Monday, February 27, 2006
Friday, February 24, 2006
Photo posted by scarlisle
Thursday, February 23, 2006
To RSVP, click here. Photo by Julian Olivas.
But today, the Times' Nicolai Ouroussoff puts the gondolas into an urban planning context that makes this much more worthy of comment. Ouroussoff rightly points out that this latest plea for ideas is an obvious if not explicit admission that the city's planning/economic development departments are bereft of ideas themselves and have outsourced planning to the private sector (with the notable exception of the West Chelsea/High Line rezoning plan, which recently won the American Planning Association award for Best Community Plan ... and of course, that was a zoning thing, which the city knows quite well, but I digress):
"[C]onjuring an image for the island's future will be left up to developers. ... Not all countries operate this way. In Spain and the Netherlands, city and regional governments typically organize elaborate design competitions for a major urban site, then hire a developer to figure out how to put the idea into practice.
An aggressive government role in galvanizing the best creative minds is virtually nonexistent in the United States, where political and financial power has shifted to the private realm. That's why New York has fallen behind cities like Barcelona, Rotterdam and even London in terms of the level of ambition behind public works projects. In New York, the system can foster a poisonous mix of political self-interest and commercial greed, as it did at ground zero.And there you have it, the problem in a nutshell. One of the first pieces I wrote as a brand new freelancer in New York City was for Metropolis magazine that touched on this very issue. An urban planning firm founded in Amsterdam had opened an office in New York in hopes of applying their waterfront redevelopment expertise here. As far as I know, since then they've had one New York client in four years because we DON'T PLAN HERE. We throw designs at the wall and see what sticks. Is it any wonder then that Governor's Island, perhaps the most intriguing piece of developable land in the Northern hemisphere, has been collecting dust since the Coast Guard abandoned it more than ten years ago?
The final irony (did I just use that cliched phrase?) is that this Dutch-based planning firm has been trying to get involved with Governor's Island since they first set up shop here more than four years ago -- the same little island that a Dutchman purchased from Native Americans with two ax heads, a string of beads, and a handful of nails in 1637.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Saturday, February 18, 2006
A must-see photography exhibit is currently at the Julie Saul Gallery in Chelsea. Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao won the 2005 "Capture the Times" photography contest by the New York Times Magazine, and Habitat 7 is his first solo show (it will move to the Queens Museum of Art from Feb. 26-May 24). The photos are taken around the Number 7 subway line in Queens using a large format camera. Several photos are taken throughout the day and then combined into one panoramic view creating detailed and sharp images that also have a time-lapse quality. The photos are so rich and detailed, I was able to take the above pic (which is just a section of one photo) using my digital camera. Aside from the technical prowess of the photographer, what's so amazing to me is that, as absolutely saturated as this city is with photographers capturing every nook and cranny, there are still original and surprising ways to shoot New York.
In case you missed an earlier post, Tropolism is sponsoring Your Hidden City, an architecture/photo contest (I am on the jury). For more details, click here, but the contest welcomes photos from any city on earth, not just New York.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Update: Curbed and some readers chime in with a little more info, but not much, except to say that chances are, the buyer is unlikely to be a celeb. As soon as I know more, you'll know more (probably sometime after Curbed knows more).
Sunday, February 12, 2006
I took this about 8:15 this morning.
I took this (facing the opposite direction on St. Marks Pl.) about 5:30 this evening. Apparently this was a record breaking Nor'easter.
Question: Is my impression correct that Bloomberg has gotten exceedingly lucky on the bad weather front? If memory serves, every time we've had a major snow storm, it was over a holiday or weekend when cleaning up the streets is significantly easier and cheaper. Anyone care to take on that little research project and let me know?
Saturday, February 11, 2006
I went to the Urban Center (at the Municipal Art Society) to see the New York City Streets Renaissance "exhibit," an undertaking of The Open Planning Project. I don't recommend making the trip, as it's mostly just text and pictures posted on the wall with some video clips, all of which are available online. That's not to say the project itself isn't worthy, but the gist of it can be had by clicking over to NYCSR. One of the better videos is about Hell's Kitchen under seige by traffic. But the best video is about how neighborhood activists forced DOT to redesign Canal Park, a triangular plot of land in Tribeca, and rerouted traffic entering the Holland Tunnel. The video really shows how these efforts can be a win-win for everyone: traffic flow is far better, pedestrians are no longer being run down, and the neighborhood gets a lovely park space.
The above photos are of Astor Square, as is and reimagined (click to enlarge the photos, and check out how they surrounded The Cube with seating and moved it to the north so it's the first thing you see when you come out of the Astor Pl. subway station). Having criss-crossed this area hundreds of times, including the traffic island where The Cube currently is, I can attest to the fact that this is not a well designed space. NYCSR points out that Astor Square is an important transition area between one neighborhood and another (Greenwich Village and the East Village), and yet it's a dead zone. And it really is.
My criticism is that many of the design recommendations start to look the same ... umbrella seating here, there and everywhere.
