Posts tagged with "Streetscape":
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.”
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.
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 from “Blanco” 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.
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.
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.