Search results for "east new york"

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Race to Zero

New York State launches competition for low-to-zero carbon development
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has announced the Buildings of Excellence Competition to help spur low-to-zero carbon development in multi-family construction across New York State. A recent report by the New Buildings Institute shows New York State is leading the Northeast in net-zero buildings and provides a groundbreaking review of the state’s net-zero buildings market. But the state wants to do better and achieve its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030, and it supports Governor Cuomo’s Green New Deal that puts the state on a path to carbon neutrality while spurring growth of the green economy and offering consumers highly efficient, resilient, comfortable and affordable low-carbon living and working spaces. The design and development community is best poised to help solve this problem and make New York a beacon of the green economy. NYSERDA is hoping developers and architects will enter this competition before the deadline of June 4.
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Brant Building

Brant Foundation opens gallery in old Con Ed transformer station

The home of the Brant Foundation’s new East Coast gallery is in the old Con Ed transformer station, built in 1920–21. When it closed in 1980, it was bought by artist Walter De Maria and served as his home and studio until 2013. After it was purchased by art collector Peter Brant, it has been restored and converted into a public exhibition space by Gluckman Tang Architects. Beautifully detailed white exhibition walls act as counterpoints to the newly cleaned brick walls and sand-blasted machinery, like a still-operative 2,000-pound black iron hoist. The top floor exhibition space has a magical skylight sitting under a water fountain, which sends dappled light into the space and serves as a relaxing rooftop public space with a spectacular view looking north over the East Village. The architects have turned the narrow open spaces on the west and north sides of the building into elegant and peaceful landscaped parks that act as a breathing space for this dense part of the city and allow natural light into the galleries.

The Brant Foundation Art Study Center 421 East 6th Street New York, New York 212-777-2297 Architect: Gluckman Tang Architects
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Old Times

Design Pavilion brings classic Eastern European kiosk to Times Square
Times Square, always a hub of intense street life, with 350,000 to 450,000 visitors a day and an overload of images, is about to become a site for “design talks, installations, and performances.” Design Pavilion, the centralized public hub for New York’s fourth annual design week (May 10–22 from 11 a.m.–9 p.m. daily), in partnership with the Times Square Alliance, will activate five plazas (on Broadway between 45th and 46th streets.) with immersive environments and daily programs featuring the work of leading architects, designers, and artists. New Design Pavilion projects presented this year are by New Yorkers Joe Doucet and Victoria Milne alongside works from Brad Ascalon, Hive Public Space, Louis Lim, DYAD, and Virginia Tech’s winning Solar Decathlon house, FutureHAUS. A highlight will be K67, an iconic Yugoslavian kiosk originally designed in 1967 by Slovenian Saša J. Mächtig. The plastic Kiosk, designed as a reproducible, extendable, and interlocking system was found all over the Eastern bloc countries in the 1960s, but has never been displayed in this country.
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Techtown USA

The origins and perils of development in the urban tech landscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Soak up the sun

