Posts tagged with "Parks":

Placeholder Alt Text

Rogers Marvel Secures Competition to Revamp White House Lawn Extension

Today, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) announced that Rogers Marvel Architects (RMA) has won a design competition to revamp President's Park in Washington, DC. The New York-based architects bested a distinguished list of landscape designers, including Hood Design Studio of Oakland California, Michael Van Valkenburgh of Brooklyn, and Reed Hildebrand Associates and SASAKI, both of Watertown, Massachusetts. After September 11th, 2001, security design in major public spaces took on a new significance, and President's Park South—a large ellipse forming a public extension of the White House's front lawn—this meant concrete jersey barriers and fences along E Street. Soon, though, the park could become one of the most pedestrian-friendly—and secure—in the capital, thanks to RMA's subtle combination of landscape architecture and security design. RMA is no stranger to blending security design seamlessly with the surrounding landscape. In New York, they created a secure streetscape for Battery Park City near the World Financial Center, complete with anti-ram walls, public amenities, and landscaping. Nearby, they designed a secure streetscape along Wall and Broad streets guarding the New York Stock Exchange, where sculptural bollards and a mechanical turntable flush with the street both create a distinct pedestrian environment and permit service vehicle access. Officials at the NCPC said today that a design competition was held to garner ideas about making a world-class public park, one where security is key but does not dominate the space. NCPC chairman L. Preston Bryant, Jr. praised RMA's design as a bold statement about security and landscape design that offers a model for keeping our public spaces open and inviting. At the heart of RMA's Washington D.C. design is the strategic layering of security perimeters, which form a flexible boundary accommodating a variety of security scenarios. To accomplish this, the architects raised the central ellipse and placed an anti-ram wall that doubles as a bench around its perimeter; the bench seating faces the ellipse and helps define the iconic space. According to RMA, this elevational tilting formally "presents" the ellipse lawn to the White House while also screening nearby parking spaces from the view of park goers. Punctuating the new perimeter wall are distinct pedestrian entrances with sculptured bollards to help guide pedestrian flow. This new boundary allows for the pedestrianization of E Street facing the White House. RMA vastly expanded the public space forming a large plaza—the E Street Terrace—flanked by leafy groves containing concession and maintenance structures. "The Ellipse is subtly reinvented to address recreation, public promenading, environmental responsibility, and security. We envision a President’s Park South that will physically and conceptually connect the President and the people," said Robert M. Rogers, principal at Rogers Marvel Architects, in a statement. "Around the formal ellipse, RMA calls for a less formal rain garden with natural vegetation designed to handle rainwater runoff from a perimeter parking lot." Officials at the NCPC said at today's announcement that elements of all five short-listed proposals could be incorporated into the final plan. Next, the National Parks Service and the United States Secret Service will review RMA's design before it heads to federal, local, and public review.
Placeholder Alt Text

The Other Side of Ellis Island

Most visitors to Ellis Island only get to see the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. I was fortunate enough to go on a hard hat tour of the island's south side, which is not open to the public, and explore newly stabilized structures including the new ('new' as of 1934) ferry building and part of the old South Side Hospital Complex.
Placeholder Alt Text

Urban Planning as a Psychoactive Drug

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta points out a University of Michigan, Ann Arbor study suggesting that city dwellers harbor more stress than their suburban counterparts, but says access to parks could be the cure. Researchers have found that spending time in parks or park-like settings can help reduce cognitive effort and promote relaxation. Data seems to suggest that urban planning and the design of park space into our built environment can have a much more profound effect on our individual behavior and psychology than we might think. Parks, researchers suggest, are the best medicine for a chaotic world. Here's the problem from Dr. Gupta:
The problem seems to be "attention," or more specifically, the lack of it. With so many different distractions -- from a flashing neon sign, to the cell phone conversation of a nearby passenger on a bus, a city dweller starts to practice something known as "controlled perception." That toggling back and forth between competing stimuli can be mentally exhausting.
Researchers asked different groups of students to spend a day in the city and in the suburbs and then evaluated their mood and attention.  While the suburbs have their own unique stress points compared to the city (who enjoys the road-rage inducing commute on the choked interstate or the banal asphalt lots fronting endless shopping centers?), there's much more green within sight that soothes our brains. To be fair, there are many different types of urban experiences - many replete with green space. While a walk through the crowded, neon-flashing streets of Times Square with its hustle and bustle could undoubtedly strain the most focused individual, a stroll through the shady, tree-lined streets of the West Village, steps from where Jane Jacobs once lived, can offer a thoroughly relaxing experience. But increasing the amount of nature in cities can't be a bad thing. Even a little green can go a long way. From the Boston Globe:
Studies have demonstrated, for instance, that hospital patients recover more quickly when they can see trees from their windows, and that women living in public housing are better able to focus when their apartment overlooks a grassy courtyard. Even these fleeting glimpses of nature improve brain performance, it seems, because they provide a mental break from the urban roil.
It looks like urban planners are a little like the doctors of the city. But what's your experience in cities, suburbs, or even in the park? Does the city stress you out? Can more parks save us from a world of stress? Share your insights in the comments below.
Placeholder Alt Text

