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Jane Reigns

AN picks this year’s most promising Jane’s Walks, a free celebration of NYC urbanism
Just in time for spring, the venerable New York nonprofit Municipal Art Society (MAS) is hosting its annual Jane's Walk NYC, an on-foot (but by no means pedestrian) celebration of the city's architecture urbanism. This year, over 200 New Yorkers have volunteered to show others interesting buildings and sites around their neighborhoods. The walks, all of which are free, are named for beloved urbanist Jane Jacobs and are held annually on May 4 through 6 all over the world in her honor. Below, The Architect's Newspaper (AN) rounded up 13 of the most interesting strolls for architecture aficionados, from the Orphan Asylum and bird (mural) walks in Manhattan, to midcentury modern in Queens, and terra-cotta in Tottenville. All event descriptions are from MAS; head on over to mas.org/janes-walk-nyc for more details on the weekend's programs. Monumental Fire
"The Firemen’s Monument, is one of the most beautiful architectural elements of Riverside Park. We’ll contemplate the history and significance of this memorial plaza – a combination of public sculpture and landscape architecture. The walk will continue into the adjoining neighborhood, where we’ll consider Jane Jacob’s notion that the streetscape facilitates safety. Fire-protection infrastructure and firehouses will be discussed along the way."
Queens Modern: Mid-Century Architecture of Forest Hills and Rego Park
"This walk will look at the development of Forest Hills and Rego Park from the 1930s to 1960s along Queens Boulevard, exploring how these neighborhoods developed and continue to change. We’ll explore the diverse architecture on and off the boulevard, from apartment towers to parks and synagogues to civic buildings. The walk will end at Rego Park Jewish Center (possibly with a visit inside)."
The Historic Arts and Crafts Houses of Douglas Manor 
"Join us for a walk back through time, to nearby Douglas Manor, a century old residential neighborhood overlooking the Long Island Sound that has the largest collection of Arts and Crafts style houses in New York City, including three by master Gustav Stickley. Our sojourn through this NYC-designated Historic District culminates with refreshments and a reception in the garden of a picturesque 1911 gambrel roofed Arts and Crafts style gem. This walk is co-sponsored by the Douglaston Local Development Corporation and the Douglaston and Little Neck Historical Society."

The Art and Architecture of Park Avenue

"Everyday over 700,000 New Yorkers pass through Midtown along Park Avenue to and from Grand Central Terminal. This is a part of the City where, in a few blocks, you can see many of the forces that have shaped our city. There are icons of architecture (Midtown Modernism) and capitalism such as the Lever, the Seagram, and the Chrysler building. There are icons of real estate such as the Grand Hyatt and Helmsley. There are great clubs and great churches."

The Audubon Bird Murals Project
"Audubon Mural Project is an exciting effort by National Audubon Society and Gitler Gallery to create murals of 314 birds in northern Manhattan. As all the birds painted are threatened by climate change, the project is designed not only to portray the beauty of the birds, but also to make us aware of the challenges they face. In addition to seeing about 30 murals, we will visit Audubon’s impressive grave site in Trinity Cemetery at 155th & Broadway."
POPS: Privately Owned Public Spaces
"Harvard Professor Jerold S. Kayden and New York City Department of City Planning POPS Program Manager Stella Kim will visit some of the City’s celebrated and lesser known privately owned public spaces. How are these outdoor and indoor spaces contributing to the lives of those who live and work in the city? How do they function for visitors to the city? What can be done to make they function better for all?" Uncovering the City’s Scottish Roots
"Two representatives from the American-Scottish Foundation will trace the contributions to New York’s history by Scottish architects, designers and engineers, from colonial to modern times, focusing on Lower Manhattan." Tottenville’s Terra Cotta Legacy
"The Atlantic Terra Cotta Co. (ATCC) was the world’s largest manufacturer of architectural terra cotta. Join us as we explore the former site of ATCC on Tottenville’s waterfront where several repurposed buildings still exist. Conditions permitting, we’ll explore the shoreline (wear appropriate shoes), dotted with 100 yr. old remnants from the past. Optional: continue to the Terra Cotta Sculpture Garden opening, Biddle House, Conference House Park." Lost Carmansville: Manhattan’s Last Village
"We’ll explore parts of the village of Carmansville along the Hudson in what is now Hamilton Heights. We’ll find a few almost-hidden relics from the village days and learn about the history of the place and the village founder, Richard Carman. Please note: walk includes steep hills and staircases. We will visit a cemetery, where pets are not allowed." La Magia de Brooklyn Heights en Español

"This tour, led in Spanish, explores the greatness of Brooklyn Heights, from a small original Dutch Settlement to becoming the first historical district in NYC in 1965. We will admire the variety of its architecture, its elegant residences, great churches, hotels and institutional buildings. There are hundreds of stories and artists that made it their home. And yes, there was a big struggle to preserve this unique neighborhood. Come and join us!"

