Imagine arriving at the Sheep Meadow in Central Park intending to lie on a blanket in the warm afternoon sun, as you have done many times before, only to find that there is no sunshine anymore. It has been blocked by a new tower just to the west more than twice the height of any building around it, including the 55-story Time Warner Center several blocks away. You look around and notice that more than half of the 15-acre lawn where you used to bask in sunlight is now in shadow. The greatest urban park in this country is directly threatened by those who see it only from a distance. Just as Capability Brown cleared long vistas in front of grand estates, new Excessively Tall buildings turn Central Park into a landscape framed from above. As a result of these new giants, in a few years Central Park may well be unrecognizable and barren—like much of our environment, dying off and becoming extinct. Our built environment, one that we architects designed, will have mortally damaged an Olmsted and Vaux masterpiece. The irony is that the new Excessively Talls (ETs), jacked up on stilts or interspersed with large and repetitive mechanical voids to increase their height over adjacent buildings and secure desirable park views, may ultimately lose their picturesque vistas. These multimillion-dollar investments may be responsible for the measured obliteration of New York City’s world-renowned park. Developers whose new, faster construction methods have accelerated the emergence of a building type catering to the superrich have now launched insidious advertising campaigns showing off the “new” New York: a thicket of gleaming skinny towers. None of these projects have affordable units. Their ads boast park and river views from altitudes of 600 feet and higher (not all ETs are Supertalls, defined by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat as towers measuring over 984 feet high). But the parks they showcase, Central Park first among them, will continue to exist in name only. No bucolic pasture will remain in the Sheep Meadow, the carousel will be too cold to enjoy, the ball fields unplayable (grass dies in the dark), Wollman Rink gloomy and windy, Tavern on the Green in shadow all afternoon. The New York City Marathon’s slowest runners will be greeted at the finish line not by waning sunlight but by a giant shadow, courtesy of the latest addition to the Upper West Side, a forthcoming tower designed by Snøhetta on West 66th Street, less than 600 feet from the park. The new ETs—many completed along 57th Street, now aptly nicknamed Billionaire’s Row—are also beginning to touch down wherever there is a view for sale and zoning doesn’t limit height, such as the remaining landing strip of underdeveloped properties between First and Second avenues with potential views of the East River and Long Island, and, most recently, on axis with St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where Gensler has designed a tower. Has anyone considered that natural light would no longer stream through the church’s stained glass? Whatever happened to protecting our heritage and neighborhoods with sensible planning and human-scale development? ETs are catastrophic energy hogs, far worse than typical urban residential construction. Exaggerated floor-to-floor heights and full-floor apartments create a worst-case scenario for energy efficiency. Superskinny towers also have far more structural steel and concrete than is required to bear gravity loads because of the need to resist outsize wind loads. Local infrastructure (water, sewage, and power) is compromised, or service cut, because of the time needed to pump and discharge water and waste. And consider life-safety issues—how long will these buildings take to evacuate in an emergency, factoring in the time it takes to navigate multiple elevator banks, to rescue people in distress? But the impact of ETs spreads far beyond their physical footprints, especially when they appear in numbers. Sophisticated software can conduct shadow studies on the cumulative effect of more than one ET on a city block. The East Side will soon have two towers between 62nd and 63rd streets, one fronting 2nd Avenue and the other on 3rd. Surrounding apartments left in their shadows will need artificial light all of the time, increasing demand on the power grid and our dependence on fossil fuels. And then there is the wind. While data retrieved from the study of a single ET may show that it has no negative effect, the cumulative wind tunnel effect produced by multiple ETs will quite possibly create impassable and turbulent streets, with vicious downdrafts caused by the Bernoulli effect (increased turbulence, or downdraft, as the wind hits a large facade). The developers of these projects and some of our elected officials, unfortunately for us, have ignored the neighborhood residents affected. The public review process has become virtually nonexistent. Gone are community reviews, special permits, and even cursory notification to neighbors. The only way to find out how big these buildings are is by exhausting a Department of Buildings zoning challenge, then moving on to the Board of Standards and Appeals (Article 78), and finally, issuing an injunction. By then, the as-of-right ET will likely have entered construction, or worse, be