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Decks (over) and Yards

After Hudson Yards, Sunnyside could be New York's next megadevelopment

Lawrence Halprin and William “Holly” Whyte both published books in the 1960s that highlighted the ad hoc and often bottom-up design decisions that make cities successful for their users and inhabitants. Facing the massive Nieman Marcus–emblazoned steel and glass street wall that greets visitors entering Hudson Yards from 10th Avenue, the lessons of Halprin and Whyte seem a quaint reminder of how city building has changed in the past 50 years. Hudson Yards, or as its developers like to call it, “New York’s next great neighborhood,” is not so much an accretive, incremental part of the city, but a pop-up assemblage of high-rise corporate boxes surrounding a shopping mall. There is little here that would interest Halprin or Whyte about how to design a city.

As America’s white middle class was abandoning the city for the suburbs, the authors wanted to rediscover and celebrate the joys of high-density living. Gentrification has gone from an obscure English academic theory to a popular derisive term to describe how our cities are being organized, planned, and developed. In New York City in 2019, even affordable housing has been handed over to large corporate entities, much as it was in the 19th century, when tenements proliferated and developers were allowed to do as they wished with their property holdings.

The urban critics writing about Hudson Yards yearn for a seamless Whyte-inspired urban fabric that gives as much as it takes from the city. Sadly, the Yards are described, variously, as “an urban failure,” a “$25 billion enclave,” “too clean, too flat, too art-directed,” and “a vast neoliberal Zion.” But how could it have been otherwise? It was conceived, planned, and designed by a corporation with little interest in anything but short-term profit, and it proceeded with little input from community boards, elected officials, or planners. The community boards had all been bludgeoned for years by proposals for sports stadiums on the site, and they gave the go-ahead to the first proposal that promised housing and a school, even if that meant luxury towers. Without serious input from community boards and city planners, this new quarter of the city was destined for failure. Developers only begrudgingly accepted the High Line—one of the most successful top-down planning projects of the past 25 years—into its 14 acres of “public” space when pushed hard by the department of city planning. The High Line, to its credit, makes provision for the sort of urban happenstance that we like about cities, and we can be thankful it wends its way through Hudson Yards and does not stop at its perimeter. The short High Line spur, with its still unfinished plinth for a rotating case of public sculptures, visible overhead to cars driving up 10th Avenue, is the sort of unexpected condition that makes the city richer. Unfortunately, the gigantic footprints of the Hudson Yards buildings and their corporate lobby design aesthetic makes it impossible for any bottom-up ad hoc events to take place.

A major problem for the Yards is that it sits on a 28-acre concrete pad and underground infrastructure complex that precludes any urban use that doesn’t generate billions of dollars in income. It’s the same problem faced in varying degrees by the World Trade Center site and Park Avenue, but these seem like triumphs of urban design compared to Hudson Yards.

Sadly, this blueprint for city building on concrete pads (and its economic and financing formula) may be the model for the next big development site in the city, Sunnyside Yard, as New York’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has already begun planning its future. It was identified as a potential development site in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2030 plan, and the 180-acre site in western Queens is not far from Manhattan and the growing centers of Long Island City, Astoria, and Queens Plaza. It potentially has 19 million square feet of retail, commercial, residential, and mixed-use spaces, and has been identified by the EDC as a place that could potentially house up to 24,000 homes, 19 schools, and 52 acres of public parks.

In February 2017, the city unveiled a feasibility study of the Sunnyside Yard area, which showed that decking was in fact possible, and that there were various scenarios in which a development of the site could move forward. But again, expensive decking will almost certainly preclude anything but corporate high-rise offices and luxury residential towers with commercial and open space, exactly like that at Hudson Yards.

Sunnyside Yard sits next to one of the most important residential developments in the United States, Sunnyside Gardens, designed by Henry Wright and Clarence Stein of the Regional Planning Association of America (RPAA). If only the planners for Sunnyside Yard could look next door and have the expertise and nerve to propose something as revolutionary as the RPAA did in the 1920s. But let’s not hold our breath—we are more likely to get another version of Hudson Yards on this public land.

