Posts tagged with "Streetscape":

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See the shovel-ready Vision Zero projects changing NYC streets this year

Today Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a slate of shovel-ready or in-progress projects meant to move the city ever closer to its Vision Zero goals. The program, designed to dramatically reduce traffic fatalities through speed limit reductions and streetscape improvements, is now in its fourth year. So what is getting done? According to the Mayor's office, the city is breaking ground on wider sidewalks, more protected bike lanes, new crosswalks, and medians on busy roadways large enough for pedestrians to take refuge. The improvements, part of a five-year, $1.6 billion initiative, will target dozens of projects in the five boroughs. “Dangerous streets have to change,” said Mayor de Blasio, in a prepared statement.  “We want to get the word out: we’re moving lanes, adding new space for pedestrians and making it safer to cross intersections—all to keep your family safe. These changes have helped make each of the last three years under Vision Zero safer than the last.” The city says existing Vision Zero improvements have lead to eight fewer lives lost in the first quarter of 2017 compared to the same period last year. Still, New York has a way to go towards zero fatalities—40 people have died in traffic-related incidents so far this year Here are a few highlights from the improvements planned so far for this year: In Brooklyn, along Borinquen Place, South 4th, and South 5th streets, this summer city will enhance pedestrian and bike access to the Williamsburg Bridge in advance of the 15-month L train shutdown. The Brooklyn Bridge, meanwhile, is a commuter cyclist's special hell. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is widening pedestrian-bike entrances at Tillary Street to allow seamless coexistence between selfie-snapping, Citibiking tourists and New Yorkers who are just trying to go somewhere. Plans will add 50 trees and better crosswalks; improvements are underway and are expected to be complete this summer. (President Trump's proposed budget cuts, however, could jeopardize funding for this project.) On the Manhattan side, a "sister project" to the one on Tillary Street will improve bike and pedestrian access, while riders will enjoy a two-way protected bike lane in front of City Hall by this spring. By this summer, cyclists and walkers in Mott Haven will have easier access to the Madison Avenue Bridge, the slice of roadway that connects 138th Street in the Bronx to Manhattan. Over in Queens, two new Select Bus Service routes and safety improvements to Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards build on similar efforts to boost the pedestrian experience along Queens Boulevard. In notoriously car-dependent Staten Island, the city will add five miles of bicycle lanes to connect the North Shore neighborhoods of Tompkinsville, Stapleton, Concord and Park Hill. For residents and visitors, bike connections to the ferry terminal in St. George are coming online this summer.
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NY court says cities can be liable for dangerous streets

New York States's highest court has ruled that cities and towns can be held legally accountable when dangerous streets are not improved via better design. In December, the New York State Court of Appeals decided a case in favor of Anthony Turturro, a 12-year-old who was stuck in 2004 by a driver traveling almost double the speed limit in a 30-per-mile-hour zone. Turturro, Streetsblog NYC reports, was riding his bike on Brooklyn's Gerritsen Avenue, a wide main street where, locals say, drivers disobey posted speed limits with impunity. The driver, Louis Pascarella, put Turturro in a coma; he subsequently pled guilty to assault. Citing in part the poor design of Gerritsen Avenue, a jury found the city 40 percent liable for the incident and awarded $20 million to Turturro, whose everyday functioning is diminished as a result of the crash. The case contended that despite years of complaints, the DOT didn't do enough to remediate underlying conditions that led to Turturro's—and others'—injuries. Though the DOT initiated traffic studies at three intersections in the years after Turturro, court documents show that speeding along the wide-open avenue as whole was not studied, and that the city declined to follow up with the NYPD on the speeding issue. In the past decade, four people have been killed on the avenue, which connects the small neighborhood of Gerritsen Beach to neighboring Marine Park and Sheepshead Bay. A year after Tuturro's encounter with Pascarella, the city unveiled a painted median near the crash site and downgraded Gerritsen from four lanes to three. “This ruling from New York’s highest court puts an end to the notion that traffic safety improvements should be subject to debate and contingent on unanimous local opinion,” Transportation Alternatives executive director Paul Steely White told Streetsblog NYC. The decision, he added, should convey to Mayor Bill de Blasio that street safety redesign must be a bigger part of the city's next budget. For the past two years, the mayor's office has butted heads with the City Council on funding for Vision Zero initiatives. This past fall, the city began installing pedestrian islands and a protected bike lane along Gerritsen. Steve Vaccaro, a lawyer who represents crash survivors, said the decision “will create an affirmative obligation on the DOT’s part to—at the very least—conduct studies to determine whether infrastructure can reduce traffic violence, and unless such studies indicate otherwise, to install the infrastructure.”  
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The Astor Cube is back, along with plaza and streetscape improvements by WXY

