Posts tagged with "Manhattan":

Placeholder Alt Text

What’s being done—or not—to save Manhattan’s small businesses from Amazon and big box competition

Broadway, Manhattan’s longest street and a main commercial drag, spans the length of the island from hilly Inwood to Lower Manhattan’s breezy Bowling Green. There are shops from nose to tail, but a recent survey found that Broadway is also home to almost 200 vacant storefronts, dead zones on one of Gotham’s liveliest thoroughfares.

Glaring vacancies aren’t limited to Broadway though. From Madison and Fifth Avenue to Broadway in Soho and Bleeker Street in the West Village, high-end commercial strips in Manhattan are having trouble attracting commercial tenants. A healthy vacancy rate is 5 percent, but some fancy areas are in the midst of high-rent blight, with one in five (20 percent) storefronts vacant.

Further north, in Washington Heights, a whole block of immigrant-owned businesses were essentially evicted after new landlords proposed a 100 percent rent increase and declined to renew their leases.

Why is this happening?

The causes are predictable, but the solutions are not.

High rent, high taxes, regulations that favor owners over tenants, and plain old capitalism—the incentive for owners to seek their property’s maximum value, and the consumer’s desire to acquire goods at the lowest price—all contribute to the twin plagues of vacancy and the mall-ification (national chains displacing small, local businesses) of Manhattan. Stakeholders, though, disagree on what should be done to solve a growing crisis at street level.

This spring, the Manhattan Borough President’s Office (MBPO) recruited volunteers to count all the vacant storefronts along Broadway, citing a dearth of information on how many vacancies exist, and where. The survey follows an effort from two years ago where the office reached out to small businesses and offered potential policy solutions to businesses’ problems.

But first the report had to determine what a small business is, a question that is not as obvious as it seems.

The federal government’s Small Business Administration (SBA) measures business size by number of employees or the company’s value, depending on the sector. The Small Business Act, though, uses a measure that doesn’t exactly conjure visions of mom-and-pops: It says small businesses have fewer than 500 employees. Under the same rules, a microbusiness has fewer than five employees and requires $35,000 in capital or less to get going.

In New York State, small businesses are companies that employ fewer than one hundred people, while New York City’s Department of Small Business Services doesn’t set a number. Instead, it encourages any self-identifying businesses to seek out its resources.

Consequently, the MBPO’s March 2015 report called for a standardized measure of “small,” and the recommendations in its report are geared toward firms with 15 or fewer employees.

No matter how you define them, it’s clear that the not-so-invisible hand of the market is driving these firms out of business on Manhattan’s main streets. One problem? Stratospheric commercial rent increases. In 2014, the average asking rent in Manhattan was $65.14 per square foot. With ever-more high-income individuals flooding Manhattan, landlords are reluctant to offer 10- or 15-year commercial leases lest they get stuck with a lower-paying tenant as commercial land values in the neighborhood skyrocket.

Other problems, the report found, include businesses not having enough insurance, delaying tax payment, and under-budgeting for utilities. On the city side, some business owners in the report cited punitive agency inspectors who, instead of working with the owner to correct an issue, slapped the business with a fine.

Additional solutions don’t seem politically viable or aren’t effected at a scale that works.

A special tax for businesses in most of Manhattan eats into viability, too. In June, the city council declined to alter the commercial rent tax, an almost four percent surcharge on annual rent of $250,000 or more on businesses below 96th Street. As rents have risen, the tax threshold has stayed the same, and more businesses have become impacted. A bill that would raise the ceiling to $500,000 annual rent didn’t make it into the 2018 budget, though the item could be considered at a later date. If that limit were approved, the city would lose $52 million in revenue annually.

Zoning regulations encourage new development with huge storefronts that work for Chase and CVS but not for their independent counterparts. On the Upper West Side, though, neighbors are seeing mixed success from initiatives like a 2012 zoning change that limited storefronts to 25 feet, but don’t limit store size, as businesses are free to expand up or down as space permits.

But some advocates say these reforms don’t go far enough to stop business closures and the encroachment of chain stores.

“There is a crisis,” said Kirsten Theodos, cofounder of TakeBackNYC, an advocacy group for New York City small businesses. New York is losing 1,000 small businesses and 8,000 jobs per month. Theodos, who lives near the East Village, said all of this “fuels the hyper-gentrification and whitewashing of the city, a process that’s really accelerated over the past six years.”

Her group supports the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA), a piece of local legislation that would set new rules around renewing commercial leases. Among other provisions, SBJSA would give commercial tenants, at minimum, a ten-year lease plus right to renewal and the option of arbitration to come to a new rent. The legislation is designed to slow, not stop, the rate of change in neighborhoods, and level the playing field for florists and bakeries competing for storefronts with Starbucks and Pottery Barn.

