The High Line groundbreaking

I love it when people are able to accomplish something that "everyone" -- at least most people close to where I am sitting -- said was "impossible" and had dismissed. The Friends of the High Line are hosting a groundbreaking celebration on April 10, noon - 1:30 PM.

Though The Friends of the High Line started with some allies in high places, were able to build a network of influential support quickly, and could have tried to forge ahead with the project by mainly playing with the power brokers, they made a very concerted effort to remain true to principles of community-based planning - do community outreach, engage a broad base of professionals that they thought could help, hold community meetings, host educational programs, and essentially listen and consider what people were telling them.

Hurray! I'm very happy for them - the day is finally here, April 10! (I would go but our Board meeting is that day -- boo).


A cheerful way of looking at the city

Josef Frank print

Via Lena Corwin, who has a sixth sense about patterns, though of a different kind than that within these pages, (and also spotted in Domino this month!)



We were chatting over dinner about the proposed Yankee Stadium project and what some councilman said to the community at the meeting yesterday, ("you mean, he negotiated that the Yankees incorporate what the Bronx wanted, or the Yankees leave? And now he expects the community to accept what's going down or the Yankees leave? I don't get it, and what are they doing anyway...") so Jon went to look at what was being proposed and I continued to talk to the air, and I looked up, and there was this amazing map of the Yankee Stadium proposal - map, satellite, hybrid, before, and after, all annotated with photos.


The site is called onNYTurf, and yeah, maybe I'm just jumping on the bandwagon really late, but it really is amazing, and it's authored wiki-style, so contributors welcome.

Update: I knew I was coming onto this late. Check out Starts and Fits' deeper exploration into this site.


Squatter urbanism

There's a great interview on squatter urbanism with Wes Janz, professor at Ball State University. He gives us this persuasive reference point:

when his students are his age (52), one in four people will be living in unauthorized, "reclaimed" space.
Definitely check it out.

A fight over congestion pricing

Not happening (yet) in New York or San Francisco. Rather, it's taking place between Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London and the recently appointed U.S. ambassador to Britain, Robert Tuttle.

See, American diplomats never wanted to pay this charge. And true, according to the 1961 Vienna Convention, diplomats are exempt from local taxation. But Livingstone thinks driving a car is an extra service people must pay for in the city, kind of like paying to ride the bus, and it's not a tax.

In the previous Ambassador's term, the U.S. Embassy agreed to be good citizens and pay the congestion charge while negotiating the terms of diplomatic immunity.

Well, no more starting July 2007. The fact that Robert Tuttle (or, if you rather, Richard Tuttle) is a multi-millionaire car dealership owner and Bush family cronie didn't help Livingstone's livid tongue.

So, what is congestion pricing? Tax or service? Seems that when it's set up like that there's only one way to duke it out - a culture war. Oh, we have that going on already.

Thanks kayx!



Last Friday, I had the pleasure of meeting Henry Stern, aka StarQuest, former Parks Commissioner under Guiliani, and founder of NY Civic, "part-watchdog, part-cheerleader." (I hope I got that right - if he reads this and I've got it wrong, there is sure to be some kind of correction asked of me. What else to expect from someone who wanted to make sure I understood the difference between "prevaricate" and "equivocate" and yes, I was embarrassed.)

Other than feeling like I was engaged in the kind of conversation that my privileged liberal arts education had prepared me for (and prepared me for somewhat miserably, I might add), the whole experience was enlightening.

See, I think in this day and age with the deluge of media and information, bad news makes news news, and news about development is the kind of news that people love to hate. When I asked StarQuest about his idea of "good development," he named Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Lincoln Center, and thought Atlantic Yards was a great idea.

His perception of everything that was going on only made me feel that it is even more difficult than I thought (and I did think it was extraordinarily difficult to begin with) to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to understanding the good and the bad in NYC development. Perhaps this is too simplistic.

But in the gluttony of real estate pornography, it's good to know that there are some simple principles that persist, especially in real estate. First, it always looks worse than it is, but it looks particularly bad before anything has been built and everything is abstract. Second, humans are very very good at adapting to change. Third, cities do change. All we can do is hope that we increase the odds in favor of respecting humanity for the broadest group.


The culture of the perfect lawn

(sorry for the late post of this...I have quite a backlog!)

