Store Wars

A new release...Store Wars
(from the people who brought you the Meatrix)

DestiNY where the sun doesn't shine

Grist uncovers a new entirely green shopping mall development, DestiNY, built to be dependent on solar-power, and yet planned for the fairly unsunny region of Syracuse, NY. (I know because I grew up there).

While all of it sounds good and makes for great publicity, much like a Made in Hollywood couple a la Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, don't you wonder why these well-intentioned people won't just put their time in resources in something more meaningful. There's really no need for more malls in Syracuse - what it needs is some care, collaboration and nurturing in its downtowns. Montreal experiences nearly the same weather patterns and there are people outdoors for much of the year.

Also, when this structure is completely powered by sun, what happens when the region experiences one of its many long streches without sun? Why not just take all the government backing and invest in the downtown and making it more walkable and accessible? I guarantee that people will go downtown even when the sun doesn't shine.

Cities aren't doing as well as you think

"Two major things need to happen in order for cities to be saved. First, they must undertake a CAT scan of sorts, which would reveal, underneath the glossy exterior of arts centers and arenas and hip downtowns, the reality of lost jobs, dysfunctional schools, and crumbling infrastructure. Second, they need to acquire the political will to attack these issues head-on despite the inevitable roadblocks."
In his latest article in the New Republic (registration required), Joel Kotkin isn't nearly as dire as Mike Davis, contrary to what the title would have you believe.


Update on Seattle Public Library

The library seems to be holding up well. I was happy to learn that the librarians were heavily involved with the design of the space. There are some minor cosmetic issues due to the high volume of users (8,000 daily visitors on average), but nothing super major. It's still early yet, but this building's programming (uses and activities) will definitely help it survive the test of time.


Busy week

We've been busy with events this past week, so I have had no time to post at all. In fact, the participants were telling me about news in New York...and that's how I found out about Trump and the WTC, sad to say. (I did manage to get Jane Jacobs' letter up, below.)

People from all over the United States and Canada, with a few people from other countries (Denmark, the Netherlands, and South Africa) came out to New York the past couple of days. This is my fourth time doing the workshop, and this is the first time that I felt that the notion of "placemaking" is mainstream, or at least, it's no longer a lone "voice in the wilderness" as someone else put it.

Yeah, yeah, transportation people are into it (if by words only), as well as the predictable developers and architects who are after resorts and lifestyle centers.

But the idea is fully resonating with people less obvious - those working in affordable housing, the people looking out for seniors, designers hoping to move away from graphic and product design for corporations and get more involved with helping communities through design, and librarians. The ideas are acceptable, not "hippy," and these are the people who are active users and shapers in their communities, not just builders of the physical environment. These people are wondering how to work with their government and with the professionals.

What does this mean for my microscopic world? I want to get us on Oprah!

Letter from Jane Jacobs to Mayor Bloomberg and City Council

From Brooklyn Rails:

Letter to Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council
May 2005

Flowers trump towers at the Brooklyn Waterfront Festival, April 24, 2005.

BR Ed.’s note: The following is a letter written by Jane Jacobs to Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council about the rezoning of the Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront. As modified during the May 2nd negotiations between the Bloomberg administration and the council’s Land Use Committee, the plan now calls for some industrial retention and makes nonbinding, incentive-based provisions for affordable housing. Jacobs’s key point about the contradiction between the rezoning and the goals of each community’s 197-A plan remains valid, however. Here is the entire letter.

April 15, 2005
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and all members of the City Council
c/o City Council President Gifford Miller

Dear Mayor Bloomberg,

My name is Jane Jacobs. I am a student of cities, interested in learning why some cities persist in prospering while others persistently decline; why some provide social environments that fulfill the dreams and hopes of ambitious and hardworking immigrants, but others cruelly disappoint the hopes of immigrant parents that they have found an improved life for their children. I am not a resident of New York although most of what I know about cities I learned in New York during the almost half-century of my life here after I arrived as an immigrant from an impoverished Pennsylvania coal mining town in 1934.

