Search results for "Public Design Commission"

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Holy Furor
Courtesy All Saints Church

Amid clashing visions for Pasadena’s historic civic center, a proposed expansion to the All Saints Episcopal Church by Richard Meier & Partners was rebuffed for the second time in six months by the Pasadena Planning Commission on December 10.

Meier’s master plan for the church mapped out the addition of four buildings, measuring about 68,000 square feet, to the church’s 2.8-acre site in Pasadena’s historic district. The plan would leave the exterior of the church’s cloister intact, while facilitating interior renovations of the parish hall and rectory. New development would be centered around a two-level, cylindrical-shaped assembly building for worship opening onto an expansive plaza. Other development would be rectilinear in form and include a two-story building with offices, conference rooms, and an outdoor cafe; a three-story daycare and youth center; and a six-story senior housing building. The plan also called for multiple outdoor courtyards and gardens. Few specific design details have been released, although materials were described during the public presentation including stone quarried from Bouquet Canyon to match the cloister’s facade, a copper sunscreen, architectural concrete, and tubular steel railings.

In its action, the commission not only declined to approve the church’s master plan as presented but reversed a previous decision—made on May 28, 2008—which had allowed the church to file a Mitigated Negative Declaration, which would have been far less cumbersome than filing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The action also came after the city’s Design Commission, charged with making recommendations to the Planning Commission, had approved the project on October 13.

“It is difficult not to think that the planning commissioners came into the meeting already having made a decision against us,” said the church’s rector, Ed Bacon, responding to AN via e-mail. “We had followed all of their rules and suggestions and then they changed the rules. It was frustrating in light of the fact that we’re trying to make an important contribution to the community, both in ministry and architecture.”

According to Keith Holeman, a spokesperson for All Saints, the church will continue to pursue approval of a master plan for expansion, but has yet to decide upon the best route. “There are potholes that you go through here,” noted Holeman. “Disappointments along the way. But we’re also very positive about the project.” (Meier's office referred requests for comment to the church.)

Several options now lie before All Saints: follow the planning commission’s requests and return to the commission with a new master plan and an EIR, or make their case before Pasadena’s city council with or without a completed EIR.

Though representatives of the church claimed the project complied with directives given by the commission in May (after the first rejection of the plan), the commission sided with community residents like Marsha Rood, who asked at the December 10 meeting: “Should Pasadena look like new development, or new development look like Pasadena?” Rood, who served as the city’s development administrator from 1982 to 2000, said that the endeavor violated the 2004 Central District Specific Plan, enacted to protect the area surrounding Pasadena’s civic center—which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. She contended that Meier’s plan did not pursue a relationship with the civic center, which sits directly across the street from the church, and violated the scale, massing, and rhythms delineated in the specific plan as well as the palette of materials and colors.

The specific plan does call for designers to maintain stylistic unity for civic buildings and draw inspiration from classical Italian and Spanish models, but it also states: “this should not prevent contemporary interpretations responsive to the Southern California environment.” It is unclear when the church and its architect may return to make its case for contemporary architecture in Pasadena.
 


The linear plan would cluster development opposite a new cylindrical assembly building.
 Images courtesy All Saints Church
 

The proposed ground plan. 
 
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Show Me the Way
Fordham's Michael Goncalves envisioned a bulls-eye design to create legibility from all angles.
Julia Galef

Not long ago, graphic designer Sylvia Harris emerged from a Midtown Manhattan subway station with two friends, and, without exchanging a word, they each turned right. Later, the group realized they had all fixed their direction using different methods: One had read the street signs; one had looked for the Empire State Building; and one had checked the angle of Broadway cutting across the avenue.

On December 9, Harris and other experts weighed in on an official orientation system to help New Yorkers figure uptown from downtown. Joined by design consultant Mark Randall and Grand Central Partnership spokesman Mark Wurzel, the three helped kick off an exhibition at the Center for Architecture of design proposals from students at NYU, Fordham, FIT, and Pratt, all of whom had been invited by the Department of Transportation (DOT) to take a crack at this time-honored urban conundrum.



Among the designs on exhibit, Fordham’s Lydia Orsi and Elushika Weerakoon used tactile materials that could be felt underfoot.



NYU’s team added local flavor, with icons of nearby landmarks and colors that reflect neighborhood subway lines.

The dot's original compass decal, featured in a 2007 pilot project.
 
 

As DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, herself on hand for the occasion, pointed out, even the most grizzled New Yorkers can get confused when emerging from a subway station. Two years ago, the agency rolled out a pilot program of compass-like decals to help orient pedestrians, and while public response was positive, dozens of new suggestions poured in, sending the DOT back to the drawing board.

So what might this sidewalk system look like? Several teams worked within the original compass motif. One FIT concept showed a ring labeling the general neighborhoods lying in each direction, while Fordham’s Michael Goncalves envisioned the subway station at the center of a bull’s-eye. A second Fordham design used a circle of gray rubber, with raised metal dots representing nearby streets and landmarks. More traditionally, Pratt’s designers made the case for comprehensively detailed maps, and NYU’s team, the most adventurous of them all, designed a sprawling cluster of arrows to encourage forward movement.