After two years in storage, New York’s Astor Place Cube is back for a few more spins, along with a reconfigured plaza and streetscape that are designed to make high-density urban living more bearable. New York City officials held a ribbon-cutting and sculpture-spinning ceremony today to mark the completion of repairs to the rotating Cube sculpture by Bernard “Tony” Rosenthal and the larger $21 million Astor Place/Cooper Square reconstruction project that provides an improved setting for it. Officially known as The Alamo, Rosenthal’s Cube was removed for safe keeping and cleaning on November 25, 2014, so it would be out of the way during plaza reconstruction. It was returned this month, signaling completion of public improvements designed by Claire Weisz of New York-based WXY, in conjunction with the city’s departments of Design and Construction (DDC), Transportation (DOT), and Parks and Recreation. "The redesign of Astor Place brings us yet another beautiful public space that New York City has wrestled back from the automobile,” said DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg at the ribbon cutting ceremony. “We have now made the plaza space more welcoming for pedestrians and we have brought back distinctive elements—like the iconic Cube—that have long made this such a special gathering place and gateway to the East Village." Trottenberg wistfully recalled her own involvement at Astor Place. After graduating from Barnard in 1986, she said, she worked in publishing near the Wanamaker Annex back when that's what liberal arts graduates did. “This space means a lot to me,” she said. “I once sold used books under the Astor Place Cube, back when you could still make money selling books.” “The reconstruction of Astor Place—and the reinstallation of the East Village’s beloved Alamo—provides a terrific example of how well-designed public space can create a more unified,  better functioning public sphere,” said Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver. “Fluid, attractive and walkable spaces like Alamo Plaza are crucial as we work together to create a greener, healthier New York City.” “I am thrilled the Cube is back at Alamo Square and that we are celebrating upgrades to another pedestrian plaza in our city,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Marking the heart of the East Village, Astor Plaza, and this iconic artwork stand as a crossroads for thousands of New Yorkers.” The 15-foot Cube is one of the best-known sculptures in the city, popular for the way it spins on its axis. First installed in 1967, the Cube is made of jet-black Cor-Ten steel, weighs 1,800 pounds and spins easily when touched, making it a favorite late night toy for neighboring college students and others. Rosenthal (1914 to 2009) created the Cube as part of Doris C. Freedman's Sculpture in Environment installation, sponsored by the New York City Administration of Recreation and Cultural Affairs when the East Village neighborhood was a Bohemian haven. Symbolizing the constant swirl of urban life, it is as contextually emblematic as the Financial District’s 1987 Charging Bull by Arturo Di Modica. It was the first permanent contemporary outdoor sculpture installed in the city of New York. The reconstruction of Astor Place and Cooper Square were completed as part of an effort to upgrade infrastructure throughout New York City, to give residents and visitors public spaces that provide a relief as the city becomes more densely developed. The city has a goal of ensuring that all New Yorkers live within a 10-minute walk of quality open space. The Department of Design and Construction managed the project for Transportation and Parks. The community enhancement project created two new pedestrian plazas and expanded and renovated two others, bringing 42,000 square feet of new pedestrian space to the neighborhood. The redesign incorporated an existing subway station and created a safer configuration for vehicular and pedestrian traffic. It introduced larger sidewalks; 16,000 square feet of planting areas with new trees and automated, in-ground irrigation systems; 6,700 square feet of permeable pavement; 2,100 square feet of curbside rain gardens for improved drainage; and racks for more than 100 bikes. The Cube was renovated at a cost of $180,000. According to a statement