When the bill was first introduced in 2014, it had the support of 17 councilmembers—now it has the support of 26, or half the council. But in a city dominated by real estate interests, the bill is a nonstarter, Theodos explained. REBNY, the city’s largest real estate trade association, opposes the proposed rules, rallying around the idea that land values are subject to the “free market” and (incorrectly) deeming the rules “rent control.”

Even real estate boosters, though, acknowledge the downtrends in the market. According to REBNY, average asking rents in Manhattan this past spring fell in 14 of 17 of the borough’s top shopping strips compared with 2016 and record highs in 2014 and 2015. But the group maintains that a variety of factors set Manhattan apart from the suburbs, and grant the city a degree of immunity from experts’ dire predictions about the death of retail. In New York, REBNY says there are “strong market fundamentals,” including diverse food tenants, online retailers opening storefronts, and the eternal cache of a New York, NY address.

But to REBNY, doing well means collecting more rent. Fifth Avenue between 14th and 23rd streets (the Flatiron Fifth Avenue corridor) and Broadway between Battery Park and Chambers Street (the Lower Manhattan corridor) did the best, with ground floor rents rising by 18 percent to $456 per square foot in the Flatiron and 11 percent to $362 per square foot along the Lower Manhattan corridor. The report only looks at rents along main strips. Rents on side streets, according to the report, could diverge from the main drag; conversely, a gorgeous space on a prime corner may command greater asking rent and affect averages all along the strip.

It’s not only high rents and taxes that are driving businesses to close. Online shopping is slaying retailers big and small, in Manhattan and the suburbs and beyond. Right now, unchecked real estate speculation and limited protections for small-business owners mean that there is little protection against ultimately having a national bank and pharmacy on every corner.

Placeholder Alt Text

This robotically-woven canopy will rise atop Pier 17 in Manhattan

German architect Achim Menges has designed a canopy for the SHoP Architects–designed Pier 17 at the Seaport District in Manhattan. With a form derived from beetle wings, the canopy will reside on the building's rooftop, replacing a glass pergola that had been nixed by the Landmarks Preservation Committee (LPC). SHoP's initial renderings depicted a lawned roof that people would leisurely enjoy. However, these newer renderings suggest a more intense usage of the space is possible, with large crowds of people gathered under the canopy for casual relaxation and large concerts alike. Indeed, the space has been designed to host up to 4,000 for outdoor movie screenings, tennis matches, art installations, and more. (As we also reported in 2015, when the LPC made the decision to veto the pergola, locals were wary of big crowds flocking to the area for such events.) Menges, who is a professor at Stuttgart University, has drawn inspiration from beetles in the past. The Elytra Filament Pavilion for London's Victoria & Albert Museum derived its shape from "the fibrous structures of the forewing shells of flying beetles known as elytra," and at Pier 17, his work is based around the wing casing of the potato beetle. “It had to be lightweight because it sits on top of a building,” Menges told the New York Times. “But it also had to be strong to stand up to gale force winds.” Like in London, the canopy will be robotically woven. The complex lightweight structure will be composed of glass and carbon fibers. Embedded within will be lights that illuminate the structure, making it clearly visible from the water's edge, and particularly the Brooklyn Bridge—a landmark that Menges also used to inform his design. In 2015, neighbors also voiced concerns that the pergola would block views of the Brooklyn Bridge. According to SHoP, the 250,000-square-foot, $200 million Pier 17 is to be finished in 2018. (However, SHoP is not directly involved with the design of Menges's canopy.)
Placeholder Alt Text

Midtown East rezoning gets final approval from City Council

After five arduous years, New York City’s Midtown East rezoning proposal cleared City Council today, paving the way for new office towers to rise in the neighborhood.

The proposal, approved 42-0, updates the area’s zoning code to incentivize new, dense development and revitalize the flagging business area in order to compete with the Financial District and Hudson Yards. The 78 blocks in the area are currently home to more than 250,000 jobs and generate ten percent of the city’s property tax base, according toNew York Daily News article penned by Councilman Daniel Garodnick. The city anticipates 6.5 million square feet of office space being added to East Midtown.

Developers can build higher and gain more floor-area-ratio (FAR) by either buying landmarked air rights or making specific transit improvements (targeted mainly at subway stations). Several recent changes include the lowering of the air rights minimum: developers can purchase air rights at $61.49 per square foot, of which the proceeds will go toward a public realm fund. Developers are also required pay upfront for transit improvements if they choose to go that route; buildings will not be occupiable until those improvements are finished.

