Posts tagged with "Planning":

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?
Placeholder Alt Text

Detroit Harkens

Last week, we reported on a new, rather unprecedented plan by new-ish Detroit Mayor Dave Bing to condense the city to fit its current population, which is half what it was six decades ago. Among the people we interviewed was local AIA President Raymond Cekauskas, a huge Detroit booster who sent along the picture above, a reminder of the city's "grand past," as Cekauskas put it. But it is also a fitting image of what the city could very well become under Bing's plan, still in its chrysalis—a little smaller, tightly knit, transit-oriented (yes, transit is coming to the Motor City), in a word, homey, which we mean in a good way. Just look at all the gorgeous homes wanting for salvation. Meanwhile, a Tufts professor looks to Flint and Youngstown for similar shrinking models, though by no means on the same scale. Welcome to the Brave New Midwest.
Placeholder Alt Text

Times Square Paint Job

Some people have complained (us included) that while Transporation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has done a wonderful job carving pedestrian space out of the streets and parking lots of the city, they could stand to be better designed, more aesthetically pleasing spaces. Nowhere was this more true than in Times Square, where, when the Crossroads of the World were shut down last summer, traffic cones and beach chairs proliferated. Three weeks ago, when Sadik-Khan and the mayor announced they were making the Broadway closures permanent, better designs were promised. Sort of. As Sadik-Khan put it back then:
It can be very simple. I’ve seen amazing things done in the Netherlands with nothing but polka dots. And we did a lot already with nothing more than epoxy gravel.
And so it goes today, with the release of reNEWable Times Square, the short-term, artistic RFP that will do little more than put down a new coat of paint until the eight large-scale firms in the city's Design Excellence program come up with a permanent alternative. ReNEWable is open to artists, designers, and pretty much anyone else living in New York, with submissions due by April 16. That may not sound like much time, but keep in mind we're talking about adding some colored epoxy in "no more than four colors" creating a "legible and unified scheme." Not that this is a bad thing. Indeed, as a handful of school kids in Brooklyn showed, it can be quite a good thing. It's just that we thought we were getting more. In fact, we were under the impression Times Square denizens were demanding more, unhappy with the meager offerings that showed up last year. Perhaps, there wasn't money for more, though that does cause some concern about how much the designers working on the permanent scheme will be given, not only in terms of cash but also creative license. After all, this project is already politically charged. Making it more so, we've heard that firms beyond the eight included in the city's Design Excellence program were asking to be let in. This is probably for the best, though, as Sadik-Khan said previously that Design Excellence allows for a streamlined process—the firms are already pre-qualified for city work—and none of the eight architects—Asymptote, BKSK, Enrique Norten, Grimshaw, RogersMarvel, Selldorf, Snøhetta, and Thomas Pfifer—are slouches. Still, ground breaking won't be at least until 2012, so let's hope the reNEWable entrants come up with something lasting, as it'll be all we have for quite some time.
Placeholder Alt Text

Robert Moses, Atlantic Yards & Air Pollution

Almost exactly a month ago, the Bloomberg administration released a study called the "New York City Community Air Survey." Years in the making, it was heralded as the first comprehensive study of the city's air quality ever undertaken, with results that are shocking if not obvious. As the map of particulate matter above shows—and as many of us already knew—the city can be a pretty gross place to live and breathe. There are plenty more maps like this, but they all basically come to two conclusions: Where there are cars and oil boilers, there is pollution. However, the wonk in us saw something particularly interesting: Outside of Manhattan—where congestion is a whole other animal (hence hope for congestion pricing)—the pollution tracks pretty heavily along the expressways built by none other than the Power Broker himself. We even built a handy GIF (after the jump!) to illustrate this. There is one notable exception, that big brown spot in the middle of Brooklyn, which is why we're bringing this up now. Earlier this week, the Atlantic Yards Report reported that street closures are imminent around the Atlantic Yards site, which would presumably exacerbate traffic in the area. This has long been a concern surrounding the project, back when the EIS was just an EIS and not the basis for a Supreme Court lawsuit. But as the map and GIF above illustrate, congestion—both vehicular and nasal—were a problem at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues long before Bruce Ratner, and probably even Robert Moses, showed up. Now, as more streets are closed and the traffic only gets worse, the pollution is likely to follow. Just imagine how bad it will be on game nights?
Placeholder Alt Text

Related Events?

