Search results for "NYC Parks"

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Off the Rails

Coronavirus capital cuts could derail de Blasio’s affordable housing plan
Even more bad news for New York City: Housing advocates are sounding the alarm over the damage the nearly $1 billion in cuts to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s (HPD) capital budget will do to the city’s affordable housing prospects. The novel coronavirus pandemic has decimated the city budget, to the point that Mayor Bill de Blasio recently proposed borrowing up to $7 billion from New York State to cover the city’s operating expenses—a move explicitly banned after similar measures brought NYC to the brink of collapse in the “bad old days” of the 1970s. Without a federal bailout or a tax increase on top earners (something the mayor has balked at in the past), it looks like austerity is on the table for the next fiscal year. The cuts follow others made to municipal departments like the DDC, which was compelled to freeze all public design work (including projects that were already under construction), and the Department of Parks & Recreation, which has seen a dreadful reduction in park maintenance. In HPD's case, its budget will be hobbled by a reduction of 40 percent; the mayor has proposed cutting $583 million in 2020 and $457 million in fiscal year 2021. As with public design work, a once relatively stable source of income for architects, affordable housing design is also looking more precarious. Aside from the uncertainty this brings to firms looking to shore up their portfolios with longer-term projects, developers told Politico that the cuts could kill affordable housing buildings that have been in the works for years. For instance, HPD’s loan program for supportive housing, through which the department partly finances its projects, funds developments with at least 60 percent of the units set aside for the homeless or disabled and was expected to deliver 1,000 units this year and 1,500 in 2021 alone; now those projections are up in the air. More concerning is that HPD has stopped issuing “soft commitment letters,” which affirm that a developer is set to receive city funding. Without that written commitment, affordable housing developers are having a much more difficult time luring in outside investors. With groundbreakings pushed back, those same projects are also at risk of losing investors who were angling for low-income housing tax credits but have been spooked at the uncertainty now involved. Any delay in affordable housing construction or the preservation of existing units could endanger Mayor de Blasio’s Housing New York 2.0 plan, which in 2018 bumped up its goal of creating or preserving 300,000 housing units by 2026 from the original 2014 plan’s 200,000-unit target. It’s estimated that the combined 2020 and 2021 cuts to HPD’s budget would ultimately prevent 21,000 fewer affordable units from becoming available. More importantly, the current pandemic has greatly exacerbated housing insecurity among city renters, and slashing the availability of affordable units will be certain to cause ripple effects down the line.
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Go Outside Once A Week

Relief fund launched for NYC parks after dire status report
Only two days after an alliance of New York City park- and open-space-oriented nonprofits released a report sounding the alarm over the coronavirus-related budget cuts and private donation dips, the NYC Green Relief & Recovery Fund has launched to help fill in the gaps. Parks in New York City soak up stormwater, provide much-needed green space in a city of mainly hard surfaces, and serve as both places for a community to gather as well as event spaces. Their benefits are well known and much-touted, but the deficit created in the city’s finances by the coronavirus pandemic has slashed the Department of Parks & Recreation’s budget to 1970s levels; a decade that left the city’s parks disastrously under-maintained and full of trash. In a call today, Dan Garodnick of the Riverside Park Conservancy noted that the collection of 25 nonprofit groups partnered with the city are expecting a $40 million private donation shortfall. The decrease in paid staff will lead to an inability to oversee volunteers, and at a time when the crowds are out in record numbers, any maintenance deferral will lead to more and more damage done to these outdoor spaces. Normally, nonprofit groups provide over 100,000 volunteers to help care for parks and gardens within the city, as well as contributing $150 million annually. The alliance estimated that these budget cuts could shrink maintenance in fiscal year 2021 by up to 150,000 hours, and parks and gardens could see 541,000 fewer trees, shrubs, and perennials planted. Accordingly, the new recovery fund (to be administered by the nonprofit City Parks Foundation) is intended to help make up the projected shortfall while encouraging policymakers to take action. $2.3 million has already been contributed at the time of the fund’s launch, and seven major donors have already signed on: The Lily Auchincloss Foundation; the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation; The J.M. Kaplan Fund; The JPB Foundation; the Leon Levy Foundation; the Libra Fund, and The New York Community Trust. Private citizens are invited to donate as well as funds, institutions, and companies, et al. A process has also already been laid out for disbursing donations: “Funding will be available to nonprofit and volunteer stewardship groups through a competitive application process. Grants of up to $100,000 will be available to larger nonprofits and multiple nonprofits applying together can access up to $150,000. Volunteer-led groups can apply for small grants of up to $1,500.” Interested groups can apply for relief on the same page.
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Socially Distancing Donations

A hidden victim of the coronavirus pandemic? NYC’s parks
In an unsurprising turn of events, new research released today from a coalition of New York City parks nonprofits has revealed that the coronavirus pandemic is having a severe impact on the city’s green spaces. An alliance of 25 nonprofits are officially partnered with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to help support the city’s outdoor spaces, and play an important role in the city’s park ecosystem, supplying over 100,000 volunteers and raising $150 million annually in private funding for about 50 percent of outdoor space. Public investment, however, is still critical to ensure the survival of city parks, with the money going towards continued maintenance and upkeep—many of today’s most popular parks were, decades ago, run down and full of trash, including Prospect, Riverside, and Flushing Meadow parks. That’s why the Alliance for Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Bronx River Alliance, City Parks Foundation, Freshkills Park Alliance, The Friends of Governors Island, Friends of the High Line, Gowanus Canal Conservancy, Hudson River Park Friends, Hunters Point Parks Conservancy, Madison Square Park Conservancy, Natural Areas Conservancy, New Yorkers for Parks, New York Restoration Project, North Brooklyn Parks Alliance, Prospect Park Alliance, Randall’s Island Park Alliance, Riverside Park Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land, Van Cortlandt Park Alliance, and the Washington Square Park Conservancy, were all surveyed to determine the state of the city’s parks. Despite the warming weather and New Yorkers’ increasing demand for public space at a time when most residents have been forced to stay home, things don’t look great for the future of the parks system. In a two-pronged assault, the Parks Department is just one city agency facing budget cuts in fiscal year 2021 to help grapple with the $6 billion shortfall, and nonprofit groups are anticipating a shortfall in private donations. According to the groups surveyed in the Parks and Open Space Partners – NYC COVID-19 Impact Report, it’s expected that on average, parks were anticipating a revenue loss of 32 percent, with one park in particular expecting to lose up to 68 percent. In practical terms, that means city parks will likely see a funding reduction of over $37 million from those groups. The other key takeaways were just as dour:
  • The report expected a loss of up to 40,000 park maintenance hours and 110,00 lost horticultural hours
  • As a result, 542,000 shrubs, trees, and other planned flora will go unplanted. Over 150 acres of lawn will go untrimmed, and 3,400 trees will go unpruned, raising the possibility of falling branches and other related hazards
  • The elimination of the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program for budget reasons will also present a maintenance and education gap, as 247 young adults go without summer jobs
  • 3,826 public events have already been canceled because of social distancing measures, cutting off over 1.6 million New Yorkers from initiatives normally used to keep them in touch with their community
It’s still not certain when social distancing orders will be lifted in New York or the rest of the country, but the increased number of parkgoers and deferred maintenance may eventually prove unsustainable for not only green spaces in the city but across the country. Even though it’s been less than two months, signs of stress are already showing; see the case of Green-Wood Cemetery near Prospect Park in Brooklyn, where inconsiderate visitors nearly forced the 182-year-old public space to close, before volunteers stepped in to help corral unruly guests.
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Word on the Street