“The goal is to improve Midtown, not keep it as it is,” Councilman Garodnick said at the meeting.

The city has committed $50 million to start improving public spaces—before anything is built—and the first project includes a shared street on 43rd Street, near Grand Central Terminal. Over the next 20 years, the city estimates that up to 16 properties could take advantage of the rezoning.

Placeholder Alt Text

How to solve NYC’s most awkward developer feud

Terreform is a nonprofit center for urban research and advocacy, founded in 2005. We’ve long taken an interest in the fate of Pier 40 (our studio is a few blocks away) and the development of the Hudson River waterfront. We were involved in doing analysis and design in response to the recent air rights transfer across West Street and the funding it brought for vital repairs to the pier. We’d previously offered a proposal for relocation of a portion of the NYU expansion to the site. We’ve been closely observing the ongoing contretemps over Barry Diller’s proposal to build a new entertainment pier on the site of the largely vanished Pier 55 at a project cost of $250 million. While we greatly admire the work of Thomas Heatherwick (the scheme’s imaginative designer), have no issue with generous philanthropy, and ardently wish to see the Hudson River Park become ever more splendid and capacious, we do wonder at the logic of this particular investment in the context of a public space obliged to financially fend for itself and monumentally strapped. More specifically, we wonder whether this enormous investment—and the program it will support—might be directed to a place where it is far more urgently needed and appropriately housed: Pier 40. Pier 40 has represented a frustrating combination of problem and opportunity for years, somehow stymying all efforts to realize its full public potential. At present, it provides invaluable and beloved sports fields to the community but its primary “service” is as a huge parking lot. This may be a cash cow for the Hudson River Park Trust but it’s surely the least appropriate possible use for such a vast and charismatically-sited facility. Likewise, most of the proposals that have been floated for Pier 40’s renewal over the years have been over-focused on two private styles of reconstruction, on luxury housing or office space, rather than on realizing its truly remarkable potential as a scene of pleasure and recreation. Our idea is simple: invest the $250 million earmarked for Pier 55 in Pier 40. Build facilities—theaters and a park—of exactly the same size and capacity as planned for the uptown site. Then add as much additional fabulousness as possible. The attached sketches show expanded recreational and sports facilities (including indoor tennis courts and gyms and a pool), more theaters and performance spaces (featuring a large amphitheater with a floating stage that might migrate around the city), a vast forested rooftop and sculpture garden, a marina, a complex of waterside restaurants, a school, community offices, a small hotel, ample opportunities for strolling and sitting along the water, and dock space for a variety of ships and boats. The whole might not generate quite the revenue as parked cars but the stream could be ample and the initial subvention would take care of the expense of construction. Thomas Heatherwick would be great choice for architect! We look forward to the handshake between Barry Diller, Douglas Durst, Bill de Blasio, and Andrew Cuomo that seals this win-win deal!
Placeholder Alt Text

How to save Manhattan’s Garment District

The garment industry—and its district in west Midtown, New York—continues to be underappreciated within a city that has transitioned to one that consumes material goods rather than producing them. As recently as 2009, alternative zoning was proposed in an attempt to consolidate all the manufacturers into one building in the Garment District (see our 2009 article “Shrink to Fit”). This spring, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which supports manufacturers, proposed to eliminate the special zoning laws that promote the preservation of industrial space in the district. This current zoning overlay requires a one-to-one replacement of manufacturing space when (in general) a landlord converts space to commercial use, but it has been loosely enforced. While the proposal maintains the existing industrial zoning, it is not favored by the manufacturing community, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, community boards, or groups such as the Garment District Alliance, Design Trust for Public Space, and the Municipal Art Society, among others. Together, these parties, who have requested additional time to review the proposal, have formed a steering committee in advance of the formal land-use review process (ULURP), slated to commence in August 2017.

The new proposal would also place limits on construction of new hotels in the area, which are considered “industrial use,” but has pressured industrial owners to sell. The city promises $15 million in technical assistance and costs for relocation into city-owned spaces in the Brooklyn Army Terminal ($100 million capital investment) or a future city-operated garment center building in Sunset Park ($136 million capital investment) to be completed in 2020. However, the synergy of the interdependent ecosystem of designers, contract manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors still has an irreplaceable value, even as it erodes.

Two alternate propositions:

Instead of removing the preservation requirements of the District’s zoning, I am proposing two scenarios to sustain the Garment District’s dense cluster of what I call “Vertical Urban Factories.” One approach could be to embrace the District’s organic mix of garment industries and residential, office, and retail space in a unique hybrid building type. Industrial preservation requirements could instead be tightened through “mandatory inclusionary manufacturing,” similar to the mayor’s plan for requirements for housing in newly rezoned areas.

