Posts tagged with "Michael Bloomberg":

Parks Department Coopting NYC Skaters?

On Tuesday, the Parks Department cut the ribbon on the River Avenue pocket parks in the Bronx. It is the latest piece of the sprawling, long-overdue parks system promised by the Bloomberg administration in exchange for the parks sacrificed and taxes forgone in the name of the House That Steinbrenner Built (God rest his soul). But that is not what is truly interesting about the River Avenue park. What is is that it contains a skatepark. The fourth one to open this summer, in fact, preceded by new ramps and half-pipes at Hudson River Park (above), Flushing Meadows, and Robert Venable Park in Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood. A very popular park opened last year as the first piece of the McCarren Park pool’s redevelopment. (This reporter saw young scalawags jumping the fence to get in even before it was finished, so eager were they to ollie about.) The Parks Department now has 11 skateparks under management, with more on the way. Meghan Lalor, a Parks spokeswoman, said evolving tastes were to thank for the explosion in skateparks. “While there is no formal initiative to build more skate parks per se, we’re always attentive to ways to provide what New Yorkers want and need as their interests in sports and recreation evolve, and we’re delighted to offer them the opportunity to perfect their skills on inline skates, skateboards, and bikes in safe, designated areas,” Lalor wrote in an email. And yet it still seems like a startling idea, city-sanctioned skating. After all, this is the administration that would not even tolerate ancient (and famous!) graffiti along the High Line, even as all this new gnarly pavement seems akin to putting up canvases around the city for the express purpose of tagging. Perhaps skating has gone so mainstream that it is no longer subversive, and thus nothing to worry about. Or perhaps the Parks Department is herding all the skaters together to keep them off the streets and out of the parts of the parks where they are not welcome. Now wouldn’t that be truly subversive?

NYC Snatches Sustainability Czar from PDX

There are few places better for the Bloomberg administration to look for a new head for the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainabilty than Portland, that utopia of urban green living. (To some, it borders on zealotry.) Today the administration announced that David Bragdon, the president of Metro, the City of Roses' land-use and management body, will be replacing the recently departed Rohit Aggarwala. He has his work cut out for him, as his predecessor was the chief architect of the city's lauded PlaNYC 2030 plan, though it appears the office is in capable hands. According to Willamette Week:
Bragdon’s leadership of the regional government will be remembered for the addition of substantial green spaces to the region, bringing fiscal sanity to Metro’s budget, somewhat frosty relations with the suburbs, and an ongoing wrestling match over the issue of whether to expand the urban growth boundary.
He's also a big advocate for alternative transportation, and The Oregonian says he may even be a contender for mayor in 2012. Of Portland, that is, not New York. (Unless of course things go especially well...) As for our mayor, he said the following in a release outlining his decision: "David is an exceptional addition to our team here as we continue to implement the initiatives in PlaNYC and work to update the plan and expand it to include solid waste." Wonder if that was in the job description?
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Rockwell makes a ruckus at Imagination Playground