At the opening for the exhibit, which runs through January 24, experts had both praise and criticism for the designs. Randall admired several teams’ use of imagery—such as NYU’s pagoda silhouette that paid homage to Chinatown—since images can reflect local character while crossing linguistic barriers. But other panelists argued that images can be problematic, since not all neighborhoods have iconic landmarks, and if a landmark should change, the whole design might get scrapped. On the other hand, more literal map-like designs would probably be too complicated. Fordham’s clear and intuitive bulls-eye scheme won plaudits on that count. As Randall summed up, “This really should be an opportunity to develop a new symbolic language.”

Some of the most spirited debate ensued not over which design to use, but which materials to craft it with. “We like bronze because it’s easy to maintain, it can be removed, and it reflects the classic landmark nature of our community,” said Wurzel. But bronze plaques would cost upwards of $7,000 each, and since the DOT has suggested having business improvement districts in each community fund their own signage, bronze could be too costly for some neighborhoods. And some audience members argued that the orientation device should be placed at eye-level, where people naturally look, rather than in the pavement, as is the current plan. (The DOT is studying the proposals and has not yet set a timeline for the project's final design.) 

There is some question whether design is even the best solution. A large part of the cure for New Yorkers’ disorientation may, in fact, be other New Yorkers. Harris described how, in a similar project she worked on, she frequently observed people soliciting directions from uniformed sanitation workers picking up trash near the subway. “So we could think about training them to be wayfinders,” she suggested, “because they actually liked that part of their job the best.”

Measure for Measure

On Election Day across the country, citizens registered their votes for major changes in the White House and Congress. But change will also soon come to California’s built environment, as several major initiatives facing California transit, infrastructure, and development were approved or denied. 

On the statewide ballot, Proposition 1A passed with 52.3 percent approval, meaning a high-speed train linking San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento—and most major cities in between—could be ferrying passengers at speeds of up to 220 miles per hour by 2030. While a whopping $9.95 billion in state bonds was allocated by the proposition, development cannot continue until matching funds are secured from federal, local, and private sources. A business plan for the program was released on November 7, equating it in scale to the State Water Project, the world’s largest public water and power system, funded by a 1960 bond measure. California High Speed Rail Authority chairman Quentin Kopp called the proposition’s approval a “21st-century golden spike." 

Once funding is secured, the Authority will focus first on the LA-to-San Francisco “backbone” segment. Environmental impact reports have been completed for the route and alignments chosen, with the exception of the Northern Mountain Crossing connection between San Jose or Oakland and the Central Valley.

In Los Angeles County, another major transit proposal, Measure R, reported 67.93 percent voter approval when a 2/3 majority was needed. The 30-year, half-cent sales tax increase will fund improvements and expansions for light rail and subway lines, HOV lanes, freeways, and traffic reduction. According to Metro spokesman Rick Jager, the tax will go into effect next July, and citizens could start to see evidence immediately, since a portion of the funds will go directly to LA-area city governments. “The local return is an important element because these 88 cities will start getting their 15 percent share from the tax that’s generated,” he said, noting that many cities had plans for street resurfacing, pothole repairs, improving left-hand signals, pedestrian improvements, and bikeways. It also postpones a planned Metro fare increase to 2010.

The rest of the funds generated by Measure R will be available in 2010, when the major projects up for funding will be an extension of the Gold Line that goes to Azusa (the first six-mile extension of the Gold Line, begun in 2004, is on budget and on schedule to open in the summer of 2009), the Green Line extension to LAX, and the second phase of the light rail Expo Line stretching from downtown LA to Santa Monica. The first segment of the Expo Line’s route from downtown to Culver City is scheduled to open in 2010, and with this burst of funding, it could reach Santa Monica as early as 2013. Later, funding will become available for the Purple Line or “Subway to the Sea” extension in 2013.

In Santa Monica, the hotly-contested Proposition T, which would have limited development in the city to under 75,000 square feet annually, was defeated 55.92 percent to 44.08 percent. This was a relief to many architects and developers who had fought hard against the measure, including Gwynne Pugh of Pugh + Scarpa, who, in his role on Santa Monica’s planning commission, will address Proposition T’s concerns in the city’s new Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), which is currently in environmental impact reviews. “The LUCE has addressed this issue by stating that there will be a goal of ‘no new net trips,’” he said. “Unlike previous plans, this will be monitored, and development phased as resources are developed such as the Expo Line.”

After Beverly Hills’ city council approved a 12-story, 170-room Waldorf-Astoria hotel and two condo buildings on the site of the Beverly Hilton in May, opposed residents gathered enough signatures to put the decision on the ballot as Measure H. After results were too close to call for several weeks, on December 2 the city certified that Measure H had been approved by 129 votes, meaning that an architectural design review and tract map will move forward as planned.