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Going Down, Coming Up

Forty-five story jail tower could be coming to Lower Manhattan
The de Blasio administration’s 10-year plan to close Rikers Island and replace it with four borough-based jails is ahead of schedule, but community groups are voicing their opposition to some of the proposed replacements. Residents of Tribeca and Chinatown are up in arms over the decision to build a 45-story jail tower at 125 White Street, currently the Manhattan Detention Complex more infamously known as “the Tombs.” While the city had originally planned to shift a portion of the island’s projected 5,000 inmates (the administration expects to reach that number from the current 9,000 through bail and sentencing reform) to a 40-story tower at 80 Centre Street in Lower Manhattan, that fell through in November of 2018. Now, the plan is to demolish the two towers at 124 White Street (13 stories) and 125 White Street (9 stories) and replace them with a 45-story, 1.27-million-square-foot tower with 1,440 beds. The entire Rikers replacement plan is currently moving through the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), and thanks to a $7.7 billion bonus to the Department of Corrections (DOC) in the 2020 capital plan, is expected to wrap up in 2026, a year ahead of schedule. But as part of the ULURP, each of the four borough-based jails are currently facing public feedback as part of the environmental and land use review. Tempers have flared at Community Board 1's meetings over the 125 White Street tower. At an April 8 meeting before the board’s Land Use, Zoning and Economic Development Committee, residents clashed with social justice activists. Because the proposed tower would be 37 percent larger than what the area’s zoning allows, the jail requires a permit from the City Planning Commission before it can proceed, of which public feedback is taken into consideration. Overall, a number of Tribeca, Chinatown, and SoHo residents raised concerns over the cost (the new jails will require $11 billion to complete); the shadows cast by the tower, which would stretch from West Broadway to Mott Street in the winter and from Church Street to Chrystie Street in the summer, according to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS); the impact of the Tombs demolition on the surrounding neighborhood; and the potential repurposing of the proposed tower into luxury housing if the city manages to decrease the number of incarcerated peoples enough. While that last concern may seem a tad outlandish, the original proposal for the tower at 80 Centre Street did involve a mix of affordable housing units. Architect Alice Blank, who sits on Community Board 1, also raised concerns about the potential history that would be lost if the Tombs came down. Blank pointed out a resolution recently passed by Community Board 3 against the demolition, which states: “The Art Deco/Art Moderne-styled South Tower of the current Manhattan Detention Center is NYC Landmark eligible, and the Manhattan Criminal Courts Building and Prison at 100 Centre Street have previously been determined to be New York State National Registry-eligible. These eligibilities suggest that the proposed demolition and redevelopment would be an inappropriate and significant loss of historic and architectural resources. The 100 Centre Street building, which retains some Egyptian Revival architectural details from the original ‘Tombs’ building, as well as 80 Centre Street and 125 Worth Street constitute a coherent architectural group in Civic Center. The demolition of ‘the Tombs’ would undermine the value of a visible piece of the criminal justice history and the historical development of NYC.” Of course, criminal justice and prison reform advocates have pushed back. In 2017, Rikers was appraised as being so dangerous by the State Commission of Correction that the agency halted transfers of inmates into the jail from outside of the city. At the time, the oversight commission found that Rikers failed to meet minimum safety standards. The Tombs has its own well-documented legacy of violence, and the building’s squalid conditions aren’t helped by the tiny slit windows punched into its monolithic facade. At the April 8 meeting, it was clear that pro-jail tower activists saw the issue as a racial one, while opponents of building a jail tower in Manhattan have argued that renovating Rikers Island would only cost $1 billion and would mitigate all of their concerns. “I’m disgusted to hear that y’all don’t even want to have a new jail when 90 percent of the people who are incarcerated in the Department of Corrections are black and brown Latin people. Not any of you that are opposing this tonight!” a woman shouted at the CB1 meeting, according to The Tribeca Trib. “Having jails on Rikers Island doesn’t solve half of our problem,” said a spokesperson from the Mayor’s Office, who offered to comment after AN queried the DOC. “Renovating Rikers wouldn’t do it. The facilities are too archaic and old, and they don’t have the appropriate space or programming. To say that Rikers can be rehabilitated is untrue.” Centralizing the jail population on an island mainly accessible via the Rikers Island Bridge adds an extra level of undue hardship to the jail’s staff, visitors, and inmates who have to meet court dates in their home boroughs—each jail tower has been proposed for a site close to the borough’s courts. It also damages inmates’ connections to their local support networks, added the spokesperson. Building new facilities will allow the city to not only increase the cell size for each inmate and better the light and air conditions, but to add vocational, health, educational, and re-entry programs to each location. When asked whether the city could convert the Manhattan jail tower into market-rate housing down the line, however, the spokesperson was unable to rule it out. They said that it was too early to draw any conclusions about where the prison population would be ten years down the line, especially before the bulk of Mayor de Blasio’s bail reform proposals took effect. Time will tell whether the city alters its Manhattan tower proposal before appealing to the City Planning Commission. The Manhattan Community Board 1 Land Use Committee will be voting on a recommendation for the Borough Based Jails/Manhattan Detention Complex ULURP application on May 13. A full board vote will come later in May, followed by a public hearing held by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. After that, the scheme will be voted on by the City Planning Commission, and finally, the City Council. It should be noted that all of the preliminary massings released thus far have been just that, and no concrete design details have been made public yet. Update: An earlier version of this article stated that Rikers Island was reachable by ferry, which is incorrect. While plans to connect the island to the NYC ferry system have been proposed, it is not a stop at the time of writing.
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Techtown USA

The origins and perils of development in the urban tech landscape

In most major cities of the world, an urban tech landscape has emerged. One day, we were working on our laptops at Starbucks, and the next, we were renting desks at WeWork. We embedded our small architectural and design firms in low-rent spaces in old factories and warehouses, and then we emerged as “TAMI” (technology, advertising, media, and information) tenants, heating up the commercial real estate market. Friends who could write computer code started businesses in their apartments before moving into tech incubators and accelerators, which then morphed into a “startup ecosystem.” Though a competitive city in the 1990s might only have had one cutely named cluster of startups—New York’s Silicon Alley, San Francisco’s Media Gulch—by the 2010s, many cities were building “innovation districts.” How did this happen? And what does it mean for these cities’ futures?

The simplest explanation is that cities are catching up to the digital economy. If computers and the web are one of the primary means of production for the 21st century, all cities need the infrastructure—broadband, connectivity, flexible office space—to support them. Companies that control the means of production also need raw material—the data that newly “smart” cities can provide—to develop concepts, test prototypes, and market their wares. Local governments and business leaders have always reshaped cities around the businesses that profit from new technology; In the 19th century, they built railroad stations, dug subway tunnels, and laid sewage pipes; in the 20th century, they wired for electricity and erected office towers. Maybe we should ask why it has taken cities so long to rebuild for digital technology.

Inertia is one answer, and money is another. Entrenched elites don’t readily change course, especially if a new economy would challenge their influence on local politics and labor markets. Think about the long dominance of the auto industry in Detroit and the financial industry in New York, both late converts to digital technologies like self-driving cars and electronic banking, respectively.