We went to see one of my heros, Enrique Penalosa, speak at the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at NYU last week. Enrique loves to contrast urban development of a resource-deprived city like Bogota, Columbia, where he was the mayor, against Western notions of development, especially to show how a "poor" country like Bogota can be one of the most progressive in terms of transportation policy reform.

Specifically, he has a common saying, which is that public spaces are the most democratizing asset any city can provide because in a good public space, the poorest worker and the wealthiest elite will come across each other. It's a cultural thing, and he certainly didn't always have a receptiv audience when he said things like this, but after two years of his public space and greenways initiatives, he made converts out of citizens in Bogota. As he kept re-iterating, the public good must be upheld above private interests.

That got us thinking at our table about how different it is for US residents, and how the argument runs counter to all the signals we're given about our collective American Dream. A common perception we encounter when we go out into the field that every US citizen is entitled to their own car, their own backyard, to their single family home and that public space is extra. Everyone is entitled to "property." The democratizing asset that the government should provide are policies that permit everyone to be able to own something of value. The public good is to ensure equal access to private interests.

The same day as the Enrique talk, I found this LA Times article about the culture of the perfect lawn, which of course is an attendant effect of owning the perfect single family home with the perfect backyard.

The article shows the evolution of the building desire for the perfect lawn, and hypothesizes, "There is no business conspiracy here, just economic self-interest."

What a contrast to Enrique Penalosa's claim that in a democracy the public good must prevail above all else, and especially above private interests!

In this world of monetizing every pro and con in order to make public policies, we wondered how to convince the unconverted that the public good, in the form of a public space, serves everyone's self-interests. As Enrique said, any child can tell you the conditions to raise a happy whale. However, we're failing in our ability to re-create an environment to raise a happy child.

Good redevelopment! (In NYC!) - edited

Due to an error on my part, I had to remove part of this post. This is a revised version.

Thanks to everyone who responded! Almost all polled had the similar response of, hm...I can't think of anything off the top of my head. But when pressed, there ARE examples - they're developments that work and continue to work (tested by time), have catalyzed other economic or community development, and they didn't impose a single-facet solution on the neighborhood. Not all were exemplary in terms of community process, but there were also a few examples offered as products of good process.

Before I pull out the long list, I wanted to share an anonymous comment. I felt it captured the challenge of pulling together all the fragments that would result in a whole good development. Regarding the Poly Prep School on Prospect Park West:

"Granted, they're in a very historic, landmarked neighborhood. But still they fired their first architect, made their neighbors happy, kissed the rings of the community board and civic council cranks, spent money and came up with a really nice contextual design."
Got it?

So here is the first batch, in no particular order:

* Fulton Mall (I think it's a good example though Forgotten NY sees it as a missed opportunity)
* Hudson River Park
* Metrotech (I disagree with this one; even the BID that manages Metrotech starts out by reminiscing about what once was)
* DUMBO (on the fence - are neighborhoods "redevelopment" projects? then the whole city is a major redevelopment project.)
* A community center in the Bronx (am in the process of finding out which one)
* Fairway Harlem Market
* Chelsea Market
* Battery Park City (on the fence. Very well-intended, mixed reviews in terms of sustainable success.)
* Madison Avenue urban renewal site from 117th to 120th street (have to find out more)

Paying attention to neighborhoods

I had lunch with Richard Layman yesterday, of Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space. Among many things discussed, Richard pointed me to Neighborhoods, a blog with wonderful insights on local relationships between people and their spaces. The author, Kevin Harris, is based in the UK, but it's neat how the vignettes detailing neighborhood dynamics across the pond are so similar to the ones people would tell here. Kevin is also connected to a consulting company, Local Level.


"Good" redevelopment?

I'm working on a writing project and am searching for "good" redevelopment projects in New York City. Of course there are "good" projects...right?

As I thought about it, it became hard to actually come up with a good project in NYC. So I'm appealing to any readers who also like to think about these things: Do you know of any "good" redevelopment projects? I'm thinking about projects that make you wish that all redevelopment projects as just like it...