The solar-powered FutureHAUS is coming to Times Square
New housing is coming to Times Square, at least temporarily. The Virginia Tech team of students and faculty behind the FutureHAUS, which won the Solar Decathlon Middle East 2018, a competition supported by the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority and U.S. Department of Energy, will bring a new iteration of its solar-powered home to New York for New York Design Week in collaboration with New York City–based architects DXA Studio. The first Dubai iteration was a 900-square-foot prefab home, that, in addition to being entirely solar powered, featured 67 “futuristic devices,” centered around a few core areas including, according to the team’s website: “entertainment, energy management, aging-in-place, and accessibility.” This included everything from gait recognition for unique user identities and taps that put out precise amounts of water given by voice control to tables with integrated displays and AV-outfitted adjustable rooms. One of the home’s biggest innovations, however, is its cartridge system, developed over the past 20 years by Virginia Tech professor Joe Wheeler. The home comprises a number of prefabricated blocks or "cartridges"—a series of program cartridges includes the kitchen and the living room, and a series of service cartridges contained wet mechanical space and a solar power system. The spine cartridge integrates all these various parts and provides the “central nervous system” to the high-tech house. These all form walls or central mechanical elements that then serve as the central structure the home is built around, sort of like high-tech LEGO blocks. The inspiration behind the cartridges came from the high-efficiency industrial manufacturing and assembly line techniques of the automotive and aerospace industries and leveraged the latest in digital fabrication, CNC routing, robotics, and 3D printing all managed and operated through BIM software. Once the cartridges have been fabricated, assembly is fast. In New York it will take just three days to be packed, shipped, and constructed, “a testament to how successful this system of fabrication and construction is,” said Jordan Rogove, a partner DXA Studio, who is helping realize the New York version of the home. The FutureHAUS team claims that this fast construction leads to a higher-quality final product and ends up reducing cost overall. The cartridge system also came in handy when building in New York with its notoriously complicated permitting process and limited space. “In Dubai an eight-ton crane was used to assemble the cartridges,” explained Rogove. “But to use a crane in Times Square requires a lengthy permit process and approval from the MTA directly below. Thankfully the cartridge system is so versatile that the team has devised a way to assemble without the crane and production it would've entailed.” There have obviously been some alterations to the FutureHAUS in New York. For example, while in Dubai there were screen walls and a courtyard with olive trees and yucca, the Times Square house will be totally open and easy to see, decorated with plants native to the area. The FutureHAUS will be up in Times Square for a week and a half during New York’s design week, May 10 through May 22.
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East River Presence

Brooklyn waterfront office building features brick and glass curtain facades
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The Brooklyn waterfront is no stranger to development. Over the past two decades, swaths of post-industrial Williamsburg filled with warehouses and factories have been cleared in favor of glass-and-steel residential properties. One building, 25 Kent, an under-construction half-million-square-foot office tower designed by Hollwich Kushner as Design Architect and Gensler as Design Development Architect bucks the area's cliches with its bifurcated facades of brick, glass, and blackened steel. On a lot that measures 400 feet by 200 feet, the full-block project presents a formidable mass in comparison to its low-rise recent neighbors. Reaching eight stories, with floor to ceiling heights of 15 feet, the office tower is largely split between two staggered rectangular volumes linked by a hovering glass prism. Combining these three materials is not inherently novel, but the mix presented challenges in meeting increasingly stringent sustainability and LEED goals. "In lieu of brick returns, an aluminum perimeter trim was used in tandem with thermally broken window to achieve the best performance in a practical and cost-effective manner," said Yalin Uluaydin, senior associate at Eckersley O'Callaghan, the project's facade consultant. "Similar issues were addressed at the interface of the east and west facing aluminum curtain wall and underslung curtain wall. Mainly we had to address the offset mullions and how the curtain wall end panels are set in a brick opening on three sides."
  • Facade Manufacturer Summit Brick Pure+FreeForm Guardian Schüco
  • Architects Gensler Hollwich Kushner
  • Facade Installer CMI 
  • Facade Consultants Eckersley O'Callaghan
  • Location Brooklyn, New York
  • Date of Completion 2019
  • System Glass curtainwall with punched masonry
  • Products 25 Kent Blend Brick SCHUCO AWS 75. SI+ Guardian SN 70/41 Brooklyn Steel
The structure's facades are understated, rising with little in the way of outward ornament. The east and west elevations are clad in glass curtain wall modules tied to the structural slab edges with steel anchors. For the side-street elevations, the design team nods to the surrounding historic warehouses with multi-tone brick surfaces. Successive floors, which protrude and recess like an overturned-ziggurat, are clad in a custom blend of bricks patterned in a stretcher-bond format. Punched mullion-free window openings, measuring eight feet by ten feet, are rhythmically placed across these elevations to further daylighting while mirroring the stylistic qualities of adjacent structures. The windows, inset from the brick drape, are lined with custom 'blackened steel' finished aluminum. On the North and South streets, the retail storefront entrances are framed with printed 'blackened steel' aluminum portals, in a custom finish developed by Pure+FreeForm  The portal details were brushed with silver pearl and treated with a patinated gloss matte layer, providing subtle iridescent qualities. Proximity to the waterfront, although an amenity, also presented a structural challenge for the design team. "The foundation design is a continuous mat slab with thickened portions below the tower shear wall cores, and drilled tiedown anchors located outside the tower footprints to counteract hydrostatic uplift from groundwater," said Gensler Design Manager & Senior Associate Anne-Sophie Hall. "To accommodate the architectural intent of the vast column-free space in the central region of each floor plate, each of the six columns supporting the bridge slab has a 20-foot long rectangular drop panel to achieve the desired long span with a conventionally reinforced 12-inch slab, while eschewing post-tensioning or similar strategies which would have entailed additional costs or specialized subcontractors."
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TFF