built. All is not bleak, as there are new regulations limiting the use of glass on tall buildings, thanks in part to the monitoring efforts of the Audubon Society, which has reported that millions of birds fly into such buildings every year because they can’t recognize a mirrored image. That may help. Not since Central Park was practically devastated by neglect during the Beame administration in the mid-1970s has it been so direly threatened, but this time the danger is from without, not within. ETs and other out-of-scale development also place community and public gardens, pocket parks, and playgrounds at risk. It’s time for New Yorkers to rise up and insist on new restrictions to stop the indiscriminate abuse of light and air that could suffocate the city’s parks and their adjacent neighborhoods. To be sure, our skyline is rapidly changing, and there will be consequences, but the potential for irreversible damage demands a moratorium. To insist on more insightful planning is not “NIMBYism”—it is the professionals taking charge. Page Cowley is founder of the New York architecture practice that bears her name and serves as chair of Landmark West!, a New York preservation nonprofit, as well as cochair of the Manhattan Community Board 7 Land Use Committee. Peter Samton was managing and design partner of the New York architecture firm of Gruzen Samton, aka IBI/Gruzen Samton, and is a past president of the New York Chapter of the AIA. He now serves on Manhattan Community Board 7 Land Use and Preservation Committees. Daniel Samton practices architecture as Samtondesign in Harlem, has worked at KPF and Gruzen Samton, specializes in sustainability, and is a certified passive house designer.
Posts tagged with "NIMBY":
A staggering 68.8% of Los Angeles voters in this week’s election pulled the lever against the anti-development initiative Measure S. Following the election—which, problematically, had a historically low turnout rate of 11.45%—there has been much debate within the anti-Measure S camp regarding what, if any, takeaways are to be had from the results. Taken together with this week’s passage of Measure H (an initiative focused on raising sales tax to fund housing assistance and development for formerly homeless individuals) and the passage of the transit-friendly Measure M and Measure HHH (a municipal bond-funded proposal to build 10,000 new supportive housing units, passed last November), the defeat of Measure S might suggest an electorate doubling down on a vision for a dense, equitable, and urban Los Angeles. The elephant in the room is that Los Angeles is one of the most unaffordable major cities in the world, an issue that has come to the forefront of civic discourse there as rents have increased year over year to the detriment of many deeply-rooted communities. The pro-Measure S side argued to some success that systematic corruption in the development community was fueling the production of luxury units. Those new luxury developments, Measure S proponents argued, were being pursued at the expense of rent-controlled housing in L.A.’s core communities. The “no” camp fought back by arguing that passage of Measure S would depress housing production so much that rents would grow worse still. In the end, the opposing argument—that the best way to keep rents from going any higher was to not hinder the development of more units—won out. Central in the efforts to fight Measure S was the relatively new group, Abundant Housing LA, a local collective of pro-housing advocates dedicated to building more housing of all types in the Los Angeles area. The self-described Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY) group fought Measure S the old fashioned way: phone banking, canvassing, and online activism, all to much success. The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) caught up with Mark Vallianatos, communications director for Abundant Housing to discuss the election results and what Los Angeles can make of the recent election results. AN: Now that Measure S has been defeated, what are some ways Abundant Housing LA plans to harness the growing momentum for a denser, transit-oriented Los Angeles? Abundant Housing LA was formed to advocate for more housing of all types (affordable, market rate, permanent supportive, co-ops, etc). We support good projects and better policies and have grown rapidly, showing that there was a pent-up demand for an active YIMBY group in L.A. Measure S forced us to switch gears. We focused on campaigning against it because it threatened to hurt Angelenos by raising rents even higher and by forcing more people, especially the working poor and younger residents, to leave L.A. We are now excited to get back to our positive agenda of advancing housing. We will continue to support good developments that expand the number of homes in the city without displacing residents. And we hope to expand advocacy for better plans and policies. We are already engaged on a few transit and community plan updates, and will try to do more if the city follows through on accelerating community plans. We need these new plans to reverse the downzoning that has led to low vacancy rates and high housing costs. This is a tough sell, not just due to local opposition, but because planners are wary of adding more capacity