Ground Zero Redux

I've been following the ongoing Ground Zero saga through my friends, the verbose Miss Representation and punchy Polis, both of whom are much more articulate than I in untangling the ins and outs of upper politics among the privileged, corporate and real estate(d). Both highly recommended. Thank goodness for their tenacity in following this story through its twists and turns or I would be an ignorant fool about the city I live in.

I do have to commend especially them for bringing my attention to an aspect of the project that I could really connect to. I found out first through Polis:

See, Miss R. actually went to the public meeting that I posted about recently, and took notes. That is in and of itself quite admirable. But then he actually wrote a very coherent and important take-down of the whole damn thing. Here's just a sampling:

(and from Miss R., quoted by Polis)
A new -- to me -- and rather disturbing detail was revealed: due to security concerns, the perimeter of the PATH station will be solid concrete up to ten feet (though this number was disputed by Mr. Plate). So the two projects that have cleared design development and security review [the other being the Freedom Tower, otherwise known as monumentum horibilis -- ed.] both will be complete opaque at street level. Which is perhaps good, since it was also noted that streetscape improvements are currently unfunded. ...
Sorry Miss R., I would have missed this if not for Polis (sometimes don't make it all the way down the page on your posts for no other reason than my short attention span in the morning.) No wonder large building projects have a low percentage of success in creating humane experiences - people don't find out about them until it's way too late. It took one intrepid blogger to sit through the insanely long meeting, take notes, digest the notes, write down his observations, and then another blogger to emphasize one aspect that would actually affect the people who are walking around and making use of the space, and who therefore might actually be made to care enough to speak up. The meta-meta required to uncover the truth is unbelievable.

Why do things built for people continue to overlook people?

To follow the story yourself,
Nothing to See Here Folks, Miss Representation
Yes, It's As Bad As You Think, Polis
Wake Up, New Yorkers, Polis
WTC Site: Good News For People Who Love Bad News, Polis
WTC Site: More Good News for People Who Love Bad News, Polis


Houses or Jobs? (Lofts or Industry?)

A press room, image from the amazing New York City Public Library Digital Archives.

The Bloomberg Administration has been trying to demarcate "industrial zones" that preserve the city's thousands of small businesses (and jobs) while responding to housing pressures. Though focused on Oakland and California, this LATimes article outlines the story well - it's a story that's being narrated in dozens of cities across the country.


The tradition of Traditional

Old Main Street Avoca, PA

Call it what you want, but the types of neighborhoods that lure buyers and people to places all tend to sound the same after a while.

In this article (WSJ, via Post Gazette), what lures buyers become somewhat formulaic:

"...Dan and Bena Tarczynski traded a four-bedroom home in the suburbs here for another one built on an old Navy base not far from downtown. It has a smaller yard, the neighbors are closer and the house is only 15 feet from the road, but the Tarczynskis say they and their two children couldn't be happier.

They enjoy being able to walk to parks or shops or restaurants. They like the full-grown trees and the varied architecture of the neighborhoods. And Mr. Tarczynski loves the fact that he can get to his office in five minutes instead of 45."
So why is this so hard to get through to people who are designing these places? This isn't about the way it looks - it's about the way it functions. So there's no reason it couldn't look different - traditional, modern, post-modern, contemporary - while performing these vital functions. You think?


Hester Street Collaborative, Bad Design Darts, etc.

A much older Hester Street, not sure which year. I'm finding some cool postcards through Google image searchs.

I went up to the Municipal Art Society today to have lunch with the lovely exhibition coordinator, Elizabeth Werbe. She's doing such a great job - there's been some really interesting exhibits over the last several months and more upcoming where the subject matter connect nicely with New York current events.

After I took my time with the Living Streets Exhibit, I went over to the other gallery, where there is a great exhibit on the Hester Street Collaborative and some of their most current projects. I loved it. You can get a sense of the enthusiasm from the kids too, on their very own blog, where some students chronicle personal progress on projects. To be honest, their exhibit made the Living Streets look somewhat wane. The Bad Design Darts exhibit pulls you into the projects quickly, and I loved the hands-on ways they got kids to understand, care and make place. The exhibit itself is more hands-on and 3-D. It was a fun break from looking at the walls from the Streets exhibit.