Most mixed-use industrial districts (or “MX” districts) are proven to tip toward residential and commercial development because of the higher rents they command, and building owners profit from the industrial conversion to more lucrative uses. The Garment District is no different; it is an industrial zone, with other nonindustrial uses allowed. But since fashion is a lighter industry, like other niche design-driven industries, it is actually clean and quiet and can be easily integrated with office and residential uses in the same buildings. What if the higher-value residential tenants could consciously support the lower-rent garment tenants (or other light manufacturing spaces) through cross-subsidies? The result would be a diverse mix of making, selling, playing, and living; creating a 24/7 work-live community. The ground floor could remain retail space relating to the supplies that comprise the products—buttons, zippers, sequins, fabrics—while the lower and middle floors, where the showrooms are often located, would be required to be maintained as factories. The upper floors could contain the higher-value showrooms, and commercial and residential units. In reverse, new hotels could be required to house garment manufacturing, and guests could have a unique experience of watching manufacturing from their hotel rooms!

Another approach is to make the garment workers visible, injecting energy into the area with new physical transparency, exposing the industrial mysteries of workers making patterns, cutting, sewing, and pleating fabrics, in what I call the “consumption of production.” The emergence of industry-as-spectacle combines retail with making, so that the consumer also can see into the process from beginning to end, in our experience economy. This would be part of a longtime tradition of urban merchants and their workshops, or even the phenomenon of open kitchens in restaurants, and follows new interests in authenticity. In this new context, it combines another hybrid of retail-factory spaces for urban chocolatiers, coffee roasters, and bakers bringing street life to cities. In doing so, we can redefine and bolster the dynamism and diversity of our innovative and productive city.

Placeholder Alt Text

Manhattan borough president rejects city’s East Harlem rezoning proposal

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer formally announced today that she opposed the city’s proposal to rezone East Harlem; the rezoning would bring more high-rise residential development to the area.

In a detailed report, Brewer cited the proposed concentrated density along Third and Park Avenues, a lack of new affordable housing units, and a failure to preserve existing affordable housing units as reasons for rejecting the proposal. She also criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration for not taking into account the concerns raised by Community Board 11.

"We are left with an incomplete picture of what the impact of this application will be and how we can ensure the better future for the community promised by the applicant," Brewer wrote. "Ultimately, the current proposal falls short in both the land use and the programmatic categories." 

The rezoning proposal would allow the buildings in a 96-block stretch of East Harlem to be built higher in order to incentivize development in the neighborhood. Consequently, according to Brewer, the plan would enable building forms that would tip the balance towards market-rate development and not affordable housing.

The proposal has incited backlash and controversy from the neighborhood’s residents; a Community Board 11 meeting in June descended into chaos when residents stormed the stage. Locals fear that rezoning will only expedite the rapid gentrification that is spreading.

The rezoning is part of Mayor de Blasio's broader push to create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade.

But East Harlem, while a neighborhood with one of the highest concentrations of affordable housing, has been steadily losing its affordable housing stock. About 80 percent of the people who live in the neighborhood live in some form of regulated housing and approximately 12,000 households that face severe housing needs, according to the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan (ENHP).

The ENHP was submitted to the administration in 2016, supported by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Brewer, and focused on a bottom-up approach to de Blasio’s plan.

“Here, the community gave extensive, thoughtful and informed input, but the administration could not see its way to support significant elements of the community’s recommendations, which forces me to recommend a disapproval of the application,” Brewer said.

Although Brewer’s lack of support is non-binding, the plan is expected to undergo changes before making its way to the City Planning Commission and City Council.