Gowanus Landmarks—Make It So!

"As Gowanus prepares for a potential neighborhood re-zoning, join Gowanus resident and preservationist Brad Vogel for a walking tour of approximately two dozen structures proposed for city landmark status. The sites—largely cataloging the industrial character of Gowanus, along with some residential sections—were proposed by a coalition of local groups during the Gowanus Places planning study in 2017."

Planning and Preservation on West 14th Street
"14th St. has been home to communities, architecture, storied NYC establishments and more. This border street Village on the south, Chelsea on the north, teems with public art; former row houses; the first Spanish-speaking Catholic parish in NYC, Our Lady of Guadalupe; Art Deco Salvation Army building (finally landmarked!), and much more. Led by Save Chelsea President Laurence Frommer and GVHSP’s Director of Research and Preservation Sarah Bean Apmann." City College and the Hebrew Orphan Asylum: Institutions Through Time

"We invite you to join us on an architectural perspective of the City College of New York and the former Hebrew Orphan Asylum (currently The Jacob H. Schiff Park). From the bustling Gothic campus, to the summer concerts at Lewisohn Stadium and student life in the old Orphan Asylum. CCNY and the surrounding institutions served the disenfranchised and those seeking a better life. We will remember these places in this walk."

Descriptions have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Shiffman, Haggerty, Young Technologists Win Jacobs Medals
Last night, at the Frank Gehry-designed AIC building in far west Chelsea, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Municipal Arts Society honored an esteemed group of urban activists, designers, and community developers with Jane Jacobs Medals, a prestigious prize named for the ground breaking urban writer and activist. Ron Shiffman, founder of the Pratt Center for Community and Environmental Development, was awarded the medal for lifetime leadership. Roseanne Haggerty of Common Ground and Community Solutions, received the award to new ideas and activism. A new award for technology and innovation was given to Carl Skelton, the founder of Betaville, and Cassie Flynn, Erin Barnes, and Brandon Whitney, the creators of ioby (In Our Backyards), a crowdsourced sustainability platform (the trio also donned Jacobs-like glasses after accepting their award). The event was originally scheduled for last November, but had to be rescheduled due to Hurricane Sandy, which damaged the IAC building as well as many of the galleries, businesses, and residences in the surrounding neighborhood. Social and environmental resilience were strong themes of the night, and Ron Shiffman closed the ceremony with a rallying cry for greater civic activism--a fitting message for an evening dedicated to Jacobs.
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Obit> Jane Holtz Kay, 1938-2012
Noted author and critic Jane Holtz Kay passed away November 5 at the age of 74 from complications of Alzheimer's disease. Her book Asphalt Nation: How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take It Back propelled her into the national spotlight as she chronicled the affects of cars on the American landscape. Jane Jacobs remarked about the book, “Jane Holtz Kay’s book has given us a profound way of seeing the automobile’s ruinous impact on American life." She had been working on a sequel to Asphalt Nation, documenting climate change and global warming, called Last Chance Landscape. Holtz Kay was also architecture critic for The Nation and formerly for the Boston Globe. She is survived by her sister, Ellen Goodman, daughters, Julie Kay and Jacqueline Cessou, and four grandchildren. The staff at The Architect’s Newspaper sends our condolences to her family, friends, and colleagues.
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Quick Clicks> River Metro, Byrne, Reskinned, Jane
Mississippi Metro. Strange Maps pointed out a clever reinterpretation of the Mississippi River basin as a subway system. Check out a bigger version at Something About Maps. (You may also be interested in the Sustainable City Collective's list of top five urban infographics.) Byrne-ing Down the House. David Byrne waxes poetic on the arts-and-crafts bungalows of Berkeley after taking a recent bike ride through the city's early 20th century neighborhoods. Reskinning. Solve Climate News spotlights Toronto entrepreneur Ron Dembo who is tackling insufficiently skinned buildings to increase energy efficiency. (Via Planetizen.) Janie's got a Walk. With warm weather closer on the horizon (despite a fresh blanket of snow across parts of the country), Shareable recommends planning a Jane's Walk in your city, after the famous urbanist Jane Jacobs, to explore the history, ecology, and social issues in your neighborhood.
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Quick Clicks> Mega Watts, Luck, Mattise, Like Jane
Mega Watts. The Los Angeles Times reports that the James Irvine Foundation has granted $500,000 toward the preservation of LA's Watt's Towers, declaring the folk-art stalagmites "an important cultural icon." (Photo courtesy Robert Garcia/Flickr) Luck in School. The NY Times relays the story of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck who has chosen to pursue a degree in architectural design at Stanford's School of Engineering rather than head off to the NFL draft. We wish Mr. Luck, well, all the best in his endeavors, but life as an architect can make the NFL seem like a walk in the park. Al Matisse? Variety brings us news that Al Pacino has been selected to play Henri Matisse in an upcoming film called Masterpiece detailing the French painter's relationship with his nurse, model, and muse Monique Bourgeois. Producers will soon be looking for female leads. Like Jane. The Rockefeller Foundation is accepting nominations for this year's Jane Jacobs Medal honoring two living individuals who have improved the vitality of NYC and, among other things, "open our eyes to new ways of seeing and understanding our city."
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Parks Advocates Picked for Jacobs Medals
Central Park Conservancy founder Elizabeth Barlow Rogers and Friends of the High Line founders Joshua David and Robert Hammond will receive this year's Jane Jacobs Medals, presented by the Municipal Art Society and the Rockefeller Foundation. Rogers founded the Central Park Conservancy in 1980 and served in the dual position of president and park administrator till 1995. The conservancy became a model for public/private park restorations that has been emulated nationwide. Since its inception, the conservancy has raised $500 million for restoration and maintenance of the park. A writer and scholar on landscape history, Rogers is currently the head of the Foundation for Landscape Studies, another organization she founded. She will donate her entire $80,000 prize to the Foundation. David and Hammond fought successfully to preserve the High Line, which was slated for demolition during the Giuliani administration. Enlisting the support of politicians, gallerists, celebrities, and the public, they raised raised awareness, and millions, to transform the dilapidated structure into one of the country's most innovative urban parks. Friends of the High Low now operates as a conservancy and will to cover 70% of the High Line's operating costs. The High Line's second phase is now under construction. Hammond and David will each receive $60,000 and will each donate $20,000 to the Friends.

