Layered SPURA: Spurring Conversations Through Visual Urbanism Sheila C. Johnson Design Center Parsons The New School 66 Fifth Ave. Through February 25 The Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA) that occupies 14 square blocks on the Lower East Side has remained one of the largest underdeveloped city-owned parcels of land for more than 40 years. Very few of the originally-planned buildings came to pass, and vast parking lots created by slum-clearance on the south side of Delancey Street symbolize a hotly contested renewal plan. Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani and students of the New School’s City Studio have spent three years investigating the complex issues surrounding the site, and in an exhibition highlighting their research and artwork they propose to instigate a new grassroots conversation rather than a top-down planning vision.
Posts tagged with "Lower East Side":
As he watched his Manhattan neighborhood crumble and burn around him in the urban decay of the 1970s, Adam Purple decided to build a garden. For roughly a decade from the 1970s until 1985, Purple's Garden of Eden earthwork expanded with concentric circles as more and more buildings were torn down. Photographer Harvey Wang is marking the 25th anniversary of the garden's destruction with an exhibition at the Fusion Arts gallery running through February 20. Adam Purple built the his Garden of Eden by hand and invited the community in to find comfort and grow food. Jeremiah's Vanishing New York points out that the plot eventually grew to over 15,000 square feet covered with rose bushes, fruit and nut trees, edible crops, and other greenery. The city bulldozed the site in 1986 to make way for a housing project despite proposals from architects to build around the garden. Be sure to check out Jeremiah's interview with photographer Harvey Wang and check out the exhibition before it ends. Here's a short video on the Garden of Eden from the exhibition's KickStarter page:
Last night, the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA) took a giant step forward after 44 years of contentious debate. Community Board 3's Land Use, Zoning, Public and Private Housing Committee approved guidelines for development of the city-owned land at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge. SPURA’s use of the term “urban renewal” reveals just how long the debate has been going on, a relic from the Moses era when the master planner evicted poor residents from tenements to build affordable housing and an unrealized downtown expressway. Some housing did get built, but much of the unused land became parking lots. “While there were, at times, deep and principled disagreements among stakeholders, I believe that ultimately this process brought our community together,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Sliver said in a statement. “The final guidelines that were approved by the committee tonight strike an appropriate balance between the needs and concerns of all stakeholders and will result in a development that will ensure our neighborhood continues to thrive.” The guidelines call for 800 to 1000 housing units to rise on the land and to be divided 50-50: 50 percent market rate and the remaining percentage to go to below and middle income families. The breakdown of units for the low to middle income is 10 percent middle income, 10 percent moderate, 20 percent low and 10 percent low income seniors. That the plan incorporates market solutions wasn’t lost on the crowd gathered at the Henry Street Settlement. The area, once a hotbed of Socialism, still retains some of that rallying spirit. During public comments, several speakers requested that document demand 100 percent affordable housing. “The work of Sidney Hillman and others has been destroyed and prostituted,” longtime resident Michael Gottleib told the committee, evoking the name of the area's famed labor leader. One point did unite much of the crowd; several said that the Essex Market should be preserved. For some, the city-owned and subsidized market represents an optimistic scenario for future development. Describing the food hall, speaker Carol Anastasio called it “a mix of the old and the wave of the future.” Emotions continued to run high while the committee listened. Residents displaced in 1960s stood alongside young residents forced out by the high rent. One young woman complained the she and a childhood friend can no longer afford to stay, even though she maintains a moderate income. “I help people at a not for profit and I can’t even help myself,” she said. “Can’t I come back to my own ‘hood? Where I was raised? Where I had my first date?” The full board is expected to approve the guidelines tonight. From there, several civic hurdles must be cleared before ground is broken.