New York's Tribeca Film Festival offers building-related entertainment
This year’s Tribeca Film Festival’s Virtual Arcade exhibits provocative VR and AR projects for architects. Common Ground is the ironic title of an interactive VR documentary about the Aylesbury Estate in South East London, the largest public housing complex in Europe with over 2,700 dwellings for 7,500 residents. Held up as a British Pruitt-Igoe, the St. Louis poster child for urban decay that was dynamited in the 1970s, it is being “regenerated” in a plan that will destroy the original buildings and replace them with combined luxury and subsidized housing, a plan that is already compromised. Common Ground, directed by Darren Emerson, employs 360-degree video, photogrammetry, 3D modeling, archival finds, and interactive design. Visitors are immersed into the vast brutalist estate and meet residents fighting regeneration. Where There’s Smoke, written and directed by Lance Weiler, mixes live documentary, immersive theater, and an escape room to create an experience that explores memory and loss with the burning of a home. Participants determine the cause of the fire by sifting through the charred remains in a series of rooms. War Remains and The Collider evoke experiential environments applicable to architects. The first, created by Dan Carlin of the Hardcore History podcast and directed by Brandon Oldenburg, conjures a detailed hellish landscape of World War One’s Western Front where visitors feel the wind in a hot-air balloon, are shaken by thunderous shelling, and are pummeled by gunfire hitting a tiny, dank bunker. The Collider, created by May Abdalla and Amy Rose, is a participatory two-person choreographic experience going in and out of a virtual world. In the festival’s film program, The Apollo, directed by Roger Ross Williams, traces the history of this New York City landmark from its origins as a white Jewish-run venue to its purchase by politician Percy Sutton to its current incarnation as a nonprofit. Selina Miles’s Martha: A Picture Story profiles photographer Martha Cooper, who focuses on people claiming their spaces. She made her name shooting graffiti artists spray painting subway cars and chronicled the gentrification of Baltimore. Framing John Delorean, directed by Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce, is a fictionalized version of the car designer’s rise and fall, starring Alec Baldwin. Tribeca Film Festival Through Sunday, May 5
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Toning Down Toxins

EPA issues new rule on asbestos that goes short of total ban
Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule that tightens restrictions on the use of asbestos-containing products in the United States. Made in response to the wave of criticism the EPA received last summer, the ruling makes adjustments to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), forcing companies to gain prior approval from the agency before importing certain items for commercial sale or introducing them into domestic manufacturing processes. The EPA promises to evaluate these items in order to further restrict their use or ban them from the marketplace altogether.  The agency expanded the scope of the rule that was first unveiled last summer by adding four new categories of products and a “catchall” category that would require the review of any asbestos uses not previously noted. Under the final rule, 19 asbestos-containing products including adhesives, sealants, roofing felt, as well as millboard, pipeline wrap, reinforced plastics, and vinyl-asbestos floor tile will be prohibited from entering the market without a risk evaluation by the EPA. Additionally, all five uses of asbestos previously banned under the 1989 law, such as rollboard and flooring felt, will remain prohibited. EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement that before this decision was made, the EPA didn’t have the authority to wholesale prevent or restrict certain asbestos-containing products from being reintroduced into the market. This final rule would effectively close the loophole previously left in the partial ban that was enacted into legislation almost 30 years ago, but for many environmental advocacy groups, this move still isn’t enough. Linda Reinstein, president of Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, told The New York Times the ruling was “toothless,” and that it doesn’t stop raw asbestos from being imported into the United States. According to the recent U.S. Geological Survey Mineral Commodity Summaries report, 300 tons of raw asbestos was imported in 2017 and almost all was used by the chloralkali industry.   This news comes just weeks after Wheeler testified in front of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, saying he’d issue an outright ban on asbestos. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, denounced the ruling, saying it was a “complete betrayal of that commitment.” Pallone in a statement: “It does nothing to restrict ongoing uses of asbestos…instead, it provides a pathway to market for uses that had previously been phased out, such as in floor tiles and insulation.” The EPA says it will take at least 60 days for the final rule to go into effect.
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Green Screen