from the Department of Design and Construction: “Astor Place is one of Manhattan’s busiest hubs. With nearby institutions like New York University, Cooper Union, and Parsons School of Design, thousands of cars and pedestrians flow through the area every day. Activity in this plaza space has only intensified in recent years with new buildings rising and businesses moving in to accommodate Manhattan’s population growth.” In addition, the DDC statement notes, “Astor Place is the site of a tricky intersection. Three avenues meet one another, where they form two adjacent triangles. Because of this, the area has been notoriously difficult for pedestrians to navigate. You could very easily find yourself standing in the middle of a traffic median with no access to a protected crosswalk. For years, the surrounding community and city planners saw an opportunity to transform Astor Place into a calmer, safer space.” To reimagine Astor Place, the city agencies turned to WXY, an architecture and urban design firm with a track record for working in complicated parts of the public realm. “We tend to get projects that have gone a long time without being solved, like undersides of bridges or areas surrounding viaducts,” said principal-in-charge Claire Weisz, in a statement issued by DDC. “It’s really about bringing design thinking to unusual problems, or problems that people put off solving.” The redesign was intended to reduce stress for everyone in the area. It creates sidewalks and roadways that are more clearly delineated to calm and guide drivers, and it provides more space for pedestrians, especially in Astor Place’s Alamo Plaza. Custom-designed tables, chairs, and umbrellas encourage pedestrians to stop and take in the view. There are also more trees and benches in Astor Place. At the southern tip of the Astor Place area is Cooper Triangle and Village Plaza. Cooper Triangle got new street fixtures, including steps that provide seating and meeting areas for pedestrians. More pedestrian space was added by narrowing the width of the adjacent road. Reconstruction of Astor Place began in 2013 after the local Community Board approved the plan. Besides moving public art, work included relocating underground utilities and installing new features such as lighting, bicycle racks, and plantings. Planners say in-depth traffic studies were a key step in redesigning and rebuilding roadways to calm the flow of cars. Weisz said she used the unusual geometry of the area to reimagine pockets of under-used public space.  “How do we reconnect people to their environment, not just by views, but by interacting with it?” she said. “The more options we have and the more developed our infrastructure is, the more possibilities we have for continuing our density in the city.” While Astor Place is a high profile project, planners say, areas throughout New York City are receiving similar treatment on a smaller scale. The DDC launched its Plaza Program in 2008, inviting New Yorkers to nominate their own neighborhoods for a plaza redesign. Earlier this year, the DDC and DOT also completed Fordham Plaza in the Bronx and La Plaza de las Americas in Manhattan. Others in the works include George B. Post Plaza, Lowery and Bliss Plazas, Putnam Plaza, Roosevelt Island Plaza, and Times Plaza. Although the Cube was immortalized as a mosaic landmark at the nearby 8th Street-NYU Subway Station by artist Timothy Snell in his Broadway Diary mosaics (2002, for the MTA Arts & Design program), residents have long had concerns that the frequently and roughly used sculpture may change with the area. An Alexander Calder sculpture was planned in 2011 to take the place of the Film Academy Café during 51 Astor’s development but never arrived. The lobby of that building itself now features Jeff Koons’s whimsical 16-foot-tall Balloon Rabbit (Red), 2005-2010, ironically greeting all visitors to Big Blue. During the same plaza redevelopment in 2014 that prompted the Cube’s temporary disappearance, the Department of Transportation removed around 6 light posts encased with episodes of Mosaic Trail, a classic, yet illegally installed hallmark of the East Village begun around 1984 by local street artist Jim Power.
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Claire Weisz on WXY’s reimagining of the Brooklyn Strand