In San Francisco, Proposition B, which would have required the city to set aside 2.5 cents for every $100 of assessed value over the next 15 years for affordable housing, failed 47.4 percent to 52.6 percent. This was disheartening to housing advocates and the city’s Board of Supervisors, who strongly urged its approval to prevent what they called an “affordable housing crisis” due to budgetary concerns. Proposition B would have allocated $30 million to help house those making less than $18,000. According to housing advocate Calvin Welch, the budget currently only reserves $3 million for affordable housing. Mayor Gavin Newsom was one of the strongest opponents of Prop B, arguing that it was unnecessary.

And while its outcome did not directly impact architects, another Measure R, this one also in San Francisco, was certainly a topic of conversation for anyone working in infrastructure: This ballot initiative that would have renamed a Bay Area sewage plant in honor of President George W. Bush was soundly defeated.

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The Long Arrivederci

The Venice biennale will just not end! It opened in the warmth of September with mobs of well-known architects in attendance and officially closed on a cold November Sunday with scores of Italian schoolchildren roaming the pavilion grounds. I locked the doors of the U.S. Pavilion, put models and drawings into shipping containers (the show will be reprised at Parsons School of Design in February), and floated our Kartell-donated furniture down the Grand Canal on a barge—just in time for the highest floods in La Serenissima’s post–global warming history. Fortunately, the pavilion sits on high ground, and the stored work is safe.

The pavilion's furniture in stylish transit.

But there were pieces of the pavilion (story boards and a long blue table) not being returned to the States, and these we donated to a group called Commons Beyond Building (a collective whose members include Stalker, 2012, Millegomme, and EXYST), who were commissioned to create RE-Biennale: a recycled artwork of objects from the architecture biennale to be placed in the upcoming art biennale in June. Now we hear from biennale curator Emiliano Gandolfi that La Biennale di Venezia believes the project will be too costly, and are shutting it down. The group is appealing to art curator Daniel Birnbaum to rescue the effort.

Meanwhile, as we were closing the biennale, a water taxi roared up, and out stepped architecture critic, philosopher, and Venice Mayor Massimo Cacciari, who scurried off to a meeting in the Accademia. The Venetian water taxis—absolutely the most elegant form of public transportation imaginable—are designed and built by a company called Riva, which is in New York this week at the Javits boat show. Riva sent along a photo of one of their boats with BB, and a temporary showroom in Rockefeller Center in 1964. A used wooden Riva is yours for just $500,000.

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Rough Waters
Locals fear the aging marina, once a
courtesy Marina Del Rey CVB

With proposed development in Marina Del Rey that could add more than 3,700 residential units and 630 new hotel rooms, the County of Los Angeles has officially begun a process to determine whether it would adopt recent California Coastal Commission recommendations to limit and examine development and bring the marina’s Local Coastal Plan (LCP) into compliance with the California Coastal Act.

On October 29, the county held a meeting to gather public input about the Coastal Commission’s 67 recommendations—made on October 16—concerning density and urban planning. These included changing land use designations of parks or parking lots; a comprehensive study of anticipated future development; and incentives for free or lower-cost public uses on waterfront parcels. While the county is not required to follow the recommendations, it must provide the commission with a report specifying its reasons for not following them.

As the aging marina—once a bastion of stewardesses when air travel was the sleek new way to travel—has been slated for updates and new development, the county has faced increasingly contentious opposition to its handling of the roughly 950-acre marina, initially financed through a publicly-funded bond measure.

Underlying community objections is the fact that the county both owns the marina’s property and controls all planning in the area. Officials negotiate terms of leases with developers in closed-door sessions, leaving the public and urban planners with little capability to adjust those terms once they reach the design process. The Coastal Commission has therefore been viewed as a non-partisan decision-maker.

“The county is the landlord on every property, and development partner on every property,” noted Steve Freedman, a Venice resident who lives just feet from the marina’s property line. “I think there’s a term for that—conflict of interest.”

Freedman’s assertion is disputed by David Sommers, a spokesperson for County Supervisor Don Knappe, whose 4th district includes the marina. Sommers said the dual role, which dates back approximately 50 years, was “not a conflict,” and all decisions made by the Board of Supervisors are reviewed by several other entities.

But in October, the Board of Supervisors shifted some responsibilities, as well as the meetings of the local review board known as the Design Control Board (DCB), to the county’s regional planning commission downtown. A person familiar with the decision who agreed to speak with AN on condition of anonymity believed the move was partially to limit decisions that ran against developer interests, as in the case of the Woodfin Hotel. initially slated to be situated on protected wetlands. Though the project is now moving forward, the Design Control Board delayed its approval, requiring that its site plan be changed.

In an e-mail to AN, Susan Cloke, the Design Control Board’s chair said, “The recent action, removing site plan and conceptual review from the board’s authority, diminishes our ability to help the marina become all that it could be.” Cloke cited recreational activities like boating, walking, and cycling, essential to producing income for the area, that had been sidelined in favor of residential and commercial development.

“The magnificent thing about the marina is that it was designed as a resort for daily life,” observed John Chase, co-author of the book Everyday Urbanism. “But because the marina is county territory… there is little local control and accountability for the nature and quality of development there.”