Open Streets Initiative will aid cities in optimizing coronavirus street closures
Oakland is doing it. Philadelphia is doing it. Minneapolis is doing it. Denver is doing it. Milan is doing it. Boston and neighboring cities are doing it. And now—after one aborted attempt and a whole lot of handwringing from City Hall—New York City is doing it, too. With summer just around the corner and cooped-up residents expected to flock outdoors in greater numbers, numerous cities have already—or plan to—enact temporary street closures that would more safely accommodate pedestrian and bike traffic while coronavirus restrictions are in place. A number of these streets, as is with the case of New York’s just-announced 40-mile-minimum street closure scheme, are or will be near or directly adjacent to popular parks. In addition to providing city-dwellers with more room to partake in social distancing-observant outdoor recreation, cities are also temporarily closing streets to vehicular traffic due to an uptick in walking and cycling, which, per the World Health Organization, are preferable to public transit when traveling around town. To assist cities in this unprecedented effort, data-powered mobility management platform Populus has launched the Open Streets Initiative. Per a press statement released by the three-year-old company, the initiative will “help public officials create and communicate new street policies, such as street closures and ‘slow streets’ that prioritize pedestrians and cyclists.” Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, a majority of street closures revolved around one-off special events such as street fairs, parades, and block parties as well as construction projects. As Regina Clewlow, CEO and cofounder of Populus, explained to Smart Cities Dive, these types of closures pass through a series of formal bureaucratic hoops and are typically planned months or longer in advance and communicated to the public with ample warning. Street closures and reconfigurations prompted by the pandemic, however, need to be conceived and executed in a tighter timeframe of just days and weeks. To join the Open Streets Initiative and subsequently access Populus’s new, complementary Street Manager platform, cities and public agencies must apply by May 15. In June, a “number of select cities” will be chosen to partner with Populus to “design and implement new street policies” in 2020. Various sized cities across the world, not just in the United States, are invited to apply. “How people move in cities is rapidly changing day by day,” said Clewlow in a statement. “With our platform, we empower city planners with digital solutions that help them manage the future of mobility in a dynamic way.” Cities partnering with Populus on mobility management projects during the non-COVID-19 era included Dallas, Orlando, Florida, Cleveland, and Tallahassee, as well as the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Largely focused on the micr0-mobility space, the San Francisco-headquartered company describes itself as helping “cities and private mobility operators deliver safe, equitable, and efficient streets through better data and analytics.” Beyond temporary street closures that make way for more foot and bike traffic, some cities are instituting other changes as to how people get around town during and after lockdown. Paris, for example, isn’t necessarily shuttering streets to vehicles but is instead modifying them to make way for over 400 miles of emergency bike paths, including pop so-called pop-up “corona cycleways,” that will be ready by the time France lifts its shelter-in-place restrictions on May 11, according to Forbes. Berlin is also taking a similar approach by doing away with street-side parking spots in favor of temporary cycling lanes (to the chagrin of some motorists, naturally). And New Zealand, which recently and enviably declared the coronavirus as being all but eliminated, is the first country to provide emergency-level federal funding for “tactical urbanism” efforts in cities that involve widening sidewalks and creating pop-up bike lanes at a swifter-than-normal speed. “To stop the spread of COVID-19, more people are taking to quiet streets to walk and cycle again,” New Zealand Transport Minister Julie Ann Genter told Forbes. “When we move out of the shutdown, and people start to travel a little more, we can’t expect them to go back to crowded buses and trains at the same rate, and people in city centers will need more space to distance themselves from others physically.”
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1948–2020