Placeholder Alt Text

Politicians to sue if New York City approves three new riverside towers

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilperson Margaret Chin are pushing the Department of City Planning (DCP) to conduct additional reviews of three waterfront towers in the Two Bridges neighborhood. The pair said they will pursue legal action against the city if it doesn't stop the developments. Developers have set their sights on the Chinatown-adjacent area in recent years with a series of high-rise residential buildings. The 77-, 69-, and 62-story towers would sit less than a block away from the FDR Drive, near the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges from which Two Bridges gets its names. JDS Development Group, the same firm behind the troubled supertall on Central Park, is backing the 77-story, SHoP-designed skyscraper at 247 Cherry Street, which will rise next to an under-construction 80-story tower, Extell’s One Manhattan Square, designed by Adamson Associates Architects. Two Bridges Associates is planning a double tower (69 stories each) with a shared platform at 260 South Street, and Starrett Development wants to build its 62-story structure at 259 Clinton Street. Last year, Brewer and Chin, whose district includes the proposed towers, asked DCP to assess the development via a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), a seven-month review that goes through the community board all the way up to the mayor for public comment, revision, and further assessment before the development is approved or denied. Here, though, current zoning allows the towers to be built as-of-right, so no scrutiny through ULURP was legally necessary. The developers of the tower trio are only required to do environmental review for their project, though they did hold voluntary community reviews (which were interrupted by protests). In response to community concerns, DCP is considering the projects together, instead of individually. "While the modifications sought for the Two Bridges sites do not trigger ULURP—in other words no new density or waivers are needed—a thorough environmental review which offers multiple opportunities for the public and elected officials to participate is being conducted," said DCP spokesperson Rachaele Raynoff, in an email to DNAinfo. "Moreover we are ensuring a coordinated review by the project applicants that looks at the cumulative effects of these three developments at the same time—an extraordinary but important measure that is not ordinarily required. This coordinated review will help produce the best possible outcome for this neighborhood. Much as we appreciate the desire of the community to do so, there are no grounds under which a ULURP could legally be required in this instance." Though there are many neighborhood groups across the city saying "no" to tall buildings, the political geography of downtown Manhattan lends the Two Bridges controversy a special edge. Restrictive zoning and landmarking shields wealthier and whiter neighborhoods downtown from skyscrapers, but those protections are missing in the Lower East Side or Chinatown, a condition that jeopardizes affordability and encourages what some see as out-of-scale development. Though activists are working to mitigate displacement, since 2002, Chinatown has lost more than 25 percent of its rent-regulated apartments. Now, neighbors are worried the developments will stress already over-burdened infrastructure, block natural light, and engender displacement in the low-income neighborhood by causing property values to spike. At One Manhattan Square, for example, prices for two-bedrooms start at almost $2.1 million.
Placeholder Alt Text

The untold story of Harlem’s gentrification and growth

Architecture should never be excused from conversations on gentrification, but building design often takes a back seat when we consider the various forces behind neighborhood change. Ultimately gentrification engages so many issues—of city planning and policy, of income and racial inequality, of housing discrimination—that it’s impossible to tackle one without bringing in the others. Through this lens, architecture becomes part of a much larger conversation about our cities, and also a powerful tool in efforts to make rapidly changing neighborhoods more equitable.

A gentrification story that lends itself easily to study and dissection can be found in Harlem, an Upper Manhattan enclave that emerged as the best-known African American neighborhood in America following the Great Migration of the early 1900s. One hundred years later, the neighborhood—still a stronghold for New York’s African American community—is also home to multimillion dollar townhouses, big-box retail, a soon-to-open Whole Foods, and a dramatic uptick in white residents. What happened? The latest author to tackle the subject is Brian D. Goldstein, an assistant professor of architecture at the University of New Mexico. His book, The Roots of Urban Renaissance: Gentrification and the Struggle over Harlem, takes a multipronged approach to tackling that loaded question.

In his book, Goldstein explains how Harlem became a sort of testing ground for government-backed redevelopment throughout the 20th century—an often-hostile effort that sowed the seeds for more grassroots, community-led development. This push and pull between the government’s ambitions and community-based organizations persisted through the decades before the neighborhood essentially become a case study for “New York City Gentrification 101.” But the most fascinating question posed again and again by Harlem residents, and echoed throughout Goldstein’s book, is what the streets of Harlem should look like, who should design them, and who gets to inhabit them.

It would be a disservice to the book to boil down the many factors at play between Harlemites and the city government to decide that fate of the neighborhood. Goldstein makes the argument that Harlem’s recent wave of gentrification is a result of effective community-led developers who brought new mixed-income housing, supermarkets, and shopping malls to the neighborhood—which in turn brought a growing middle-class, and then upper-class, population. His point, essentially, is to debunk the idea that the gentrification of Harlem was solely imposed by outside developers and investors.

Goldstein makes a convincing argument to prove this—he traces the strength of these community organizations to ARCH, a radically innovative community developer founded in the mid-1960s, then details the proliferation of community development corporations (CDCs) in the following decades. It’s worth noting, however, that if these organizations are to be “blamed” for the gentrification of Harlem, they were founded in response to a city government with Robert Moses–like tendencies to bulldoze communities and replace them with “towers in the sky,” or to ignore the needs of the neighborhood altogether. Harlem always has been a radical neighborhood in that it has flourished even as the city government treated it with disregard—and it has hardly lost that energy today.

