residents and an interior courtyard with new institutional programs—a skating rink, a school, stores. “Each individual building gets to determine its own block. The metastasized scheme doubles the number of units, but the buildings’ lower floors become more porous. Townhouses face the street.” He described a number of possibilities and noted, “It’s amazing that so many successful, doable projects were proposed.”

In a morning session on “Stabilizing Neighborhoods,” the moderator was Daniel Hernandez, the Deputy Commissioner for Neighborhood Strategies at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and a Pratt professor. He noted the importance of early engagement in identifying issues and then implementing them, since “it’s a moment when there is a lot of cultural change going on in the agencies.”

NYIT Professor Nicholas Bloom described the promise of subsidized coops and said, “The word ownership comes up often in the mayor’s document.” He talked about the success of earlier subsidized coops, such as Village View in Manhattan and the Luna Park Co-op in Coney Island, which encouraged residents to take care of their neighborhoods. He proposed that NYCHA create a subsidiary to build some of these on their land on a nonprofit model, similar to what is done in Singapore. They might be built with FEMA funds in some areas, would “put more eyes on the street,” and might be step-up housing for some NYCHA families. “There has to be a less strident conversation about underused land in NYCHA communities,” he said.

Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani, a principal of Buscada who teaches at the New School for Public Engagement, discussed the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA). She described it as “a big mess but one that is interesting.” In 1967, families were driven out but told that they could return when new housing was built. However, not enough was built for many families to return. She emphasized the importance of perpetuity in communities.

Benjamin Dulchin, who is a community organizer, not an architect, represents the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Developmentan, an umbrella organization for 101 community development groups. He is trying to help neighborhoods set agendas and develop policies by studying what has worked and what conditions made success possible. He said that while it is important to build permanently affordable housing, it is also necessary to focus on crime, economic development, and institutions to sustain a community.

Paula Segal, the executive director of 596 Acres, an organization that advocates for community gardens spoke, unsurprisingly, in favor of their preservation and of ownership of land by communities. She is particularly opposed to giving gardens to for-profit developers.

In a discussion period after their talks, Ron Shiffman said, “Displacement and speculation on land has become palpable in every neighborhood of New York. A lot of good planning came from neighborhood-based organizations. Let’s start integrating some of the wealthiest communities.”
Pratt faculty member Meredith TenHoor chaired a panel on Enabling Quality Design. She noted that in the 1970s, when cities were seen as failing, it was often the design of housing that was blamed.

Suzanne Schindler, who teaches at Columbia, discussed another historic example—Twin Parks in the Bronx (1967–75), which participants had visited the day before. She described the interesting variety of buildings, built by a group of 15 churches and synagogues with help from the state and federal governments and designed by well-known architects. The 2,300 apartments ranging from studios to five bedrooms “were created to stabilize the neighborhood but gang warfare happened right there.” She asked, “What can we learn?” and answered, “It all depends, not just on design but on how a project is managed,” showing a single loaded corridor completely blocked, plazas fenced in, she added, “You need to think about design along with management, security, and other factors.”

Pratt professor David Burney commissioned innovative community centers from celebrated, mostly young architects when he was in charge of architecture at NYCHA in the 1990s and then headed the city’s Department of Design and Construction during the Bloomberg Administration. “When I got to NYCHA, I found that there was still some money left for buildings but it was hard to spend. You couldn’t build unless you could provide free land and use the low income tax credit. The Reagan Administration insisted on private developers, and the early attempts had been disastrous,” he said. They found a community garden on West 84th Street and hired Castro-Blanco Piscioneri Architects to build 35 permanently affordable units. With Becker + Becker, they built two- and three-bedroom apartments in a contextual walkup building on 8th Street; at 189 Stanton Street they built supportive housing for families with AIDS designed by James McCullar. “There are ways of doing things that are different. All these projects are completely integrated into their neighborhoods,” he pointed out.