“It doesn’t seem like it, but everything connects with each one perfectly,” said Gabrielle Sunderland, 12, squinting happily toward the hot July sun. Around her were piles of weather- and germ-resistant foam blocks in sundry shapes and sizes. The blue pieces are the signature element of David Rockwell’s Imagination Playground, which opened Tuesday on Burling Slip near the South Street Seaport. A designer of theaters, high-end restaurants, and Broadway stage sets, Rockwell found his own children bored by the playgrounds of Lower Manhattan. So he set out to create a playspace where kids could use their own imagination, just as he once did. “Playgrounds are the places where kids can learn how to be a community and create their own worlds, but the ones we visited were all too linear,” he told AN at the opening. “That gave me the idea of a different kind of playground.” Gabrielle and her friend Ajda Celebi, 10, were industriously showing off Rockwell’s central strategy: providing kids with loose pieces that promote unstructured play. The girls set two rectangular blocks together with a noodle on the side and a ball on top, creating something like a giant teapot. They liked the fact that the playground allows them to make structures entirely “out of your own creativity,” as Ajda put it. The project got its start after Rockwell persuaded Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe with a drawing on a lunch napkin, and then spent five years researching progressive learning theory and child development. He also helped round up funds for the $7.5 million project, which included a $4.5 million grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and $3 million from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection for the relocation of two water mains and a sewer line into the adjacent street. Rockwell also teamed with nonprofit playground designer KaBOOM! and together they developed Imagination Playground in smaller portable versions, tested and tweaked after trial tours in Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Miami, and New York. But the first permanent site for the concept is designed pro-bono on a former parking lot at Burling Slip. Comprised of a large multi-level deck in the shape of a swooping figure eight of reclaimed Indonesian teak, the new playground is essentially an empty space for the array of 350 props. Situated in a landmark district, the landscape does include some features that recall the surrounding area’s nautical past, including reused benches from Coney Island, barrels, and burlap bags. The west end is the sand pit, consisting of sloping wooden ramps and four wooden masts made by a shipbuilder, each connected by ropes and pulleys. In the center stands a crow’s nest atop a red, circular structure housing bathrooms and a storage space for the blocks. At the east end, a rounded amphitheater for storytelling overlooks an ankle-deep pool with pipes and canals that enable the control of cascading water. A staff of city workers trained as “play associates” oversees the action, as with all Imagination Playgrounds. According to Benepe, Burling Slip is the start of a new era of New York City playgrounds, where Rockwell’s sponges will replace worn-out monkey bars, swings, and jungle gyms. “The next step is to look at playgrounds that are underperforming and need renovation in central Brooklyn and the South Bronx, and apply the concept,” he told AN, adding that these might come with a different set of materials. “Here we had a flexible budget, but we could take a traditional Parks Department playground budget, and use these approaches.” For his part, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg described the project as a tremendous success. “It is always amazing to see what children choose to create when they are fully using their imagination,” he declared. As for the little pirates, they too gave the playspace top grade. “It’s all big and blue and bendy,” Gabrielle said, while balancing a cog on top of a cube tower. “It’s a lot of fun!” And Ajda added, “The new West Thames playground where I live is really cool, but this one is more fun, because you can do anything here.” With that, she eagerly returned to helping the other kids dam a cascading water flow in the pool area. To everyone’s joy, the jets of water created unexpected rainbows against the blue afternoon sky.
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Bloomberg Taps Third Banker for Economic Development

Maybe that headline is self-explanatory, even makes a good bit of sense. Or it did when Robert Steel's two predecessors took the job of Deputy Mayor for Economic Development. Dan Doctoroff and Robert Lieber, like Steel, used to work on Wall Street before joining the Bloomberg administration. But nowadays, appointing someone who spent three decades at Goldman Sachs (before heading to the Treasury Department earlier this decade and then on to unwinding Wachovia) is a bit of a head scratcher. This has nothing to do with populist fervor and Goldman still being more hated than BP despite the catastrophic oil spill. No, this is about the future direction of the city. Ever since the financial crisis hit two years ago, the mayor has been of two minds about Wall Street. On the one hand, he has defended the sector doggedly, more than most any politician in the country, though that makes sense not only because the Street is just down the street from City Hall (and also the source of his billions), but also because the financial sector makes up a vast swath of the city's economy. Which is precisely why selecting Steel, if not necessarily a bad decision, is a poor one, one that sends the wrong signal. In announcing Steel's appointment today, the Mayor Bloomberg said, "His time in the public and private sectors and academic world gives him a diversity of experience that will be invaluable to us as he takes on this new role. New York City is working through a difficult economic period, and now more than ever we need to find new ways to create jobs today and implement innovative measures to grow New York City's economy over the long-term." While there's no reason to believe Steel will not do a bang-up job, there's also no reason to believe that there were not equally qualified candidates out there who did not previously work in finance. Like maybe this guy. The thing is, the administration has done a good job of late pushing to diversify the city's economy, encouraging fashion incubators, fighting for industrial retention, and fostering artists-as-entrepreneurs, among numerous other programs. To go for yet another banker-in-chief just seems like more business as usual.
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NYC DOT Puts Peddles to the Pavement

First came Times Square, then, all in the course of a few weeks, 34th Street, Union Square North, and Grand Army Plaza. Now, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has set her sites on bus rapid transit for the east side of Manhattan. Granted this project, like those above, have been kicking around her office in one form or another for years. But to see all of them getting off—or should we say on—the ground in such a short window is welcome news, especially as the MTA continues to fumble and falter. For all the talk of parks, and not condos, being the legacy of Mayor Bloomberg's third term, perhaps the exploits of his occasionally maligned Transit Commish should not be overlooked. After all, we've got 42 more months of this. At this rate, we could have a citywide space program going by then.
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Statues Settle In at NYC City Hall