Anyhow, if you're up in Midtown, you should check out both exhibits, they're free, and see for yourself. Then go across Madison on 51st and get a snack at Prime Burger. The spin out tables (very mod, very not-renovated-since 1965, thankfully) and Atom-Age light fixtures alone are worth the trip. And where else in Midtown can you get a burger for less than $5?

LA Mayor Pitching for More Parks

Banana Grass and Pampas Grass, Los Angeles Postcard from here

Los Angelos Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other officials in charge of the environment are seeking to set aside money for more parks.

"The era of pavement and concrete is an era of the past," Villaraigosa told a news conference along a stretch of the river choked partly by dead brush and trash. "We want to grow smart. We want to grow green and we want to enhance the quality of life for our citizens."

Just setting aside funding for greenspace doesn't mean that green will sprout around the city. I hope he works to gather the support of the DOT and transit folks as well as the land use and economic development folks while he's at it. Touring around L.A., I always got the sense that the lack of parks was a side effect of being blindly in love with private transportation -- e.g. pavement -- so much. There seemed to exist a very limited sensibility about how different public spaces could relate to each other and how to provide access to such places by the city government. It was such a shame that in a place with such perfect outdoor weather I had to spend so much time in the car.


Finally a "big" downtown market hall

From Lower Manhattan Redevelopment. Here are more beautiful images of the structure from a fantastic street photoblog, rion.nu.

What's always stopped me from looking for an apartment in those beautiful, small-scale historic buildings right near South Seaport was the obvious lack of a good grocery store.

So official news of a possible market in the Landmark Ferry Building was much welcome, even if it just helps me augment my real estate fantasy. I had *known* that something was brewing down there, but I'm glad it came out in the open.

But this quote stopped me short:

"What New York is really missing is a great market hall in a historic building," said Kate Ascher, the executive vice president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation.
Hm...what about the Market Hall in Grand Central Station to start? It's not huge, but if that's what she has in mind, bring it on!

Update on Kimmel: taking architecture to court

Or rather settling the case out of court, to avoid media bruhaha about the value of architect's design. That was close.

Ah, the complications of getting buildings built. There weren't any specified design flaws stated in the news, only that the ultimate cost of building the center was $180 million rather than the original $157 million.

Given all the criticism that is leveled at star-architect firms, among which Raphael Vinoly Associates is rising, especially about the dys-functionality of their buildings, I'm a tad surprised there aren't more court cases to settle structurally defective designs.

But only a tad. The cost of bringing such a case to court is high of course, and the number of people who may ultimately be responsible for a design flaw is also high. A team for a building design could consist of structural engineers, material engineers, operational engineers, and in this case, probably even a sound engineering firm, etc etc, all of whom inform the design. And my impression of the construction process for many large projects is that costs always continue to rise. But there is typically a designer of record, and Vinoly is it in this case.

I rather like the lush interior of the Kimmel Center main stage, and am sorry that it seems that the exterior doesn't quite work as well, though I think a lot of that is due to Philadelphia DOT's design of the street. I'm also sorry when I found out about this case, having worked with several fine architects at Vinoly just a couple years ago.


To be un-cool

From Housing Crash Blog

While many will be blogging away about the special edition Real Estate NY Times Magazine, what I loved more over the weekend was this Polis post about the virtues of the un-cool. Once a Syracuse girl, always a Syracuse girl, allowing me to appreciate all the more what is lovely about living in New York City.

And I suppose you should read the Magazine's R.E. edition too.


From Taiwan, III

Dining on the ledge, overlooking the harbor

For me, one of the biggest signs of the increase standard of living was the proliferation of cafe culture in Taiwan. There were coffeeshops everywhere in a range of price levels and serious application of sidewalk seating. People seem to have much more disposable income and the time to while away in a cafe. Now there are even a couple baristas in my extended family. (A cousin asked me to distinguish a Kenyan brew drank from a ceramic cup and a porcelain cup. Hm.)

Everyone takes advantage of these creature comforts, and nothing said it better than the crowds every night at the newly opened former British Consulate building in Kaohsiung. Yes, Taiwan used to be a colonial destination for traders, missionaries and military. This recently opened tourist destination had become a local favorite as well, due to the spectacular view of Kaohsiung harbor and the very user-friendly table top that was designed to extend much beyond the seat ledge, giving one the sensation of dining literally over the water. Posted by Picasa

From Taiwan, II

All the pretty boxes!