SHoP’s Pier 35 folds industrial materials into an East River habitat
Pier 35, the latest addition to Manhattan’s waterfront and yet another nod to the industrial heritage of the city’s waterways, is now open to the public just in time for spring. SHoP Architects, together with landscape architecture studio Ken Smith Workshop, have dropped a folded, zigzagging landscape intervention on the eastern edge of Lower Manhattan, in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge. The pier-park’s most striking feature is the 35-foot-tall, 300-foot-long metal screen that both backdrops the park’s landscape as well as hides the Sanitation Department shed at the adjacent Pier 36. As the screen moves eastward and approaches the water’s edge, it rises on weathered Cor-ten steel panels, ultimately bending to create a raised and covered “porch,” complete with swings. A wavey esplanade runs alongside the landscaped lawns and a series of artificial dunes up to the porch, mirroring the sinuous curves of the screen. The underpass of FDR Drive connects with the pier at “Mussel Beach,” a micro-habitat that SHoP and Ken Smith designed in collaboration with ecologist Ron Alaveras. The urban “beach” seeks to recreate the historic conditions of the East River and foster mussel growth, similar to the work being done by the Billion Oyster Project. The 65-foot-long beach’s precast slopes and outcroppings are exposed and submerged as the East River rises and falls, mirroring the tidal conditions that mussels require “in the wild.” Mussel Beach was made possible through a grant from the New York Department of State’s Division of Coastal Resources, as it’s a prototypical environment that, if successful, could be replicated elsewhere. Although Pier 35 was launched with a soft opening in mid-December, the canopy and plants have sprung up just in time for Earth Day 2019.
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Mapping the Amazon