From a pedestrian perspective, Downtown Brooklyn and its waterfront have an odd relationship. Despite the Brooklyn Bridge’s looming (literally) presence in DUMBO, the area’s potential to become an idyllic promenade and an active space has never quite been realized.

Now, however, New York practice WXY architecture + design—who specializes in planning, urban design, and architecture–is proposing to connect DUMBO, Downtown, and Brooklyn Bridge Park. As part of a public-private scheme, in collaboration with the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP), WXY’s project, the Strand, sets about creating views within the site, giving it an identity while creating a place that puts pedestrians first.

WXY principal Claire Weisz said that the first thing her practice sought to do was to see what connections needed to be reestablished with a focus on who they should serve. “One of the main priorities of the Strand effort is to privilege pedestrians and cyclists,” said Weisz. “We [looked] at what spaces used to connect and then we sought a way to reimagine and provide resources to the public spaces and places that are valued by the people living, working, and studying in this area.”

Striking a dialogue and creating a “positive sense of journey” was another key aspect of the scheme. Working with Copenhagen artist group Superflex, a responsive and pedestrian friendly scene was established: Here, functional, yet visually inspiring routes were developed, evoking the cultural and historical aspects of the area’s neighborhoods from Fulton to Farragut and the Navy Yard.

Weisz also spoke of new subway connections and the potential to develop sites around infrastructure, adding how the Gateway to Brooklyn action plan concept “demonstrated the importance of approaching access holistically.” In light of this, Weisz proposed connecting Cadman Plaza East with the walkway off the Brooklyn Bridge, thus protecting pedestrians who “have to dodge traffic at Cadman Plaza West.”

Weisz noted how the dominance of car travel has led to the emergence of “unappealing leftover public space.” Here, she explained, a “continuous city fabric where walkable, bike-able, active streets connect Downtown Brooklyn to the Waterfront” is a necessity from an infrastructure perspective.

While improved circulation is a priority, visual connectivity is also on the agenda. Weisz plans to give landmarks visual precedence to celebrate Brooklyn’s history and improve wayfinding throughout the Strand. As a result, the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges are allocated framed views from within the Cadman Plaza Park, Anchorage Plaza, and Trinity Park, in order to reaffirm the sense of place throughout the Strand.

“The Strand’s identity is linked to not losing the layers of history that made Brooklyn what it is today but adapting them for today’s needs,” said Weisz, who added that creating a “cohesive” identity was discussed with stakeholders.

“The main challenge of the Strand has been demonstrating the potential of spaces that are currently invisible to the public,” said Weisz. “Whether it be spaces around, over, or under highways [or] a new vantage for accessing and experiencing the Brooklyn Bridge, residents can look forward to a rejuvenated place that realizes the potential for the Strand to better connect downtown Brooklyn.”

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How the Great Streets initiative is transforming miles of L.A. roads and sidewalks

Fifteen percent of the landmass of Los Angeles is made up of its streets. That translates to 7,500 centerline miles of roads and constitutes the single largest urban element the city controls according to Lilly O'Brien of The Great Streets Initiative—a political organization staffed by trained urban planners housed in Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office. Great Streets has been working with city councilmembers, city departments like the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT), and nonprofit design organizations to make better use of existing city resources and infrastructure while simultaneously creating urban corridors that reflect—and hopefully economically engage—the people who live there. The initiative ties into a national and even global push to pedestrianize underutilized swaths of the urban fabric. In design terms, the 15 streets the project has undertaken so far largely demonstrate this blend of infrastructural alignment and local identity through sidewalk installations and pop-up play spaces.

For one day, nonprofit organization Street Beats transformed the intersection of Crenshaw and Florence into a musical instrument by using bump-outs to install DJs at each corner and fashioning scramble crosswalks to look like a giant urban keyboard. Pedestrians could engage in light-pole-mounted-speaker beat battles using iPads.

Meanwhile, on Reseda Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley, LA-Más attempted to transform the car-oriented environment of the sidewalk into a living room by designing the installed furniture in a late-midcentury modernist style and combining it with a painted flagstone paving pattern. “Our installations weren’t supposed to blend into the fabric; they were supposed to live in the in-between of the sidewalk, between what’s legal and illegal, between what’s private and public,” architect Elizabeth Timme, the co-executive director and cofounder at LA-Más said. According to Timme, her boundary-blurring work made it clear that the street was a pedestrian space, not a vehicular space, while also creating a far more accessible and welcoming area.

Kounkuey Design Initiative has been working on a pilot “Play Streets” program for the initiative that closes off thoroughfares in South L.A. to vehicles and then introduces varying amounts of infrastructure to see “how play gets activated,” cofounder and executive director Chelina Odbert said. She’s discovering that regardless of the amount of equipment introduced into the environment, “people will play no matter what; closing down the street does the trick tangentially.” After securing the participation of LADOT and the Great Streets initiative, Odbert enlisted the help of “play experts” (i.e. kids) to develop the initial design concept into a workable reality, introducing everything from Hula-Hoops to temporary slides on reclaimed asphalt. The pilot program will run for one year, and depending on its results, may effect more permanent, citywide changes.