Goldstein, an architecture professor, is sure to point out cases of innovative and notable architecture and architectural practices, of which there are many. Not all are considered successes. In 1966, when the city opened Intermediate School 201, designed as a “showcase” for modernist architecture and curricular innovations, parents protested. As Goldstein explains, “Initially, the city had touted the intermediate schools as models of racial integration, but little in the initial planning of I.S. 201 in the early 1960s suggested that administrators were pursuing that objective with conviction.” The same year, at a vacant lot known as Reclamation Site #1, a proposal for a modernist state-office-building complex designed by the African American–led firm Ifill Johnson and Hanchard caused controversy. Local activists considered the block-long project a threat to Harlem’s identity, as well as their aspirations for community control—a flyer released in 1969 asked, “What’s to be built on Reclamation Site #1? Something for black people or a state office building for white people?” Both projects illustrate that architecture in Harlem has often gone beyond simple building design—the process has long engaged questions of race, inclusion, and community needs.

So it’s a welcome history lesson that the book highlights the work of J. Max Bond Jr., an architect and the first African American director of ARCH, who pushed forward a vision “of an alternative urban future centered on [Harlem residents’] daily lives.” Bond celebrated the “black aesthetic” in architecture, integrating the language of Black Power into ARCH’s work. It’s around this time that the concept of “activist architects and planners” took hold—professionals and amateurs who saw their work as deeply integrated with radical forms of participatory democracy. In that vein, Bond established a program in 1968 to help bring African American and Latino talent into the hardly diverse world of architecture.

The strength of ARCH highlights how things shift when community-centered organizations have agency over neighborhood development. Goldstein puts it this way: “[The] concern was with representation, with the resonance between those who made decisions about the shape of New York and those impacted by such decisions.… [It] was the idea that a designer’s race or ethnicity mattered, that people of color—whether professionals or amateur activists—were particularly attuned to the needs of neighborhoods like Harlem, and that they could thus uniquely plan their future.”

But as anyone familiar with the world of New York real estate knows, much development with public interest is the result of a number of compromises. Harlem’s community development corporations, for example, were still highly reliant on outside partners and city funds, often threatening activists’ dreams of local self-determination. With ample public funding, some CDCs were able to spur large-scale, profit-oriented projects along 125th Street, Harlem’s main drag, but the projects lacked the community engagement once prioritized. The arrival of these new projects also coincided with a rush of newcomers to New York, who pushed gentrification to its limit not only uptown but in Brooklyn and Queens.

But the practice of architecture and planning engaged with matters of race, equality, and empowerment persisted, and even offered a blueprint to other African American neighborhoods like West Oakland in California and Bronzeville in Chicago. In the conclusion of the book, Goldstein recounts a 2001 event in which J. Max Bond Jr., no longer with ARCH, asked, “In what image will Harlem be re-created?” It’s a question New Yorkers will never stop asking of their neighborhoods. But Goldstein illustrates well how Harlemites not only asked, but thoroughly engaged. Although the results were mixed, it’s impossible to deny how the neighborhood was radically shaped by the opinions, persistence, and ingenuity of the people who actually lived there.

The Roots of Urban Renaissance: Gentrification and the Struggle over Harlem Brian D. Goldstein, Harvard University Press $39.95

Placeholder Alt Text

Landmarks approves partial demolition of Lower East Side synagogue destroyed by fire