Terreform, Berke, Wines, and more remember the late Michael Sorkin
Michael Sorkin, inimitable scribe of the built environment and leading design mind, passed away in New York at age 71 last Thursday after contracting COVID-19. Survived by his wife Joan Copjec, Sorkin leaves behind an invaluable body of work, as the following tributes—from friends, colleagues, peers—readily acknowledge. This is the second of a two-part series; the first can be read here Jie Gu, director, lead urban designer, Michael Sorkin Studio “Jie, can you wiggle these buildings and make them sexy?” “Jie, can you let me have some fun?” “Jie, I had a dream last night. I think we need to try something new.” “Jie, I will be in on Saturday, leave me something not boring.” Michael, I miss the dynamic “creatures” you directed me to model. Michael, I miss the tremendous beauty of your red-colored sketches. Michael, I miss your utopian dreams for sustainable cities. Michael, I wish I could have spent more time with you. “Jie, if I go, you must use our legacy to keep going in the direction that seems best.” These were his last words to me, and they will resonate with me forever. Makoto Okazaki, former partner, Michael Sorkin Studio Like Matsuo Bashō, the most famous haiku poet of Edo-period Japan, Michael was inspired by his many journeys. The last email I received from him—on February 5th, 2020—was about a hospital in Wuhan built in just ten days to treat those infected with COVID-19. It was located within the area where we had, in 2010, designed a masterplan, what we called Houguan Lake Ecological City. In the same email, Michael expressed his disappointment over having to cancel a trip to China due to the spread of coronavirus. He was often on business trips, which took him all over the world. On one occasion, he joked to me that a secret of his happy marriage was traveling alone a lot. I took this as advice! Wherever he was, Michael would send his inspirations and sketches back to the studio in New York City. We would develop them into a design proposal—not without some miscommunication—then toss it over to him. Back and forth, until we landed on something both strange and fantastic. We were thrilled by the whole process. Michael, you’ve now left on another journey. We all miss you. Deen Sharp and Vyjayanthi Rao, co-directors, Terreform Center for Advanced Urban Research Michael fizzed with ideas, his energy always captivating and inspiring. You could walk into his office to talk about a book project that we at Terreform had underway and walk out with instructions to contact a dozen different people about three more. Somehow amid this frenzy of activity, Michael always managed to maintain a laser-like focus on the Terreform mission of producing research to achieve more just, beautiful, and equitable cities. Somehow in this flood of ideas and instructions, proposals and counterproposals, Michael would always get the project done and the book (it always ended in a book!) printed. Terreform was founded in 2005 as a place for connecting research, design, and critique on urgent urban questions and using that research in the public’s interest. UR (Urban Research), founded in 2015 as Terreform’s publishing imprint, was the vehicle to make ideas accessible and truly public. With Michael at the helm, both platforms produced an inordinate number of proposals, books, reports, articles, symposiums, and launches. All were self-initiated, and Michael, initiator that he was, has left all of us at Terreform with plenty more to do. Most urgent is completing his—and Terreform’s—flagship project, New York City (Steady) State. The project’s central proposition is that the city can take responsibility for its ecological footprint. With New York City as his laboratory, Michael led several designers and social scientists in formulating designs and policies that could catalyze metabolic changes to critical infrastructural systems. The aim was to achieve a “steady state” of self-sufficiency within the city’s political boundaries. Ever the contrarian, Michael turned to steady state economics—a radical approach in a world addicted to growth and wilfully blind to its toxic consequences—to fashion an equally radical political vision of cities as central units for ensuring social and ecological justice. NYC (Steady) State was conceived as a series of books focusing on food and waste systems, energy, and mobility as the four key systems drastically in need of redesigning. Just last month, Michael was making final edits to Homegrown, the first book in the series and one focusing on New York City’s food production, consumption cycles, and distribution systems. His devotion to the project was so fierce that even after being hospitalized he sent emails urging us to complete and publish the volume. Beyond New York, projects were incubating in and about practically every corner of the world, all guided by students, friends, and admirers of Michael's. Their ideas were seeded or sharpened in their encounters with Michael at Terreform's 180 Varick Street office, where practically every workday ended with a visitor dropping by to say hello, being introduced to the crew, and sharing ideas over drinks. Terreform’s research projects have taken us to many places and brokered many friendships. For instance, Terreform has a lively group of friends in Chicago hard at work on South Side Stories, a collective project that shines a light on activist groups in the South Side and their struggle to reposition the Obama Presidential Center from a magnet of gentrification to catalyst for equitable, evenly dispersed urban development. Set in another conflict zone, the Terreform/UR book Open Gaza will add to Michael’s already substantial contribution to the Palestinian struggle for social and spatial justice when it is published next month. Our research projects, along with UR’s many internationally focused book projects, are primarily vehicles for showing how critique and design can speak the same language. For Michael, Terreform’s unique mission lay in developing an interdisciplinary dialogue that could be embraced by theorists, practitioners, and activists alike, and enable them to share new ways of looking at and imagining the world. Even as it hewed close to the standards of the university, Terreform sought to democratize these forms of knowledge beyond it by creating an accessible platform to address urgent issues in a timely and nimble fashion. We know we can never fill the huge absence that Michael leaves us. We are nevertheless determined to carry on Michael’s enormous legacy, to complete the large number of projects that are already underway, and to continue the work of urban research for greater social justice, beauty, and equality in our cities. Click here to learn how you can support Terreform. UR books are available for purchase here. James Wines, artist and architect The tragic loss of Michael Sorkin, as both a dear friend and premier voice for urban design on the international architecture scene, is still impossible for me to accept. At 87, I thought I would have been long gone before this, and so never anticipated experiencing the shock and despair I am feeling right now. Michael’s work in design criticism, theory, history, and planning—particularly his efforts to shape the future of cityscapes—was inclusive and visionary; indeed, he was an indelible fixture in global thinking on these topics. He was one of those rare disciplinary figures whose voice was synonymous with the profession, so that it is impossible to think about the condition of architecture and urbanism today without Michael’s ideas as pivotal points of reference and beacons of wisdom. His absence is inconceivable. While the endless fruits of his creativity will remain in museum and university archives to nourish future generations, an enormous part of the communicative value of Michael’s work was his participation in public dialogues. In this sense, he was like a great musical performer who made wonderful recordings; but the full measure of his talents was best experienced in concert format. Michael played both the revolutionary thinker and the consummate public speaker, a performance unmatched in architecture. As friends, professional colleagues, and career-long skeptics concerning all manifestations of design orthodoxy, Michael and I had a bottomless reservoir of art and design issues to debate during our thirty-plus years of dialogue. In terms of primary emphasis, we were both committed to solutions for the public domain and how to best encourage interaction among people within cityscapes. I often used to comment, when introducing our appearances on symposia, that Michael took care of the larger issues in urban design while I followed up with solutions for the small stuff under people’s feet. As our discussions unfolded, this was invariably the scenario that played out: Michael would cover the master plans, civic strategies, economics, and infrastructure, and then I would insert ideas for the pedestrian amenities of walkways, seating, plazas, gardens, and play spaces. Whereas I could hold my own in the presentation of visual material, Michael’s verbal eloquence always stole the show. I can recall so many lectures and conferences where I would find myself so enthralled with Michael’s delivery that my own faculties failed when it came my turn to speak. He was the ultimate impossible-act-to-follow on any podium. Michael and I had that kind of nurturing friendship where we could meet in an explosion of discourse on some hot topic, or just sit quietly at dinner and experience the reinforcing comfort of saying nothing. Of all Michael’s many talents, the pinnacle was his acerbic wit, with which he skewered the pomposities of our profession and politics of the day. Not only was his trenchant humor invariably on target, it was always articulated in such a way that inspired the opposition to re-think an issue. It is especially ironic that Michael Sorkin—a major advocate of integrative cities and people interaction—passed away during a time of global pandemic, when millions of urban dwellers have retreated into protective isolation. For this reason, I want to end this tribute with a quote on his work from my 2000 book Green Architecture:
Michael Sorkin might appropriately be called a visionary with a heart. He has understood that, with the universal buzz about people living in cyberspace and communicating primarily through global wavelengths, this is already a reality and just another convenient set of tools that will soon be assimilated into the realm of routine. In this respect, computers are just like every other exotic technology that has nourished science fiction hyperbole and ended up as nostalgic curios in antique auctions. In designing for the future city, Sorkin has acknowledged that people are weary of looking at digital screens all day and sit-coms all night; so why on earth would they want their neighborhood to be another extension of virtual reality? The fact is that people need and value human interaction more than ever because of computer technology. In the Sorkin city, they walk, talk, sit on stoops, tend their gardens, and breathe cleaner air. Preserving this desirable reality is the basic goal of sustainability and the primary urban design challenge of the future.
Moshe Safdie, principal, Safdie Architects For several decades, Michael Sorkin has been a unique voice in architecture. In a period of competing schools of thoughts, transitioning from one “-ism” to another, his critical voice was clear and constant, unwavering, with a focus on the impact of architecture on peoples’ lives and well-being; on the principles that must sustain urban life. He spoke about morals, values and ethics as others reviewed architecture as an ongoing fashion parade. Michael’s commitment to the idea that architecture must be in the service of those for whom we build, led him to strip the discourse of architecture from jargon and private lingo; expressing ideas clearly and articulately to the general public. As a critic at The Village Voice, he reached many outside the profession. He became propagandist for architecture, both within the profession and to the public at large, expanding horizons of the impact of our built environment has on our planet. Michael was a great and passionate teacher. I vividly remember his attendance at design reviews at the GSD, where sometimes faculty comments verge on the esoteric. Michael responded with surgical precision, getting to the essence of a design, and doing so in plain-talk. In his practice, both in Michael Sorkin Studio and Terreform, he was a prolific provocateur, embracing scales from small neighborhood parks to entire cities. The studio produced numerous proposals. Alas, not enough were realized, but the impact on the current generation is profound. It is not often that we find, in one person, an architect, urban designer, educator, theorist, critic and writer. I will miss his voice, cut-off suddenly and untimely, at a time when it is most needed. I hope that the coming generation will embrace the professional ethic his life represents. Deborah Berke, partner, Deborah Berke Partners, and dean of the Yale School of Architecture Michael Sorkin was a great critic, inspired teacher, and a brilliant thinker. And happily for me, he was my friend. We would have a drink together once or twice a year and talk about New York. From old New York to the New York we loved to the New York we missed to the New York we hoped for in the future. Michael was a searing and insightful critic, all the way back to his days at The Village Voice, as well as in his many books and in his more recent criticism for The Nation. He was also an insightful teacher—he taught at Yale twice, first in 1990 as the William B. and Charlotte Shepherd Davenport visiting professor, then in 1991 as the William Henry Bishop visiting professor. He brought these same teaching skills to his strong leadership as the director of the master of urban planning program at the Spitzer School of Architecture at City College (CCNY). He was also one of the most learned and well-read people I’ve ever met. His interests were diverse and his memory was expansive. Michael argued for the greater good in every aspect of the built environment—from the smallest detail of a building to the largest gesture of a regional plan. He will be missed. His convictions, his voice, and his heart are irreplaceable. Barry Bergdoll, Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University I can still rerun lines in my head verbatim from some of Michael’s Village Voice pieces—especially the ones I just couldn’t stop rereading while howling with laughter. His send-up of the Charlottesville Tapes was a true classic, a teddy bear to reach for in the most desperate moments of trying to survive postmodernism. Michael was an arsonist to be sure, yet he also wanted to rebuild something of value and commitment in the place of pretension and posturing. He held out hope for all engaged in architecture to his last moments—as the bright moral light on the horizon that he was—that architecture could still be an instrument for building community. When Reinhold Martin and I looked to launch our experimental Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream project in 2011, amid the ongoing foreclosure crisis, we turned to Michael, inviting him to participate in the opening panel discussion. He offered cogent analyses of our all-too vague brief as well as suggested lines of attack for making architecture that mattered. Along the way he also offered the audience gathered at MoMA PS1 and online a very moving description of his own upbringing in Hollin Hills, Northern Virginia. Hollin Hills was a place where Americans cultivated living together, Michael said, in language that starkly contrasts with the language of intolerance that has since invaded American life, virus-like. Ironically, I think he feared this virus more than the one that took him from us. Michael left us right when we needed him most. With his lucid intelligence, sense of purpose, and biting satirical way of writing, he could cut away the flack even as he focused us on the essential. Nothing he wrote is dated, even if much of it was provoked by immediate events. To reread his pieces is to be in conversation with one of the most truly original and free-thinking minds of architecture. I can’t imagine how anyone will fill the gap, but the texts will continue to delight us and offer refreshing insights. (Think how he knew, for instance, to appreciate Breuer’s Whitney at the moment when fashionable opinion was dead-set against it.) There are many ways to spend our evenings apart at the moment. I, for one, have found a superb tonic for these dark times: pour a glass of bourbon in Michael’s memory and prop open your favorite collection of his writings. We will miss you for years and years to come, Michael. Vanessa Keith, principal, StudioTEKA Design When I came to New York City as a young architect 20 years ago, I was in search of a mentor. Coming from a fine arts background, I wanted someone who I felt was a truly great mind, who I could learn from, and who would take me under their wing. So when I met Michael while I was working on a project for the Spitzer School of Architecture at CCNY, I felt an immediate affinity. He reminded me in some ways of my academic parents and their radical lefty friends who dreamed of a better world while working on their PhD dissertations. From there, I started teaching studio at CCNY in 2002, and being invited to Michael’s UD juries was definitely a high point. He was so innovative, and he always had the backs of everyday people who don’t always get to have their voices heard. He made us think critically and differently, and he didn’t shut down ideas just because they were coming from someone younger or less “educated.” In 2007, Michael; Achva Stein, then head of CCNY’s landscape architecture program; David Leven, of LevenBetts and CCNY; and Ana Maria Duran, a good friend from grad school at Penn who was teaching at PUCE (Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador) in Quito, were doing a joint architecture, landscape, and urban design studio focused on a site in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Ana Maria invited me to lead a student charrette at the Quito Architecture Biennale, which I accepted. Once there, I received another invitation, this one to travel with the studio groups to Lago Agrio, taking Achva’s place. Again, I accepted, getting the yellow fever vaccine and some anti-malaria pills. Shivering and teeth chattering from a reaction to the injection, I jumped on the bus heading down the mountains. What a treat! We took trips up the river with local guides in canoes, avoided the areas marked “piranha,” and at a safer junction jumped into the muddy river water fully dressed in all our gear. The entire group stayed in the rainforest at a research station, saw butterflies in metamorphosis against the backdrop of oil installations, and had a jolly old time. Michael joked about making a calendar featuring scrappy Ecuadorian street dogs, the very antithesis of the Westminster Dog Show. He always rooted for the underdog, valuing the ingenuity and skills of local people and treating them with the utmost respect. Michael helped so many people, and he was so generous with his time. He was always up for coming to Studioteka and playing the role of critic for whatever we were working on in our annual summer research project. That’s how my book, 2100: A Dystopian Utopia — The City After Climate Change for Terreform’s UR imprint, came to be. Several years of in-office juries, occasionally zinging (but usually hilarious and on-point) critiques, and edits followed, and the book came out in 2017. Since then, Michael and the team at Terreform have offered incredible guidance, support and enthusiasm, helping us to get the word out, and cheering me on through each book event, lecture, publication, and milestone. More recently, we had our 2100 VR day at StudioTEKA and gave Michael, along with UR managing director Cecilia Fagel, their very first experience in virtual reality! They were dubious at first, but they were quickly among the converted. At one point in the VR tour, they were put on a plank changing a lightbulb hundreds of feet above the city, and in the end, they asked everyone to jump down. Michael demurred, Cecilia said yes, and we had to catch her! Michael was a brilliant mind, a champion of the dispossessed, and someone who fought valiantly for a just, equitable, and environmentally sustainable future. He believed in cities, in the power of collective action, and that doing better was always possible. Now we must strive to carry on without him, and push hard for the better world he laid out for us in his work. M. Christine Boyer, William R. Kenan, Jr. professor of architecture and urbanism, Princeton University School of Architecture It is too soon to bid farewell to my friend and colleague Michael Sorkin, whom I knew since we were students together at MIT. The last time we saw each other, in late January, we simply hugged each other goodbye: he was due to fly to China, I to Athens. It is indeed a silent spring now that he is gone! Yet his legacy lives on. He leaves a profound and lasting impact on public awareness, on architectural practice, on political commitment! His call to action remains. Michael Sorkin was the conscience of architecture, a visionary change-maker, dedicated educator, engaged author, and imaginative designer. He never backed down from opposing points of view. Rather, he called us all to live better in the world, to mend the city of inequity and injustice. He helped us build solid relationships through his edited books, a forum he built for voices to rise up together in solidarity. He was truly the root from which sprung our dedication to a socially responsible architecture. Michael’s pen brilliantly and humorously elevated the level of architectural and urban criticism into a new art. He was always writing for a better city yet to come. His concern was how to build a city of freedom, diversity, authenticity, participation, intimacy. Let his words speak!
“For me, writing has been the extension of architecture by other means both polemically and as fuel for my money pit of a studio. I write because I am an architect.” —Some Assembly Required (2001) “Architecture cries out for a reinfusion of some sense of responsibility to human program as a generative basis for both its ideology and its formal and technological practice, but gets it less and less.” —Some Assembly Required (2001) “[T]he new city is little more than a swarm of urban bits jettisoning a physical view of the whole; sacrificing the idea of the city as the site of community and human connection.”—Variations on a Theme Park (1991)
He pleaded for a return to a more authentic urbanity, “a city based on physical proximity and free movement and a sense that the city is our best expression of a desire for collectivity.” The goal was, and is, “to reclaim the city is the struggle of democracy itself.” And it is a struggle over contending voices!
“[T]he City is both a place where all sorts of arrangements are possible, and the apparatus for harmonizing autonomy and propinquity./ Freedom, pleasure, convenience, beauty, commerce, and production are the reasons for the City.” —Local Code: The Constitution of a City at 42° N Latitude (1993)
Michael’s critical writings on the politics of architecture live on, be they about the utopian schemes for the World Trade Center or the reconstruction of New Orleans, or the engagement of Palestinian and Israeli voices in the future of Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. He wrote about the battle for freedom, global and local responsibility, the environment, even as he addressed the milieu of architecture, making appeals for inclusion, for connectivity, for sharing, and more. In this silent spring of isolation that robs us of his voice, his pen, his friendship and humor, listen to the small murmurs arising, the tributes that come in from far and near. Witness his influence great and small. From the soil he has nourished with his commitment and action will spring forth—amid ongoing contestation—a better city. Listen to his call! This dear Michael, our Michael, is your enduring legacy.
Sharon Zukin, professor emerita of sociology, Brooklyn College and City University Graduate Center Michael Sorkin was an architect’s writer and a writer’s architect. He had a brilliant wit, a ready command of politics, history, and principles of design, and a passionate commitment to social justice. He wrote in plain English and published prolifically. He scorned hypocrisy, shunned opportunists, and acted to build a better world. Although he had peeves—venal real estate developers, corrupt politicians, celebrity architects, that tin-plated hustler Donald Trump—Michael wasn’t peevish. He could not tolerate intolerance. He was impatient with himself, but he was also a generous teacher, colleague, and friend. During all the years that I knew him (I want to write have known him), I never understood how he could travel so far, write so much, or launch so many projects with so many people and always bring them to completion. Yet his genius ranged most freely, and his rage was most keenly charged, when he wrote about ego and power in the city that he loved: New York. I admired Michael as a writer before I knew him as either an architect or a friend.  I had been a devoted reader of his architectural criticism in The Village Voice during the 1980s. At the time, New York was in transition, moving from widespread deprivation to Reaganite glamour, yuppie glitz, and localized gentrification, even as fiscal austerity penalized the Rust Belt of the outer boroughs and quarantined communities of color. Michael cut through the hype to the complicit collusion of the real estate industry and government agencies; I learned a lot from reading him. Although he and I walked the same streets—and lived in the same neighborhood, Greenwich Village—his streets were more layered than mine because he knew more, had a better eye, and directed his critiques with pinpoint clarity. Who could ever catch up with him? The elegant essays that make up the book Twenty Minutes in Manhattan—shaped by the walk from his home to his office—are my favorites in Michael’s considerable oeuvre. He starts with the stairs in the Old Law tenement where he and Joan, his wife and life-partner, lived for many years. He recounts the difficulties he has had climbing those stairs, especially on crutches after surgery, and then segues into a brief but exact description of their construction. This leads him to reflect on other, grander stairs. The long, straight flights of stairs in late-nineteenth-century industrial buildings that formed a “tectonic loft vocabulary” within the cultural syntax of New York. The elegant double staircases in the Château de Blois. The capacious stairs in the MIT dorm designed by Alvar Aalto, made wide so students would stop to talk to each other. Long before Prada stores and tech and other “creative” offices sprouted them, Michael had already taken the measure of a staircase’s possibilities. “Architecture,” Michael drops into his conversation with the reader, “is produced at the intersection of art and property.” He exhumes the grid plan from its origins in the fifth century BC and relates it to the well-known scheme for laying out potential profit-bearing plots of land throughout Manhattan. Adopted in 1811, the grid not only set New York’s major money machine in motion but also set the course for its buildings, their heights and morphologies, and, yes, the stairs inside them. Which naturally makes him consider the pitch of the treads at the pyramids in Chichen Itza, only to return, once more, to his New York brownstone. This is—was—typical of Michael in writing as in casual conversation: erudition wrapped in humor that didn’t allow pomposity. Like Jane Jacobs, whom he greatly admired, and in whose honor he founded a lecture series at the Spitzer School of Architecture, he was a citizen of both the Village and the world. Like Jacobs, too, he saw the world in the city—but he also saw the city in the world. Michael traveled constantly, giving lectures, pitching projects, taking his students on field trips to South Africa one year and to Cuba another. During his career, he wrote about many different cities. Wherever a community of architects, activists, and urban designers protested a plan, or struggled to turn back an egregious intrusion of monumentalism into a skyline or streetscape, Michael was there. You could count on him to fire broadsides, mobilize the troops, and persuade strangers to join him. A few years ago, he persuaded me and others to write a short essay for a collective book he was putting together with people in Helsinki. This group strongly opposed the city government’s plan to contract with the Guggenheim Museum, then still in its expansionist phase, to build an expensive branch on a stretch of waterfront better left for public use. With these collaborators, Michael organized an anti-competition for design ideas and made us scholars into a jury. This mobilization, echoed by the popular opposition within Helsinki, helped to sink the Guggenheim plan. (Or, at least, it forced the city council to reveal its lack of funds.) The last time I saw Michael, one month before he died, he asked me to come by his office. We talked about a Hungarian artist’s book project on luxury apartments for which we were both writing essays, dished some dirt about various cultural figures on the South Side of Chicago, and looked at the old photographs of Michael’s family on his shelves. We laughed about the double portrait of Joan and himself in front of the Taj Mahal that he had painted in Vietnam; Joan, considering it trashy, would not allow it in their home. Michael asked if I could recommend someone who could write about race and class in the neighborhoods near the University of Chicago for a book he was planning for his publishing house UR, and then asked if I would write something for yet another book he was planning, on smart cities. Although he was not in the best of health, a frailty that the virus would exploit, he still pushed forward.  He was only prevented from taking another trip—to Africa—by the emerging blockade of travel restrictions. My last email from Michael came one week later. He heard me talking about my new book on the radio and immediately sent me fan mail. This, too, was Michael: he acted on friendship. Almost twenty years ago, he and I edited a book of essays by New York urbanists where we tried to put together our abundant sorrows and critical thoughts about the World Trade Center. The words Michael wrote about the fallen Twin Towers surely apply to him. He was, in all respects, “the Everest of our urban Himalayas.”
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Today's Hotel, Tomorrow's Hospital