This potential for broader urban change is in keeping with the scope of Mayor Garcetti’s original plan. As he told AN via email, “I launched the Great Streets initiative to energize public spaces, provide economic revitalization, increase public safety, enhance local culture, and support great neighborhoods. We are changing the culture around how we use our streets by partnering with urban designers on community-level improvements that appear hyperlocal but reverberate around our city.” The ongoing initiative will continue to develop and apply its findings to streets throughout Los Angeles.

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321 new rain gardens in Queens will help clean up Newtown Creek

The City of New York has begun construction on a new green infrastructure project that will place over 300 rain gardens in the Queens neighborhoods of Sunnyside, Maspeth, and Ridgewood. According to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the specially-designed curbside gardens will be able to collect 2,500 gallons of stormwater each for a total capacity of 38 million gallons each year. Along with beautifying these three neighborhoods the rain gardens will help combat sewage overflows into Newtown Creek, an estuary between the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens that is one of the country’s dirtiest waterways and a designated Superfund site. The project will be funded by a $7.3 million dollar investment from the DEP, which manages New York City’s water supply, and will be managed by the Department of Design and Construction. Rain gardens, also known as bioswales, have also been constructed in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Gowanus to reduce pollution in its famously filthy canal. The DEP’s standard rain garden design involves digging out the garden to a depth of five feet, then backfilling with a mixture of stone and engineered soil. Hardy trees and plants absorb water trapped in the soil mixture, providing the added benefit of greener streets and cleaner air for residents. These gardens mimic natural environmental systems and make good use of what would otherwise be problematic wastewater. The city has already constructed approximately 1000 rain gardens, with another 1500 currently under construction. This and other green infrastructure projects are a key part of the city’s $10 billion initiative to improve its wastewater treatment system and reduce overflows, improving the health of New York City’s harbor and waterways. Check out this video to see a bioswale collecting stormwater in Boerum Hill:
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The Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative helps create a new, sculptural gateway to Boyle Heights

Three colorful pylons rise from drought-resistant plantings in the entry plaza of the Benjamin Franklin Branch Library in Boyle Heights, a Latino neighborhood east of downtown Los Angeles. Todos Juntos is the name of this modest-but-striking civic marker, located at the intersection of First and Chicago Streets, that provides a gathering place for the community and a welcome mat for the library. It’s the latest venture of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative (LANI), a non-profit organization set up by Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan following the 1992 riots to support neighborhood improvements across the city by channeling funds and managing construction for community-driven projects. As executive director Veronica Hahni explained, “the goals are to build community pride and strengthen a sense of place.”

In Boyle Heights, LANI worked with Councilmember José Huizar, whose field office is across the street from the library, to put together a steering committee of local residents and business owners. The committee agreed to a streetscape improvement on First Street between the L.A. River and the Soto Metro station. Siobhán Burke, head of Lyric Design and Planning, and Rob Berry of Berry and Linné, classmates at Yale who had previously collaborated on the design of the Spring Street Parklets, were selected to work with the community in determining the character and location of the project.

Burke and Berry explored potential sites with members of the committee and handed out a bilingual questionnaire at the Mariachi Plaza farmers market. “What would you like to see added to First Street?” they asked, and offered a range of options, from signage and improved lighting to public art and places to sit. “What are your main concerns?” was another question, as residents were invited to mark a favored location on a street plan. Meetings were held and, predictably, there was no consensus. Some asked for murals, others for mobile kiosks or a symbolic gateway to Boyle Heights. “Rob and I evaluated the questionnaires to crystallize those wants and design something that could be accomplished on budget—a $100,000 grant from Wells Fargo,” recalled Burke. “On our first walk with the committee we overlooked the library site because it was so inconspicuous, but later we realized its potential.”

It’s hard to imagine a better location: First Street is Boyle Heights’s main thoroughfare, extending east from the LA civic center. The library, city offices, AC Martin’s translucent police station, and Ross Valencia’s pocket park occupy the four corners of the intersection, all generating pedestrian activity. The library was formerly fenced off, but Huizar supported the initiative to replace the defensive barrier with bands of river rocks and flowers, which open the building to the street while deterring vandals. The entrance is still concealed behind a railing but the new plaza improves accessibility and provides a place for readings and gatherings.