With all the ink spilled of late on the Related Companies’ faltering plans to transform the massive Kingsbridge Armory into an equally huge mall, another of the developer’s megaprojects has been lost amidst the protests: Hudson Yards. As Bronx City Council member Joel Rivera has been leading a noisy fight against the armory, demanding a living wage for workers who will someday populate its stores and food courts, speaker Christine Quinn has been more quietly negotiating with Related on adding affordable housing to the western section of the outsiszed development planned for the Far West Side. On Wednesday, Rivera was prepared to lead a vote against Kingsbridge unless the developer met his demands—$10.00 per hour with benefits or $11.50 without—but the vote was cancelled at the last minute when stalled negotiations fired back up. Another vote had been scheduled for this morning, but that, too, was postponed until Monday, the drop-dead deadline for the council to act on either project. As for the Yards, Quinn, in whose district the project lies, has been working more quietly on behalf of her constituents to strike a deal for additional affordable housing—less than 10 percent of the 5,000 units are currently set aside for low- and middle-income families—as well as other sundry issues like schools and infrastructure that were raised when the project was approved by the City Planning Commission in October. “My staff and I have been working closely with Related,” Quinn said during a Wednesday press conference. “The negotiations with Hudson Yards are also ongoing and we expect an announcement when we come to a vote.” Could this also be cause for delay, then, on the Kingsbridge vote, that Related is busy working out two deals? Quinn’s staff declined to say, but council member Tony Avella, who is chair of the Zoning and Franchise Subcommittee that will hold the votes on the Hudson Yards and Kingsbridge projects, said he believes a deal has been reached and Quinn is only waiting until both projects are settled to make an announcement on hers. A city official confirms that negotiations are ongoing for Kingsbridge, but Quinn's people and Related have not returned calls seeking the status of their project. Til Monday...
Placeholder Alt Text

All Planning Is Local

One of the roles played by the city's 59 community boards—besides issuing liquor licenses—is to oversee local planning issues, and while the input of the board is only advisory, it tends to weigh in the decision making of the City Planning Commission (as was the case at Hudson Yards earlier this week) and the City Council. The only problem is, the boards have no professional planners on staff. Manhattan has been blessed with a great deal of help the past three years, however, thanks to a fellowship program begun by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and today he announced it will hopefully be expanding to the entire city by next year. Stringer is no stranger to the plight of the community boards, as he joined his when he was still a teenager, and empowering the boards has been a central issue on his agenda. (Like the boards, the borough president's job is as much advocacy and ceremony as it is real executive power, at least since the dissolution of the Board of Estimates in 1989.) Upon taking office in 2006, Stringer launched his Planning Fellowship Program to help place planning students from the surrounding universities—Pratt, Columbia, Hunter, City College, Rutgers, NYU, and the New School—with the 12 community boards in Manhattan. While their work was part time, they helped out with technical challenges, research, and special projects that even the boards' land-use experts struggled with or lacked the time to execute, as highlighted in a story we wrote the following year. This year, two Brooklyn boards—Fort Greene and Park Slope—have picked up fellows, and Stringer, with the backing of the Bloomberg administration, which controls his and the boards' budgets, said today at a press conference that he hopes to have fellows in every board in all five boroughs by the start of the next academic year. Starting this year, the program is no longer run out of the planning department of his office but at Hunter College, which has been the lead partner on it since day one. "With all that my office has accomplished since becoming Borough President, I can honestly say that the Community Planning Fellowship Program is one of our proudest achievements to date," Stringer said in a release. "Not only has the Program focused new attention on what should be the primary role of community boards—neighborhood-based planning—but it has also helped shift the focus of a new generation of professional urban planners toward a real understanding of how community members, local government and land use experts interact and engage in discussions about the future shape of our city." And while we're happy the hear the program is expanding, it can't happen fast enough. After all, just look at the areas being served—Manhattan and two of Brooklyn's toniest neighborhoods—and it becomes clear that those boards still in need of the most help have yet to receive it.
Placeholder Alt Text