Another reason for cities’ slow awakening to the tech economy is the post–World War II prominence of suburban office parks and research centers, part of the mass suburbanization of American society. On the East Coast, tech talent began to migrate from cities in the early 1940s, when Bell Labs, the 20th-century engineering powerhouse, moved from Lower Manhattan to a large tract of land in suburban New Jersey. A few years later, on the West Coast, Stanford University and the technology company Varian Associates spearheaded the construction of an electronics research park on a university-owned site of orange groves that later became known as Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley got the lion’s share of postwar federal government grants and contracts from the military for microwave electronics innovation, missile research, and satellite communications. Venture capital (VC) soon followed. Although VC firms began in New York and Boston, by the 1960s and ’70s they were setting up shop in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Valley’s hegemony was solidified in the 1980s by the rise of the personal computer industry and the VCs who got rich by investing in it. The suburban tech landscape so artfully represented in popular mythology by Silicon Valley’s DIY garages and in physical reality by its expansive corporate campuses was both pragmatically persuasive and culturally pervasive. Its success rested on a triple helix of government, business, and university partnerships, defining an era from Fairchild, Intel, and Hewlett-Packard (the first wave of major digital technology companies) to Apple, Google, and Facebook.

In contrast to the suburban postwar growth of Silicon Valley, the urban tech landscape was propelled by the rise of software in the early 2000s and gained ground after the economic crisis of 2008. Software was easier and cheaper to develop than computers and silicon chips—it wasn’t tied to equipment or talent in big research universities. It was made for consumers. Most important, with the development of the iPhone and the subsequent explosion of social media platforms after 2007, software increasingly took the form of apps for mobile devices. This meant that software startups could be scaled, a crucial point for venture capital. For cities, however, the critical point was that anyone, anywhere, could be both an innovator and an entrepreneur.

The 2008 economic crisis plunged cities into a cascade of problems. Subprime mortgages cratered, leaving severely leveraged households and financial institutions adrift. Banks failed if they didn’t get United States government lifelines. Financial jobs at all levels disappeared; local tax revenues plummeted. While mayors understood that they had to end their dependence on the financial sector—a realization most keenly felt in New York—they also faced long-term shrinkage in manufacturing sectors and office vacancies.

London had already tried to counter deindustrialization with the Docklands solution: Waterfront land was redeveloped for new media and finance, and unused piers and warehouses were converted for cultural activities. In Spain, this strategy was taken further in the 1990s by the construction of the Guggenheim Bilbao museum and the clearing of old industrial plants from that city’s waterfront. By the early 2000s, Barcelona’s city government was building both a new cultural district and an “innovation district” for digital media, efforts that bore a striking resemblance to the 1990s market-led development of the new media district in Manhattan’s Silicon Alley and the growth of tech and creative offices in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood.

Until the economic crisis hit, both spontaneous and planned types of urban redevelopment were connected to the popular “creative city” model promoted by Charles Landry in London and Richard Florida in Pittsburgh (later, Toronto). In 2009, however, economic development officials wanted a model that could create more jobs. They seized on the trope of “Innovation and Entrepreneurship” that had been circulating around business schools since the 1980s, channeling the spirit of the economic historian Joseph Schumpeter and popularized in a best-selling book by that title by the management guru Peter Drucker. Adopted by researchers at the Brookings Institution, urban innovation districts would use public-private partnerships to create strategic concentrations of workspaces for digital industries. It seemed like a brilliant masterstroke to simultaneously address three crucial issues that kept mayors awake at night: investments, jobs, and unused, low-value buildings, and land.

In the absence of federal government funding, real estate developers would have to be creative. They built new projects with money from the city and state governments, the federal EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program for foreign investors, and urban impact funding that flowed through investment banks like Goldman Sachs. Federal tax credits for renovating historic buildings and investing in high-poverty areas were important.

Though all major cities moved toward an “innovation economy” after 2009, New York’s 180-degree turn from finance to tech was the most dramatic. The bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000 and 2001, followed by the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and an economic recession, initially kept the city from endorsing the uncertainty of tech again. Michael Bloomberg, mayor from 2001 to 2013, was a billionaire whose personal fortune and namesake company came from a fusion of finance and tech, most notably the Bloomberg terminal, a specially configured computer that brings real-time data to stock brokers’ and analysts’ desks. Yet, as late as 2007, Mayor Bloomberg, joined by New York’s senior senator Chuck Schumer, promoted New York as the self-styled financial capital of the world, a city that would surely triumph over its only serious rival, London. The 2008 financial crisis crumpled this narrative and turned the Bloomberg administration toward tech.

By 2009, the city’s business elites believed that New York’s salvation depended on producing more software engineers. This consensus motivated the mayor and his economic development officials to build big, organizing a global competition for a university that could create a dynamic, postgraduate engineering campus in New York. Cornell Tech emerged as the winner, a partnership between Cornell University and the Israel Institute of Technology. Between 2014 and 2017, the new school recruited high-profile professors with experience in government research programs, university classrooms, and corporate labs. They created a slew of partnerships with the city’s major tech companies, and the resulting corporate-academic campus made Roosevelt Island New York’s only greenfield innovation district. Not coincidentally, the founding dean was elected to Amazon’s board of directors in 2016.

The Bloomberg administration also partnered with the city’s public and private universities, mainly the aggressively expanding New York University (NYU), to open incubators and accelerators for tech startups. After NYU merged with Polytechnic University, a historic engineering school in downtown Brooklyn, the Bloomberg administration made sure the new engineering school could lease the vacant former headquarters of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority nearby, where NYU’s gut renovation created a giant tech center.

Meanwhile, the Brooklyn waterfront was booming. The Brooklyn Navy Yard added advanced manufacturing tenants and art studios to its traditional mix of woodworking and metalworking shops, food processors, and suppliers of electronics parts, construction material, and office equipment, and began to both retrofit old machine shops for “green” manufacturing and build new office space. While tech and creative offices were running out of space in DUMBO, the heads of the downtown Brooklyn and DUMBO business improvement districts came up with the idea of marketing the whole area, with the Navy Yard, as “the Brooklyn Tech Triangle.” With rezoning, media buzz, and a strategic design plan, what began as a ploy to fill vacant downtown office buildings moved toward reality. 