The designers were inspired by the concept of family for their design of the three 12-foot-high folded aluminum pylons, creating figures with arms reaching out to embrace the space. The vibrant colors were inspired by local storefronts and murals. It seemed appropriate to honor a literary figure, and Burke proposed three lines fromBlanco” by Octavio Paz, the great Mexican poet. These are engraved in the metal, Spanish on one side, English on the other. “Hopefully, Todos Juntos will become an everyday icon where you can sit on the benches and chat with friends,” said Berry. “This plaza can serve as a model for other districts of the city.” The absence of graffiti suggests it has already won acceptance as a respected amenity.

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Revamping Astor Place-Cooper Square for pedestrians and public space

Exemplifying the eternal Robert Moses-Jane Jacobs dialectic, New York’s Astor Place-Cooper Square area has long reflected too much Bob and not enough Jane. Excessive vehicular space has bred human-car conflict points, with pedestrians facing “a super-wide roadway . . . unclear at various traffic lights which way you are supposed to cross,” as noted by Claire Weisz of WXY (formerly Weisz & Yoes). The neighborhood around Cooper Union has become a midrise mélange, ill-serving its role as a campus and gateway between NoHo and the East Village. The chief open space is the under-lit, fenced-off Cooper Triangle, habitable mainly by rodents: A wasted opportunity in the park-starved area between Washington and Tompkins Squares.

Change hasn’t come quickly, but it’s coming. WXY has partnered with the Department of Design and Construction (DDC), Transportation (DOT), and Parks and Recreation (DPR), as well as with landscape architect Quennell Rothschild & Partners, lighting designer Linnaea Tillett, plantsman Piet Oudolf, and contractor Triumph Construction, to remap streets and upgrade the plazas. Adhering closely to the 2011 iteration of a plan vetted in community meetings since 2008, the team is creating an environment that blends landscaping and infrastructure: high-efficiency lighting, granite benches, stepped seating, bicycle racks, a new water main, catch basins, center medians, bioswales, and a dignified allée framing the Foundation Building. Construction began in 2013, and DDC projects opening this summer.

Anticipating Vision Zero by several years, Weisz said, “The plan tried to rationalize the desire lines with the actual street layout,” correcting dangerous conditions. At Fifth and Sixth Streets, “you would find yourself in the middle of Third Avenue without being able to cross the street at a normal crosswalk,” and the subway-entrance island between Eighth and Ninth was “really narrow for the amount of people on it.” With vehicles banned from eastern Astor Place and from Cooper Square below Sixth Street, “you’ll be able to walk pretty easily from Fifth Street all the way  to the subway without having to cross traffic.” A tree-lined Alamo Plaza will replace two lanes of Astor Place, and an 8,000-square-foot Village Plaza will emerge from Cooper Square’s west sidewalk, replacing disorienting lanes and dead zones of striped-off asphalt.

“Essentially, the goal is to continue to encourage the street ballet of the neighborhood,” Weisz said.

“We believe this particular design takes the approach of Jane Jacobs to create spaces that favor the community,” said DDC spokesperson Shavone Williams, stressing community outreach from design through construction.

The DDC “was very much a co-designer on this rather than a client working with consultants,” Weisz said. “[The collaboration was] amazing—we have three agencies, almost with equal billing here, and two community boards.” Maintenance partners include Village Alliance for the Alamo and subway plazas, DPR for Cooper Triangle, and Grace Church School for the Village Plaza.

WXY’s design signature includes zipper benches and environmentally friendly cast-iron drinking fountains developed for DPR (shaped to accommodate water bottles and to vent wastewater into planters and gravel, not hard pipes). Distinctive black cobra-head davit poles will support energy-efficient LED fixtures above Village Plaza. Swales will enhance storm drainage, reducing combined sewer overflows. Tony Rosenthal’s rotating cube Alamo, currently off-site for restoration, will return to its original position.

Village Alliance, City Lore, and other cultural activists have worked with DOT to reinstall components of Jim Power’s Mosaic Trail—“a treasure map” revealing local history, said Bowery Poetry Club proprietor Bob Holman, a City Lore board member. “That the city, which has so long ignored this treasure, is helping to renovate the poles displaced by the renovation and will install them as a piece of public art,” Holman said, “is New York City at its best.” With varied color temperatures distinguishing pedestrian spaces, streets, and buildings, the team expected that “Power’s ceramics would really pop.”