From parking garages to parks, these are the pop-up medical facilities of the COVID-19 pandemic
As American cities brace for a steep influx of patients suffering from or suspected to be infected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the sprint is on to make up for a woeful dearth of available hospital beds. Per American Hospital Association data, there are 924,000 staffed hospital beds in the country, and more than two-thirds of those are usually occupied. And while the total number of additional hospital required during this mounting pandemic varies day by day, place by place, the only conclusion is that an impossible amount of more beds is needed. To make up for the narrowing availability, temporary hospitals have been erected or are in the process of being erected in some unlikely places. These urgent acts of emergency-level adaptive reuse, many of them spearheaded by city agencies, intergovernmental organizations, healthcare providers, the National Guard, and the Army Corps of Engineers, have taken root on fairgrounds, in football stadiums, in motels, and in Central Park. Not all of these converted spaces, however, are being used to treat COVID-19 patients, although many will. Some will provide housing to nurses and doctors, some will act as quarantine units, some will house the homeless, and others will serve as fully functional overflow hospitals dedicated to providing care to patients suffering from ailments that aren’t the coronavirus. To offer assistance in these conversions, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has even formed a special task force which will release a comprehensive report in early April to help guide decision-making. “This is a race against time for healthcare facilities to meet bed surge capacity needs” said AIA Academy of Architecture for Health president Kirsten Waltz, AIA, ACHA, EDAC, LEED, who is the director of facilities, planning, and design at Baystate Health in Springfield, Massachusetts. “This task force will help inform best practices for quickly assessing building inventory and identifying locations that are most appropriate to be adapted for this crisis.” Below are some of the different buildings and facilities being adapted across the country to serve new purposes during the coronavirus outbreak.