According to Gina M. Natoli, supervising regional planner with the County of Los Angeles, the county will address the commission’s recommendation for a comprehensive study of development and the DCB will continue to exercise design review authority after the county has approved site plans. Among those on the DCB are planners like Simon Pastucha, whom Gail Goldberg appointed to the Urban Design Studio to set a design criteria system for walkable streets in the City of Los Angeles.

Additionally, the county’s Department of Beaches and Harbors is planning a study on the cumulative effect of all redevelopment projects that are in the proprietary or regulatory processes, according to Kerry Silverstrom, chief deputy director. The review will study the impacts of such large projects as the 19-story, 424-room and time-share unit Woodfin, large residential projects like a 544-unit apartment complex, and large-scale restaurants, retail, and mixed use.

The county’s October 29 public meeting also kicked off a series of working groups organized to review the Coastal Commission recommendations and report their input to the county’s Board of Supervisors. Natoli anticipates the county will complete its response to the Coastal Commission’s recommendations by October 2009.

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Towering Over Philly
The American Commerece Center would Redefine the Philadelphia Skyline.
Courtesy KPF

For nearly a century, City Hall, with William Penn atop it, stood as the tallest building in Philadelphia. For decades, skyscrapers there flirted with the 548-foot height of the Absolute Proprietor but never surpassed him—part of a "gentleman's agreement," not a law, as commonly thought. In 1987, the 945-foot One Liberty Place broke the limit, but that tower, too, may soon be dwarfed. Though still in its earliest development stages, the KPF-designed American Commerce Center aspires to rise above them all, to 1,510 feet.

Beyond its height, the scale of the project is immense, nearly 2.2 million square feet of office, hotel, and retail space rising from a relatively small 62,000-square-foot lot. This density of development has drawn the ire of many locals, but the unanimous passage of a rezoning of the lot on Tuesday by the Philadelphia Planning Commission proves that, at least in spirit, the city supports the project.


The new tower is meant to be a beacon
for a new philadelphia.
All images courtesy KPF
 

"It's an aggressive proposal—aggressive in a good way," Alan Greenberger, executive director of the commission, said in an interview after the vote. "They're asking for a lot of density and that makes people nervous, and I understand that. The question is, is this the place for that density. I think that today's vote indicates that, yes, it is."

The City Council will now hold a hearing on the rezoning December 4 with a vote due by December 10; Greenberger said he expects the council to support it. The developer, Hill International of Marlton, New Jersey, then has one year to create a Plan of Development—which fleshes out the project in more detail and allows for more specific tweaks by the commission—before the rezoning's sunset clause takes effect. Because of the slumping economy, though, the commission will allow Hill to apply for an extension.

During the developer's presentation, Peter Kelso, Hill's counsel on the project, said its purpose was to allow Philadelphia to join the business capitals of the world, like New York, London, and, yes, Dubai. "We need to move into a more modern realm of office development," he said.

KPF founder Gene Kohn spoke on behalf of the architects, saying the American Commerce Center had a significance even greater than that. "Every great city has its icon," he declared, mentioning the TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco and the Eiffel Tower. "Philly has one in its own right, in City Hall, which was once the world's tallest building," he said, though he added that a new era also calls for a new icon.

(They also showed a rather intense video for the project, which has since been posted to YouTube, that offers a pretty good sense of what the project might someday look like to a bird.)

Support for the project has been evenly split between businesses and younger residents in favor, while some neighbors and preservationists tend to oppose it. Back in July, the commission heard three hours of testimony to this effect, but at the most recent meeting, opposition was more muted. The project's strongest critics, residents of a co-op across the street, did show up, however, to give an impassioned presentation denouncing it as an overbuilt traffic disaster.

"It's the same old story—the developer says they want the biggest in the world, or at least the city, and we are forced to wrap our arms around it," Joseph Beller, the resident's attorney, told the commission. He added, "This is a wonderful building. If you found a place for it, I would love it. But this is not the place for it."

Not that anything on this scale has ever been built anywhere else in the city, hence the rezoning. It takes the parcel at 19th Street and Arch Street, which is currently a parking lot, from a classification of C4, with a special height limit of 125 feet, to C5. The latter allows for a floor-area ratio of 12 with a bonus of 8 for the inclusion of a public plaza covering 30 percent. (The cutout at the center of the project not only divides the office tower from the hotel but also accounts for 22 percent of this public space in an elevated courtyard). The developer is then seeking an additional bonus of 4 FAR through standard public amenities like off-street parking and public restrooms.

Under the current code, the project could not get any bigger, but because of sustainable features and other amenities, like a regional rail link, the developer hopes to secure an additional 3.5 FAR, to reach an unprecedented density of 27.5. The commission said it was not opposed to this idea, as its final vote indicated, though it would probably seek to codify such bonuses for general consumption instead of simply confering them upon a single developer. "Our zoning code has actually created more obstacles to large-scale development," commissioner Natalia Olson de Savyckyj said, "not less."