Weisz foresees a return of informal vibrancy as the plazas draw lunchers, seniors, performers, students, and others (Though not nocturnal revelers: The Triangle will be locked at night). By inviting people to linger, these plazas may help energize local businesses assaulted by chain stores and rocketing commercial rents.

Interruptions in Manhattan’s street grid represent the revenge of the organic and historic against the hyper-rational. Sites that syncopate the 1811 plan’s marching rhythm are both robust and sensitive: They are activity magnets, yet they create welcome eddies in urban flows. 

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3D “zebra crossings” stop drivers in their tracks

Earlier this year, it was reported that Saumya Pandya Thakkar and Shakuntala Pandya, two women from Ahmedabad in East India, had come up with an imaginative solution to stop cars and let pedestrians cross the road without the aid of traffic lights. Their "zebra crossing"— rectangular volumes drawn in perspective—appeared to do the trick. While Thakkar and Pandya may have thought they were pioneering new techniques, this strategy had already been realized in Taizhou and Xingsha in China some eight years prior. Using bright and bold colors, these "3D" roadblocks-cum-crossings span China's roads to deceive drivers. Here, instead of using the road surface as a color like in India, blue or red is added to amplify the three dimensional effect. So far the 3D zebra crossings have been a success. "Pedestrians can now feel safer when crossing the street. It’s a great idea," said cyclist Lee Wu. "It is so magical! It looks more like a roadblock watching from afar, and I could not help to slow down before I found out it is nothing but a zebra crossing,” said a driver. “It works well so far, as more and more passers-by tend to walk on this new zebra marking and more drivers give way to them,” added a traffic policeman from Changsha county. Naturally, there are some are skeptical of the 3D road marking's ability to implement safer conditions for pedestrians. Would not such a feature cause drivers to stop suddenly—and dangerously—in their tracks upon realizing that they're careering into a red, white and yellow cuboid? However, part of the success may not be down to the fact that drivers are being fooled into thinking that there is a real 3D object in their path. This illusion can only be achieved from a certain perspective. As drivers by nature are moving, this optimum perspective exists for only a few seconds, if that. Instead, motorists are more distracted by the presence of something brightly colored and abnormal on the road and slow down to inspect it.  A spokesman for the local traffic police in Taizhou said: "We want the new crosswalk to become a real safety belt for pedestrians and vehicles." In Ahmedabad, authorities have deemed the markings successful, although in China, one manufacturer is already selling a stick-on 3D solution. As featured on asia-manufacturer.com, the B4011X 3D Zebra Crossing is "self-adhesive and reflective" containing "glass beads for good reflection and skid proof effect; rapid and easy installation." The product is made from flexible polymers, pigments and micro glass beads and apparently lasts for up to two years when applied to concrete, asphalt, cement and marble. Such solutions are yet to make it across to Western Europe and the U.S., however, one can already imagine someone painting a depiction of the Beatles striding across a floating zebra crossing if realised.
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With a Knight Foundation grant, the Better Block Foundation aims to make your city even better