Jane’s Jeremiad

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Homage: Laurie Kerr

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Still Radical

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Writing History

Architecture critics Inga Saffron and Robert Campbell receive the 2018 Vincent Scully Prize
Inga Saffron of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Robert Campbell of the Boston Globe are the recipients of the 2018 Vincent Scully Prize. Awarded annually by the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., the prize honors design professionals who have shown excellence in practice, scholarship, or criticism in the field. This year’s winners—both Pulitzer Prize–winning journalists—are admired for their commitment to providing insightful critiques of the built environment. The Vincent Scully Prize was established in 1999 and first awarded to Yale University professor Vincent Scully, who died last December. Past recipients include Jane Jacobs, His Royal Highness Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, the late Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Paul Goldberger, Robert A.M. Stern, and more. Landscape architect Laurie Olin was given last year’s prize. The National Building Museum will hold a public award ceremony for Campbell and Saffron on Monday, October 29 with a conversation moderated by The Chicago Tribune’s Blair Kamin.
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Warehouse Modernism

Brooklyn’s East River waterfront is defining itself in unexpected ways
Taking shape along Greenpoint’s once-industrial waterfront district is a series of surprisingly contextual modern condo developments using red brick and exposed black steel to tactfully insert tens of thousands of new residents along this sleepy East River shoreline. The largest of them, a 30-story tower that is part of Handel Architects’ Greenpoint Landing, includes 5,500 units sprawled over 22 acres at the mouth of Newtown Creek, with 1,400 apartments renting for as little as $393 to $1,065. Initial renderings presented for public review surfaced as bland massing diagrams, but the subdued details of Handel’s build-out hold promise for communities becoming accustomed to glossy, glassy, boxy towers in districts where rezoning permits greater height and bulk. To the stakeholders’ credit, the developer showed them a selection of schemes to choose from, including designs by Renzo Piano Building Workshop. In contrast to Long Island City’s gleaming, generic masses and Williamsburg’s spotty, uneven edges, Greenpoint’s waterfront retains enough of its traditional shipping warehouses to sustain the contours of a characteristically industrial neighborhood along West and Commercial Streets, even if most of the industry is gone. Despite a major waterfront rezoning passed by the city council in 2005, until a few years ago, most of West Street continued to host storage for building material and scaffolding, a lumber manufacturer, and a crane and equipment rental company. After large portions of Greenpoint Terminal Market were lost to a ten-alarm fire in 2006, Pearl Realty Management adapted the remains into a studio-and-workspace rental complex, an extension of its Dumbo-based green desk co-working enterprise. Slowly, smaller firms like Daniel Goldner Architects, Karl Fischer Architect, STUDIOSC, and S9 Architecture populated the upland side of West and Commercial with renovated warehouses and upscale condos echoing the material palette of the existing low-rises. Much of the post-rezoning development along West and Commercial stalled due to the 2008 mortgage-backed securities crisis. In 2009, the former Eberhard Faber Pencil Company building became the Pencil Factory lofts, and Daniel Goldner Architects filled in the corner lot with a syncopated colored brick addition and perforated aluminum garage. The project struggled in the post-crash housing market. But in the past two years, a rush of new buildings began to rise up along West and Commercial with a distinct material selection: red and light-colored brick and exposed black-painted steel, with glazed entryways and antique fixtures. Karl Fischer Architect’s 26 West Street opened in 2016, its redbrick and black steel facade filling out the six-story street wall, its large overhang resembling a meat market loading dock. The warehouse modern–aesthetic even extends all the way around the mouth of the Newtown Creek, where a 105-unit building by S9 Architecture employs the same neotraditional style—red brick, exposed