Convention centers

Boasting boundless and easily adaptable floor space, robust loading docks for moving in and out a high volume of equipment and gear, high-powered ventilation systems, and more than a few ADA-compliant bathrooms, convention centers are natural places to establish temporary hospitals. Manhattan’s Jacob K. Javits Center, normally one of the busiest convention centers in the United States, was one of the first to undergo the transformation into a sprawling, nearly 3,000-bed capacity overflow hospital operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. (The Army Corps of Engineers, the New York National Guard, and a team of civilian staffers can be credited for the rapid turnaround.) A large number of other convention centers across the country are either being eyed as potential makeshift medical hubs or are currently being converted into them including the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, Detroit’s TCF Center, McCormick Place in Chicago, the Baltimore Convention Center, the Los Angeles Convention Center, and the Santa Clara Convention Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

Parking garages

While many hospital parking structures are now home to drive-though coronavirus testing sites, in at least one major medical facility, Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center, beds are being moved into a parking garage to treat those potentially infected by the novel coronavirus at a safe distance from other patients.

Sports fields/stadiums

Originally and still largely used as a military term, field hospitals get their name from their strategic location on wide-open spaces in close proximity to sites of mass injuries and casualties such as, well, battlefields. Twenty-first-century field hospitals are now being erected on battlefields of a different kind that normally see a different sort of frenzied combat: football. CenturyLink Field, home to the Seattle Seahawks, is being converted into a large temporary treatment center by the Army and will be dedicated to treating patients with ailments not related to the coronavirus so that beds in overwhelmed Seattle area hospitals are freed up for those suffering from the deadly respiratory disease. Elsewhere in hard-hit Western Washington, another 200-bed field hospital will be erected on a turf soccer field in the Seattle suburb of Shoreline. Relatedly, football pitch-bound field makeshift hospitals are now somewhat de rigueur in countries like Brazil. A section of the famed Billie Jean King Tennis Center at Flushing Meadows, Queens–in better times, home to the U.S. Open—will also be covered into a 350-bed auxiliary medical center by New York City Emergency Management.

Decommissioned hospitals

Shuttered hospitals, many of which have never been closed in the first place, are coming back to life due to the coronavirus pandemic. A wide number of bed-equipped, recently closed medical facilities—including the old Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Illinois, San Francisco’s California Pacific Medical Center, and Laurel Regional Hospital in Maryland—have already or will potentially reopen to accommodate a surge of COVID-19 patients or patients in need of other types of urgent care in overburdened areas.

Dorms/college campuses

With students at an overwhelming number of colleges and universities dismissed from attending in-person classes for the rest of the academic year, an ample amount of available real estate has suddenly opened up. As COVID-19 first began to spread across New York City, New York University pledged to make available some of its now-vacated dormitories for COVID treatment-related purposes if needed. Student housing at New York’s expansive system SUNY and CUNY public colleges could also be potentially turned into emergency medical facilities, quarantine units, and/or temporary housing for healthcare workers. While dorm rooms can be easily retrofitted into treatment spaces, college and universities are also considering converting or already have converted other on-campus facilities into field hospitals. The McCormack-Nagelsen Tennis Center at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, and Liacouras Center at Temple University in Philadelphia, are two examples of non-dorm collegiate spaces that will serve a new purpose during the pandemic.

Central Park

Plenty of strange, sometimes disturbing sights can be seen within Central Park. None, however, quite match the surreally sobering heights of witnessing volunteers erect a tent-based respiratory care center in the middle of New York City’s backyard. Said facility, which will have a capacity of 68 hospital beds and also include an on-site morgue, was established this past weekend in Central Park’s East Meadow by humanitarian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse in partnership with Mount Sinai Health System to “provide care for patients seriously ill with COVID-19.”

Fairgrounds

Generally only used at a very high capacity for a few weeks of the year, fairgrounds over a vast amount of space with the needed infrastructure—electricity, water, various buildings, arenas, parking lots the size of a small town—already in place. The Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in San Jose, California, for example, will take advantage of this advantageous arrangement and temporarily house members of the region’s sizable, highly vulnerable homeless population during the pandemic. Elsewhere in California, the Orange County Fairgrounds are being mulled as a potential site to accommodate overflow from established medical facilities in the area; it’s a similar story at the Riverside County Fairgrounds in Indio. Outside of California, the massive Washington State Fairgrounds are being considered as an emergency medical site about 30 miles south of Seattle in the city of Puyallup. In Florida, where the virus is on the verge of exploding in certain areas, a 250-bed facility is already under construction at the Miami-Dade Fairgrounds. In several states, fairgrounds and their parking lots are already being used to host drive-up coronavirus testing sites.

Hotels and motels

Hotels and motels are perhaps the most versatile and, due in part to low occupancy rates brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak, the most readily available spaces to repurpose during a pandemic. Providing privacy, some level of comfort, and isolation, they can be used to treat non-critical patients recovering from the COVID-19-related illnesses, quarantine patients suspected to be infected, house exhausted, high-risk healthcare workers on the frontlines (in sometimes deluxe accommodations), and provide a temporary safe haven to vulnerable populations like the unsheltered. Officials in various cities including New York, Chicago, Seattle, New Orleans, and Oakland, California, have leased hundreds, even thousands, of hotel and motel rooms to be used in various capacities in the coming weeks, with the Army Corps of Engineers working to identify and then convert many of them into fully functional temporary medical facilities. Many, of course, have their own ideas as to which specific hotels should be used.
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Coronavirus Column