The bigger concern now, amidst the economic downturn, is whether or not the project can actually get built. "Everyone's wondering, 'Is it real?'" Greenberger said in the interview. But he also noted that the developer pushed for the rezoning because without it, Hill could not reasonably attract financing or tenants.

"Would we be spending this kind of money and resources putting this project before the commission and the City Council if we didn't believe this project was coming to fruition?" Kelso told AN. "It shows a commitment on the part of the developer to see it through."

Matt Chaban
 

If completed, the project will be the densest in recent city history.
 
 
One of the ways it achieves such density is by dedicating 30 percent of its footprint to public space, which is cleverly achieved through a series of courtyards cut into the building.
 
 
The progression of the Philadelphia skyline (From Left to Right): one liberty place, the comcast center, the american commerce center, Arch street presbyterian church, philadelphia city hall, and independence hall.

 

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The Plot Thickens
A proposal from the show Camp:Reconsidered would move the new museum under the Main Post.
Courtesy Mark Horton/Architecture

In a blow to the proposed Contemporary Art Museum of the Presidio (CAMP), the San Francisco Planning Commission recently issued negative comments regarding the Presidio Trust’s plan to build the Richard Gluckman–designed structure in the heart of the former military barracks.

In a letter to the City Attorney’s office dated October 30, the commission stated that the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Presidio Trust Management Plan was inadequate and that it did not fully address the impact of a new museum situated within a National Historic Landmark District. Further, it stated that “the design of the proposed contemporary art museum and the associated landscape plan is too stark of a contrast to the buildings and spaces that would flank it.”

This is a minor victory for the Presidio Historical Association, an ad hoc coalition that has been organizing an ongoing effort against Don and Doris Fisher’s $150 million museum, a white contemporary structure that emphasizes the formal geometries of the Presidio’s Main Post, or former parade ground. As an alternative, it is proposing a history center on the same parade ground site that presents the history of the Presidio, while replicating the barracks typology of the Main Post grounds.

However, the Planning Commission also stated that none of the alternate proposals, including the history center, were a reasonable alternative to the proposed project. Instead, it urged the completion of the Section 106 National Historic Preservation Act review, a mandatory impact review required of all properties listed on the National Register. It felt that Alternative 1, a visitor and community center using the existing buildings, would have the least impact of the four schemes.

While the Planning Commission acknowledged that it has no direct jurisdiction over the federal lands of the Presidio, it urged the Trust to consider the scheme within the plans and policies outlined in the city’s General Plan. The public comment period on the project ended on November 17, and a final decision by the Presidio Trust’s board of directors is expected toward the end of this year.

As an alternative to the often-contentious atmosphere of the CAMP discussions, architect Mark Horton has invited several local architects to present concepts for an alternate vision of a Presidio museum at his 3A Gallery in the South Park district. Architects on board for the show Camp:Reconsidered include Leddy Maytum Stacy, Anne Fougeron, and Kuth/Ranieri Architects. Rather than show finished schemes, the projects—which include a proposal to locate the new museum under the Main Post, and one to locate the museum’s collection in multiple towers scattered around the Presidio—are intended to provide the basis for a more rational and considered discussion of the various issues of a new design within an historic site. The exhibition opened on November 20 and will run until December 23 at the gallery, on 101 South Park.

Gehl to New York: Lose the Cars

When the Danish urban-design guru Jan Gehl visited New York a few years ago, he was struck by how little the city had changed since the 1970s—“as if Robert Moses had only just walked out the door!” But since that visit, as Gehl recalled last night at the Center for Architecture, New York has made a surprising about-face on matters of public space, embracing the ideals of his late friend (and Moses nemesis) Jane Jacobs.

Gehl was holding forth in a town-hall-style meeting with New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who has played no small role in challenging the dominance of the automobile in New York, and who hired Gehl Architects last year to study the quality of public life on the city’s streets. She and Gehl articulated their shared vision for keeping New York globally competitive by making its streets some of the best in the world. “We can’t afford to slip into a Yogi Berra situation,” said Sadik-Khan, “where New York becomes so crowded that nobody goes there anymore!”

Unfortunately, Gehl continued, New York still bears deep scars of Moses’ long reign. His team’s findings (in a report distributed on eco-friendly USB drives, naturally) highlighted telltale signals of poor-quality street life: pedestrian crowding, low frequencies of stationary activities, and low proportions of children and elderly on the sidewalks. Partly to blame are a sad dearth of sidewalk cafes, along with far too much scaffolding and too many shuttered facades. (The stretch of Broadway from Columbus Circle to Houston Street—one of the busiest in the city—has only six curbside cafes, and scaffolding obscures 30 percent of its buildings.) Gehl’s team also deplored the fact that many public spaces don’t link to their surrounding streets and buildings, but instead require a deliberate trip—often across traffic—to reach them.

Still, Gehl expressed unhesitating enthusiasm about the city’s potential. “You are absolutely lucky here!” he exclaimed. “You have such wide streets. So you can have nice comfortable wide sidewalks, street trees, bike lanes. Maybe even,” he allowed with a grin, “also some lanes for the cars.”