I am pleased and proud to say that dozens of cities, ranging in size from London to Riga in Latvia, have found the vibrant success and vitality of New York to demonstrate useful and helpful lessons for their cities—and have realized that failures in New York are worth study as needed cautions.

Let’s think first about revitalization successes; they are great and good teachers. They don’t result from gigantic plans and show-off projects, in New York or in other cities either. They build up gradually and authentically from diverse human communities; successful city revitalization builds itself on these community foundations, as the community-devised plan 197a does.

What the intelligently worked out plan devised by the community itself does not do is worth noticing. It does not destroy hundreds of manufacturing jobs, desperately needed by New York citizens and by the city’s stagnating and stunted manufacturing economy. The community’s plan does not cheat the future by neglecting to provide provisions for schools, daycare, recreational outdoor sports, and pleasant facilities for those things. The community’s plan does not promote new housing at the expense of both existing housing and imaginative and economical new shelter that residents can afford. The community’s plan does not violate the existing scale of the community, nor does it insult the visual and economic advantages of neighborhoods that are precisely of the kind that demonstrably attract artists and other live-work craftsmen, initiating spontaneous and self-organizing renewal. Indeed so much renewal so rapidly that the problem converts to how to make an undesirable neighborhood to an attractive one less rapidly.

Of course the community’s plan does not promote any of the vicious and destructive results mentioned. Why would it? Are the citizens of Greenpoint and Williamsburg vandals? Are they so inhumane they want to contrive the possibility of jobs for their neighbors and for the greater community?

Surely not. But the proposal put before you by city staff is an ambush containing all those destructive consequences, packaged very sneakily with visually tiresome, unimaginative and imitative luxury project towers. How weird, and how sad, that New York, which has demonstrated successes enlightening to so much of the world, seems unable to learn lessons it needs for itself. I will make two predictions with utter confidence. 1. If you follow the community’s plan you will harvest a success. 2. If you follow the proposal before you today, you will maybe enrich a few heedless and ignorant developers, but at the cost of an ugly and intractable mistake. Even the presumed beneficiaries of this misuse of governmental powers, the developers and financiers of luxury towers, may not benefit; misused environments are not good long-term economic bets.

Come on, do the right thing. The community really does know best.

Jane Jacobs

*This is too good to be true...is it real? Thanks Teresa!


What does City mean?

Kotkin laments the loss of the middle class in San Francisco, and reads its loss as the result of the growth of upscale bars and boutiques - the ephemeral city. Cities are definitely changing, isn't that why we're spending time writing about them? This romanticized lamentation, though, seems to be a moot point.

John King answers back, reading the shifting city as just another evolution in urban development. He's not accepting it as good necessarily - he just notes the change as complex and stimulated by factors beyond the city's boundaries.

"Take the loss of dockworkers: Burly laborers weren't chased from the waterfront by the folks running that silly caviar bar at the Ferry Building; they're the victims of the shipping industry's shift from loose cargo to sealed containers in the 1960s."
And ephemerality? I can't think of another institution pushing ephemerality more to the middle class than those national chain theme restaurants and stores that you see everywhere not in cities throughout the United States. Applebee's, Pizza Hut, Ruby Tuesdays, TGIFriday, Outback Steakhouse, Starbuck's - the list goes on and one. Our nation's landscape has become eerily recognizable anywhere you go.

At least the city's restaurants - theme parks, if you must - are more human-made, and not so dominated by the projection of a single culture defined by corporations.

Also see theboxtank's comments.


"Restoring Neighborhoods, Rebuilding the market"

photo by Jasper Goldman, Manhattan Skyline from Greenpoint/Williamsburg waterfront

A great article with strategies for directing investment in "blighted" neighborhoods.

To mull over with the rezoning of the Brooklyn waterfront...

What place for Design(ers)?

John Kaliski writes in the Harvard Design Magazine, "the planning discourses of everyday life and professional plans for the form of the metropolis gradually become one. “Everyday” people are asked to consume and form opinions about everything from large-scale infrastructural decisions to tot lot beautification. Information is posted online and citizens—particularly those that are obsessed—know that armed with this data they too can be experts. Even with the consequent focus on the local and the self-interested, this process nevertheless sets up the planner to play a key facilitation and brokering role. This is not easy given the microscopic viewpoint of much of the citizenry, but it is possible, even as it demands new planning practices and frameworks, in essence the construction of a “New Planning” for consensus building and decision-making."