black steel, industrial awnings, antique fixtures. An upscale ground-floor grocery store warmed some nearby loft residents up to it after months of sound-based trauma from the drilling of pilings. With leases from $3,350 to $4,350, locals will never be at peace with the rent pressures that come with these buildings, but at least they have the virtue of not extravagantly showing off their residents’ income. Not everything conforms to this trend: The expansive 140-unit development under construction by Ismael Leyva Architects at 23 India Street more crudely fills in its zoning envelope with affordable housing ranging from $613 for studios to $1,230 for winners of the NYC Housing Connect lottery, capped by a 39-story, 500-unit condo tower that promises in every way to form a bland massing diagram in the sky. In any case, contextual exterior cladding is little consolation for a community that fought hard for its 197-a plan—completed in 1999 and adopted by the city council in 2002—which would have allowed significantly less bulk and height, aimed to retain more light-manufacturing jobs, and mandated more affordable housing along with waterfront access. Jane Jacobs, in one of her final written statements, penned a strong defense of the original community plan against the eventual zoning resolution. Of course, the trade-off forced by the city—an upzoned waterfront in exchange for publicly funded parks and developer-mandated walkways—has already helped reduce heavy-industrial pollution, killed a proposed Con Edison power plant, and reduced and eliminated waste-transfer facilities and truck fumes. Some residents are just waiting for the dust and noise of construction to subside, while others hope for another recession to slow down the accelerated activity. In 2009, Andrew Blum published “In Praise of Slowness," for the launch of Urban Omnibus that, in retrospect, should have a more durable life as a critique of fast development. For New York City neighborhoods, slowness provides a much-needed stability in the absence of state-level expansion of rent regulation to protect against predatory development. Yet if there had to be luxury condos facing the former industrial piers, the emerging Greenpoint warehouse modernism was a more subtle and site-specific solution than anyone expected or imagined.
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A Great Recoding

Ambitious “Well-Tempered City” explains what makes cities work, from ancient Mesopotamia to Lagos and New York City

As a certain New York real estate figure thrusts a set of unpalatable values down the national throat, another local developer’s ideas are entering public discourse for better reasons. Jonathan Rose is, in important senses, the Antidrumpf: a developer who views the building of communities as an ethically consequential profession. He applies knowledge from nature and intercultural history to benefit entire populations. He advocates resilient development in sane, mature, well-evidenced, and convincing terms.

One finishes The Well-Tempered City with respect for a substantial contribution to the urbanist literature—and with the impression that in an administration dedicated to planetary and institutional stewardship, not plunder and bluster, Rose would merit a cabinet-level appointment. (Interior? HUD? Energy? A polymath like Rose could lead any of these departments.) The Well-Tempered City stands alongside works by Jane Jacobs, Lewis Mumford, and Christopher Alexander, deserving influence and implementation.

The enduring fivefold path

With ambitious scope and explanatory clarity, Rose offers a unified theory of urban history grounded in five core concepts: coherence, circularity, resilience, community, and compassion. He also identifies nine variables critical to the rise of ancient cities: cognition, cooperation, culture, calories (energy), connectivity, commerce, control, complexity, and concentration.

The alliterations may imply a professorial top-down scheme, but Rose infers the nine C-concepts from historical studies before elucidating how stagnation or resilience depends on “urban operating systems” promoting the five principles. Cities that manage resource flows efficiently, generate socially beneficial incentives, and respond to shocks have thrived (e.g., today’s Copenhagen or Singapore, the altitude-adaptive village of Shey, Tibet, or the flexibly organized cities of Islam’s golden age). Wasteful, dis- or over-organized, militaristic, and parasitic cities (e.g., imperial Rome) have ossified and decayed.