And what about the economic crisis? Can we really afford to pour money into prettifying our streets at a time like this? Streetscapes, it turns out, may be just the right focus for urban investment at the moment. “It is very cost-effective for us to make these changes,” Sadik-Khan emphasized. That’s partly because many DOT projects can be achieved at relatively minimal cost—but also because, as Gehl’s research has shown time and again, pedestrian-friendly streets boost nearby property values and deliver more customers to local businesses.

So how far is New York prepared to go toward pedestrian nirvana? When one audience member asked if the city had given any thought to closing off Broadway to cars entirely, there was a smattering of applause—and then came Sadik-Khan’s reply, which more or less translated to fuhgeddaboudit.

All the same, it was impossible not to feel a touch of exhilaration at the city’s new trajectory. “I am quite sure that in her heaven,” as Gehl told the crowd, “Jane Jacobs is looking down and thinking, ‘Finally, my city is on the right track!’”

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Pedal Parking
With DCP's help, New Yorkers may soon be parking their bikes inside.
verbos/Flickr

The Department of City Planning has introduced new zoning language that would require secure bicycle parking in all new commercial, multi-family residential, and institutional buildings. The zoning change will go through public review before being voted on by the City Council. “It’s one of a series of incremental changes that we hope will lead to a snowball effect,” said Rachaele Raynoff, press secretary for Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden. “It’s about changing the culture to make biking a fun, easy, and safe mode of transportation.”

The requirements are relatively modest. Residential buildings with more than ten units will require one space for every two units. Office buildings must provide one space for every 7,500 square feet of space. Retail and most commercial and community uses would be required to have one space for every 10,000 square feet.

Bicycling advocates hailed the move as a significant step forward. “It’s major. It’s one of the big three, along with bike sharing and dedicated lanes, necessary to make New York a great biking city,” said Wiley Norvell, communications director for Transportation Alternatives (TA). Still, TA believes requirements need to be adopted for existing buildings, which make up the vast majority of the city’s building stock.

The change goes against the wishes of some in the real estate industry. In a letter to members, Real Estate Board of New York president Steven Spinola encouraged voluntary inclusion of indoor bicycle parking, but wrote, “We have strongly urged the city not to consider legislation requiring office buildings to provide bicycle parking and we will continue to do so.”

In another step toward upgrading cycling conditions in New York, the winner of the City Racks Design Competition, which called for a new standard bike rack for the city, will be announced on Friday, November 15. Ten finalists were named, but the announcement was delayed by a week to allow some of the winners to travel for the ceremony. On Friday, November 7, the design competition website Bustler incorrectly implied that a red, free-form design by Francis Anthony Bitonti’s FADarchitecture had been selected. According to Norvell, who knows the winning team but declined to name it, Bitonti was not the winner.