In over 100 projects, Team Better Block (TBB), the organization that works directly with cities to realize large-scale placemaking initiatives, helps make your great city even better. Now, thanks to a $775,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Dallas-based organization will be better able to serve cities and the people who make them. The January grant, meted out in installments, allowed TBB to create the Better Block Foundation (BBF), a nonprofit arm of for-profit TBB. Founder Jason Roberts explained that the grant will help both entities grow and support each other mutually. Roberts clarified that, while Better Block solutions like bike lane, plaza, and pop-up business recipes are "an open-source operating system, like Linux," free and open for all to use, TBB installs Better Block solutions for a fee. He and co-founder Andrew Howard realized a need for the foundation when TBB went worldwide. "We didn't have the bandwidth, so we needed the non-profit model. The nonprofit will help other folks do these things," he told AN. Things like transforming underutilized spaces, building workforce capacity, and cultivating vacant land. The program is expanding its staff to include a managing director, architect, project manager, and creating an internship program. Howard will manage TBB, while Roberts, who enjoys research and development, is directing the foundation. The BBF includes a human capacity-building component, as well. Civic leaders, elected officials, developers, and others "passionate about the built environment" will be able to meet architects, planners, and designers to discuss solutions for their cities' public spaces. Additionally, the foundation will build capacity to collect data and performance metrics before and after a Better Block project is installed. "We haven't had a chance to document that piece," Roberts reflected. "The foundation can focus on impact." This year, the BBF and TBB are planning the WikiBlocks project for the city of St. Paul. In collaboration with neighborhood groups, they'll install parklets, flowerbeds, and cafe seating from cutout designs whose plans are free to download and assemble. TBB is teaming up with the digital fabrication studio at Kent State University to create the prototypes for the project: In about three months, the early models will be developed. TBB knows how local culture manifests itself in and through the built environment, and that drawing on that ethos is key to building strong neighborhoods. Right now, TBB is using one site to turn around a struggling neighborhood in Akron, Ohio, and posing the question in reverse: how could culture express itself in an individual house? Working with refugees from Bhutan, in collaboration with the International Institute, the Bhutan Cultural Association, and a Community Development Corporation (CDC) in Akron, the team is transforming a dilapidated house in the North Hill neighborhood into The Exchange House, an Airbnb youth hostel managed by the émigrés. Refugees sponsored by the State Department are indebted to the government: refugees have to pay back their plane ticket. Consequently, they're expected to find work, but language and cultural barriers can make that difficult. Running the hostel will provide an opportunity for cultural exchange, help refugees earn money, and build English language skills, as well as revitalize a neighborhood that has excess housing and infrastructural capacity. The partners hope to "stamp North Hill as an international neighborhood." There's 11 months left on the project, and demolition on the interior is progressing apace. Sai Sinbondit (of Cleveland-based Bialosky + Partners Architects) is the lead architect. A market, garden, and community resource center will round out the hostel's program.
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How Salt Lake City might add buildings in the medians of its extra-wide streets

Over the course of four years, the Granary District of Salt Lake City has been trialling "median development" whereby pop-up shows, stands, and other forms of temporary architecture exist literally in the middle of the street. Now, James Alfandre, director of the Kentlands Initiative, proposes something more concrete. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSXH_EEz144 To say Salt Lake City's roads are incredibly wide is an understatement. Initially, this width was derived from former Mormon Governor of the Utah territory who stipulated that a team of oxen and their cart should be able to turn around in the street. In fact, this phenomena is particularly prevalent in many Mormon cities in the United States. However, what was relevant and functional in centuries past is not so today. The width of the roads in a modern city is now an inefficient use of space and in Alfandre's eyes, an opportunity for entrepreneurship. https://vimeo.com/139990231 Building on the success of the trials that saw the streets be transformed into vibrant areas of social interaction, with the space being used for performances and predominantly as a gathering location, Alfandre now proposes a more long term solution. Median development in this respect would shrink the size of the street, dividing space between pedestrians and vehicles as outlined in the diagram above. In the trials, median development gave rise to shipping containers to form "Granary Row" (seen in the video's above). Using this template, the Kentland's Initiative is working with the city to lease the median for 99 years, allowing them to build permanent structures and even housing. Crucially, the median is already under city ownership, meaning that residential space be procured essentially for free. This can then either be sold as a profit or used for low income housing. Alfondre says, "In essence you’d be taking land that was once allocated to cars—or oxen and carts, if you will—and giving it back to the people."
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It’s hard to believe these before and after streetscape transformations are the same places

The United States is currently 4th in the world in terms of vehicle ownership (measured by vehicles per capita)—a statistic that is reflected in contemporary cities' car-dominated infrastructure. Urbanism website Urb-i however, is intent on changing that, giving cities back to the people. To show that change is possible, the group compiled before and after photos of dozens of amazing street transformations from across the globe.

In an article by Time, car ownership hasn't even reached its peak yet with sales still growing, however, research by Schroders Quartz indicates that car usage in the U.S. and indeed worldwide is on the decrease.

In collecting these streetscape transformations, Urb-i demonstrates how public space can be opened up, views created, and a sense of urban democracy restored back to the areas where vehicles once ruled the roost. On its website, the group claims its mission is to "open the eyes" of people to transform streets: "sharing our knowledge of what it means good urban planning and how it influence on our experience." "Our goal is to design improvement ideas, generate interventions, play with people's imagination, sweeping and provoking reactions and show that simple changes, you can change dynamics, perceptions, enhance and bring quality to the public spaces" For more information on vehicle ownership in the U.S., here is an interactive map on cities that have the most vehicles per capita.