Established tech companies from Silicon Valley and elsewhere also inserted themselves into the urban landscape. Google opened a New York office for marketing and advertising in 2003 but expanded its engineering staff a few years later, buying first one, then two big buildings in Chelsea: an old Nabisco bakery and the massive former headquarters of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Facebook took AOL’s old offices in Greenwich Village. On the next block, IBM Watson occupied a new office building designed by Fumihiko Maki.

Jared Kushner’s brother, the tech investor Jonathan Kushner, joined two other developers to buy the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ former headquarters and printing plant on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The developers converted the buildings into tech and creative offices and called the little district Dumbo Heights. By 2015, the growth of both venture capital investments and startups made New York the second-largest “startup ecosystem” in the world after Silicon Valley. Within the next three years, WeWork (now the We Company) surpassed Chase Bank branches as Manhattan’s largest commercial tenant.

All this development was both crystallized and crucified by Amazon’s decision to open half of a “second” North American headquarters (HQ2) in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, New York, in 2018. Amazon organized a competition similar to the Bloomberg contest that resulted in Cornell Tech, but in this case, the contest was a bidding war between 238 cities that offered tax credits, help with land assemblage, and zoning dispensations in return for 50,000 tech jobs that the company promised to create. But in announcing its selection, Amazon divided the new headquarters in two, supposedly placing half the jobs in New York and the other half in Crystal City, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. Many New Yorkers erupted in protest rather than celebration.

The amount of tax credits offered to the very highly valued tech titan, almost $3 billion in total, appeared to rob the city of funding for its drastic needs: fixing the antiquated subway system, repairing the aging public housing stock, and building affordable housing. The decision-making process, tightly controlled by Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, enraged New York City Council members, none of whom had been given a role in either negotiating or modifying the deal. The deal itself was closely supervised by New York State’s Economic Development Corporation behind closed doors, without any provision for public input or approval.

Housing prices in Long Island City rose as soon as the deal was announced. A city economic development representative admitted that perhaps half of the jobs at HQ2 would not be high-paying tech jobs, but in human resources and support services. In a final, painful blow, Amazon promised to create only 30 jobs for nearly 7,000 residents of Queensbridge Houses, the nearby public housing project that is the largest in the nation.

Amazon representatives fanned their opponents’ fury at public hearings held by the New York City Council. They said the company would not remain neutral if employees wanted to unionize, and they refused to offer to renegotiate any part of the deal. Opponents also protested the company’s other business practices, especially the sale of facial recognition technology to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). Yet surveys showed that most registered New York City voters supported the Amazon deal, with an even higher percentage of supporters among Blacks and Latinos. Reflecting the prospect of job opportunities, construction workers championed the deal while retail workers opposed it. The governor and mayor defended the subsidies as an investment in jobs. Not coincidentally, Amazon planned to rent one million square feet of vacant space in One Court Square, the former Citigroup Building in Long Island City, before building a new campus on the waterfront that would be connected by ferry to Cornell Tech.

After two months of relentless, vocal criticism, in a mounting wave of national resentment against Big Tech, Amazon withdrew from the deal. Elected officials blamed each other, as well as a misinformed, misguided public for losing the economic development opportunity of a lifetime.

Yet it wasn’t clear that landing a tech titan like Amazon would spread benefits broadly in New York City. A big tech company could suck talent and capital from the local ecosystem, deny homegrown startups room to expand, and employ only a small number of “natives.”

From San Francisco to Seattle to New York, complaints about tech companies’ effect on cities center on privatization and gentrification. In San Francisco, private buses ferry highly paid Google workers from their homes in the city to the company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley, green space and cafes in the Mid-Market neighborhood proliferate to serve Twitter employees and other members of the technorati, low-income Latinos from the Mission district are displaced by astronomical rents—all of these factors stir resentment about Big Tech taking over. In Seattle, Amazon’s pressure on the city council to rescind a tax on big businesses to help pay for homeless shelters also aroused critics’ ire. Until recently, moreover, tech titans have been unwilling to support affordable housing in the very markets their high incomes roil: East Palo Alto and Menlo Park in California, and Redmond, Washington.

It remains to be seen whether urban innovation districts will all be viable, and whether they will spread wealth or instead create highly localized, unsustainable bubbles. Venture capital is already concentrated in a small number of cities and in a very few ZIP codes within these cities. According to the MIT economist David Autor, although the best “work of the future” is expanding, it is concentrated in only a few superstar cities and only represents 5 percent of all U.S. jobs.

Yet urban tech landscapes emerge from a powerful triple helix reminiscent of Silicon Valley. Elected officials promise jobs, venture capitalists and big companies make investments, and real estate developers get paid. Though these landscapes glitter brightly compared to the dead spaces they replace, they don’t offer broad participation in planning change or the equitable sharing of rewards.

Sharon Zukin is a Professor of Sociology at the City University of New York, Brooklyn College, and is author of the forthcoming book The Innovation Complex: Cities, Tech, and the New Economy.