Update 7/12/17: The article was updated to clarify the resolution the commissioners voted on yesterday afternoon. On Tuesday the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) debated how to preserve a Manhattan synagogue gutted by fire earlier this year. Instead of approving the owner's request to demolish the building entirely, the commission agreed that important parts of the structure should be salvaged, where possible. The building in question is the Beth Hamerdash Hagodol, at 60 Norfolk Street on the Lower East Side. The modified Gothic Revival–style structure was built in 1850 as a Baptist church and converted to a synagogue in 1885. Home to a Russian Jewish Orthodox congregation for more than a century but vacant since 2007, it was one of the first structures added to New York’s landmark list, in 1967. In May, the building was destroyed by a blaze that was later characterized as arson; it's missing its roof and most of the interior is filled with rubble. Given the extensive damage, the hearing focused on whether the building has enough integrity to remain an individual landmark, and if so, how its structure should be preserved. In testimony to the commission, Bryan Chester, an engineer from Howard L. Zimmerman Architects, detailed the shul's precarious structural integrity. The wooden roof trusses are "beyond repair," while the masonry bearing walls are unstable and severely deteriorated. Of the two towers that flanked the main (west) entrance, the northern one is in bad shape, but the south and east facades, though unstable, are in slightly better condition. The building had no fire insurance, and the extent of the damages put restoration out of the question—any materials above the window sills would probably be unsalvageable, Chester said. On the whole, those who testified before the commission advocated against demolition and for preservation in some form. Simeon Bankoff, executive director of preservation group Historic Districts Council, said the group "strenuously objects" to demolition, while noting that the owner's negligence over the years shouldn't be rewarded with a tear-down. The synagogue is on a prime lot on the Lower East Side, a district that by some measures is one of Manhattan's most gentrified. Speaking for Friends of the Lower East Side, a group that preserves the architectural and cultural heritage of the neighborhood, Joyce Mendelsohn said the group was in "total opposition" to demolition. Andrea Goldman of the New York Landmarks Conservancy agreed, noting that years before the fire, the preservation advocacy group had worked with the congregation to come up with an action plan for the building, which was in poor repair. (Right before the blaze, the synagogue had almost reached a deal with the Chinese American Planning Council, a nonprofit that owns two neighboring sites, to restore the building and erect affordable housing.) Considering the state of the structure, demolition seemed a done deal, but the LPC commissioners were hesitant to okay the applicant's request in light of the building's cultural significance. Scaffolding surrounds the ruins; right now, there's little danger the remaining structure could topple, but Chester said that in a few more months the situation could be more dangerous. So what could be salvaged, and how should the building's heritage honored? Landmarks hired engineers at Superstructures to independently evaluate the site. The firm concurred with the Zimmerman team that the south and east facades, though unstable, were repairable. The demolition team would deploy tall machines to take the synagogue apart from the top down, a process Chester likened to dinosaurs chomping on trees. But commissioners had questions: What if the crew destroys more of the remains than necessary? What if the building could be preserved and appreciated like Roman or Mayan ruins, or the Carmo Convent in Lisbon? "I'm unconvinced of the absolute necessity for demolition," said Commissioner Michael Devonshire, even when taking into account the building's unstable walls. Fellow Commissioner Frederick Bland added that the group needed to "see what's left and re-assess" after the structure has been stabilized. At the meeting, the commissioners decided to preserve, where feasible, the building's most important elements, but did not vote up/down on the owner's demolition bid. Instead, LPC general council Mark Silberman was asked to draft a resolution on the project that modified the owner's request. The resolution states that parts of the building need to be removed for safety reasons, especially around the north, south, and west facades, while retaining as much material as possible, with significant architectural features salvaged. The whole process will be overseen on-site by the LPC's engineers. It was approved yesterday afternoon. Edward Gunts contributed reporting.
Placeholder Alt Text

AN announces Cocktail Crawl winner!

This past May, thirteen design showrooms in the heart of Manhattan opened their doors to some 700 architects as part of The Architect's Newspaper (AN)'s Flatiron/NoMad Design Showroom Cocktail Crawl. Now, AN is pleased to announce that Nell Taranto, senior associate at New York City–based Carlton Architecture, PC, has won this year's grand prize: a $500 American Express Gift Card. The Flatiron/NoMad Design Showroom Cocktail Crawl will return in early October. Stay tuned!
Placeholder Alt Text

