Tag Archives: revitalization

Book Project: What Works: Placemaking in Bryant Park. Revitalizing Cities, Towns and Public Space

BP After

I have just contracted with Rutgers University Press for the publication of What Works: Placemaking in Bryant Park. Revitalizing Cities, Towns and Public Spaces in the Spring of 2019. I am so fortunate to be working with the experienced publishing professionals Peter Mikulas and Micah Kleit on this project.

The Success of “Broken Windows” Rightly Understood

Jamaica Alliance

Original Jamaica Alliance Team

Uneasy Peace

By: Patrick Sharkey

W.W. Norton & Company

It is hugely satisfying for me that Professor Patrick Sharkey’s important new book, “Uneasy Peace” concludes something that I have long suspected: in big cities across the country, violence has fallen as a result of the revitalization of public spaces by non-governmental organizations. Professor Sharkey, the Chair of the Sociology Department at NYU, argues that it has not been aggressive policing alone that produced the urban revolution of 1990’s, but rather the reestablishment of order in public spaces made a major contribution to the perception of public safety downtown.

My sense has long been that our work in the revitalization of Bryant Park (with its sister BIDs, Grand Central Partnership and 34th Street Partnership), along with that of the Central Park Conservancy in Central Park, was at the forefront of changing perceptions about urban public space. What the implementation of the “Broken Windows” philosophy as articulated by George Kelling and William Bratton is really about is high quality maintenance and programming in public space (fixing the broken windows) along with the presence of private, unarmed security personnel, rather than the kind of aggressive policing that produced the deeply intrusive and out of proportion “stop and frisk” policy that came to an end with the return of Bratton as police commissioner under Mayor Bill De Blasio. In my view, that kind of aggressive police engagement with the community is both dysfunctional and a distortion of what “broken windows” is really about. Continue reading

What’s Planning Got to Do With It?

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The recent release of the Regional Plan Association’s (“RPA”) Fourth Regional Plan (http://fourthplan.org/; the executive summary is at: http://library.rpa.org/pdf/RPA-4RP-Executive-Summary.pdf) (the “Plan”) got me to thinking about the relationship between placemaking and area planning. Places and pedestrians are well-integrated into the Plan: its recommendation 23 (of 61 states): “On city streets, prioritize people over cars.” Arguably recommendations number 57 (“Remake underutilized auto-dependent landscapes”) and 61 (“Expand and improve public space in the urban core.”) also have placemaking casts to them. There is even a page on the Plan’s website for “Places” (http://fourthplan.org/places). This is an a signal of how much placemaking practice has worked its way into planning culture, and there is no doubt that this is a very good thing.

But the nature of regional planning is decidedly top-down and large-scale – particularly when it comes to talking about expanding and/or upgrading the tri-sate transportation infrastructure – and it puzzled me as to how people-oriented thinking about urban revitalization fits in to creating a big scale, long-term vision for the area. Continue reading

The Real Story of Sleepy Hollow

 

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The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane (1858) by John Quidor.

Washington Irving (1783-1859) was the Stephen King, or perhaps even the Jay-Z, of nineteenth century American. His book, Life of George Washington, cemented in public memory the iconic image of “the founder of our country.” His Tales of the Alhambra was an international best seller and is still widely sold and read in Granada, Spain. The short story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, has created a cottage industry in the river towns of Westchester County, New York – focused on Halloween. Not only was Irving a wildly successful author, but he was also a U.S. Ambassador to Spain, which led to his travel by donkey from Seville to Granada, where he visited the Alhambra and camped out in a room there for several months providing the material for his highly entertaining Tales. My recent trip to Granada persuaded me to download Irving’s collected work and to read the Tales, as well as his ridiculously silly history A History of New York, written under the nom de plume of Diedrich Knickerbocker. Irving was also our Homer – the bard of our national myths.

I crossed paths again with Irving this year when I was invited to be a part of an Urban Land Institute Technical Assistance Panel for the Village of Sleepy Hollow, New York. The panel was brought to the Village by Mayor Ken Wray, and ably led by Developer, Kim Morque, President of Spinnaker Real Estate Partners, LLC. The panel was made up of eight talented and congenial real estate professionals, from a variety of disciplines, who spent two days in Sleepy Hollow, walking the study area, interviewing stakeholders, and ultimately presenting to the Village Trustees. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and our presentation seemed to be well received by the Trustees. I am grateful to Kim, my panel colleagues, and Felix Ciampa, Mara Winokur and Kathryn Dionne of the ULI staff who organized the panel, as well as to my good friend and colleague, Dave Stebbins, of Buffalo, who recommended my participation (The complete report will finished in a month or so. When it becomes available I will link to it here). Continue reading

Island Magic

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A rendering of the proposed redesigned Pier 55. Heatherwick Studios

The decades-long saga of Hudson River Park recently took another twist when prominent philanthropists withdrew their promised gift of as much as $250 million to the park for a new facility citing prolonged litigation as making the project no longer viable (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/13/nyregion/diller-hudson-river-pier.html). The Park’s story began with a proposed sub-surface Westside highway topped by commercial development and a park. The plan was opposed by a historic lawsuit challenging the environmental impacts of the project (https://openjurist.org/732/f2d/253/sierra-club-v-united-states-army-corps-of-engineers-c). The most recent episode ended, at least in part as a result of litigation (involving some of the same individuals, half a century later) citing the process by which a proposed replacement for the decaying Pier 55 was approved.