What does the coronavirus pandemic mean for architects?
For the duration of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, AN will use this column to keep our readers up to date on how the pandemic is affecting architecture and related industries. This weekly article is meant to digest the latest major developments in the crisis and synthesize broader patterns and what they could mean for architecture in the United States. It’s now been over one week since the first state in the U.S., California, enforced a shelter in place order, disrupting the working lives of millions of Americans. The pandemic’s impact on architecture still isn’t totally clear; some construction sites are closed, financial markets are fluctuating, and designers are working from home, but whether or not the country is headed toward a long-term recession or whether it will bounce back once the acute period of the crisis passes is an open question. I spoke with Jonathan Moody, CEO of Ohio-based Moody Nolan, about how the pandemic is affecting his business and the industry more broadly. “We’re hoping for the best but planning for the worst,” Moody said. Lessons from 2008’s Great Recession are coming in handy, he said, particularly lessons about the value of diversifying project types and being aware that different sectors of the industry will fare differently. Education projects may be hampered by schools suddenly without students (the pandemic has spurred the San Francisco Art Institute to close permanently), while multifamily housing may see boosts from slashed interest rates. He also suggested that because construction timelines on large institutional projects are so long, a few weeks of interruption would pass relatively quickly and wouldn’t require firms to cut staffing.  The past few weeks have brought a jarring amount of change. Multiple architecture events have been postponed or canceled. The AIA has indefinitely postponed its annual conference, originally scheduled for mid-May in Los Angeles; Milan’s Salone del Mobile moved from April to June, before being canceled and moved to 2021; New York Design Week events have been pushed to October from May; and the Venice Architecture Biennale, also originally planned for May, will now open in August. Cultural institutions have started to feel the squeeze as they close or attendance plummets. Of course, there is also the human toll of the pandemic, visible in the death of Italian architect, planner, editor, and curator Vittorio Gregotti, who died of complications related to COVID-19 infection at the age of 92, and the death of theorist and the director emeritus of Graduate Urban Design Program of the City College of New York, Michael Sorkin. The profession’s day-to-day operations, for the most part, continue to go on, albeit in modified forms. Shelter in place orders mean that in architecture offices in hubs like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, employees are working from home and teleconferencing their way through the day (although WeWork refuses to close), but those same restrictions haven’t affected construction sites in the same way. Tradespeople continue to show up to sites across most of the country, even in places where office workers are staying home, although that is slowly changing. Construction Dive published an interactive map to keep track of construction-site closures across the country, which began in Boston and have slowly spread elsewhere. Some manufacturers have had to temporarily close factories because of shelter in place rules—Michigan’s many furniture producers had to pause work after that state’s social distancing order took effect on Tuesday—and some products from China and Italy are now less readily available Moody said that, so far, material and product supply chain delays had caused only a few minor hiccups to schedule, but had encouraged the company to think more about the necessity of items coming from halfway around the world. “Some of these products look really nice, but are they essential?” he said. Given that occupancy permits may be delayed because of a missing lightbulb from China, shipments of which may be delayed because of the pandemic, “we have to be a little more thoughtful about where [products] are coming from.” Memories of these supply chain disruptions may drive designers to source products and materials more locally even after the pandemic recedes. The crisis may also spur changes in how the broader public thinks about land use. Outdoor spaces are getting new attention. Inga Saffron wrote in The Philadelphia Inquirer about how parks have become overcrowded refuges for cooped-up urbanites, and New York City is starting to close a couple of major streets in all of its boroughs to open up more space for exercise and recreation as vehicle traffic plummets. Shelter in place orders are also shining a light on the fact that many city dwellers don’t have a safe shelter to go to, and protesters in Southern California have occupied vacant homes to find housing that the government has not been able to provide. The explosion of cases is forcing cities to get nimble: New York is scrambling to convert spaces like the Javits Center to temporary treatment centers as the city runs out of hospital beds. Curbed wrote about how, like in past pandemics that have shaped the design of cities like New York, COVID-19 may be an inflection point in how urbanists plan our metropolises. The crisis could also spur changes to construction technology, encouraging contractors to adopt tools that could decrease the number of people on-site, like site-monitoring drones or robotic delivery. Moody said that his firm’s move toward state-of-the-art teleconferencing techniques a few months ago now seems prescient and is helping the company weather the crisis. Similar forward-thinking about construction sites might be what gets the industry through this or coming crises. While it’s easy to feel bogged down by the daily onslaught of news, Moody stressed the importance of looking ahead.We do know that this won’t last forever,” he said, “and the things that we’ve been working on will need to continue when ready.” In the meantime, he is seeing some upsides to the interruptions to normal work routines. “[The disruptions are] forcing us to really question what is essential and teaching us what is important. We’ve seen our staff and clients be more decisive and thoughtful about how to best leverage expertise, maximize value, and treat people the right way. We’re seeing our humanity on display, and we’re not ashamed to show that we care for one another.” And while you are stuck inside, there are some virtual ways to get out of the house and explore. Google has compiled over 500 virtual tours of museums from around the world; staff at the Museum of Modern Art have put together a list of movies and video art to stream; filmmaker Gary Hustwit’s design movies, like Helvetica and Urbanized, are available for free streaming; and schools including the University of Southern California are streaming their spring events online. I also recommend this history of the N95 mask if you’re looking for a good long read. Finally, if you’re able to help and are looking for opportunities, check out Invisible Hands, an organization pairing people who can’t leave their homes with others who can deliver their groceries or run errands.  Be well!
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Takin' it to the streets

Cities open up streets to pedestrians as parks overcrowd
For those living in heavily impacted urban areas, life during the novel coronavirus pandemic has been spent largely confined indoors, housebound and isolated, disconnected from the typical physical places where city-dwellers tend to congregate en masse when not working. Bars, restaurants, gyms, theaters, and on have all been closed. Outdoor public space, on the other hand, is considered “safe” but with one key caveat: the concept of social distancing has to also be closely observed on city sidewalks, parks, beaches, and the like to help curb the spread of the virus. Otherwise, heading outside for some fresh and exercise as the weather improves—a much-needed balm for corona cabin fever—is rendered moot if it’s spent in close proximity to hundreds of others. To help prevent overcrowding in popular parks, trails, and recreational areas (a major issue in places like Los Angeles and New York), some cities are embracing new approaches that enable residents to enjoy the outdoors but at more of a safe distance from the madding, potentially infected crowds. Philadelphia has prohibited vehicular access along a four-mile stretch of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, a generally busy riverside road within West Fairmount Park that, under normal circumstances, is closed to vehicles only during limited hours on weekends. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s office said in a press release that pedestrianizing the street full-time is “in the interest of facilitating social distancing among trail users.” Kenney’s office went on to note that the city “strongly encourages residents to stay indoors as much as possible” but “recognizes that physical activity is important to well being.” In San Francisco, pedestrian advocacy groups are pressing the city to close off certain streets to vehicular traffic, already dramatically reduced in numerous on-lockdown cities, so that pedestrians can exercise and get around while at a remove from their fellow fresh air-seekers. The idea has garnered support from local officials although no plans have been formalized. As reported by the San Francisco Examiner, safe streets advocate Patrick Traughber has even crowd-sourced a number of streets—Divisadero Street, Valencia Street, John. F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park, and Haight Street among them—that would particularly benefit from 24/7 traffic closures during the pandemic. “You absolutely have to walk in the street to pass people,” said Traughber. “Since the streets have car traffic, it’s a dangerous situation. It feels like we could convert some of the road capacity to walk while the car traffic is down.” Yesterday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also announced a four-day street closure test-run in Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. The shuttered streets, totaling 1.6 miles of over 6,000 miles of roadway in the city, include Park Avenue between East 28th and East 34th streets in Midtown Manhattan; Bushwick Avenue from Johnson Avenue to Flushing Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 34th Avenue from 73rd Street to 80th Street in Jackson Heights, Queens; and Grand Concourse between East Burnside and 184th Streets in the Fordham Heights section of the Bronx. Staten Island has been excluded from the pilot. “Everyone wants to make sure there are spaces for folks to get their exercise, to get fresh air, there must be enforcement,” said de Blasio. “It has to be places the NYPD and other agencies can enforce effectively.” While limiting vehicular traffic on New York City streets—even if just limited stretches of them—is the long-held dream of safe street advocates, de Blasio’s plan has been greeted with a mixed reception. Some have criticized the limited nature of the scheme and the fact that it will only be enforced nine hours a day from 10:00 a.m. through 7:00 p.m. Because the number of street sections being closed off to traffic is minuscule compared to the total amount of roadway in the city that could potentially be made off-limits to cars during the duration of the pandemic while not interfering with the movement of emergency vehicles, there are concerns that the sheer number of people congregating in the sparse car-free streets could devolve into an out-of-control health hazard. Simply put, some think de Blasio, who also has temporarily banned contact sports like basketball at city parks and threatened to shut down playgrounds, should have thought much, much bigger. Outside of streets closing off to traffic, other outdoor venues are making themselves more available to cooped-up residents who want to be outside but are wary of the overcrowding seen in parks large and small. Brooklyn’s sprawling, stunning Green-Wood Cemetery, for example, plans to extend its public hours starting in April in order to accommodate an influx of visitors. The historic 500-acre cemetery, located not too far from Prospect Park, hopes that its strict existing rules prohibiting activities like dog-walking, bicycling, and jogging will make it a more attractive destination to social distance-observing New Yorkers simply looking to enjoy long, quiet solo walks. “Green-Wood was designed to be a different kind of experience,” Lisa Alpert, Green Wood’s vice president of development and programming, told the New York Times. “It’s a more contemplative, less recreational one, intended to connect people with nature, and we are especially happy now to serve as a green space for people to get away.” As Sara Bronin, an attorney, architect, and advisor to the National Trust for Historic Preservation wrote in a recent op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer, now is the time for urban green spaces—specifically spacious urban green spaces that aren’t as easily prone to overcrowding—to shine. After all, many of America’s great historic city parks and rural cemeteries like Green-Wood were expressly created in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries as places for city dwellers to escape cramped residential neighborhoods and the rampant infectious diseases such as tuberculosis that spread through them. “The scale of these carefully-designed grand parks, and the ambitions of their designers, far surpass the vision behind the small-minded ‘pocket parks’ local leaders seem to favor today,” opined Bronin. “Other communities should restore the grand historic parks that are getting us through the current crisis and will serve as vibrant places of social cohesion long after COVID-19 is conquered,” continued Bronin, singling out Philadelphia and Hartford, Connecticut, as two cities dedicated to preserving its historic park infrastructure. “Special attention should be paid to equity and ensuring that investments are spread fairly across neighborhoods. Let’s do what we can to renew our commitment to those places that are giving so much right now to our bodies, hearts, and spirits.”
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You’ve Got Jail