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Weekend edition: Notre Dame, ADUs, LACMA, and more
Missed some of this week’s architecture news, or our tweets and Facebook posts from the last few days? Don’t sweat it—we’ve gathered the week’s must-read stories right here. Enjoy! Foster + Partners pitches new Notre Dame spire as competition heats up Foster + Partners has floated a glassy replacement for the fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral's roof, including a crystal spire and observation deck. De Blasio cracks down on glass towers as part of Green New Deal In announcing a sweeping Green New Deal for the city, Mayor de Blasio announced that inefficiently-designed glass towers would be banned. LA-Más designs colorful accessory dwelling units for Los Angeles Los Angeles–based firm LA-Más has designed a new "postmodern-plus" accessory dwelling unit to tackle the city's affordable housing crisis. New batch of renderings for Zumthor’s LACMA proposal unveiled Atelier Peter Zumthor released updated renderings of its proposed LACMA replacement that was recently approved by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.
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Your Glass is Grass

De Blasio cracks down on glass towers as part of Green New Deal
Days after the New York City Council passed the sweeping Climate Mobilization Act, which will impose emission restrictions on buildings over 25,000 square feet, New York's Mayor Bill de Blasio revealed a sweeping “Green New Deal” for the city. The OneNYC 2050 initiative, which would see the city go fully carbon neutral by 2050, tackles climate change through new building codes, glass tower crackdowns, renewable energy requirements, citywide composting, investing in resiliency planning, and by supporting the new congestion pricing scheme. The $14 billion package would, combined with actions taken by the prior administration, reduce carbon emissions from a 2005 baseline level by 40 percent by 2030. A number of steps will help the city government decrease emissions 23 percent from a 2005 baseline. The city’s 50,000 buildings over 25,000 square feet will be retrofitted with more efficient technology, and city-owned buildings will be switched over to all-renewable energy sources in the next five years (the city is currently in talks to build out the infrastructure that would allow them to bring in Canadian hydropower). De Blasio also touted the potential restrictions on new towers with inefficient glass curtain walls. “Now, we’re going to take it another step because part of the problem here is that buildings got built that never should have been built to begin with if we were thinking about the needs of our Earth,” said the Mayor when announcing OneNYC 2050 on Earth Day yesterday. “Some of them you can see right behind us in the background. And so, we are going to introduce legislation to ban the glass and steel skyscrapers that have contributed so much to global warming. They have no place in our city or on our Earth anymore. “If a company wants to build a big skyscraper, they can use a lot of glass if they do all the other things needed to reduce the emissions. But putting up monuments to themselves that harmed our Earth and threatened our future, that will no longer be allowed in New York City.” The mayor went on to ding Hudson Yards in particular, claiming that many of the towers were inefficiently heated or cooled due to their glass envelopes. De Blasio’s aides were quick to point out that the administration wasn’t banning glass as a facade material outright, but that they would be imposing much rigid standards on performance or allowing developers to purchase carbon offsets instead. Mark Chambers, the city's sustainability director, touted SHoP’s American Copper Building for its smart use of high-performance glass. "The reason I’m saying ban is to emphasize the point that if a company came in, a landlord came in with the exact same kind of design that they’ve come in with in too many cases in the last—just few years, it will be rejected and they would not be allowed to build, period. That’s why I say it’s a ban. You literally will not be physically allowed to build the kinds of buildings that have gone up even recently in this town. Now, you know, there’s good examples and Mark pointed out the Copper Building, the buildings that Cornell-Technion are built to much higher standards which is a good example that you can have, you know, a modern skyscraper that works. But honestly even some of the recent ones built in this city don’t meet appropriate standards and those will no longer be allowed." That drew immediate pushback from Hudson Yards’ developer Related Companies, which told Crain's that the neighborhood was designed to meet LEED standards and that its towers were among the city’s most efficient class A office buildings. Other changes the mayor proposed included amending the city’s electrical code, enacting a citywide organics recycling program (composting), and realigning the city’s development goals with the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. Although the New York City Green New Deal was announced with much fanfare on de Blasio’s part, actual details of how these changes would be implemented were sparse. The plan will also have to pass a City Council vote as legislation and may change in the process.
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Green Deal With It

NYC Council passes sweeping building emission legislation
Some of New York’s tallest towers are doing the most harm to the environment. Although buildings larger than 25,000 square feet only represent two percent of the city’s stock, according to the Urban Green Council that minority is responsible for up to half of all building emissions. Now the New York City Council is finally cracking down on the worst offenders, and New York will soon become the first city in the world to constrain large building emissions through hard limits. Yesterday the council passed the eight-bill Climate Mobilization Act, a legislative package that some are comparing to a New Green Deal for New York. The Climate Mobilization Act, which Mayor de Blasio is expected to sign, would set increasingly harsh limits on carbon emissions for buildings over 25,000 square feet beginning in 2024. According to the Urban Green Council, New York City produces 50 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, and buildings account for approximately 67 percent of that—meaning buildings over 25,000 square feet produce 35 percent, or about 13 million tons of carbon dioxide, a year. The legislation covering the affected 50,000 buildings will roll out in phases. This year, an Office of Building Energy and Emissions Performance and an advisory board will be created at the Department of Buildings to both regulate and enforce the new standards. When the law fully takes effect in 2024, emissions from qualifying buildings will need to be reduced 40 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The Climate Mobilization Act then takes things one step further and requires that these same buildings slash their emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Why are large buildings such energy hogs? Lighting, heating, cooling, and tech requirements, combined with inefficient equipment, all constrained within leaky envelopes, have combined to create a perfect storm of waste. Retrofitting these massive buildings to use or waste less energy is projected to potentially create thousands of jobs for architects, energy modelers, engineers, and construction workers, as everything from inefficient windows to HVAC systems will need to be replaced. For those structures that can’t be brought up to code on schedule, their owners can offset a portion of their emissions by purchasing renewable energy credits. If an owner still isn’t in compliance, they can be hit with an ongoing fine based on their actual emissions versus the cap. The real estate industry had been a vocal opponent of the measure, arguing that it would place an undue burden on both it and tenants. “The overall effect is going to be that an owner is going to think twice before she rents out any space: ‘Is the next tenant I’m renting to going to be an energy hog or not?’” Carl Hum, general counsel for the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), told the New York Times. “There’s a clear business case to be made that having a storage facility is a lot better than having a building that’s bustling with businesses and workers and economic activity.” Still, those fears appear unwarranted. Part of the Office of Building Energy and Emissions Performance’s job will be to work with landlords and tenants and issue variances for buildings with higher energy requirements.
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Choke Points