The Astor Square redesign is probably the most detailed, but many of the other recommendations seem to be just about widening the sidewalk and reducing the space allocated to cars and trucks. There must be some cost-benefit analysis here about how reducing all this traffic space would affect the commerce of the city.
The other thing is, and I'm not one to pooh-pooh streetscaping improvements, but there does come a point where prettying things up too much kills a neighborhood's spirit. St. Marks Pl., for example, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues (the block I live on), is infuriating to walk on with all the kiosks and tourists and punk kids and drug addicts. But it's St. Marks Place! What would living in the E.Vil. be if you weren't infuriated on occassion? So, sure, let's fix the dead zone that is Astor Square. But the litmus test, as I see it, is whether or not a space is actually dead or just "unattractive" to some eyes (click to enlarge photo of Trash and Vaudeville on St. Marks).
Friday, February 10, 2006
After a week of very subtle buildup, Tropolism is pleased to announce the first open-sourced architectural contest, Your Hidden City.
The contest is simple: post your photos (with a caption) to our public Flickr pool (or email them to us), and our jury will select their favorites in five categories. The winners will be posted to Tropolism.
The theme of the contest is uncovering the
The jury is a set of bloggers who write about architecture, urbanism, and landscape design. They are:
- Lisa Chamberlain of Polis who also covers real estate for The New York Times
- David Cuthbert of architechnophilia
- Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG
- Shawn Micallef of Toronto Psychogeography Society Blog
- Miss Representation
- Jimmy Stamp of Life Without Buildings
The 5 Categories are:
Best Natural/Urban Overlap
Best Vantage Point
We will keep the contest open until
Coincidentally, the very next post on my blog is a good example of what this contest is about:
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Monday, February 06, 2006
The Downtown Express reports (via Curbed) that the $60 million renovation of the Battery Maritime Building's Beaux Arts facade is just about complete. Now the city wants to turn the building into a public market/food emporium.
References to Seattle's Pike's Place have come up, 'natch, but hopefully we can do a little better than a fish-tossing spectacle. And it seems the place isn't easily accessible. But it could become quite a catalyst for Lower Lower Manhattan if some real planning takes place. The city would do well to get the Project for Public Spaces involved, the experts on public market design and how to leverage them for further investment.
P.S. I've been informed by Bird to the North that indeed PPS has made a presentation to a "decision-making group" to consult on the new public market concept. Good luck!
Yes, it would be good to include other developers. But honestly, that's not enough. If Silverstein is allowed to build that f**king Freedom Tower, it will cast a shadow over the entire site for a century (assuming it doesn't get hit in another terrorist attack). I've said it before and I'll say it again: Condemn the site in the public interest and start over. If it takes a dozen more years, so be it. But nothing would be worse than a horrible, bunker-like piece of design-by-committee architecture sticking up like a giagantic sore thumb. Are we really that stupid?
Friday, February 03, 2006
Nearly two years ago, I did a story for Metropolis Magazine about Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and everything he has been doing during his 5 terms in office to make Chicago the "greenest city in America," as he has so often pledged. His greening crucade started out modestly enough by widening street medians and planting them with a cornucopia of trees, flowers and greenery. This simple yet effective landscaping initiative had the dual effect of calming traffic and making life a wee bit nicer for everyone. One thing led to another, and next thing you know, entire neighborhoods have been transformed by Mayor Daley's greening initiatives.
When I got back from Chicago, I happened to be walking on Bowery and noticed the pathetic, dirty little median strip on Bowery and thought, "This would be the perfect place to do a demonstration median strip in New York City." Then I promptly forgot about it until my good friend Bird to the North posted about this very same topic just a few days ago:
"The median on Bowery between 4th and around Grand is just pathetic. ... The cars speed, taking advantage of the wide lanes. And there's barely any shoulder, so truck tires really do feel like they are running you down. I'm afraid that the same changes are going in for the median on Houston between Bowery and Broadyway. These are wide streets with great sidewalks! They could be so much nicer, with a boulevard effect. If only." Image from Flickr, by antiparticle.
Of course, Bowery is never going to look like the Chicago street pictured above, but there's no reason we couldn't take the principle and adapt it to our own environment ... no reason except that Mayor Daley has been in office for five terms and probably will run again. One of the points I made in the Metropolis article is that doing what Daley has for Chicago practically requires a dictator to get it done, and hey, benevolent dictators have done some great things for the world. I'm thinking we need to repeal term limits in New York City and on the condition that Mayor Bloomberg take a page out of Chicago's playbook and raise the city's consciousness about urban environments. The same way that Giuliani forever changed New Yorker's expectations of safety, so too could Bloomberg elevate our expecation of street aesthetics. If only.
The Metropolis article is only accessible to subscribers. If you are one, the easiest way to find it is to search "Sadhu", as in Sadhu Johnston, who was an assistant to Mayor Daley at the time when I did the story and is now Commissioner of the Environment.