Bryant Park, a public space commodity

Via Gothamist, the latest commercial makeover of Bryant Park...not too intrusive, actually, compared to other ads.

Which of our great New York public spaces carries the highest commercial premium? (i.e., which ones do corporate marketers like the most?) Bryant Park seems up there. Washington Square is growing. I saw a whole stack of Old Navy flimsy plastic dog bowls at Tomkins Square yesterday (and watched an adorable pitbull tear it to pieces). I think Union Square is definitely up there too. Does Times Square count? What about McCarren Pool?


From Charlotte...

Charlotte: Lots of great steps towards mixed-use development, a deliberate appreciation for public space, especially in the downtown. Yet, it seemed to miss something. The density of the city is really low - just looking at the boundaries and what is planned for future construction, city limits are wide and people are few. Cars -- of course -- are still king.

Arial of Charlotte, from UNCC

I kept asking the hotel for recommendations of interesting neighborhoods to walk around. We New Yorkers have a warped sense of what it means to "walk around" compared to the rest of the country (or vice versa). When we want to walk around, we also mean that there should be something interesting to look at and experience when we're walking. In other cities, it just means that it's easy and pleasant to walk around. On Sunday, we whiled away a few hours at a brewery in the South End, and finally had to ask where everyone was. It was empty - and we thought we were comfortably post-church time. But Mac's Speedshop was hopping by 6 PM Sunday night!

Emily took a couple great photos. And you'll find everything that you really know about the trip (why, what) from Corey.

From Emily's flickr

Other "everyday" places - dressed up

A couple more images have been sent to me for the dressed up "everyday" places, in reference to the bus shelter post. There is an universal appeal to how to turn a dead place around with just a few amenities. We see it all the time in the work, and these small tests do seem to open people's eyes to the possibilities.

If there's more, send it over and I'll start an image gallery as an alternative to Everyday Fabulous.

From Red Wheelbarrow:

Thanks Kevin!

Places to be: Memorial Day wkd edition

Image from 43places

There's not much going on this week....maybe in anticipation of Memorial Day? On Wednesday morning, there is a potentially interesting roundtable at the Rudin Center at NYU called "No Time to Stop, Moving People Through NYC." Sometimes I have a hard time concentrating on things like this first thing in the morning, especially when the sun is shining and having coffee in the park seems more appealing and a nicer way of learning about public spaces. But if you're inclined, go here for all details (scroll down a bit).

Community-based marketing

I've been seeing a few examples of how a corporation has been trying to win over a community. OK, there's the Wal-Mart saga, which took on political activism in an egregious direction for its cause. IKEA's been at it, more in the background, more in Red Hook, but now with a full out "Everyday Fabulous" Campaign. Washington Square Park was overrun by mimes (courtesy of Virgin Mobile) and angels in Bryant Park (courtesy of Kraft Foods Philadelphia Cream Cheese "A little taste of heaven" campaign).

Image by Hubert Steed

From newyorkette

All strike me as terrible and transparent. I suppose that Virgin and Krafts have no physical stake in New York per se, unlike IKEA and Wal-Mart. For all, and given the deep pockets for marketing, is this the best they can do? I noticed quite a few people taking advantage of the photo-op of the mines (and probably of the Angels too, though perhaps people are too jaded in Midtown). People/communities stand to gain nothing with this type of activity. It would be great if they did something different that was more meaningful and long-lasting.


Update on those designed bus shelters

They're actually part of a marketing campaign for IKEA to ease its way into New York City! Here's a link to other "Everyday Fabulous!" images...


Outfitting bus shelters

I always thought this would be a great idea for New Yorkers, especially those who live near a bus shelter. But IKEA has latched on, and now it's just a commercial. (via Curbed)

Originally pioneered in Unst, England, in a more community-based fashion.

Update: Richard Layman writes, "This is about as close to this as we get in DC."


What to do in Charlotte, NC?