Amazon may have canceled its NYC headquarters, but its footprint is everywhere
For many of the people opposed to Amazon establishing a second headquarters (HQ2) in Queens, New York, casting the company into total exile was never the point. At its heart, opposition lay with the terms of the deal that wooed the company—its massive tax incentives, the process that had created the deal (without input or oversight from the New York City Council or local communities), and the dramatic impact such a real estate development project would have on the city's working class, especially by aggravating its gentrification and displacement crises. Facing a groundswell of local opposition, Amazon announced that it had canceled its plans for a new Queens campus on February 14, just three months after announcing its selection. While HQ2's optics and scale made it a legible enemy to rally against, Amazon's less splashy development projects have already become part of the fabric of many cities, including New York. Taking inventory of Amazon’s existing physical footprint in the city, one begins to perceive a shadow infrastructure at work which reshapes urban environments more through privatized logistics and information systems than through campus construction. In Manhattan, Amazon’s physical presence might best be recognized in retail. It was at the company’s 34th Street bookstore that protestors demonstrated on Cyber Monday following the HQ2 announcement. Indeed, like HQ2, the company’s retail stores serve as useful rallying points. But inside the same Midtown Manhattan building that hosts the bookstore sits a more explicit locus of Amazon’s presence: a 50,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center for the company’s Prime Now delivery service. It might be helpful to state here what Amazon actually is: a logistics company misrepresented as a retail company misrepresented as a tech company. Over time, the types of products the company sells have expanded beyond books and bassinets into less obviously tangible commodities like data (via Amazon Web Services), labor (via Amazon Mechanical Turk), and “content” (via Twitch and Amazon Studios productions). Ultimately the company’s appeal isn’t so much in the stuff it provides but the efficiency with which it provides stuff. Computation is obviously an important part of running a logistics operation, but Amazon’s logistical ends are frequently obscured by the hype around its technical prowess. And while Amazon is increasingly in the game of making actual things, a lot of them are commodities that, in the long run, enable the movement of other commodities: Amazon Echos aren’t just nice speakers, they’re a means of streamlining the online shopping experience into verbal commands and gathering hundreds of thousands of data points. Producing award-winning films and TV shows gives the company a patina of cultural respectability, but streaming them on Amazon Prime gets more people on Amazon and, in theory, buying things using Amazon Prime accounts. Amazon’s logistical foundation is most blatantly visible in the company's nearly 900 warehouses located around the world. Currently, the company has one fulfillment center (FC) in New York City. The 855,000-square-foot site in Staten Island opened in fall 2018 and had already earned Amazon $18 million in tax credits from the state of New York before the HQ2 deal was announced. Additionally, a month before the HQ2 announcement, Amazon had also signed a ten-year lease for a new fulfillment center in Woodside, Queens. The same day that Amazon vice president Brian Huseman testified before the New York City Council about HQ2, Staten Island warehouse employees and organizers from the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) announced a plan to form a union at the Staten Island FC, citing exhausting and unsafe working conditions better optimized for warehouse robots than employees. These conditions are far from unique to Staten Island—stories about the grueling pace, unhealthy environment, and precarity of contract workers at fulfillment centers have been reported regularly as far back as 2011. And yet, when the Staten Island FC was first announced in 2017, a small handful of media outlets made note of this record. Unions and community leaders weren’t galvanized against the Staten island FC the way they were by HQ2 or the way they had been when Wal-Mart attempted to come to New York in 2011. In some ways, the HQ2 debacle gave new life and momentum to an organized labor challenge previously hidden in plain sight (or at least in the outer boroughs). Of course, Amazon’s logistics spaces aren’t solely confined to far-flung corners of the New York metro area: There are two Prime Now distribution hubs in New York, one in Brooklyn and the other at the previously mentioned Midtown Manhattan location. Same-day delivery service Prime Now originated from that Midtown warehouse in 2014 and spawned Amazon Flex, an app-based platform for freelance delivery drivers to distribute Prime Now packages. (Ironically, one of the reasons Amazon has been able to become so effectively entrenched in the city is because of this kind of contingent labor force—any car in New York City can become an Amazon Flex delivery vehicle, any apartment a Mechanical Turker workplace.) The art of logistics also depends in part on the art of marketing. To support that marketing endeavor, Amazon has a 40,000-square-foot photo studio in a former glass manufacturing plant in Williamsburg that produces tens of thousands of images for Amazon Fashion, the company's online apparel venture. The company's forays into fashion, while less publicized, may also position it to become one of the largest retailers of clothing in the world. New York is also home to 260 Amazon Lockers: pickup and package return sites for select products typically located in 7-Elevens and other bodega-like environments. Like Prime Now, the Lockers streamline and automate a process that would normally involve lines at the post office. First appearing in New York in 2011, the 6-foot-tall locker units can range between 6 and 15 feet wide, with the individual lockers in each unit capable of holding packages no larger than 19 x 12 x 14 inches (roughly larger than a shoebox). While early reports indicated that store owners received a small monthly stipend for hosting the lockers, the main sell for store owners is the possibility of luring in more foot traffic. But a 2013 Bloomberg article noted that smaller businesses were frustrated by the limited returns from installing the lockers and increased power bills (lockers use a digital passcode system, requiring electricity and connectivity). There is an irony in the fact that for almost a decade before the HQ2 debacle, small businesses have been ceding physical space to Amazon only to be stuck with monolithic storage spaces serving little direct benefit. Following its acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017, Amazon installed Lockers in all of the supermarket’s locations in the city. Whole Foods was already associated with gentrification and had an anti-union CEO before the Amazon acquisition; if anything, Amazon upped the ante by attempting to bring Whole Foods more in line with Amazon’s logistics-first approach. Reports that Amazon has plans to open a new grocery chain suggest that early speculation about the Whole Foods acquisition was correct: Amazon wasn’t interested in Whole Foods in order to sell produce so much as to gain access to the grocery company’s rich trove of retail data, which Amazon could use to jump-start its own grocery operations. A data-driven approach has been at the core of Amazon’s logistics empire: The company was one of the first to use recommendation algorithms to show consumers other products they might also like, and Prime Now relies extensively on purchasing data to determine what items to stock in hub warehouses. It’s unsurprising, then, that the most profitable wing of Amazon’s empire is Amazon Web Services (AWS), its cloud computing platform. AWS’s physical footprint in New York City is relatively small, with a handful of data centers within city limits. Its most visible presence may be the AWS Loft in Soho, which opened in 2015, part of a small network of similar spots in San Francisco, Tokyo, Johannesburg, and Tel Aviv.  Part coworking space for startups that use AWS and part training center for AWS products and services, the Loft inhabits a kind of in-between space between data services and marketing. The space is free for AWS users and is full of comfy seating and amenities like free coffee and snacks—ironic considering Amazon's reputation for being absent of the kinds of perks expected at tech companies. Belying its small spatial footprint, AWS is a major part of the city’s networked operations. The New York City Department of Transportation and the New York Public Library are both presented as model case studies of successful AWS customers, and AWS has signed contracts with multiple city agencies, including the Departments of Education and Sanitation and the City Council as far back as 2014. AWS is also a major vendor to municipal, state, and federal agencies—and, increasingly, has come under scrutiny for its multimillion-dollar contracts with data mining company Palantir Technologies, which works with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to track and deport migrants, and for peddling its face recognition technology to police departments across the country. Some of the criticism of Amazon's campus deal with NYC came from New York City Council members, apparently unaware their office was paying Amazon for hosting web support. To be fair, New York City’s AWS contracts (including the City Council’s) are a fraction of the kind of revenue Amazon is vying for in federal defense contracts. And at this point, AWS is the industry standard upon which most of the internet runs. The situation reflects the depth to which Amazon has insinuated itself as a fundamental infrastructure provider. New York may have dodged a gentrification bullet with HQ2, but as with so much of Big Tech, Amazon’s impact on cities might look more like death by a thousand paper cuts. A new campus might be more visible than the hidden machinery of a city increasingly reliant on delivery-based services, but both impact local economies, residents, and living conditions. Amazon’s long-standing logistics regime also inspires an infinitude of Amazon-inspired niche delivery startups familiar to New Yorkers as a pastel monoscape of subway ads hawking mattresses, house cleaning services, and roommates, to name just a few, along with the precarious jobs that are their defining characteristic. There have been continued efforts in New York to challenge Amazon’s frictionless logistics regime since the HQ2 withdrawal. Pending City Council legislation banning cashless retail would affect far more businesses than just Amazon’s brick-and-mortar operations (which have automatic app-based checkout), but it would certainly stymie any expansion of its physical retail footprint. State Senator Jessica Ramos has joined labor leaders in calling for a fair union vote at the future Woodside fulfillment center. These sorts of initiatives are often more drawn out and less galvanizing than those to halt a major campus development. But they’re crucial to a larger strategy for making the tech-enabled systems of inequality in cities visible. In 2019, the premise that the digital and physical worlds are mysteriously separate realms has been effectively killed by the tech industry’s measurable impact on urban life, from real estate prices to energy consumption. Comprehending the full impact of companies like Amazon on cities and seeing beyond their efforts to obscure or embellish their presence (glamour shots of data centers, anyone?) requires a full examination of these infrastructures outside of the companies' preferred terms. By demanding public accountability, New York's elected officials and community groups may have demonstrated the beginnings of just how to do that.
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Where There's a Willis

