The great green way – NY Daily News


Small parts of Broadway have been converted into pedestrian walkways and lounge areas. Why not go all the way?

Pedestrians taking to the street in Times Square. From nydailynews.com.

Jeff Speck has spent a bit more time in the planning and urban design limelight recently, in large part due to his new book, Walkable City. In this article for the New York Daily News, Speck makes a bold proposal: since the pedestrianizing of Times Square has gone so well, why don’t we turn the whole of Broadway into a greenway?

He makes some interesting points. Broadway is largely a redundant street in the street grid of New York. The regularity of streets allow for multiple routes to get anywhere, and eliminating Broadway as a vehicular route would inconvenience very few people (relatively). Manhattan is one of the few places in America that is dense enough to support a long pedestrian mall, and shop owners have proved that they don’t need to rely on car traffic for business, as is the case in so many other cities.

It would be a challenge though. As Speck notes, many of the pedestrian malls in the United States have failed. Chestnut Street in Philadelphia is still recovering, and K Street in Sacramento gave up and allowed cars back a few years ago. Broadway is also such a long street that it would be impossible to come up with one unified design, and you would need a variety of treatments every few blocks at least. Originally when I read this article I was very skeptical: I don’t think you want grassy fields in Times Square, the pedestrian traffic would turn it to mud in a matter of hours. But while Times Square and areas south may need to focus on hardscape with some trees, areas further north could be greener. I don’t know if this is something that could really ever be implemented, but it’s a great idea for a graduate level urban design studio.

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How Our Cities Keep Us Single (And Why That Has to Change) | ArchDaily


BIG’s Valentine’s Day installation in Times Square. From archdaily.com.

This article from Vanessa Quirk is a little bit old, but I’m really glad I came across it, because it really gave me something to think about. In it, she brings up Desmond Morris’ comparison of the city, not to a concrete jungle, but a human zoo, where people are crammed together in small cages and where animals are less likely to breed.

Quirk discusses a number of issues that relate to this topic. Large cities provide an anonymity that makes it easy to form fleeting relationships and to break up. As humans, we have trouble relating to people outside of a small group–what some call the monkeysphere–and so the people we see in the city who are not part of our inner circle fade into the background.

Morris says that we prefer small, contained spaces where we can connect to people. Quirk cites the High Line in New York and the compact green spaces of Washington, DC as urban places that are more compatible to relationships. The point that she comes to is that “the description of a city designed for love – compact, walkable, with green, open spaces, and distinct neighborhoods (where people of a feather can flock, according to their tastes), is exactly the definition of a “healthy” modern city, where communities can thrive.”

It is a little hard for me to relate to some people, even my friends, as they look for love in the city. I got married when I was 22. The main reason is that I was lucky enough to find the right person at a young age, but it didn’t hurt that I come from a religion and a culture that emphasizes marriage and family, and that at the time I lived in a place where finding a spouse is strongly emphasized. But I know that the kinds of places Quirk describes are certainly places where I feel comfortable, and where I want to hang out with my friends, and especially my wife, and I can see how other people might use these same places as a space for relationships to flower.

Mitch McEwen: Don’t Rebuild: Redesign


Destruction of the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962. From strathmere.net.

In the second chapter of Ian McHarg‘s classic book, Design with Nature, he discusses in depth the ecology of barrier islands, including which areas are most and least suitable for development. Unfortunately, this idea of suitability for development had little influence where there was so much money to be made in beachfront property. This lead to unnecessary levels of disaster when the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962 hit the New Jersey coast, killing many, displacing even more, and destroying 2400 houses.

McHarg points out that the houses that suffered the least damage—only broken windows and some lost shingles—were those on the back side of a dune well-anchored by dune grasses and other natural vegetation. If one is going to build on a barrier island, this is the place to do it. “But the status quo ante is being reconstituted without direction or constraint,” said McHarg. “What can the most unprepared people of New Jersey expect? We hope for the best, but it would be sanguine to expect anything less than disaster.” If McHarg were alive today, he would probably let out a disheartened “I told you so.”

Potential sea level rise. From hendrawanm.wordpress.com.

One thing that McHarg hadn’t planned on was climate change and its associated sea level rise. Mitch McEwen’s recent article on the Huffington Post describes how now is the time that we need to start talking about dealing with the effects of climate change on New York City. He summarizes some ways to address the situation, and some of the problems interfering with their implementation. Among the issues are the city being more interested in the income from waterfront development than in the dangers it could pose, but part of it is a lack of vision from the city. “We cannot build a big barrier reef off the shore to stop the waves from coming in; we can’t build big bulkheads that cut people off from the water,” McEwen quotes Mayor Bloomberg as saying. Well, why not?