I'm heading down to Charlotte, NC this weekend. It will be the first time for me, and I'm woefully ignorant. A cursory look through the city web site and the tourism site left me still unenlightened, though wikipedia was better. Still, I need to ask: anyone have suggestions for not-to-be missed, non-touristy places down there?

NY Press: Land Grab?

Phew, I'm still recovering from the beardies and staches party.

This morning I went to my new favorite coffeeshop, Think Coffee, (Mercer between 3rd and 4th) and the cover page of New York Press caught my eye with the headline, "Land Grab: Developing a City for The Wealthy." Whoo. I grabbed a copy on my way out, and paged through the entire newspaper three times looking for the cover story.

The story ended up being a single-page vignette about two opposing socio-economic experiences of living in Bed-Stuy. Still worth reading about, but really, is it worth that cover? Reminds me of the silly marketing that some good movies are subjected to (like selling Friends with Money as a Sex in the City comedy, which it is not). I always get a bit annoyed with being misled. Now that I got that off my chest...

The cover article in question is about The Spencer in the liminal part of Bed-Stuy, the border land between Bed-Stuy and Clinton Hill. I was mostly interested because I dragged my boyfriend to an open house, mostly out of curiosity. I took one look on this little street that is Spencer and just felt terrible: there was these two hulking six-story luxury condominium buildings with two-story little houses wedged between them. Ugh. It was inconceivable. And I couldn't figure out why the city would let it happen.

Well, the article mentions the loophole that the developers took advantage of to get the zoning variances (the developers told the city that they were building a dormitory). Read more about it.


Places to Be: May 16 edition

SculptureCenter in LIC

Tues, May 16: Completely unrelated, beard and moustache world champs have been traipsing through my house all weekend, and they're all over New York City too. Come out tonight to the Knitting Factory to compete or spectate at the inaugural New York City Beard and Moustache Championships, organized by my other half. Learn more about how one gets involved with something like this on today's Gothamist interview.

Wed, May 17: Municipal Art Society hosts a panel discussion on Grand Central Terminal, 6:30 - 8:00 at the MAS building. Details here.

Sat, May 20: Design Trust for Public Space hosts a book release party for "Long Island City: Connecting the Arts" at the SculptureCenter from 5 - 7 PM.


NYC Street Photographers

From Joe's NYC

Gotham Gazette compiles its suggested "Best of..." for NYC street photoblogs. All offerings are quite beautiful.


Tonight's New York Voices: Maya Lin and Jane Jacobs

My cleaning plans tonight will be complimented by some TV:

"Maya Lin and Jane Jacobs"
Airs Friday, May 12 at 9:00 pm on Thirteen

Tonight NEW YORK VOICES looks at two women who have had a profound effect on our urban and cultural landscape. First, Rafael Pi Roman sits down with New York-based architect and artist Maya Lin, who first came to fame when she created the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. The daughter of immigrants, Lin discusses her personal ties to her latest project: designing a new home for New York's Museum of the Chinese in the Americas.

We also pay tribute to the late Jane Jacobs, author and urban analyst whose philosophies on urban planning have made a lasting impact on how New York City functions and thrives. The segment features Columbia University historian Ken Jackson, New Yorker critic Paul Goldberger, and Jason Epstein, who was Jacobs' longtime editor. They reflect on Jacobs' legacy, including her successful fight in the 1960s against a six-lane highway that would have sliced through SoHo.

We close with a story on the Sanborn Company, which has been documenting the city's changing landscape since the 1860s. Sanborn Maps, originally created for fire insurance companies, recorded nearly every detail of every block and sidewalk in New York, from fire hydrants to back porches. Recently, the company contributed aerial photography of Manhattan Island to Google's online mapping software.

Thanks Bruce!

Computers have corrupted architecture?