New York State approves first-in-the-nation congestion pricing plan
With the $175 billion New York State budget locked in for 2020, so too is congestion pricing on drivers entering Manhattan below 60th Street. While the specifics have yet to be hammered out, the plan is the first to be imposed in the United States. Charging drivers who enter Manhattan’s central business district (CBD) is expected to have a number of effects: reducing traffic, cutting pollution, and raising money for the beleaguered subway system, managed by the state-controlled Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). That last point had previously caused tension between Governor Andrew Cuomo, who supported congestion pricing as a way to raise money for subway repairs, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who wanted to impose a “millionaire’s tax” on high earning New York City residents. The price that each driver will be charged upon entering or exiting the CBD has yet to be determined, but a six-person Traffic Mobility Board will determine the fee before the plan goes into effect. It should be noted that the board will be composed of one member selected by the mayor, and the rest being residents of areas served by the Metro-North Railroad or Long Island Railroad (LIRR), New York's major suburban train lines, also managed by the MTA. Drivers will only be tolled once per day, through a series of EZ Pass cameras—or, if the driver lacks an EZ Pass, license plate-snapping cameras—mounted in yet-to-be-determined locations. Governor Cuomo’s Fix NYC Advisory Panel, which released its final report in January of last year, had suggested charging personal vehicles $11.52 to enter Manhattan, charging trucks $25.34, and $2-to-$5 for for-hire vehicles. The program hopes to raise $1 billion through congestion fees annually that the state will use to back $15 billion in bond sales to fund repairs to the ailing subway system. While the budget promises to carve out exemptions for lower-income drivers, 80 percent of the funds raised will go towards subway and bus-related capital projects in the city, and the remaining 20 percent will be set aside for the Metro-North and LIRR. Additionally, the program will be set up and administered by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA) part of the MTA, in collaboration with New York City's Department of Transportation. Handing over the program to the state, and, in particular, Westchester and Long Island in the case of the Traffic Mobility Board, has riled up online transportation activists, who feel the congestion plan was a move by the state to take more control of NYC’s streets. Because the Traffic Mobility Board members are appointed by the MTA, they have the discretion to reject the mayor’s appointees. With so much of the plan still left to be filled in, the earliest that drivers can expect to begin paying is the end of 2020, if not sometime in 2021.
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Build De Blasio

After a comprehensive climate change study, Manhattan may extend its shoreline
New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, took to New York Magazine to lay out an ambitious $10 billion plan to protect Lower Manhattan from the worst effects of climate change. The city will also be advancing $500 million in capital projects right away to beef up the coast with grassy berms, esplanades, sea gates, and by elevating existing infrastructure; but the most surprising measure is an initiative to extend the tip of Manhattan another 500 feet into the East River. Both initiatives are the result of the Lower Manhattan Climate Resilience Study released today as part of the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency (LMCR) project, which is meant to examine the risks and challenges posed by climate change. The study found that by 2050, 37 percent of Lower Manhattan would be susceptible to storm surges, while by 2100 that number would move to 50 percent as sea levels rose six feet. Twenty percent of Lower Manhattan would be vulnerable to daily tidal flooding by that time as well. For an area that holds more than ten percent of New York City’s jobs, and produces ten percent of the city’s gross economic output, flooding on the scale seen during hurricane Sandy would be devastating. The report also identifies heat waves, extreme precipitation events, and the gradual encroachment of groundwater (which would eat away at the neighborhood’s below-ground electrical and transportation infrastructure) as catastrophic threats. After running through a gamut of different flood mitigation approaches, the report advocates extending the shoreline to prevent flood waters from reaching critical buildings and infrastructure sites as the optimal solution. Requiring buildings to implement individual-level flood mitigation measures would result in a piecemeal, non-standardized application, and building hard storm barriers would impede views and access to the waterfront. Mayor de Blasio expects that building into the East River could cost up to $10 billion. “Over the coming years, we will push out the Lower Manhattan coastline as much as 500 feet,” wrote de Blasio in his NY Magazine op-ed, “or up to two city blocks, into the East River, from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Battery. The new land will be higher than the current coast, protecting the neighborhoods from future storms and the higher tides that will threaten its survival in the decades to come. “When we complete the coastal extension, which could cost $10 billion, Lower Manhattan will be secure from rising seas through 2100.” As for funding such an ambitious project, the mayor admitted that the city wouldn’t be able to go it alone, but that President Trump also wouldn’t be willing to contribute. He then called on Democrats to make the project part of their national agenda, to work towards allocating federal funds, and to fast-tracking the extension. Alongside the resiliency study, the city also released the third iteration of their Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines, which architects and planners can use to future-proof their projects. Starting in the spring, the city will begin holding public engagement meetings on all of its resiliency capital projects and the in-progress Financial District and Seaport Climate Resilience Master Plan. The input gathered will help guide the city on which district should receive the first phase of the plan.
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She Built NYC