Fifteen architects and designers will advise design of Rikers Replacement jails
In October 2019, the City Council approved a controversial Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) application for the $8.7 billion plan to construct four new smaller jails to replace the Rikers Island complex. Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx would each get a community jail building that the reformists and their supporters in the Mayor’s Office for Criminal Justice (MCOJ) called “smaller, safer, and fairer.” “This is part of a once-in-many-generations opportunity to build a smaller and more humane justice system that includes four facilities that reflect the City’s commitment to dignity and respect,” the NYC Department of Design and Construction (DDC) said at the time. “The new facilities will offer better connections to and space for those detained and their families, attorneys, courts, medical and mental health care, education, therapeutic programming and service providers.” In addition to the Borough-Based Jail Program (BBJP)’s larger urban ambitions of moving the detention facilities off of Rikers and closer to the communities where inmates come from, on February 4, the DDC issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for a pool of design-build teams that will propose schemes to dismantle and build new facilities across the four selected boroughs. AECOM and Hill Engineering have already been tapped to help envision and implement a design-forward approach to the new sites. When The Rikers Island Jail Complex Replacement Act was passed in 2018, it was made clear that design, quality, past performance, and qualifications would be the priority rather than simple budget concerns. The DDC and the MOCJ, in conjunction with the NYC Department of Correction (DOC), announced an independent peer review committee of architects and designers yesterday that will assist in the selection and design that will help select the teams from the RFQ, provide guidelines for the RFP, and participate in architectural review that will “ensure high-quality design submissions that balance aesthetics, functionality, cost, constructability and durability.” Several of the reviewers have been involved in the BBJP process already, having served on the Justice Implementation Task Force’s Working Group on Design. Below are the Peer Review Panelists:
Dominick DeAngelis, RA, AIA, Vice President of Architecture and Engineering, NYC School Construction Authority Mr. DeAngelis is responsible for the design of $18 billion of construction over the next five years that will create 57,000 seats in 87 new schools or additions, and upgrade 1,840 additional NYC public schools. Wendy Feuer, Assistant Commissioner for Urban Design + Art + Wayfinding, NYC Department of Transportation Ms. Feuer’s DOT office makes streets attractive and welcoming for all users, and publishes a street design manual for City agencies, consultants and community groups. She has been a public art peer for the federal General Services Administration’s Design Excellence program for over 15 years.  Erik Fokkema, Architect, Partner, EGM Architecten Mr. Fokkema has expansive experience in the Netherlands in institutional facilities, as well as private residential and public buildings. He is an expert in building operations, making the complex simple, and designing humane and user-friendly buildings.  Mark Gardner, AIA, NOMA, Principal, Jaklitsch/Gardner Architects New York-based architect Mark Gardner’s experience scales from buildings to interiors to product design, and he works to understand the role of design as a social practice. He is an expert and strong advocate for diversity and inclusion in architecture and design.  Rosalie Genevro, Executive Director, The Architectural League of New York An architectural historian and urbanist, Ms. Genevro has led initiatives at The Architectural League addressing housing, schools, libraries and topics such as climate change. She is a frequent contributor on the City’s building environment. Samantha Josaphat, RA, Founding Principal, Studio 397 Architecture Ms. Josaphat’s portfolio includes architecture and interior design of higher education projects, as well as large- and small-scale residential projects, to which she brings impressive knowledge of the City’s building regulations. She is President of the New York Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects. Purnima Kapur, Urbanism Advisors, former Executive Director, NYC Department of City Planning Ms. Kapur was a key architect of the City’s groundbreaking Mandatory Inclusionary Housing regulation, which has led to five Integrated Neighborhood plans, and has been integral to the redevelopment of Brooklyn over the past two decades via projects including the Greenpoint-Williamsburg Waterfront, Downtown Brooklyn and Coney Island. Bruce Kuwabara, OC, OAA, FRAIC, AIA, RIBA, Partner, KPMB Architects One of Canada’s leading architects, Mr. Kuwabara’s diverse portfolio encompasses cultural, civic, educational, healthcare and performing arts projects in North America and Europe. Luis Medina-Carreto, Project Manager, Press Builders Mr. Medina is an expert in New York City construction management and methods, with a reputation of bringing projects to completion on schedule and on budget in the City’s complicated building environment. Gudrun Molden, Architect, Founding Partner, HLM Architects Gudrun Molden comes to the City from Norway with extensive experience in detention facility architecture in an urban context, including Oslo city center and Åna prison in Norway. Nancy Prince, RLA, ASLA, Chief of Landscape Architecture, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation Ms. Prince establishes the design aesthetic and vision for the Parks Department’s large and varied portfolio of projects. Prior to entering public service, Ms. Prince spent years designing New York City’s parks and playgrounds. Stanley Richards, Executive Vice President, The Fortune Society With decades of experience in the criminal justice field, Stanley leads Fortune’s management, direct service programs, fundraising and advocacy work to promote alternatives to incarceration and support successful reentry from prison. Annabelle Selldorf, AIA, Principal, Selldorf Architects Ms. Selldorf founded her practice in New York City over 30 years ago. Her firm’s broad expertise has been applied in cultural, educational, industrial and residential projects throughout the United States. Lisa Switkin, FAAR, ASLA, Senior Principal, James Corner Field Operations Ms. Switkin has helped to reshape New York City’s public spaces for 20 years, including the design and delivery of the High Line, Brooklyn’s Domino Park and the public spaces at South Street Seaport’s Pier 17. Andrew Winters, AIA, Head of Development Services, Sidewalk Labs While serving as Director of the Office of Capital Project Development under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Mr. Winters oversaw the development of public assets such as the High Line, East River Waterfront and Brooklyn Bridge Park. More recently he has overseen the planning, design and construction of the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island.
“Superior design is an essential element for creating the City’s more humane and more equitable justice system,” said DDC commissioner Lorraine Grillo in the panel’s announcement press release. “These buildings will be important civic structures, reflecting the ambition of the City’s justice reforms, ensuring the dignity and well-being of those who are incarcerated, work and visit them, and integrating into the city centers where they are located,” the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice director Elizabeth Glazer added. Workshops and community feedback have informed the process, including an emphasis on using community space, and the public meetings will give citizens the opportunity to give input on the ground floor sections. However, some feel that the city has not done enough to listen and reach out. A series of lawsuits are pending against three of the four facilities. Activist and neighborhood groups in Manhattan claim that the city did not reach out to the community, namely senior citizens living at the nearby Chung Pak center, and that the city knew about Native American human remains in the area that could be affected. The suit was filed by Neighbors United Below Canal and the American Indian Community House. A lawsuit in the Bronx claims the de Blasio administration failed to consider alternative sites, ignored environmental impact reports, and went around the required public review processes. In Queens, Queens Residents United and the Community Preservation Coalition make similar claims about top-down planning and lack of engagement with residents of the neighborhood. The DDC is proceeding with the projects, a spokesperson for the department told AN, while Nick Paolucci at the NYC Department of Law told AN that, “This litigation is ongoing. We stand by the city and its approvals for this important initiative.” “Our borough-based jails plan is the culmination of years of collaboration between the city, local elected officials, and the communities they represent,” City spokesman Avery Cohen told Court House News. “We will vigorously defend our work in court as we move forward with our commitment to close Rikers Island and create a justice system is that is smaller, safer, and fairer.” The fight is far from over. The RFP guidelines will be reviewed by the City Planning Commission, NYC Department of City Planning Design, an Advisory Group appointed by the City Council and affected Borough Presidents, and the Public Design Commission, who will also review the final proposals as the massive project moves through ULURP.
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Hallowed Halls

FXCollaborative’s UWS Children’s Museum conversion sparks preservation fears
A year-and-a-half after the news broke that FXCollaborative would be converting Manhattan’s derelict First Church of Christ Scientist on West 96th Street into the new home of the Children’s Museum of Manhattan (CMOM), the project has gone before the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to mixed reviews. The Beaux-Arts-reminiscent church was originally completed in 1903 by Carrère & Hastings, and befitting its pedigree, was landmarked by the city in 1974. However, due to the rapid decline of Christian Science, the building was sold to Crenshaw Christian Church in 2004, then again to a residential developer in 2014. The building was decommissioned as the First Church of Christ Scientist when the original congregation left and merged with the city’s Second Church, in the process turning that location into the new First Church of Christ Scientist (yes, it’s confusing). After several failed attempts to convert the building into high-end condos, the developer unloaded the property to CMOM in 2018. Now FXCollaborative’s plans for 361 Central Park West have been unveiled. At an LPC meeting this Tuesday, March 3, the museum presented their reworked vision for the building. That includes removing the former church’s stained glass windows and replacing them with clear, bird-safe glass, excavating below the building for a new cellar and sub-cellar area, inserting a new workshop and performance space at the top of the building, improving handicap accessibility, and a suite of quality-of-life improvements. One of the design team’s guiding principles was to better connect the museum to Central Park across the street, which the new windows and lowered entrances should help with. The full proposal can be found on the LPC’s website. Of note is that much of the exterior will be seemingly unchanged apart from the new rooftop area, including a refusal to route lighting through any of the existing exterior stone. However, the rooftop addition and removal of the building’s historic stained glass is causing the most consternation among preservationists. The Society for the Architecture of the City, former congregation members, and nearby residents expressed concern over the changes, as the addition would be visible from the street and the original windows were part of the building's original designation. If the project moves ahead, the windows would be sent to St. Louis’s National Building Arts Center for conservation. A number of big names also tendered support for the conversion, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who spoke in person, and Deborah Berke, who submitted a letter of support. Ultimately the commission was mixed on the changes and raised the same concerns mentioned previously. The project was sent back for revisions and will be brought before the LPC again sometime in the near future. If everything goes smoothly, the museum’s new home is anticipated to open in 2023.
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Sunny Days Ahead?