The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission continued its efforts to preserve what have been, at least historically, unlikely landmarks. There is focus on the not-so-outer boroughs and modernist masterpieces and on the scruffy, increasingly tony "Lower East Side," one of the oldest, yet long-neglected parts of the city. This is of course not the small neighborhood that had been sequestered by real estate agents, but the real LES, as defined by historians and historic maps, from 14th Street to the Brooklyn Bridge, with the Bowery as its eastern bounds. In 2007 and 2008, the commission surveyed more than 2,300 properties and has been bolstering the landmarks rolls ever since, from Webster Hall to Wheatsworth Bakery. Yesterday, three more were added. You may never have noticed 97 Bowery Street before, unless maybe you were looking for karaoke in Chinatown, because that's what occupies the first two floors of this unassuming cast iron beauty. The Loew's Canal Street Theatre makes a little more sense, given the name, though it, too, is all but hidden behind the garish storefronts that are de rigueur, er, 典型 (typical) in Chinatown. The gorgeous terracotta cornice is still visible behind grime from the Manhattan Bridge if you look closely, though. The Eleventh Street Methodist Episcopal Chapel (now the Father’s Heart Church) is perhaps the most obvious landmark based simply on looks. But on the Lower East Side, it's not just about the looks. “These buildings collectively speak to many aspects of the immigrant experience in the East Village and on the Lower East Side in the 19th and early 20th centuries,” Commission Chair Bob Tierney said in a release. Consider the chapel. The evangelical Methodists to foster outreach to the city's burgeoning immigrant community. Ironically, they eventually took it over, when in 1930 and reopened 11 years later as a Slavik Eastern Orthodox church. But as much as saving these previously overlooked buildings, the commission is also preserving them from the rampant overdevelopment that has seized the neighborhood in the past few decades, and particularly during the boom. Commission spokeswoman Elisabeth de Bourbon wouldn't say that this was the explicit purpose of the renewed focus on the LES. "But it certainly doesn't hurt," she said. The real interesting question is what will happen to all those gaudy signs when gentrification finally gets to them, and renovations no doubt ensue, as they have in Tribeca, Soho, and elsewhere. Will they be grandfathered in? Or will the commission fight hard for a full restoration?
“We all have day jobs, and we don’t all live in the same city, or even on the same continent,” said Andrew Lyon, one of the six members of the multi-disciplinary design collective The Functionality. “But we all have a shared desired – to make something.” Lyon was standing beside Colin Harris, a civil engineer and fellow member of The Functionality. Huddled together against the cold last Saturday, the three of us barely fit inside W Project Space, a diminutive storefront gallery on a grubby block of Division Street, in a neighborhood that’s become a kind of lightning rod for just the kind of art practice the Functionality seems interested in pursuing: work that’s categorically messy, temporary, and site specific. Here, in the tiny storefront there’s a sixer of beer on the floor, half empty. Late '90s hip-hop issues cheerfully out of the tinny speakers of a portable boom box. Honestly, anything louder would overwhelm the space. It’s like being invited to an art opening inside a VW Bus. Over our heads hangs the reason for the gathering: a seductively tactile, monochromatic felt membrane entitled “Feel It, Take It,” designed and installed by The Functionality for a span of time as brief as W Project Space is small. The Functionality “explores issues of technology, culture and economics, through considered research and tactile experimentation,” according to the collective’s spartan website. Its members include architects, artists and engineers who treat the group as a counterpoint to the five-year timetables of institutional architecture, a venue for ushering something real into the world in short order. Something gone but never forgotten. Hence “Feel It, Take It,” an assemblage of 140 strips of felt—custom-designed and -cut scarves, actually. The form of the piece was created using procedural modeling software. Formally organized along the graph of a catenary, “Feel It, Take It,” hangs from the ceiling of W Project Space, its form both alien and inviting. The idea is that tonight, at the end of the closing party (scheduled to take place one day after the opening), the installation will be disassembled and distributed to the attendees, each of whom will then disperse into the night. The work will dissolve into the city. Within minutes of my arrival, a stream of people began to descend on the miniature space, some invited by The Functionality, others just curious about the miniature gallery and the lovely object it contained. Within 30 minutes, around 50 people were jostling around the tiny space, sipping canned Pabst beneath the installation’s voluptuous folds. But as the moment approached to begin sending “Feel It, Take It” out, piecemeal, into the five boroughs, the city itself took dispersal into its own hands. It’s hard to fit so many architects into a space that’s roughly the size of a walk-in freezer without a little raucous spillover into the Chinatown night. As if on cue, a battery of NYPD cruisers converged on the space just before nine. As Lyon and Harris pleaded their case to a stony-faced sergeant—he was clearly not interested in generative processes or the beauty of interrelated systems—most of the crowd quietly evaporated. But what’s design without unexpected complications? An email the next morning announcing “Scarves for All” invited another (decidedly more tame) visit to W Project Space on Sunday to collect a scarf. For those who couldn’t make it, The Functionality will be making the felt strands available to anyone who sends postage and a self-addressed envelope, potentially increasing the distribution radius of “Feel It, Take It” by hundreds or even thousands of miles.