Four more statues of pioneering New York women are coming to town
Four more legendary New York women are set to be honored with permanent statues around the city: Billie Holiday, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías, and Katherine Walker. Their likenesses will be erected as part of She Built NYC, a near-year-old campaign started by New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray and former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen to address the lack of monuments dedicated to the historic accomplishments of women in New York. Selected through an open call that drew over 2,000 nominations, these four new statues, along with the previously-announced piece honoring Shirley Chisholm, will bring a She Built NYC monument to every borough. Billie Holiday Queens Borough Hall, Queens American jazz legend Billie Holiday rose to fame in the 1930s with a powerful, soulful voice. Though she was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Baltimore, Holiday’s legacy also lives in New York where she moved in 1929 as a young girl. A theater dedicated to the prominent singer was built in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, in 1972 and recently renovated by MBB Architects in 2017. Elizabeth Jennings Graham Vanderbilt Avenue Corridor near Grand Central Terminal, Manhattan At just 27 years old, schoolteacher Elizabeth Jennings Graham stood up against racial segregation in the mid-19th century when she boarded a streetcar for whites only. She later wrote an account of the incident and filed a lawsuit against the Third Avenue Railroad Company and won. Because of her bravery, transit segregation was dismantled in New York and by 1860, all streetcar lines were open to African-Americans. Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías St. Mary’s Park, Bronx Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías was a lifelong public servant and pediatrician dedicated to advancing reproductive rights, and HIV/AIDS care and prevention, as well as serving communities of color. Her many leadership positions, from serving as the medical director of the New York State Department of Health’s AIDS Institute to being the first Latinx director of the American Public Health Association (APHA), allowed her to make a significant change to not only the medical landscape in New York City but across the country. In 2001, President Bill Clinton presented Rodríguez Trías with the Presidential Citizens Medal. Katherine Walker Staten Island Ferry Landing, Staten Island As the keeper of the Robbins Reef Lighthouse in New York Harbor for over three decades, Katherine Walker helped rescue about 50 sailors from shipwrecks during her tenure. She was appointed to the position in 1890 by President Benjamin Harrison after her husband died. Born in Germany, she immigrated to the United States just eight years before taking on the monumental task of overseeing all maritime movements in the Kill Van Kull, a shipping channel between Staten Island and Bayonne, New Jersey. According to She Built NYC, the new monuments will be commissioned through the Department of Cultural Affairs’ Percent for Art process, which means community input will be at the core of the artist selection and design processes. The search for the individual artists is expected to begin at the end of this year with the fully-built statues coming online between 2021 and 2022.
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Nevermind

Amazon claims it isn't building a new headquarters in New York City after all
Amazon announced today that it will not be building a new headquarters in New York City after all. The company blames political opposition for the decision, in a statement contrasting the enthusiasm of Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio with the attitudes of "state and local politicians" who have vocally opposed the terms of the project. Many of the opposing politicians argued that the company received benefits from the state and city that the company did not need and the government could not afford. In public hearings, politicians objected to the use of a state process that allowed the company to circumvent the typical land-use review process and the secrecy and lack of public involvement in the deal that brought Amazon's new headquarters to the city. Amazon ran a spectacular public competition for the new headquarters that saw U.S. cities volunteering data and offering special deals to attract the company. This latest step displays the sort of public relations brinkmanship that won the company a favorable deal in New York City last year. Mayor de Blasio responded to the news with a statement:
You have to be tough to make it in New York City. We gave Amazon the opportunity to be a good neighbor and do business in the greatest city in the world. Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that opportunity. We have the best talent in the world and every day we are growing a stronger and fairer economy for everyone. If Amazon can’t recognize what that’s worth, its competitors will.
Amazon's full, original announcement is as follows:
After much thought and deliberation, we’ve decided not to move forward with our plans to build a headquarters for Amazon in Long Island City, Queens. For Amazon, the commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term. While polls show that 70% of New Yorkers support our plans and investment, a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned in Long Island City. We are disappointed to have reached this conclusion—we love New York, its incomparable dynamism, people, and culture—and particularly the community of Long Island City, where we have gotten to know so many optimistic, forward-leaning community leaders, small business owners, and residents. There are currently over 5,000 Amazon employees in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island, and we plan to continue growing these teams. We are deeply grateful to Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and their staffs, who so enthusiastically and graciously invited us to build in New York City and supported us during the process. Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have worked tirelessly on behalf of New Yorkers to encourage local investment and job creation, and we can’t speak positively enough about all their efforts. The steadfast commitment and dedication that these leaders have demonstrated to the communities they represent inspired us from the very beginning and is one of the big reasons our decision was so difficult. We do not intend to reopen the HQ2 search at this time. We will proceed as planned in Northern Virginia and Nashville, and we will continue to hire and grow across our 17 corporate offices and tech hubs in the U.S. and Canada. Thank you again to Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and the many other community leaders and residents who welcomed our plans and supported us along the way. We hope to have future chances to collaborate as we continue to build our presence in New York over time.
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Staying Alive

Brooklyn-Queens streetcar rolls into environmental review
New York’s Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) is still alive and inching toward realization. Today the de Blasio administration awarded a $7.25 million contract to national land-use and transportation planning consultants VHB to oversee the waterfront streetcar project’s Environmental Impact Study (EIS). Questions over the $2.7 billion streetcar route’s feasibility have plagued the light rail project since the beginning. Officials still haven't released the exact route or said how the city would recoup the money needed for construction. Last August, Mayor de Blasio admitted that at least $1 billion would be needed from the federal government and that using the “value-capture” model (collecting increased tax revenue as the BQX boosted property values along its route) wasn’t wholly feasible. The route was shortened to 26 stops along 11 miles, from Astoria in Queens to Gowanus in Brooklyn, cutting out Sunset Park farther south, and the opening date got pushed back from 2024 to 2029. All had gone quiet since then, but speculation flared that Amazon could potentially chip in for the system after the tech giant announced that it would be building a second headquarters in Long Island City. That seems to have been confirmed by Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who pointed to the boom in investment along the Queens-Brooklyn waterfront as proof that new modes of public transport across the two boroughs were needed. The city expects that the BQX will accommodate 50,000 daily riders when it first opens and 60,000-to-90,000 riders by 2050. ”For some reason, everybody thinks we are not serious but we have always been serious,” Glen told the Wall Street Journal. “The mayor wouldn’t have re-endorsed and announced we were moving forward if we weren’t moving forward.” The nonprofit group Friends of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector lauded the contract award as well, calling it a clear commitment on the part of the de Blasio administration to moving the project through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). With the EIS on track for completion in 2020, the BQX project will move to the next stage of the ULURP by the end of 2021. The city hopes that the project will begin construction by 2024.
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No Towers, No Comprise