Since Wednesday, an aluminum woman is joyfully resting in the grass of City Hall Park. Among her well-set figurative friends are a bronze giant, an octopus man, and a couple of luminous neon creatures. The new sculptures are part of The Public Art Fund's yearly exhibit in the park, an ongoing project for more than 30 years with the aim of making visitors experience art more directly. This year’s show, named Statuesque, brings together a group of six artists from four different nations­. The ten works experiment with the sculptural tradition of the human figure, and are installed along the park's pathways and on lawns. “City Hall Park is really a great backdrop for this art,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at the opening. “The placement invites people to get up close and personal with these more contemporary figures and sculptures.” The featured artists are Huma Bhabha, Aaron Curry, Thomas Houseago, Matthew Monahan, Rebecca Warren, and Pawel Althamer. Never displayed together before, the pieces all tend towards abstraction over realism, and texture over refinement of finish––some exuberant, many robot-like and other almost gruesome. “It is unfiltered, it is memorable and it is immediate,” chief curator and director of The Public Art Fund Nicholas Baume concluded. New for this year is a free cellphone audio tour via an iPhone app.
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One Bryant Reaches New Heights

The building's been up and running for two years, but One Bryant Park wasn't finished finished until last Thursday night, when the opening party was held in the cavernous lobby and the U.S. Green Building Council awarded the Dursts with the building's LEED Platinum plaque. Jody Durst kicked things off, thanking everyone for coming, all the people who made the building possible, and the like before introducing Rick Cook, the lead designer for Cook + Fox on the penguin-shaped tower. Before a crowd of a few hundred bankers, real estate types, and other assorted Midtown workadays, Cook probably gave the largest architectural lecture of his career. Cook talked about how important it was to make the building natural and humane, how important it is that the the first thing anyone experiences when they enter the building is nature, granted in the form of wood-inlaid handles on the revolving door. There's the overhanging ceiling that draws the eye out into the park, the fossils scattered throughout the Jerusalem stone tiles on the wall. The crowd's heads swung back-and-forth from one sustainable feature to the next, mouths at once smiling and agape. (To go even deeper inside the building, check out this cool tour our pals at the Observer recently took.) Cook even quoted from Genesis before celebrating the freedom he and his team had had while working on the project: "When we were brought on, they didn't ask for big and green. Instead, the challenge was how do you design at scale in an American city today." He got about the most applause we've ever heard for an architect anywhere. Next up was Al Gore, who mentioned what a big fan he was of the mayor, also in attendance and about to speak. Gore happens to be a tenant in the building, as the offices of his private equity firm are located there, and he mentioned that they had just received their LEED Platinum for interiors certification that day, and entreating everyone to do the same while reciting the old saw about buildings eating up 30-plus percent of the world's energy. Then, the head of anchor tenant Bank of America's sustainability efforts got up for some back patting and to announce a $125,000 grant to fund 100 gardens at public schools in the city, part of a new initiative. Then came the plaque, and with the speechifying done, a champagne toast and back to our "locally sourced" mojitos.
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Spare Land-Use Change?

Yesterday, the Times ran an interesting story about the potential illegality of Community Benefit Agreements, as determined in a report by the New York City Bar Association. The report argues such agreements should not be fostered by the city, even if there is nothing that can be done to stop a developer from negotiating with local community groups—something the bar believes can lead to corruption—and, failing that, not to allow the agreements to have a bearing on land-use decisions. The Times' article concludes with a note of resignation, though, that CBAs are here to stay, so deal with it. What a capital idea! In fact, the reason this story rang so true with us is that it sounds a lot like one of the issues that came up while working on our piece on the Charter Revision Commission. Herewith is yet more reason to take a serious look at land-use issues and not just term limits.
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Lean and Green

Vice President Joe Biden announced nearly half-a-billion dollars in stimulus funding today to promote green retrofits nationwide, and the biggest winner, according to a Bloomberg administration release, is New York State, which took home $40 million of the $452 million pot. The money will go to two programs, the PACE loan program and Green Jobs-Green New York. The former provides low- or no-interest loans to property owners who buy energy efficient building materials, including insulation, solar panels, and geo-thermal systems, which are then paid back through taxes and utility payments, though the retrofits average out to 20 to 30 percent on energy usage over the life of the product. And Green Jobs-Green New York provides funding to launch training programs so there are capable workers who can build, install, and maintain this new wave of high-tech devices.
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Taming Governors Island