Beyond plop-art parks
When I first received Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe’s 2007 greeting announcing PlaNYC, I felt a great wave of exhilaration—probably the same one experienced by all architects, landscape architects, and planners who have fantasized about a nascent era of great design sponsored by visionary leadership in City Hall. Office interiors were spruced up, websites revised, and principals’ sartorial splendor amplified in anticipation of knocks at the door from beneficent developers and eco-conscious politicians who would beseech us to create the New York City of tomorrow. As my fantasy faded to something resembling reality, I tried to grasp the magnitude of the gauntlet thrown down by the mayor. With selfish concern for my own studio’s chances of participation in this metropolitan dream, I also wondered whether there would ever be a significant opening up of the job market for small design firms—or would all the request for qualifications (RFQ) documents arrive with their onerous requirements for mega-building experience, multimillion-dollar liability protection, hundreds of consultants under one roof, and the thinly veiled implication that success depended on the invitee’s ability to invest in competitive bidding (with free design services tossed in to sweeten the deal)? By the time Adrian’s call for designer involvement in an expanded parks program arrived, my enthusiasm for PlaNYC had been diminished by memories of futile efforts to break into New York’s public space job market. Since my firm, SITE, is an architectural practice that focuses on parks and plazas (but mostly works abroad, where there is less resistance to innovative solutions and green principles), I could see the handwriting on the wall: The future would be sponsored, controlled, designed, and built by the same cast of characters that has dominated the city’s architecture and planning markets for the past 30 years. Clearly, the tasks outlined in PlaNYC—repairing infrastructure, constructing affordable housing, reducing traffic, improving mass transit, and saving energy—are top priorities. But by focusing on these imperatives, an investment in imaginative ideas for the social, psychological, and aesthetic resolution of parks, streets, and gardens should not be assigned to the back burners. (Just look at Detroit and Cleveland!) The usual tactic of favoring operational efficiency and restorative technology, at the expense of social interaction and access to nature, has demonstrated how such legislative abandonment can destroy the very “quality of life” that a massive investment in infrastructure is meant to preserve. My fear that New York’s grand park plans may become another blueprint for business as usual was confirmed by news accounts early in the game. When the mayor’s original challenge was issued in December 2007, it proposed to open 90 percent of the city’s waterways for recreation by limiting water pollution and preserving our natural areas. But earlier that year, the Regional Plan Association was already complaining that the city had planned for more park expansions than it could afford. This suggests that public space may become PlaNYC’s first casualty, and I suspect that similar economic and political inertia will thwart the mayor’s water, transportation, energy, and air improvement agendas. Still, in the hope that such initiatives may succeed, I want to emphasize a few issues that have enormous impact on the way our city’s parks and gardens have been shaped until now, and on how they will be designed in the future. It is no secret that most public spaces constructed in New York over the past two decades have been based on Modernist traditions. The ingredients invariably include a massive slab of concrete, donut fountains, “plop art” sculptures, and a scattering of park benches. The reasons for this formulaic consistency can be found in the politics of architectural employment and the entrenchment of a Robert Moses–era planning legacy. Clearly, we can do better. But for a flexible climate of creativity to succeed, city agencies must first provide a less labyrinthine and preferential RFQ process. It should certainly encourage smaller architecture and landscape offices to compete for city commissions by placing more value on the applicant’s track record of creativity. Since the criteria for what constitutes “creativity” can vary according to taste and time, the Parks Department might do well to sponsor a monthly series of public-space design symposia, where new talents would have a chance to showcase their visions and learn more about RFQ procedures. City Hall and the Parks Department can improve the RFQ process, but they obviously can’t legislate better design. For this reason, I have a few items of cautionary advisement to offer. First, there should be enough memorable features in a park or plaza to encourage people to travel out of their way to see the space and, after leaving, tell their friends about it. Second, public space is successful to the degree that people look attractive to each other and are encouraged to interact in new ways. Designers should be sensitized to “prosthetic engagement,” where body movement and pedestrian interaction become as much a part of the raw material of design as paving, steel, and vegetation. Third, parks, plazas, and gardens should involve all of the senses in equal measure. And fourth, the design of public space today includes an awareness of “integrated systems.” This suggests a design philosophy based on understanding the parallels between the components of electronic communications and their symbiotic equivalents in nature. If Mayor Bloomberg expects his plea for new ideas to reach high fertility, his passion for change must reflect a more psychologically engaging and aesthetically innovative brand of street and park life for New York City. There must also be support for a truly civic-minded “mandate for change.” Today, this means green and sustainable. By Manhattan standards, being green is a rather restrained and puritanical notion—the antithesis of Big Apple optimism. If the green movement ever expects to conquer New York, it must reverse its scold tactics and provide the same kind of inspiring catalyst for change that the industrial revolution offered our flamboyantly receptive island over a hundred years ago. This means shaping and selling a persuasive new “philosophy of the environment.” Come on Mayor Bloomberg, let’s go for it!
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Comment: James Wines
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's 140 Broadway, completed in 1967, with Isamu Noguchi's Red Cube.
Ezra Stoller/Esto

When I first received Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe’s 2007 greeting announcing PlaNYC, I felt a great wave of exhilaration—probably the same one experienced by all architects, landscape architects, and planners who have fantasized about a nascent era of great design sponsored by visionary leadership in City Hall. Office interiors were spruced up, websites revised, and principals’ sartorial splendor amplified in anticipation of knocks at the door from beneficent developers and eco-conscious politicians who would beseech us to create the New York City of tomorrow.

As my fantasy faded to something resembling reality, I tried to grasp the magnitude of the gauntlet thrown down by the mayor. With selfish concern for my own studio’s chances of participation in this metropolitan dream, I also wondered whether there would ever be a significant opening up of the job market for small design firms—or would all the request for qualifications (RFQ) documents arrive with their onerous requirements for mega-building experience, multi-million-dollar liability protection, hundreds of consultants under one roof, and the thinly veiled implication that success depended on the invitee’s ability to invest in competitive bidding (with free design services tossed in to sweeten the deal)?

By the time Adrian’s call for designer involvement in an expanded parks program arrived, my enthusiasm for PlaNYC had been diminished by memories of futile efforts to break into New York’s public space job market. Since my firm, SITE, is an architectural practice that focuses on parks and plazas (but mostly works abroad, where there is less resistance to innovative solutions and green principles), I could see the handwriting on the wall: The future would be sponsored, controlled, designed, and built by the same cast of characters that has dominated the city’s architecture and planning markets for the past 30 years.

Clearly, the tasks outlined in PlaNYC—repairing infrastructure, constructing affordable housing, reducing traffic, improving mass transit, and saving energy—are top priorities. But by focusing on these imperatives, an investment in imaginative ideas for the social, psychological, and aesthetic resolution of parks, streets, and gardens should not be assigned to the back burners. (Just look at Detroit and Cleveland!) The usual tactic of favoring operational efficiency and restorative technology, at the expense of social interaction and access to nature, has demonstrated how such legislative abandonment can destroy the very “quality of life” that a massive investment in infrastructure is meant to preserve.