Good Old New York

Yesterday, the city released a report, "Age Friendly New York," [PDF] about creating a place that is more appealing to seniors. After all, New York can be hard enough as it is without a bum hip and fifth-floor walk-up. (Why else do so many of us flee for Florida in our autumn years?) The report contains the expected investments in senior centers and "social inclusion," but roughly 40 percent of the 59 initiatives deal directly or indirectly with issues of equal concern to architects and planners, like more seats at those fancy Cemusa bus shelters, more affordable housing dedicated to seniors, and improved elevator and escalator access. “The initiatives we’re launching will go a long way towards helping older New Yorkers live more connected, vibrant, and meaningful lives,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a press release. The best part is, it might even mean a nicer city for the rest of us, not to mention some much need work for the city's designers. See all 23 initiatives after the jump. HOUSING Affordable Housing Development
  • Target housing funds and streamline process of building low income housing for older New Yorkers
  • Examine parking requirements for affordable senior housing and amend the zoning code as necessary to facilitate construction of senior housing
  • Provide loans for rehabilitation and new construction of affordable housing
Homeowner & Renter Assistance
  • Provide loan assistance to older New Yorkers for home repairs
  • Engage NYC home improvement contractors in best practices for the older adult market
  • Improve access to SCRIE through transfer to Department of Finance
  • Expand eviction prevention legal services for older New Yorkers
Aging in Place
  • Provide additional supportive services to NORCs
  • Target Section 8 vouchers to vulnerable older adults at risk of eviction
  • Promote development of and access to new models of housing that support aging in place
PUBLIC SPACES & TRANSPORTATION Accessible & Affordable Transportation
  • Improve elevator and escalator service and enhance accessibility of subway stations
  • Improve efficiency of Access-A-Ride by equipping vehicles with GPS devices and implementing phone notification system
  • Match accessible taxis with users who need them
  • Develop model accessible taxi
  • Develop taxi voucher program for older New Yorkers who are unable to use public transportation
Safe & Age-Friendly Public Spaces
  • Increase seating in bus shelters
  • Install public restrooms at key locations citywide
  • Create new, pedestrian friendly public spaces while calming traffic
  • Redesign street intersections at key locations citywide to improve safety for older New Yorkers
  • Identify age-friendly parks and encourage older adults to utilize them
Planning for the Future
  • Provide environmental stewardship workshops and engage older New Yorkers in planting trees as part of PlaNYC and MillionTreesNYC
  • Conduct study to better address the mobility needs of older New Yorkers
  • Promote use of Universal Design Guidelines through education and awareness efforts
Placeholder Alt Text

Still Waiting

Back on April 19 LA County Auditor-Controller Wendy Watanabe told the Los Angeles Times that she was investigating the January 16 firing of former LA County Planning Chief Bruce McClendon. McClendon  told the Times that he was probably fired for protecting his staff from the efforts of County Supervisors' aides to influence zoning and development decisions in the county. Watanabe  told the Times that the results of that investigation would be released "in the coming weeks." Well it's now been almost three months and the results of that investigation are apparently still not available. So what's the wait? A call to Watanabe's office referred us to her web site, where we found no documents relating to the investigation. So until then, we're just left to wonder what's going on...
Placeholder Alt Text

Straight and Narrow at the Globe

This past week, the Boston Globe's editorial page has been enthralled with the Greenway and Don Chiofaro's proposed Boston Arch thereon. (We'd like to think they were inspired by us.) It began with an editorial criticizing the Boston Redevelopment Authority's apparent foot-dragging on its Greenway development study, followed by an encapsulation of the comments from said editorial--many in favor of the project--and now an op-ed calling for greater density on the Greenway. While the Globe's editorial board is welcome to its opinions, it should not be as disingenuous as the power brokers it attempts to lampoon. Let's start with last Monday's editorial. As soon as we saw it, red flags went up. Should Mayor Thomas Menino have begun the study years ago, as the board asserts? Yes, of course. But now that it is finally underway, there is no reason to rush it, especially to the benefit of a certain developer working nearby. We spoke with some people involved with the development study, and they actually said it is moving faster than normal. Furthermore, from what we heard, the developer was asked to wait for the completion of the study before certifying his project with the city. Obviously, Chiofaro had no interest in waiting. Partly this is because he is old school, as they say, a former Harvard linebacker, among other things. Another issue, as argues today's op-ed--which calls for no restrictions but good design--is that the BRA would likely set a height well below the nearly 800-feet Chiofaro is seeking. Indeed, of the six plans put forward for the garage site by the BRA's planners, Greenberg and utile, heights ranged from 125 feet to two towers of 400 feet, something that could become sacrosanct once the plan is adopted. So why not wait until the final plan is put forth before passing judgment? Why call for a rushed plan with limited inhibitions? Is this editorial outcry really about elections and transparency? Or is it about shilling for a connected Boston developer?
Placeholder Alt Text