The Maeslant Barrier, part of the Delta Works in the southwest of the Netherlands.

McEwen sites a few natural, soft infrastructure examples, such as creating reefs and using oysters, but there are many examples of hard infrastructure the world over. The Dutch are famous for holding back the ocean for the better part of 800 years, and some of their more recent works include the Delta Works and the Zuiderzee Works, which have been called one of the seven wonders of the modern world. Only slightly less famous is the Thames Barrier, which protect the city of London from storm surge. Similar major pieces of infrastructure can be found around the world.

While these address the larger scale, small scale interventions can also help, especially if there are a lot of them. These sort of small-scale interventions are a part of Philadelphia’s green stormwater infrastructure. Philadelphia encourages property owners to use these sort of interventions by charging them for their impact on the stormwater system, and charging them less if they take care of it on site.

There are a number of ways to deal with these sort of catastrophic coastal flooding situations in the future. In some cases, we do need to retreat; areas that have been hit badly will be hit badly again, while those that are protected now are more likely to be safe in the future. We can make largescale interventions, such as sea barriers or natural interventions. And we can all do our part by making small interventions that allow for greater infiltration. With sea level rise, these things are only going to get worse; we have to take action if we want to avoid this kind of destruction in the future.

William H. Whyte: The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces – The Street Corner on Vimeo


I was actually very happy to find this video online. I think it is a resource that every designer should take a look at, and is as true today as when it was made. This video was produced by William H. Whyte, one of the greats in urban design, for New York City. In it, he takes an empirical look at which public spaces in the city are used and how. He found some commonalities. Good plazas have lots of places to sit, and they are located in places where people actually want to sit. They are connected to the street and the activity thereon. They have some access to natural light, although not always direct; Whyte makes a point of the light that is reflected off the glass facades of towers. Many have access to food, including formal cafes as well as food vendors and trucks. Many have access to water, and more importantly, the water can actually be used. Trees provide seasonal shade and a sort of covering or enclosure. The final element is what Whyte calls “triangulation,” or something that attracts people to the plaza. It could be public art, street performances, or something else entirely. These principles, even today, would make a great public space.

Great New Plaza Turns Street into a Public Space in NYC’s Queens : TreeHugger


This quick post from Michael Graham Richard details a new plaza in Corona, Queens. I find this place really interesting, because it’s users are not the sort of well-to-do 20-somethings using these things in West Chelsea, but immigrant families who are eating, playing, and reading here, and then at 7:00 PM, volunteers take down the tables and chairs and sweep the plaza because they haven’t found a maintenance contractor yet. A really great example of a community taking advantage of underutilized road infrastructure to make something better.

Open Source Urbanism: Venice Biennale Puts Spotlight On Renegade Redesigners – Cities – GOOD


Bike Lane brought to you by Anonymous. From good.is.

Gordon Douglas, who write this post for Good, is part of a group that put together an exhibit of “Spontaneous Interventions” at the Venice Architecture Biennale. He discusses the emergence (or re-emergence) of the field of DIY/guerrilla/tactical/pop-up urbanism, to the point where the movement may be going mainstream. There are websites and blogs devoted to it (which, despite the density of posts on the subject recently, mine is not expressly one of those blogs), and guides like Tactical Urbanism can be downloaded for free. It’s almost ironic that an “underground” movement like this is being featured in such a major event as the Biennale, even when many of the works have no one to be attributed to. It’s interesting to see cities like San Francisco and New York adopting and formalizing the idea of a pop-up park. Whether sanctioned or not, these measures are iteratively improving cities.

Pavement to Parks


Naples Green. From sfpavementtoparks.sfplanning.org.

Pavement to Parks is an effort by the City of San Francisco to temporarily close areas of excessive asphalt and analyze the effects of this closure to see if it can be made permanent. Inspired by similar efforts in New York, Pavement to Parks embodies the idea of Lighter Quicker Cheaper to assemble seating, planters, paint, and other moveable elements to create temporary places. The organization works closely with residents to identify, design and install these measures. They even accept suggestions, which you can submit on their website. Their list of existing projects consists primarily of the parklets San Francisco is known for, but includes a number of larger-scale plazas and parks. A really cool project, and a good thing for a city to be supporting.

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