than required to meet projected population growth. We also want to improve and simplify planning and entitlement processes so it is easier to construct housing in the region. AN: Ballot box Planning initiatives like Measure S have a long and problematic history in California and in Los Angeles, particularly. Is it time to revisit some of our legacy initiatives like Proposition U? Yes, we see upzoning of commercial corridors as key to allowing more space for housing without removing older rent stabilized apartments. We also want to figure out how to allow more new housing in existing residential areas. This requires a balance of preservation and allowing ‘missing middle’ housing types, so that not all new units have to fit into commercial and industrial sites. AN: There has been lots of debate recently regarding Los Angeles's lack of affordable housing, including potential measures to fund its development by taxing the construction of market-rate units. Where does Abundant Housing stand in this debate? We strongly support identifying more local funding for the construction and preservation of deeded affordable housing. We supported City of L.A. Measure HHH, for example. We are on record opposing the proposed linkage fee because it taxes the construction of housing to pay for housing. We proposed that the City identify alternative sources of funds such as a parcel tax that are A) more board based and B) do not discourage new housing. Fees on parking and/or real estate recording may also be good sources of money that do not put the burden on home construction. AN: What role (if any) is Abundant Housing LA playing with regards to housing development affiliated with the expansion of the transit system? We have begun advocating on the City of L.A.’s new transit neighborhood plans as well as Community Plans in areas with expanding transit. Our initial advocacy focuses on the Expo Corridor Transit Neighborhood Plan and DTLA 2040. We also plan to advocate around the transit neighborhood plans being developed for the purple and orange lines. For each of these plans, we encourage the city to significantly upzone to take advantage of the once in a lifetime opportunity of the re-establishment of rail transit in L.A. County. We also encourage density bonuses to incentivize affordable units. AN: What role can architects play in Abundant Housing LA's mission? We welcome L.A. area architects as members and/or as resources on urban design. Most of our advocacy to date has been in the City of L.A., and we have aspirations to do more in other cities in L.A. County. We rely on members to be local advocates in their neighborhood or city. In addition to encouraging more housing, we are also interested in allowing and encouraging more types and scales of development, as well as innovative construction methods, in order to expand housing choice, reflect the diversity of the region, and encourage good urban form. We would welcome architects’ expertise on housing typologies, planning and building codes, and other insights on how L.A. can add housing, enhance quality of life, adapt to climate change, and support civic culture. As a relatively new volunteer organization, we get work done by empowering members to take the lead on projects that they are passionate about. We would welcome architects’ expertise. For more on Abundant Housing LA, see their website.
[beforeafter] [/beforeafter] Six months after its proposal for a mid-sized development on the site of Chicago’s one-time “punk rock donut shop” raised height concerns, developer BlitzLake Capital Partners has scaled back its plans. Now the mixed-use development at the corner of Belmont and Clark in the Lakeview neighborhood is hoping for eight stories instead of 11. [beforeafter] [/beforeafter] BlitzLake bought the property at 3200 N. Clark St. about one year ago, hiring architects Hirsch Associates to design apartment and retail space for the busy intersection. The Belmont ‘El’ station just down the street sees more than 40 million passengers every year. DNAinfo Chicago reported the new proposal, which goes before a community meeting on May 14 (at 6 p.m. at the Town Hall Police District Community Room, 850 W. Addison Ave.), is three stories shorter and includes just 39 parking spaces—44 percent less than originally proposed. Its original incarnation was taller, boxier and more modern in its aesthetic, but the developer revised plans in favor of a "flatiron" style building for the corner, pointing to landmarks in Uptown and Wicker Park as exemplars of the form. [beforeafter] [/beforeafter]
Can Columbia build anything without causing a ruckus? There is, of course, the famous gym proposed for Riverside Park that triggered the 1968 riots, and more recently the huge fight over its 17-acre Manhattanville expansion. Now the Times is reporting a "teapot-size storm" surrounding the university's proposal to build a new athletic center within its complex in Inwood. According to the Gray Lady, the issues are the same as anywhere in Manhattan: light, views, and context. “It does not relate well to the community,” said Gail Addiss, 61, an architect who lives opposite Baker Field. “It’s similar to Frank Gehry architecture — large metal things whose glare is going to cause more brightness to reflect into people’s windows.”