Kaliski is patronizing about the viewpoints of the "citizenry" but nonetheless, he's right that designers do have a new role, as does design.

Landscape Magazine pulled together PPS and representatives from the landscape architecture community in Seattle to discuss the relevance of design in the revitalization of a derelict Seattle Park. Probably one of the first times the two sides went face to face.

On point about L.A.

Sam Hall Kaplan delivers.

Great Places, great ideas

Tom Vilsak, the governor of Iowa, signed an executive order establishing The Iowa Great Places Initiative. "In short, this process will pick three visionary plans for transforming and enhancing Iowa "Great Places" and then put $12-20M worth of state departmental money at the dispoal of the winners to bring these ideas to fruition."

"Great Places" is designed to make good places great by bringing together the resources of state government to build capacity in communities, regions, neighborhoods or districts that cultivate the unique and authentic qualities that make places special: engaging experiences; rich, diverse populations & cultures; a vital, creative economy; clean and accessible natural and built environments; well-designed infrastructure; and a shared attitude of optimism that welcomes new ideas, based on a diverse and inclusive cultural mosaic."

Mom and Pop NYC

Thanks to Matt Lipsky from the Neighborhood Retail Alliance for forwarding me the new blog and web site about small businesses in New York, Mom and Pop NYC. From his message:

"On the blog we will be commenting on various New York City political issues especially as they relate to neighborhood-based small business and community character. On our website you’ll see our history of fighting for the interests of small business including our recent campaigns against Wal-Mart and to preserve the Bronx Terminal Market."
Definitely a worthy read - this group does great work.

Musings: Fringe culture in real estate hubs

Last weekend was the one when everyone decided to hold events, so we found ourselves going from one place to another in the city. First we hit The Tank for some hyper-alternative comedy courtesy of Tremendous Rabbit and the Weiner Philharmonic. Then we went out to East Williamsburg where an loft/resident/performance space hosted a night of electro-punk music. The next night we went to a classical music concert at a high school on Irving Place.

Culture aside, the places themselves were fascinating. The Tank, housed in a former gas station, is currently under threat of losing its space because development of Times Square is quickly spilling over to the edge of the island. Not surprising, really, though sad as it is one of the hipper spots in midtown. Out in Williamsburg, a few people live in the loft space full-time, but perhaps for a cut in rent, they put up with 50 or so people listening to loud music and hanging out in their living room on weekends. We were told this is an "illegal" loft (a la Williamsburg-Bedford stop in the 1980s), but the only illegal aspect I could fathom is that they collected money at the door and we had to pay for our drinks. Otherwise, it could be any standard college party.

Finally, a switcharound - a somewhat dying culture in a hot area. The Irving High School hosts the Peoples' Symphony Concerts. It's well known that classical music audiences decrease dramatically every year, so it was nice that we could go listen to some avant-garde music performed by eight blackbird just down the street from Irving Plaza (where the line snaked around the corner).


Potential for Lower Manhattan, in spite of LMDC

Nicolai Ouroussoff writes in today's Times:

"...the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation has steadfastly refused to open up discussion on the site's overall organization. Not only has it sought to prevent the architects from speaking publicly about their ideas, according to several architects interviewed, but it has also warned them against sharing their ideas with one another, saying that this would be a breach of their confidentiality agreements.

...This constitutes an enormous squandering of talent, as well as a total disregard for how the creative process unfolds. And it has essentially shut the public out of the process."
I have to agree, though I think the flaw in the design process started even earlier, with the selection of the architects and in planning out the rebuilding. With this clamp down on information sharing -- especially as it becomes ever more critical that the larger group focuses on needs of future tenants, programming, uses, etc -- it's hard to understand why any of the designers were initially chosen (outside of their brand names, of course).

It's good to see that there is some desire to collaborate - now, if only they could.