Even with last week's heat wave making it feel like July in the city, it will still be seven weeks before that oasis in New York Harbor, Governor's Island, opens for the season on June 5. But there's still plenty of reason to celebrate like summer's here, as the city reached its anticipated deal with the state for control of the 172-acre island yesterday. The city will now be responsible for the development and operation of all but 22 acres of the former Coast Guard base purchased for $1 from the federal government in 2003, whose National Parks Service remains responsible for a small historic district on the northern section of the island. This paved the way for the rather quiet unveiling today of the 87-acre final master plan designed by West 8, Rogers Marvel, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Mathews Nielsen, and Urban Design+, which had been under lock in key since last spring, when the proposal was completed but held up by all the fighting over the island's, uh, governance. The thrust of the problem was largely a disagreement about how to best spend dwindling state funds, which led to upstate ambivalence toward the flashy park project—Governors Island almost didn't even open in 2009 after Governor Paterson initially withheld about a third of the $18 million annual operating budget. At the time, the design team had put in more than a year of work, with an expected unveiling in May that never came. In a wide-ranging piece in The New Yorker last August, Nick Paumgarten revealed that the designs had actually been under lock and key since then on the island, and now they've finally been unveiled online at a new-ish site. New-ish because they're are posts dating from May 8, 2009, confirming the presumed unveiling, along with another from April 8, 2010, suggesting that yesterday's announcement may have been worked out in advance, though we had also heard it was a rather abrupt agreement, hence the press conference scheduled for 6 o'clock on a Sunday night. As for the plan itself, in the past it was expected to cost upwards of $100 million to execute, though it will no doubt be higher in the end, plus another $30 million annually to operate, though that money would come from an outside source, quite possibly NYU dorms or biotech labs, though an agreement with the feds stipulates no residential development or casinos. All this for a 40-acres of park land plus the 90-acre historic island to the north, all encompassed in a 2.2-mile promenade. We'll have more to say about the designs in a day or two, but until then you can kick around the aforementioned website, which is almost as impressive as the place itself.
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A Day at the Park

We've already mentioned the opening today of Pier 1, the first piece of Brooklyn Bridge Park. But for those of you less concerned with park governance and public-private funding mechanisms—most of you, really—than with the actual park itself, herein is our guided tour (click the photo above to begin). While the rain may have dampened the mood of some New Yorkers today, not here in the park, which seemed brighter for the downpour, verdant as Ireland and twice as lucky for having opened after a 25-year struggle. The park, and even this first sliver of it, is magnificent and majestic, a transformative place so different and particular—not unlike the High Line—that it can change your entire perception of the city. Dan Kramer, chair of the BBP Conservancy, agrees. "When I walk around, I get the same feeling I get walking around the High Line" he said at today's ribbon cutting. "This park feels like it was always here, like it always belonged here." Michael Van Valkenburgh sees the park as a civics lesson. "I'm always reminded when a park opens that there's nothing more democratic or important to the city than a park," he said. "I'm always struck how this is for everyone." He and principal-in-charge Matt Urbanski said they expected the newly empowered to city to keep on building, and the opening would only help boost their momentum. "It's like serving the entree without all the fixings," Urbanski said. "This is a big slice of roast beef, and it's gonna be good, and everyone'll want more." Regina Myer, head of the park development corporation and maestro of its construction, certainly believes New Yorks will like their first taste of the place. "It's a park like none other, given its place on the water and in the city," Myer said, "but really, it's extraordinary for the way it embraces beautiful design and sustainability and I think that, maybe after the bridge, is what people are going to notice."
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Gowanus: Sunk or Saved?

The Environmental Protection Agency balked at the Bloomberg administration's controversial proposal to clean up the Gowanus Canal, favoring its own Superfund program in an announcement today, as had been expected. In a statement, regional administrator Judith Enck said  that, after much consultation with concerned parties, the EPA "determined that a Superfund designation is the best path to a cleanup of this heavily contaminated and long neglected urban waterway." The Bloomberg administration opposed the designation for fear it would stigmatize the waterway and drive off developers who were planning projects on the polluted canal's shores. Lo-and-behold, Toll Brothers, which had been planning a 2,000-unit mixed-use complex designed by GreenbergFarrow, has already nixed its plans. We also hear from a source that the Gowanus Green project by Rogers Marvel on a city-owned site is also on hold until it can shore up lending, assuming it can. As for the proposed rezoning, no word yet from the Department of City Planning, which had also been awaiting the Superfund decision before it proceeded. Marc LaVorgna, an administration spokesperson, called the EPA's decision "disappointing," though he did say that the city would still aid in the clean-up efforts. "We are going to work closely with the EPA because we share the same goal—a clean canal," he said. It appears the mayor was right about the threat Superfund designation posed to development on the canal, though the question of whether such projects should have taken place anyway, given even the possibility of Superfund levels of contamination, also has been answered. UPDATE: Looks like City Planning will be holding off for the time being, as we suspected. Here's the explanation we just received from spokesperson Rachaele Raynoff:
We’ve just gotten the news and we’re continuing to work on understanding the impacts of the designation on the potential for moving forward with a rezoning to facilitate appropriate development and remediation. Clearly, the Superfund designation adds a layer of additional complexity (and uncertainty) to an already very complex process.
UPDATE 2: Curbed has word from the folks at Gowanus Green that they have yet to give up on their project, though they do acknowledge that it will be more challenging.