Landmarked Sasaki fountain at Citicorp demolished

Today bulldozers eviscerated the sunken plaza at Citicorp Center, eliminating its late modern fountain and plaza, one of the last surviving works by Hideo Sasaki's firm in New York. The destruction of the fountain is tied to renovation plans for the public spaces that surround Citicorp, the late 70s tower at Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street  distinguished by its angled top and four silvery legs. At its base, welcoming commuters to and from the subway, sat a stepped concrete plaza and fountain designed by Sasaki principals Masao (Mas) Kinoshita and Stuart Dawson. The Landmark's Preservation Commission (LPC) designation report calls the fountain out as a historic feature, which signals a degree of protection. In this case, though, changes to the designated plaza were approved without the public's input. Charles A. Birnbaum, president and CEO of advocacy and education nonprofit The Cultural Landscape Foundation, walked by the plaza today and sent a video of the demolition to The Architect's Newspaper, below: Though shocking to those used to seeing the fountain on their commute, the bulldozer was in the picture months ago. Last year owner-developer Boston Properties hired Gensler's New York office to produce a new (and flatter) plaza that met requirements for its POPS status, one of the city's hundreds of privately owned public spaces that developers erected to build taller than zoning allowed. Here and elsewhere, the Department of City Planning regulates POPS; it requires part of the Citicorp POPS to include a fountain, and a fixed number of chairs and trees, among other amenities. The agency leaves all aesthetic and historical concerns to Landmarks. In this case, there is nothing original or historic about the new plaza Landmarks okayed. The approvals process for the plaza re-do was done by the letter of the law but not its spirit: Through a series of behind-the-scenes approvals, the public was deprived of the opportunity to weigh in on permanent changes to a public space. "When I see what has happened to the landscape architecture at Citicorp," Birnbaum said, "all I can think is 'Who dropped the ball?' How could a project like that go through Landmarks? How could a significant work of landscape architecture be destroyed and rendered tabula rasa?'" Some in the preservation community were just as displeased, with failure a running theme. "This news profoundly depressing. It's a failure on the part of Boston Properties—a failure of imagination and taste—to demolish a one-of-a-kind late modern water sculpture. They had something of incalculable value," said preservation activist Theodore Grunewald. He believes the stewardship of the historic property, too, was lacking. "It's mostly, though, a failure of [LPC chair] Meenakshi Srinivasan and LPC staff for cynically abdicating their responsibility to protect and defend a designated landmark." (At the last public Citicorp hearing, many Landmarks commissioners seemed surprised that the fountain's fate was pre-determined.) "This is a failure of civic governance," said Christabel Gough, of the Society for the Architecture of the City. "Millions of New Yorkers enjoyed passing Sasaki's cool cascade, a fountain beside a busy subway station—now smashed by philistine investors." The Society is a historic preservation advocacy group that regularly testifies before the LPC. At Citicorp's last public hearing, in March 2017, Gough maintained that the plaza's steps and angles, complemented by the geometry of the fountain, are essential to the experience of the site at street level, especially in relation to the tower's angled top. Is there a lesson in this loss, a way forward through the wreckage? There might be. Gensler itself is leading the way at a nearby building, Kevin Roche and John Dinkerloo's nearby Ford Foundation headquarters, completed in 1967. At that project, Birnbaum pointed to what he believes is a sensitive treatment of the plant-filled atrium as a foil to the Citicorp plaza, which will soften the plaza's deliberate angles with flowerbeds and a subdued fountain. Grunewald believes the fountain's loss boils down to transparency. "This was an opaque process. Further evidence of Landmarks's subservience to New York City's development community. Boston Properties got what they wanted, at the expense of the public. This is a tragic loss of one of New York's best public works of art." AN is planning a follow-up story on what happened at Citicorp, because the editors believe the approvals process that led to the fountain's destruction deserves explanation beyond the scope of this article. Stay tuned.
Placeholder Alt Text

Midtown East rezoning proposal one step closer to final approval

The rezoning of Midtown East in New York City is one step closer to approval after the latest proposal was presented at yesterday’s City Council meeting, although not without significant opposition from the public. The rezoning proposal has made an arduous, five-year-long journey with support and roadblocks along the way. The Department of City Planning (DCP) has pushed the proposal forward, claiming that it will incentivize the development of new office buildings, preserve landmarked buildings, and improve the public realm in the area. The designated site runs from 39th Street to 57th Street and is bordered by Madison Avenue from the west and 3rd Avenue from the east. With Hudson Yards luring away businesses and the Financial District offering newer buildings with larger floor space, the DCP has primarily made it their goal to make the proposed Midtown East sub-district area a premier business area. If this latest proposal passes, it would add a potential 16 new developments in the area and allow developers to build up to 40 percent taller and bulkier than is currently permitted in Midtown. In exchange, they would be required to either complete improvements to below-grade transit infrastructure (i.e. improve major subway stations), rebuild legally overbuilt floor areas of pre-1961 buildings, or if they transfer landmark development rights, pay a minimum contribution ($78.60 per square foot) to a public realm fund. “We expect hundreds of millions of dollars to go into this fund,” DCP’s Director Edith Hsu-Chen said. The fund is expected to improve aboveground infrastructure, including widening pedestrian streets and creating shared streets. Another part of the proposal includes the Pfizer headquarters building. Since it was built before the 1961 Zoning plan, it will automatically get a free density boost of floor area ratio (FAR) 10 to FAR 15 and possibly incentivize the pharmaceutical company to sell the building and leave the city, as The Real Deal reports. While infrastructure improvements to subway stations were applauded (especially concerning the latest MTA woes), concerns were expressed from councilmembers about the transparency of the use of the public realm funds and whether developers could “game the system,” according to Councilman Daniel Garodnick, a long-time supporter of the proposal. Other questions raised included the potential—and highly likely—increased traffic in the 116 traffic intersections that will be affected, the increased shadows overcast, as well as the lack of new public space, which has been an issue for many of the proposal’s opponents. Since developers are already gaining extra FAR from contributing to the public fund, they do not have to take part in the POPS (Privately Owned Public Spaces) program, a voluntary zoning mechanism where developers get more floor space by building a public space. The meeting saw many community members pushback against rezoning without the mandatory inclusion of open, public space. “What remains to be determined, after all this time, is what the public will be receiving,” said a representative for Vikki Barbera, chair of Community Board 5. “Open space is not some optional amenity, it is essential for all good planning.” The City Council will meet later this month to vote on the latest proposal.