The Harper Mackay-designed Shepherd's Bush Building that I toured as an intern

Nah....then again: While in London, in graduate school, I interned at Harper Mackay, an architecture firm (the guys I know are now FourthSpace) and ran some extracurricular seminars on what I thought then were heady topical issues like this column in the Financial Times, how technology has impacted the craft of architecture. The firm used a lot of computer rendering to sell its designs. Everyone in the small firm attended and afterwards, my wonderful boss Karen bought everyone pints in return.

squabbling over Atlantic Yards; toilets go through though

Glass towers

Glass toilets

Ah, the ongoing dispute of the Atlantic Yards, especially as the pared down design was revealed yesterday by Frank Gehry and Laurie Olin. Of course it was quickly shot down by community organizations. They felt that it remained over-sized for that part of Brooklyn and there are still ongoing complaints about not soliciting community advise.

At this point in the process, I don't see how Ratner et al would seek community feedback from people who have been their main detractors, especially when the development group has a community benefits agreement in their back pocket. I wish it weren't so, but it's too late for widespread community input. Just a dose of reality. Then again, if all this fuss wasn't made, then there would have been no pressure to attempt to scale back the design. (And still no word on transportation impacts...)

At the same time, the new public toilets/bus shelters from Cemusa are quietly making their entrance. The Franchise and Concession Review Committee is expected to approve the project on Monday.

Public toilets? $1.4 billion from the city
Atlantic Yards? nearly $1 billion from the city

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's statement on the new Atlantic Yards design
NY Times article on the new design
And about the toilets


Bring back the boulevard!

Designed after the Champs-Elysee? Well, bring it back! (and keep the tourist-y establishments at bay).

It was fun to see Lukas Herbert in the article too - he had been selling me on the virtues of the Bronx two years ago, close to when he just moved.


Messy Diversity Urbanism - from Delft

Sure beats Starbucks, says Messy Diversity

I like the tone of this new blog, Messy Diversity, from a Canadian civil engineering undergrad doing an exchange program at the Technical University in Delft, the Netherlands. We need more civil engineers like him/her.

Welcome! Now, why are you called salzberg too? Am I missing a critical piece of European geography?

Carroll Park: It's My Park Day

As you can see, the park could use a little stewardship

Those of you who live in Brooklyn, come out to Carroll Park in Carroll Gardens on Saturday afternoon. The Committee to Improve Carroll Park with Partnerships for Parks is sponsoring a "It's My Park Day," with activities for families, artists, foodies and orinthologists alike. Artists had been asked to spruce up the park's trash cans, and you can view the "rolling out of the barrels" around 4PM, one of which a friend and very talented artist/designer, Francesca Kaplan, will have designed.

The responsibility of architecture critics

John King from the SF Chronicle has a good take on the role of architecture critics:

An architecture critic isn't musing on a branch of art that is tucked away in a gallery or a bookstore or a multiplex or a television set. We're entrusted with the urban landscape that everyone shares, from museums to strip malls and sidewalks to skyscrapers. We have a unique perch from which to home in on structures that either offer inspiring examples to follow or serve as cautionary tales of what to avoid.


Car-free Central and Prospect Park

Image source

Isn't this why I sent a letter to Christine Quinn?

Toronto-ans take on orphan space

From one of the success stories, Daffodil Hill

The Canadians are so far ahead. In Toronto, the Clean and Beautiful Secretariat, a division of city government, is claiming stewardship of unclaimed, orphaned space. With just $1500 per ward (a jurisdictional line in the city), neglected and overlooked spaces will be beautified.

Now, if only we looked at all our public spaces with this keen and compassionate eye.


Ongoing debate on, and spurred by, JJ

Andrea Bernstein's report on the ongoing JJ debate was filed on WNYC this morning. Lisa and I get our 5 seconds - the existence of this discourse is partially why JJ's legacy lives on.


On the Gowanus Expressway...again

Ugh. Never mind about learning from past mistakes. NY Post reports on DOTs latest Gowanus Expressway Tunnel - think Big Dig, but Brooklyn. What could the City do with the $12.8 billion instead? Tear it down, build mass transit (est. at $2.4 billion in 1994), put in affordable and mixed-income housing, create economic empowerment zones to spur on niche manufacturing industries, and build up some of the public spaces so that people have a lot to do when they get there between working, living and visiting via public transit. I'm just tossing out rough numbers there, but I think you might still have a couple billion dollars left, after my proposed plan. The main problem with this plan is that it's proposed in isolation...what other development projects are going on in this area that might make the tunnel a success?

has looked it up.