Hank Willis Thomas creates 25-foot-tall Afro pick for 5th Avenue
A new 25-foot-tall statue of an Afro pick now stands outside The Africa Center in East Harlem, New York. All Power to All People, created by conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas, was erected last Friday in its temporary location on 5th Avenue. Designed in collaboration with the Kindred Arts cultural equity initiative, the steel sculpture is intended to honor and celebrate cultural identities of the African diaspora. Thomas worked with fabricator Jeff Schomberg to imagine the larger-than-life Afro pick, which sits at an angle on a black podium and features a handle in the outline of a clenched fist. The design is an iteration of Thomas's 2017 sculpture made with Monument Lab in Philadelphia for Thomas Paine Plaza. In connection with the Afro pick’s distinct cultural and political identity, the piece symbolizes the strength, comradery, and perseverance of the African-American community, as well as the ongoing pursuit for equal rights, justice, and belonging.  Marsha Reid, executive director of Kindred Arts and producer of the project, noted the important location of the installation. “Representation matters,” she said, “and this monumental art is placed here at The Africa Center in the heart of the community, with the purpose of inspiring conversation and facilitating a space where communities might affirm cultural citizenship and freely express identity.” All Power to All People will be on display through July 7, 2019, in the public plaza outside The Africa Center at 1280 Fifth Avenue in New York City. A slew of public programs will coincide with the monumental installation. For more information, visit The Africa Center’s website.
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Go Fund Yourself