Master plan for Sunnyside Yard megadevelopment places affordable housing front and center
The master plan for Sunnyside Yard, the second rail yard-blanketing megadevelopment to take root in New York City in less than a decade, has been unveiled. But when comparing Sunnyside Yard, in western Queens, to its predecessor, the upmarket enclave Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s far West Side, similarities between the two, aside from their positioning atop active rail yards and their massive size—28 acres for Hudson Yards and a staggering 144 acres for Sunnyside Yard—are far and few between. When the first of Hudson Yards’ two phases opened in March 2019 seven years after breaking ground, the new neighborhood, studded with skyscrapers designed by an impressive roster of top architects, became an instant magnet for controversy over, among other things, its preponderance of multimillion-dollar condos. (To be clear, there isn’t a total dearth of affordable housing at Hudson Yards.) Sunnyside Yard takes a dramatically different approach, and much-needed affordable housing is at the very core of the sprawling development master-planned by Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU). In total, Sunnyside Yard will include 12,000 affordable housing units—the most in New York City since Co-Op City in the Bronx was completed in 1973—as the Wall Street Journal reports. Half of Sunnyside Yard’s apartments will be earmarked as affordable rentals for New Yorkers earning 50 percent below the area median income and the other half reserved for affordable homeownership initiatives. Half of the aforementioned affordable rentals would be reserved for very low-income New York families earning less than 30 percent of the area median income. In addition to housing, the ground-up carbon-neutral neighborhood, a project of the New York City Economic Development Corp (EDC) co-planned with Amtrak, will include 60 acres of parkland and open public space, multiple libraries, a score of healthcare facilities, and up to a dozen new schools. “While the overall program is flexible in terms of location and quantities,” explained PAU, “the plan calls for 100 percent affordable housing; a mix of office, retail, light-manufacturing and institutional programs; and lays out an armature of public goods to support these uses.” While Sunnyside Yard has yet to be slapped with a total price tag, the cost to build a protective deck over most of the 180-acre rail yard partly owned by Amtrak—the master plan encompasses 80 percent of the total site—is estimated at $14.4 billion. This also includes the cost of building out necessary street-level infrastructure, utilities, and more. New Yorkers shouldn’t hold their breaths for a huge influx of affordable housing soon, as the project will take decades to complete, with a new regional transit hub, Sunnyside Station, taking priority over housing in terms of what will come first. PAU notes that “the team has identified a series of early investments that respond to pressing community needs and could be implemented in the near term.” Sunnyside Station, identified through community engagement as one of the pressing needs, is one of these early investments. Developers have yet to be selected for the project although the plan gives priority to women- and minority-owned firms and community-centered nonprofits. A consortium composed of Amtrak, the MTA, and the city, along with “community and elected officials will guide the planning process,” wrote the Journal. Writes PAU:
Encircled by thriving neighborhoods that are both tall and small, artistic and prosaic, diverse and even more diverse, Sunnyside should connect, celebrate, and enhance its surroundings. Like the rest of Queens, with its vast industrial and residential neighborhoods, the World’s Fair grounds, MoMA PS1, the Noguchi Museum, Socrates Sculpture Park, and Gantry Plaza State Park, the ideas for Sunnyside must be diverse, creative, and contemporary. These places—like the future-facing borough they call home that led New York into the Jet Age—have never been about the same old same old, never about nostalgia, and never succumb to the banal. Neither should Sunnyside Yard, which could portend our future as a city.
“It’s unprecedented in the last 50 years and it’s amazing,” Jonathan F.P. Rose, an urban planner and affordable housing developer, told the Journal. “When you combine those things with schools, parks, health care, social services, it creates the platform for people to move forward economically with their lives.” How Sunnyside Yard will be paid for is a detail that’s yet to be ironed out, and backers of the project admit funding will be an uphill battle moving forward. Cash will likely come from a mix of federal, state, and city resources including affordable housing subsidies and tax-exempt bonds. Sunnyside Yard recently made news when the project's EDC-organized steering committee lost Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sylvia White of the Justice for All Coalition as members. Their resignation came after local residents and leaders strongly objected to the project during a months-long public outreach period. Those in opposition believe that the funds that would be allocated by the city to develop and build Sunnyside Yard should instead be used for more urgent community needs. In her resignation letter, Ocasio-Cortez argued that funds “should be invested in shoring up the existing transportation infrastructure that already exists there or investing it in other under-funded public resources that our community relies on.” “Sunnyside Yards presents an opportunity to build a stronger New York for generations to come that includes more open space, transit, affordable housing, jobs and green infrastructure in western Queens,” wrote an EDC spokesperson in response. “This planning process has always put community engagement at the center. We’re committed to continuing our work with the community to build a strategic vision that can better serve local residents and all New Yorkers.” It was first announced that the New York-based PAU had been selected to develop the project master plan in May 2018. Landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz and Carlo Ratti Associati are among the collaborators that worked alongside PAU in realizing the vision, which as the Sunnyside Yard executive summary states, is “not a shovel-ready mega-development plan, but rather a long-term framework to guide decisions, ensuring that they are led by public priorities, and centered on human needs.” “As an architecture firm deeply committed to advancing equitable, ecological, and joyful cities, PAU has been honored to collaborate with the City, Amtrak, the Steering Committee, our extraordinary consulting team, and innumerable local stakeholders on this intensively community-based, long-term vision for Sunnyside Yard,” said Vishaan Chakrabarti, founder of PAU, in a statement. “At over 180 acres, the Yard represents our city’s most significant opportunity to realize shared progressive goals all in a carbon neutral environment that will set a model globally for sustainable urban growth while maintaining a scale and density reflective of Western Queens. Neighboring communities now have a unique opportunity to leverage this Plan to address long-standing needs in terms of transportation, housing, jobs, open space, social infrastructure, and environmental resilience.” In a 2019 article about Sunnyside Yard, AN editor-in-chief William Menking speculated that “we are more likely to get another version of Hudson Yards on this public land.” Although nothing yet is set in stone, PAU's ambitious master plan helps to ensure that this won't be the case.
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Green Light, No!

NYC Parks Department required to rethink controversial redesign of Fort Greene Park
Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park will live to see another day in its current state.  After over three years of controversy, the New York Supreme Court has decided that the 30-acre landscape would not be subject to a redesign or the removal of 83 mature trees until a proper environmental impact review is conducted. The lawsuit was brought against the N.Y.C. Parks Department last April, in which the Sierra Club, the City Club of New York, and Friends of Fort Greene Park (FFGP) demanded the court pause the $10.5 million renovation of the park’s northside entrance, which would have effectively destroyed a 1970’s brutalist plaza by landscape architect A. E. Bye, Jr.  Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in 1868, Fort Greene Park has been renovated three times in its history. The plan put forth by the Parks Department would revamp the northwestern corner on Myrtle Avenue, an area heavily utilized by local residents in a nearby housing development, and knock out Bye’s pathway—a series of mounds reminiscent of graves as AN previously noted—that leads visitors already inside the park to the 150-foot-tall Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument. The leveling of this iconic intervention, according to stakeholders, and the addition of the proposed concrete plaza would replace an existing 13,000-square-feet of green space.  The decision to update the park is part of the Park Department’s Parks Without Borders program, an initiative started in 2015 to upgrade eight city parks with enhanced accessibility and better connectivity to the neighborhoods that surround them, free of fencing. The Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the redesign in late 2017.  Based on the recent hearing, the Parks Department is now required to conduct a full environmental review before moving forward with the project. A previously released assessment was denounced by Friends of Fort Greene Park, which found out via a Freedom of Information Act request that the initial statement was heavily redacted and excluded comments from a city-hired landscape architect who recommended all trees be kept on-site, except those that were weak or weren’t in keeping with the park’s historic nature.  “The Parks Department fell short in its responsibilities to be transparent and accountable throughout its Parks Without Borders design process,” said Ling Hsu, president of FFGP, who agrees the northside of the park needs enhancements, but specifically, maintenance repairs and accessibility updates.  “This park isn’t broken,” she said, “so ‘fixing’ it only means giving it some long-delayed maintenance attention, not the significant redesign the Parks Department has planned.”  Nick Paolucci, a spokesperson for the city's law department, told AN in an email that it will continue to work together with Parks to pursue the proposal in full: “The court has delayed important park enhancements such as improved accessibility and other benefits that were supported by the community," wrote Paolucci. "We disagree with this ruling—the city followed the law and the approvals needed for this type of project. An environmental review was not required. We are reviewing the city’s legal options to continue this important initiative.”