New York Street Photography

I've always loved the New York Public Library's digital image collection. The library is one of those underrated community places - there are always something going on there. Now you can see some of its images in person. NYPL is showcasing NYC Street photography. From one of the photographers, Joel Meyerowitz,

“The 60s and 70s was a time of great openness, when photography was still fairly innocent and pure, without the ambitions of today’s Art market driving the action. Photographers then made pictures out of a love for the medium, its mystery and poetry, the intimacy of the little world of photography brought us all together and though there were different methods of approach there was a genuine, mutual respect for the effort we all were making to find the ‘voice’ of the medium.”
Check it out.


Thanks for coming out!

It was fun to chat about Jane Jacob's legacy with the lot of us from PPS, the folks at the eponymous curbed, catch up on the latest in New Orleans with John Messengale of Veritas et Venustas and Andrea Bernstein of WNYC. I ended up talking to her first on my way in, so I got all of my JJ-related thoughts off my chest in a matter of minutes. It was nice to meet some readers too. (Never mind that we didn't make it over to 555 Hudson).

And of course, a big thank you to Lisa of Polis for organizing it, or our thoughts might have remained in the blogosphere, which is not in line with Jane Jacobean thinking at all. It was fitting that while we chatted with each other, we also met some people un-related to the gathering and were able to share a few thoughts on what makes being in New York so great.


The personal connection

Image from CCNY

It was particularly touching to come across these three personal accounts of knowing Jane Jacobs from Blair Kamin at the Chicago Tribune; Michael Sorkin, architect and planner (who I remember selectively handing out flyers advertising the Jane Jacobs event he writes about - thankfully, I passed the test); and Thomas Lunke, planner and currently with the Harlem Community Development Corporation.

the Place to be: JJ

A reminder that we'll be gathering to commemorate Jane Jacobs today at 6PM, at the White Horse Tavern. The plan is to meet at the bar, and bring something (a favorite passage, flowers, whatever you like) to share.


No one's outgrown Jane Jacobs

Image by Benjamin Donaldson, at the jen bekman gallery

The Nicholai Ouroussoff screed that led the NYT's Week in Review was deliberately provocative. I'm sure the New Urbanists have their panties in a bunch, as do many at my workplace.

Looking beyond the inflammatory rhetoric that's calling every urbanist to arms - and rightly so - I think that Jane Jacobs would agree, in principle, with what Ouroussoff proposes: that once a formula or set process has been established, the "unaverage" clues once again falls to the wayside and we're left again with solutions that don't necessarily address an underlying issue. Too many have taken the table of contents of the Death and Life... and applied it wholesale to solving all of our citis' problems. Design is not the only answer - whether it is on a neighborhood level or at the starchitect level.

Solutions are ever-evolving and as decisions are being made, they are determining how people are making a home and getting to work and just plain living. Though Ouroussoff does eventually end up saying that today's cities are very different from those of yesteryear, at both stages of city history, the city exhibited a similar attribute: constant change at an astonishing rate. This speaks to a high demand for the city to accommodate change.

Therefore we can't afford to make large-scale experiments that inexorably narrow a city's options. The few projects that Ourrousoff cited have wreaked havoc on many lives, and at current writing, it can be argued that they cast a negative projectile for a city's public good - namely, in the model of Los Angeles. Who really has the life experience to fully appreciate the "haunting silence" of an empty plaza? Is it a limited group of privileged, or truly the entire city's population?

Just as a healthy government should take on the task of creating infrastructure, a la R. Moses, and create incentives for developers to take on the risk of building in our city, government should create a friendly environment for the small-scale, community-based approach advocated by Jane Jacobs. This is preferable to simply dismissing, or eradicating, that option completely.