San Francisco homeless shelter inspires online fundraising battles
A homeless shelter proposed for San Francisco’s Embarcadero has resulted in dueling GoFundMe campaigns; one from residents who want to keep the Navigation Center out, and one to support the shelter. On March 4, San Francisco mayor London Breed allowed a plan to move forward that would transform a 2.3-acre parking lot in the eastern waterfront neighborhood into the city’s largest Navigation Center. Centers allow residents to stay 24 hours, provide health and wellness services, and allow pets—they’re also designed to be temporary. It’s expected that the center at Seawall Lot 330, if allowed to open by the end of this summer as anticipated, would only operate for four years while the city wrangles with its homelessness crisis. Some Embarcadero residents aren’t happy. On March 20, a group calling themselves Safe Embarcadero for All launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $100,000 for a legal defense fund to help them oppose the shelter. Complete with its own website, Twitter feed, and well-heeled backers, Safe Embarcadero successfully hit its goal in 25 days. The group cited the large number of families and tourists the neighborhood draws, and the site’s potential proximity to landmarks such as Oracle Park as reasons for trying to push the shelter elsewhere. “The rushed process the Mayor is following to build the homeless shelter by the end of the summer is concerning to the community,” reads the Safe Embarcadero for All GoFundMe page. “We are worried that the rushed process puts the political goal of building a large Navigation Center ahead of legitimate concerns about public safety, drug use, and other problems that a large shelter may bring to the community. According to the city’s own data, a third of the homeless are drug users and some are sex offenders. “The Navigation Center will not allow drug use inside, meaning that about 75 drug users will be forced into the surrounding family neighborhood to use drugs. The community is also concerned about the environmental effects of building on a site that is known to have toxic materials beneath.” Perhaps recognizing that concerted opposition by “not in my backyard” organizers has killed or segregated low income and homeless housing elsewhere, a counter fundraiser was created in support of the Navigation Center. SAFER Embarcadero for ALL, citing the potential legal costs and community challenges that the shelter is facing, sought to raise $175,000 in support of the Coalition on Homelessness. With 1,900 donations, in comparison to the original group’s 360, that goal was reached in 17 days. The GoFundMe in support of the Navigation Center also drew big donations from Salesforce, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, and GoFundMe itself, which contributed $5,000. The fight over the Embarcadero center is playing out in real-world meetings and protests that are just as charged as their online counterparts. On April 3, Mayor Breed was shouted down at a town hall meeting as she tried to stump for the scheme. While the mayor has proposed opening another 1,000 beds worth of shelters by 2020, so far only 212 have actually come online. The final battle over Seawall Lot 330 will culminate in a vote by the Port Commission on April 23, as the body (whose five members were selected by the mayor) votes on whether it will lease the site to the city.