TenHoor then asked the speakers, “How do we get quality? Who defines those standards?” Menking said, “At Sunnyside, the architects were deeply committed to quality and social scientists were part of it.” He also noted the role that philanthropy had played in the past, citing Phipps Houses, The Robin Hood Foundation, and Common Ground. Burney suggested, “Reverse the notion that design costs money, that design is only for the wealthy.” He also said, “As every architect knows, when you get to the end of the project, it’s the landscaping that gets cut.” He noted the importance of “health and the built environment. We are not number one in many things, but we are number one in obesity.” TenHoor mentioned the role of the private sector, noting that Mayor Lindsay advocated it and that it attracted architects of the caliber who designed Twin Parks. Schindler mentioned “long term issues and short term issues. If someone is going to maintain it, they may build it differently.”

Toward the end of the day, the president of the residents association at the five-story walkup First Houses (1936), Brendaliz Santiago, presented the tenants’ point of view. “NYCHA doesn’t communicate with tenants,” she said, “but we want community residents involved in planning.” Since New Years Eve 2014, though, she has been working closely with NYCHA. “With unity there is power.”

Karina Totah, Senior Advisor to the Chair of the New York City Housing Authority, explained, “The mayor gave the chair two directions: Reset your relationship with key stakeholders and create a plan for how you are going to make NYCHA survive.”She said, “Safe, clean, and connected is the goal,” and that engaging residents like Santiago to get resident input is a priority as well as dealing with short term financial problems, rehabilitating, and harnessing the real estate NYCHA already owns, and operating 138,000 units. “We are the largest landlord in New York City,” she added.

The two-day event brought together architects, professors, students, community organizers, residents, and managers of housing projects. The conversation necessary to jumpstart Mayor de Blasio’s ambitious housing plan has begun.

 

 

Placeholder Alt Text

Santiago Calatrava brings his signature style to Park Avenue with seven sculptures
Santiago Calatrava, currently the darling of George Clooney, has set up seven blade-like sculptures along Park Avenue in New York City. The installation is a collaboration between the Marlborough Gallery, the New York City Parks Department, and the Fund for Park Avenue. The aluminum sculptures each have an expressive form that is classic Calatrava, but are not the all-white creations that we have come to expect from the architect. No, these pieces are painted red, black, and silver. The installation runs until mid-November meaning that it should close right around the time that Calatrava's long-delayed World Trade Center Transportation Hub finally opens. Take a look at the gallery below for a closer look at the sculptures, and if you're in New York and want to see for yourself, the pieces are on Park Avenue's median between 52nd and 55th streets.
Placeholder Alt Text

Ride Chicago's new elevated park and bike path, The 606, with this time-lapse video
Chicago's long-awaited bikeway and elevated park, The 606, opened last weekend (on 6/6, no less) to a rush of pedestrians and cyclists who were eager to test out the new 2.7-mile trail after years of planning, design and construction. The public park remains extremely popular in the sunny week following its debut. https://vimeo.com/130217662 Formerly called the Bloomingdale Trail, the former railroad has been likened to New York City's High Line, but it is quite different—the 606 is as much a highway for bikes as anything else, due in part to its having been largely funded through the U.S. Department of Transportation's Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) improvement program. For those who haven't had a chance to visit the trail, Steven Vance of Streetsblog snapped this time-lapse video of a recent bike ride that covers the length of the trail, which runs through the West Side neighborhoods of Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Wicker Park, and West Town. (Vance is also a contributor to AN.) https://instagram.com/p/3tlNEuERTh/ Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates led the design of the trail, which slopes slightly at various points throughout its length to slow bike traffic and suggest spaces for community events. Several access points connect the elevated trail to parks and city streets below. Meanwhile with The 606 up and running, affordable housing advocates are worried the popular park could help swell the tide of gentrification sweeping out longtime neighborhood residents. https://instagram.com/p/3t4zaOCP0J/