My fear that New York’s grand park plans may become another blueprint for business as usual was confirmed by news accounts early in the game. When the mayor’s original challenge was issued in December 2007, it proposed to open 90 percent of the city’s waterways for recreation by limiting water pollution and preserving our natural areas. But earlier that year, the Regional Plan Association was already complaining that the city had planned for more park expansions than it could afford. This suggests that public space may become PlaNYC’s first casualty, and I suspect that similar economic and political inertia will thwart the mayor’s water, transportation, energy, and air improvement agendas.

Still, in the hope that such initiatives may succeed, I want to emphasize a few issues that have enormous impact on the way our city’s parks and gardens have been shaped until now, and on how they will be designed in the future. It is no secret that most public spaces constructed in New York over the past two decades have been based on Modernist traditions. The ingredients invariably include a massive slab of concrete, donut fountains, “plop-art” sculptures, and a scattering of park benches. The reasons for this formulaic consistency can be found in the politics of architectural employment and the entrenchment of a Robert Moses–era planning legacy.

Clearly, we can do better. But for a flexible climate of creativity to succeed, city agencies must first provide a less labyrinthine and preferential RFQ process. It should certainly encourage smaller architecture and landscape offices to compete for city commissions by placing more value on the applicant’s track record of creativity. Since the criteria for what constitutes “creativity” can vary according to taste and time, the Parks Department might do well to sponsor a monthly series of public-space design symposia, where new talents would have a chance to showcase their visions and learn more about RFQ procedures.

City Hall and the Parks Department can improve the RFQ process, but they obviously can’t legislate better design. For this reason, I have a few items of cautionary advisement to offer. First, there should be enough memorable features in a park or plaza to encourage people to travel out of their way to see the space and, after leaving, tell their friends about it. Second, public space is successful to the degree that people look attractive to each other and are encouraged to interact in new ways. Designers should be sensitized to “prosthetic engagement,” where body movement and pedestrian interaction become as much a part of the raw material of design as paving, steel, and vegetation. Third, parks, plazas, and gardens should involve all of the senses in equal measure. And fourth, the design of public space today includes an awareness of “integrated systems.” This suggests a design philosophy based on understanding the parallels between the components of electronic communications and their symbiotic equivalents in nature.

If Mayor Bloomberg expects his plea for new ideas to reach high fertility, his passion for change must reflect a more psychologically engaging and aesthetically innovative brand of street and park life for New York City. There must also be support for a truly civic-minded “mandate for change.” Today, this means green and sustainable. By Manhattan standards, being green is a rather restrained and puritanical notion—the antithesis of Big Apple optimism. If the green movement ever expects to conquer New York, it must reverse its scold tactics and provide the same kind of inspiring catalyst for change that the industrial revolution offered our flamboyantly receptive island over a hundred years ago. This means shaping and selling a persuasive new “philosophy of the environment.” Come on Mayor Bloomberg, let’s go for it!

Editorial: Vote Local

This presidential election, seemingly unending, but now just days away, is being called the most vital and important election in a generation. But there will be more on the ballot than just the choice for president. As architects you also have a responsibility to vote for priorities that can benefit our urban and built environment, not to mention voting for your interests as a profession.

California’s largest cities have several major initiatives on the ballot that could help rectify problems that have long plagued their urban fabric. Perhaps most significantly in the Los Angeles region, voters will have a choice to vote for improved public transit in southern California with Measure R. Through a half-cent sales tax increase (providing more than $4 billion in funds) the measure would provide an expansion and improvement of local rail and bus systems, road improvements, and traffic reduction. That could include expansions of LA subway and light rail lines in all directions, new HOV lanes for highways, better traffic monitoring, and even reduced fares for bus riders. As our Protest column points out this month, it is not perfect, but it is far superior to the alternative of continued gridlock and environmental degradation. Also, San Francisco voters will have the chance to vote for support for much-needed affordable housing in a city where it is sorely lacking. Proposition B would require the city to take about $30 million out of the budget each year and use the money to build affordable housing over the next 15 years. That measure isn’t enough, but it will help. And in San Diego, Measure S would provide $2.1 billion to help rebuild the city’s crumbling school infrastructure.

I support all three of these measures. But besides these essential propositions there are important, ongoing initiatives that require your vote, including the local legislation and reforms that local AIA chapters are pushing. Unlike ballot measures, getting these passed will take continuous pressure and resolve. In LA that includes implementation of a distributed power generation network; getting more architects on city commissions; and enhancing local streetscapes to address environmental and pedestrian concerns. In Sacramento that means making new buildings carbon neutral by 2030; reducing sales taxes on architectural services; and blocking an interior design practice act. In San Francisco that means, in addition to pushing for more affordable housing and new zoning, establishing rules that respect individual neighborhoods’ specific character.

So for all of you that have been glued to CNN and voted for or contributed to your preferred candidate, why not participate in a local process that can have an equally significant impact? That means paying attention to and voting for propositions. It can also mean attending your local chapter’s legislative day or putting pressure on your local council member. Of course we have a responsibility to vote for our national leaders. But we also need to ensure for ourselves that our priorities are heard loud and clear at a local level.