Architecture collective joins activists to protest luxury towers on New York's Lower East Side
One Manhattan Square, an 800-foot-tall glass tower in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, is at the center of a grassroots battle against displacement. Designed by Adamson Associates, the Extell Developmentbacked skyscraper threatens to push out throngs of immigrants and longtime local residents who call the area home. It’s a common story found in the ever-evolving city, but this particular narrative possesses one distinct difference: It’s location. Since much of New York’s luxury residential building boom has focused on expanding Hudson Yards, buffing up Billionaires’ Row, and readying Long Island City for Amazon’s HQ2, the Lower East Side has been somewhat unaffected by such large-scale development. Until now. A series of sky-high apartment buildings, starting with the nearly-complete One Manhattan Square (also called Extell Tower), is slated to dot the Lower East Side waterfront enclave known as Two Bridges. Four planned towers are in the works, although One Manhattan square is the only one currently under construction. The surrounding community is predominantly composed of Chinese immigrants and working-class people, a major reason why the city designated the neighborhood a Large-Scale Residential Development (LSRD) area in 1972, which protects and promotes affordable and mixed-income housing for residents. According to Zishun Ning, leader of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, the proposed high-end projects violate the LSRD, which requires that all new developments secure approval from the City Planning Commission or receive special permits through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process. Ning argued the city's decision to move forward with the Two Bridges development is therefore illegal, and indicative of discrimination from the mayoral administration. Not only is it politically fraught, according to Ning, it's socially irresponsible. The towers are situated within a three-block radius of each other and will sit near NYCHA housing. One will cantilever over an existing senior center and another, One Manhattan Square, will feature a “poor door,” as the coalition calls it, for the building’s affordable housing residents.   Yesterday a slew of protestors gathered at the 80-story tower and marched to City Hall in opposition to the plan. Ning said the day’s event, officially titled the March to Reclaim the City, was the coalition’s latest attempt to get Mayor de Blasio’s attention. “We’re not against development,” Ning said, “we just want some regulation and future development that fits our community.” Last fall the group submitted an alternative proposal to the commission in which the neighborhood could be rezoned for more appropriate use. They integrated height restrictions on new construction and called for 100 percent affordable housing on public land. Ning said their efforts were ignored, and in early December, the commission approved a special building permit submitted by the developers. The commission said the projects only presented a “minor modification” to Two Bridges’ zoning law and that a full Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process would not be required. “It’s evident that racism plays into the city’s zoning policies,” said Ning. “They rezone communities of colors for the interests of developers. We call out the city’s illegal approval, along with Mayor de Blasio’s collusion with developers to approve these towers and deny our plan that came out of a democratic process. We want to reclaim our democracy and control as a community.” History has seen many local working groups stand up against giant developers and influential politicians, but, according to Ning, there needs to be more support from area architects to help such groups envision a bigger, more inclusive picture for their neighborhoods. A new collective of aspiring architects and non-architects interested in the field, citygroup, wants to do just that. The organization aims to become a young social and political voice for the architecture industry. Members gather periodically for informal debates on serious topics like the need for affordable housing in New York, the nature of architectural expertise, and architects’ tricky relationship with real estate developers. The group's inaugural exhibition, set up inside its new space on the Lower East Side, details various visions of One Manhattan Square that imagine a more useful development for the local community. “We wanted to rethink the Extell Tower as something that isn’t as foreign to this neighborhood as it is now,” said Michael Robinson Cohen of citygroup. “It’s built on a plinth and houses mostly luxury apartments. We asked ourselves, How could we recreate the tower for different uses or for a diverse group of inhabitants?”   The exhibition centers on a series of 21 drawings done by different citygroup members. These individual visions, expressed within the confines of the building’s plan, feature different ways to reuse the tower’s 1.2 million square feet of space. Some pictured it as pure parkland, others cut it up into a grid of 3-meter-by-3-meter apartments. One strips away the idea that a housing complex must cater to the traditional single-family home by creating personally-designed apartments outfitted for everyone from single moms to yoga teachers, a Russian oligarch, a cat lady, and even a family of five. Thinking critically about megaprojects like One Manhattan Square, according to Robinson Cohen, allows architects to investigate the best ways for new developments to improve a community, instead of displacing residents and stripping away the character of a neighborhood. “Much like the coalition, we’re for challenging the tower, but are not against development in general,” he said. “Obviously, as architects, we want to build and it’s clear the city needs more housing, but to us it’s important to think about the people these developments serve.” To Ning, the architect’s mission isn’t far from that of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side. He says the two parties can work together to imagine developments that engage with local residents rather than taking away access to light and air. “We actually encourage architects to put their creativity into building things that benefit the community,” Ning said. “But in order for that to happen, we first need to fight the city.” A new lawsuit against the City was just brought on by the Lower East Side Organized Neighbors in opposition to the development. The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) is slated to support with future litigation efforts. Until then, the City is still contending with another lawsuit calling for the towers to go through the ULURP process, initiated by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson last month. “These towers are just one piece of a bigger picture,” noted Ning. “If 3,000 units are added to the neighborhood, the demographics will change and the land value will rise. Harassment and eviction will escalate. This is happening all over New York City. It’s segregation, and it’s very visual.” Walk-throughs of citygroup’s exhibition are available upon request through early February at 104b Forsyth Street. Email group@citygroup.nyc for hours.