Steaming hot and yummy.

Every day of the week, there's a night market to stroll around after dinner and have your second supper or late night snack and sift through the piles of cheap, trendy clothing and accessories. Eating and shopping are the two activities that dominate life in Taiwan, and my personal favorite was when we shop for what we were going to eat. The above photos are from Shilin Night Market, one of the most popular and extensive ones around, especially for the teeny-boppers in Taipei. It doesn't show up well here, but there's a gigantic inner market that's completely covered, where all the outdoor vendors pull their goods when it rains. We got lost in there looking for some jade vendors, and walked by amusement park games, punk outfitters and more clothing. A Mister Donut franchise decided to locate near Shilin because of the high foot traffic. Don't laugh - nearly every hour that Mister Donut is open, there's a line of teenagers out the door and around the block, waiting for the freshly fried treats. (And anyway, it's a Japanese chain.) Both Mister Donut and Shilin Market are accessible via subway transit, of course.

The lux-side

And on the other side of the shopping spectrum, there's the new City Hall district called Xinyi, where the tallest skyscraper, Taipei 101, is located (designed after the bamboo), and where there's a cluster of several luxury department stores (all part of a chain from Hong Kong, I believe, except for the Warner Village department store, of course.) The photo above is from a new department store-scale bookstore from the popular Eslite chain, where I oohed at clothing in the surprising D-Squared boutique, paged through loads of Japanese design books on Paris, ogled the jetblack chandeliers in the grand lobby, above (Starck knock-offs?), and picked up an always classy Josephine Tey mystery for my flight back to the States. Posted by Picasa

From Taiwan

Taiwan has changed so much since the last time I've been. As the economy improved (the country took on more specialization in manufacturing and shed much of the production of cheap goods), and as the democratizing government started to adopt more progressive policies, the standard of living increased tremendously. Of course, this is an overly-simplistic rendering of what has happened (especially as China continues to threaten this way of life), but the most obvious bits and pieces were found in what people are now able to do in their everyday lives. My mom, who had lived in a rural town and then a suburban city for so long virtually glowed with the contentment of living in the city and being able to do nearly everything right outside her doorstep.

A neighborhood center in a pedestrian underground connecting two transit stations

Taipei's subway system is relatively new, and such a convenience. Taipei City government toured many of the world's best subways systems in planning for the transit system, and it shows. The subways are clean, have LED signs to tell you when trains are approaching, and maps are rendered in both Chinese characters and in English. It is no problem at all getting around the subway. Exits are clear and there is always a neighborhood map at each exit. I loved the services some stations provided, like neighborhood centers, above, or job training centers. The city also added bus lanes and is in the process of adding an extensive bikeway throughout the city (though most biking enthusiasts say that it falls short of other public transit initiatives).

A family at play at a rest area

Of course, one of the signs of progress for many recently industrialize countries is a national highway system. Taiwan is certainly proud of its own, especially of the newer Freeway 3 (which my father crossly stated is a tollroad, miffed that they didn't take his suggestion of renaming it "Expressway," but alas, that is how much the West is imitated). The rest areas for the highways are huge and offer so many diverse amenities that families often make the rest area the final destination on the weekends. In addition to the requisite restrooms and food vendors, there is often a playground, different green spaces, and some even have a culture center with live performances or a museum.


Flower boxes and a landscaped lawn at an aunt's house

Caring about the way a place looks and functions runs in my family, I guess. A great-aunt had flower boxes in her windows, although it only faces an alley and her front lawn was lushly landscaped. This is not the way the rest of her neighborhood looks at all, but she was determined to put on a good front for all the visitors who are just stepping off the ferry to her island in Kaohsiung harbor.

More to come... Posted by Picasa

Back in the USA

My first bag!

Well, I'm back! I have photos of Taiwan to share, but before I do, I did want to put out a shout to Make Workshop, where I squeezed in a sewing class with the inimitable Diana Rupp before taking off to Taipei. The small workshop offers loads of classes in all sorts of crafts, from beginner knitting to advanced shoemaking, and I found the atmosphere to be precisely why I love living NYC. It was intimate and cozy, and with several other newbies, I learned how not to be scared of my sewing machine. Posted by Picasa