The FiveThirtyEight on Traffic

In a feature for Esquire, number cruncher and future predictor Nate Silver ponders the continuing decline in per capital vehicle miles traveled. Americans are driving less. Significantly less, in spite of major drops in gas prices since last year. Certainly the economy has something to do with this. Fewer people are driving to work since few people have jobs. But Silver doesn’t think the economy explains the decline. He writes, in his typical hot geek fashion:
To sort this out, I built a regression model that accounts for both gas prices and the unemployment rate in a given month and attempts to predict from this data how much the typical American will drive. The model also accounts for the gradual increase in driving over time, as well as the seasonality of driving levels, which are much higher during the summer than during the winter…. The model predicts that given a somewhat higher unemployment rate but much lower gas prices, the lower gas prices should have won out: Americans should have driven slightly more in January 2009 than they had a year earlier. But instead, as we've described, they drove somewhat less. In fact, they drove about 8 percent less than the model predicted.
Silver believes Americans may, in fact, be changing their habits. He looks at recent home values in a variety of cities and sees that more car-dependent cities have fared worse than less auto dependent cities. Still, Silver presents cities as relatively static places, and planning and design are largely absent from his analysis: “In the real world, of course — outside perhaps a half dozen major metropolitan areas — American society has been built around the automobile.” For at least the last decades communities across the country have been employing a variety of means to promote walking and biking, from building mixed use, higher density neighborhoods, to adding bike lanes and light rail lines, to banning cul-de-sacs, to investing in downtown developments. America, in some places at least, is not being built the way it was twenty years ago. Certainly these efforts must have some cumulative effect.
Placeholder Alt Text

Inside Out, Outside In

Peter Gisolfi’s oeuvre is diverse enough to merit five separate categories in his new book Finding the Place of Architecture in the Landscape: townscape, campus, landscapes and buildings, gardens and houses, and transformation. But as Gisolfi presented the book to a crowd at the Center for Architecture on April 15, what stood out were the commonalities in his approaches to those various projects, not their differences. In particular, he is attuned to the nuances of the figure-ground relationship and how the placement of buildings shapes the spaces between them. Adding a single new building becomes a form of spatial acupuncture: At the Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City, MO, the addition of an Early Childhood Center transformed the campus’s nebulous blob of negative space into two coherent, well-defined quadrangles. In Peekskill, NY, Gisolfi’s team built a new middle school perpendicular to the existing community center, creating a strong corner that formed the edge of a new town green. One of his favorite ways to deal with the figure-ground dichotomy is to blur it. In a private residence in Englewood, NJ, a series of outdoor rooms morph seamlessly into building and back again, from mostly open (a lawn bordered by a wall and a fence), to enclosed but open-air (a rose garden), to sheltered and partially open (a veranda), to sheltered and entirely open (an arcade and porte-cochere). In a resort on the Guadalupe river in Texas, that interweaving of inside and outside happens vertically: A masonry wall forms the spine of a staircase that leads visitors from a glassy pavilion overhanging the water down to a terrace 30 feet below, via a series of alternately sheltered and open spaces. Blurring the inside-outside distinction even more, the structure is designed to allow the river to flow through it when the water level rises. Orienting a building in the landscape also means thinking beyond its immediate surroundings, Gisolfi said, asking rhetorically: “Where’s the sun, where’s the street, what’s the difference between north and south?” The orientation of the new Peekskill Middle school, for instance, is dictated by the nearby Hudson river, creating stunning river views from all the hallways and public spaces in the building. And in his large-scale housing developments, Gisolfi draws inspiration from the Pueblos who designed their houses to respond to the sun, orienting them towards the south and angling them to capture the sun’s low-slanting rays in winter and fend off its high rays in summer. Those constraints imposed by a project’s setting are what make it great, Gisolfi emphasized. “The inspiration for me comes from defining the boundaries of the problem,” he said. In a competition to design a 300-unit housing complex in Eagle Ridge, CO, those boundaries included a steeply sloping site, a main road that snaked through it, and the need to orient all the buildings to the south to capture solar energy. That in turn defined the central design challenge, how to create logical, legible spaces among the buildings within those parameters. Gisolfi’s not the only one whose creativity thrives under constraints. A former music theory and composition student at Yale, he closed his presentation with a quote from the composer Igor Stravinsky: “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit.”
Placeholder Alt Text

Billboards: WAIT a minute…

Today  AIA/LA's Director of Government & Public Affairs, Will Wright,  testified to LA's planning commission regarding a revised sign ordinance controlling the erection of billboards in the city. A moratorium on all new signs was passed by LA's city council in December, while the city's original sign ordinance—considered by many to be ineffective— was passed in 1986. Wright requested that the commission delay a vote and consider a revised  ordinance "until comprehensive visual analysis of the proposed regulations is completed." A vote on the revised ordinance is expected in the next few weeks. In a letter to the Commission AIA/LA also recommended that the planning department convene a panel of outside experts or a consultant team with design expertise to work with City staff to review, illustrate, and contribute to the refinement of the draft sign code. "No substantive visual analysis has been completed to date. This is a design issue that impacts the environmental quality, indeed brand, of Los Angeles and nobody knows what it looks like," said AIA/LA President John Kaliski in the letter.