Bad Parks Can Mean Bad Health

A new study says that some St. Louis residents are getting slighted when it comes to the usablity of neighborhood parks, and that may be adversely impacting their health, according to researchers from Saint Louis and Washington Universities. A story in the St. Louis Beacon reports that uneven sidewalks and outdated or broken equipment make neighborhood residents less likely to use parks. Researcher Cheryl Kelly of the School of Public Health at Saint Louis University pointed out that the lack of usability means that "people are getting less physical activity in general, which is a factor associated with health disparities, such as obesity and some chronic diseases and conditions." One interesting finding was that walking as an inexpensive form of exercise turned out to be much harder to do in predominantly black neighborhoods and that African Americans who wanted to walk as a form of exercise were more likely to encounter "uneven sidewalks, obstructions and physical disorder." Where people live and play can impact their health in less obvious ways, and some researchers began taking a closer look at the connection between disease and environment, especially as Americans began developing diabetes at younger ages, and certain racial and ethnic groups were affected more than others.  In looking beyond the clinical setting and factoring in where people lived and how that location influenced their health, researchers found that certain populations "were in an environment that fought against them doing that," Debra Haire-Joshu of the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University told the Beacon.

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?

Flooding the Unisphere Once Again

For the first time in 15 years, the Unisphere, one of the '64 World's Fair's numerous icons, is back on, its fountain at full force thanks to a $2 million renovation funded by the Queens Borough President and the city. Designed by landscape architect Gilmore D. Clarke, the fountain is, as Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe puts it, part of the city's Versailles that is Flushing Meadows. While not quite the Lincoln Center fountain, we'd still sit here any day and enjoy some Belgian waffles, which a press release informs us were served at Thursday's rechristening, having been a favorite at the Fair.
Placeholder Alt Text

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.
Placeholder Alt Text

Digging into the Past of New York Parks

Most New Yorkers have an intimate relationship with the city’s many parks, especially during summer months when public events transform our favorite green spaces into temporary yoga studios and music venues. It can be easy to forget the industrial past of these urban oases, or the planning work and earth-sculpting toil responsible for the conversion of reservoirs and jails into Bronx parks and West Village gardens. Before They Were Parks, an exhibition presented by the New York City Parks Department, narrates the often untold history of the city's open spaces. Curated by Jonathan Kuhn, Parks’ director of art and antiquities, the exhibit features over 100 vintage and contemporary photographs from the department’s photo archive, along with other artifacts and memorabilia, including an 18th-century grave marker from the cemetery on the site of present-day Washington Square Park. The show explores the visual transformations of former industrial and commercial sites into green spaces, and also examines these changes from a civic perspective. “The exhibit highlights the intrepid efforts of individuals and government officials to transform industrial, forbidden, or private areas of the urban landscape into public parkland,” Parks & Recreation commissioner Adrian Benepe said in a release. Before They Were Parks is free to the public and on display through September 9 at the Arsenal Gallery, at 64th Street and Fifth Avenue in Central Park—where swamps, bluffs, and rocky outcroppings stood over a century and a half ago, of course.
Placeholder Alt Text

Mess With the Imagination (Playground) of David Rockwell

For the past few years, David Rockwell, that master of stage and scene, has been developing the Imagination Playground, a deployable playground-in-a-box that has been finding its way across the country. Now, he is just finishing a larger playground, sort of a showcase for the concept, at Burling Slip in Lower Manhattan. (As the rendering after the jump shows, it's quite literally a flagship.) To celebrate the opening of the new playground at the end of July, the Parks Department is taking imagination playgrounds on a pop-up tour, which kicked off this past weekend in Staten Island, with stops in all five boroughs to follow. It truly is a revolutionary concept in recreation, though not the first, as we've chronicled. In the current issue of New York, Justin Davidson even gives us the best 19 in the city, yet another mind of the parks renaissance currently taking place in New York.
Placeholder Alt Text

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.
Placeholder Alt Text

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."
Placeholder Alt Text

Fresh Look at Fresh Kills

It will be decades before the 2,200-acre Fresh Kills Park will be totally completed in Staten Island, making it the second largest in the city after Pelham Bay Park and almost three times as large Central Park. Some time next year, limited sections of the park are expected to open to the public, but for those who can't wait, the city's Parks Department is guiding private tours through the Field Operations-designed landscape starting next month. Uh, make that May—even though the tours were just announced yesterday, they're filling up so fast that all the April spots are already taken. The tour season runs through November and will afford visitors breathtaking views of the city and what was once the world's largest landfill. To sign up, visit the park's website or—what else—call 311. Should you fail to make it out for a tour, you'll find a small one after the jump.