Rose distinguishes complication from complexity: the former merely reflects scale, while the latter describes volatile conditions where small inputs trigger large outputs. The acronym VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity), he contends, describes urban as well as biological systems. Design suited to a VUCA environment will avoid the oversimplifications of 19th- and 20th-century planning by incorporating feedback phenomena and by continually adjusting incentives, technologies, balances among market and public-sector mechanisms, and other determinants of civic well-being. Ecosystems’ cyclical resource metabolisms are particularly important, avoiding linear extract-and-discard economies.

Déjà vu will kick in for readers of Jacobs, whose Death and Life chapter “The Kind of Problem a City Is” drew on Warren Weaver’s observations about “problems in organized complexity.” To this foundation Rose adds a broad familiarity with global cultural practices, evolutionary biology, archaeology, cognitive science, and network theory: He has the intellectual discipline to be usefully interdisciplinary.

Discussing how the efficiency metric of energy return on investment (the ratio of usable energy generated to energy spent creating it) correlates with civilizations’ rise and fall, he notes how China’s recent agricultural practices resemble those that doomed Rome for a thousand years; how New York, Detroit, Lagos, and Baltimore have benefited from better data collection; and how a Big Mac takes seven times as much energy to produce as it provides to its consumer. One strong chapter, “The Cognitive Ecology of Opportunity,” links the neurohormonal threat response of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis to environments that traumatize children, exacerbated by exposure to neurotoxins such as lead, producing vicious cycles of maladaptation and social isolation. Tragic cases like Freddie Gray’s death in a struggle with Baltimore police illuminate interwoven civic and individual pathologies.

Taking the polis in for a tune-up

Rose’s master metaphor is the tuning system popularized by Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, an advance beyond Pythagorean “just intonation” (grounded in astronomic-mathematical ratios and generating beautiful scales within each key, but unable to change keys without discord). Music from the baroque through bebop is inconceivable without it. Bach didn’t invent equal tempering; Rose scrupulously credits the discovery to Ming prince Zhu Zaiyu’s Fusion of Music and Calendar (1580), brought to Europe by a traveling monk and incorporated into German music theory by Andreas Werckmeister (1687), then into practice, gloriously, by Bach.

Conceiving harmony broadly, Rose looks to Mesopotamia for another key (if unfortunately named) concept. The societal codes that the Ubaid civilization (5500-4000 BCE) considered divinely ordained, known in Sumerian as meh, are the archetype for subsequent codes found across world history. Rose finds similar operating-system principles in Chinese nine-square geometric urban forms, Lübeck Law regulating trade in the Hanseatic League, and contemporary Smart Growth codes. Conversely, when civilizations embrace a poorly designed code—as when the Federal Housing Administration incorporated racist residential legislation into redlining, or when Chicago School economics ignores environmental externalities or network-scale Nash equilibria, in which choices maximizing individual benefits produce worse outcomes than coordinated choices do—disharmonies are inevitable: congestion, impoverishment, waste, and disease.

Socioeconomic reharmonization requires a comprehension of how codes handle inputs and outputs. Humanity’s mandate is thus to approximate nature’s advanced harmonies. Rose’s spiritually oriented conclusion points out how the Hebrew concept tikkun olam (“repairing the world”) has cognates across cultures. Humanity, he finds, has “evolved with an innate metacode” in which “altruism flows through every bit of a city’s interdependent social and cognitive ecologies, and is embedded in the morality of its systems.”

The audience that needs Rose’s analysis most drastically may be the least prepared for it. “Meh” in current parlance also names the shoulder-shrugging indifference of the incurious to anything beyond their truncated attention spans. Recent electoral results inspire little confidence that American society can decode principles observable in Uruk, Göbekli Tepe, and Chengzhou, and act on them purposefully. In his November 9 AIANY book talk, Rose emphasized how increasing immiseration in poorly built cities requires more comprehension of history and the sciences than partisan politics could muster: “I don’t believe either side of the election had the intellectual capital to deal with this.”

If Rose’s tempering theory omits anything vital, it may be a recognition of evil: Another synonym for the civic distempers flowing from greed and fear. Yet in accentuating the positive, the connectedness that has outlived such distempers, he reinforces our sense of harmony even in out-of-tune times.

The Well-Tempered City: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations, and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life Jonathan F. P. Rose Harper Wave, 2016, $29.99