Like many recent disputes about the development of public space, the issues arose in large part out of attempts to generate income to support the operation of a new park. Considering itself stretched for resources to manage its portfolio of existing properties, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) is loath to take on continuing responsibility for new public space without a dedicated income stream for maintenance and operations. Most of the largest recent park development projects have called for economic activity generated on parkland to pay for their operations (i.e., Brooklyn Bridge Park). The City’s inability/unwillingness to dedicate sufficient resources to maintain operate and program its parks is essentially a political problem of prioritization, and to some degree of imagination of what the benefit of a fully funded parks program might be like. The DPR budget is almost $500 million out of an $82 billion total city expense budget. Given the political forces involved, most people concerned with New York City’s public spaces take the existing level of funding more or less as a given. In the twenty-five years I have been involved in public space management in New York City I have never heard a serious discussion of a material increase in DPR operating funds. This leaves new facilities like the High Line, Governor’s Island and Hudson River Park (HRP) scraping around to find sufficient money to maintain their physical plant as well as for operations and programming. Continue reading

Why Cleveland should become “Amazon City!”

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Cleveland skyline

Downtown Cleveland has an anomaly I am not aware of existing in any other major North American downtown. While there is a great deal of street life, especially at night, it has a remarkable amount of empty office space in architecturally interesting structures. It has restaurants, theaters and a downtown baseball stadium but not many downtown offices. At the same time, Amazon recently announced that it is searching for a site for a second “headquarters” outside of Seattle, and the race is apparently on among municipalities to woo them (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/07/technology/amazon-headquarters-north-america.html). I assume that cities and states are falling over each other to offer them developable sites and all kinds of tax and financing incentives. I have a better idea: Cleveland.

My suggestion is that Amazon create a campus in Downtown Cleveland; adaptively reusing the millions of square feet of empty office buildings and taking advantage of the existing dense social and transportation infrastructure already in place. Cleveland’s “Nine Twelve District” alone has as much as two million square feet of vacant office space (http://www.cleveland.com/business/index.ssf/2010/11/downtown_advocates_aim_to_rebr.html). This count does not even include of the empty commercial space in the Center City district around Terminal Tower. And what a great executive headquarters Terminal Tower itself could be. Cleveland even has an entirely empty brand-new airport concourse that had to be abandoned when United Airlines dropped Cleveland as a hub. Continue reading

Placemaking as Policy: Gloversville, New York: A Laboratory for the community impact of public space revitalization

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Main Street with the Co-op Market

Gloversville, New York is about fifty miles northeast of Albany at the edge of the Adirondacks. For 150 years it was the center of American glove manufacturing and a thriving commercial hub. Being Gloversville was not unlike being, say, Buggy Whip-ville, and by the last quarter of the twentieth century its classic “Main Street” was hollowed out, with limited economic activity. Today, Gloversville has a population of about 15,000, with a median household income of about $35,000. The downtown has a dollar store and a large number of social service providers – and a lot of empty space. There are a few small industrial firms outside of the downtown, and several long time retailers on the main street. There are more than a half-dozen empty multi-story former glove factories in or immediately adjacent to the downtown.

Glove making must have been a highly lucrative endeavor for many, many years because the architecture and design of the commercial buildings are of very high quality; and most of that built legacy remains – waiting to be reused. The elegant, private Eccentric Club (http://www.eccentricclub.com/wordpress/) looks to be well maintained and is in the middle of the downtown – evidence of the wealth that was generated, and at least some of which, remains there. Continue reading

The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is … What Exactly?

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Tympanum of Conques, France – the damned

The bedrock principle of restoring public space is making people feel safe there. Visitors will only return to a downtown or park if they perceive it to be safe (and, of course, it must actually be safe!). The principal reason people avoided Bryant Park before 1990 was because they were afraid to go there. But why did they feel unsafe? What makes people afraid to spend time in certain places? I suggest that what makes people afraid to be in certain public spaces is a feeling of being unable to predict how other people they see in the space are going to behave, which makes them concerned for their physical safety. When people go outside of places where they feel they are in control, they look for certain markers that communicate to them that the other people they encounter in the space will behave in ways that they expect – and make them feel more certain that they will not be physically threatened.

People feel safe with what they know and people they know. If they don’t personally know the people they are going to encounter, they sense that people who have traits that are as much like theirs as possible are going to behave towards them in ways that they can anticipate. In prehistoric times, perhaps, one had circles of trust: your family and then your tribe were much less likely to pose a physical threat to you then those outside your tribe. Maybe in that environment, we developed carefully honed sensitivities about the cues that told us who was a threat and who wasn’t. As a result, we are suspicious of difference. Sameness generates feelings of predictability and therefore safety. Continue reading

The Triumph of The Creative Class

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“On The Staten Island Ferry Looking Toward Manhattan (L’Embarquement Pour Cythere)” Richard Estes – Louis K. Meisel Gallery

The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class—and What We Can Do About It

By: Richard Florida

Perhaps no writer has had a greater impact on the thinking and practice of downtown revitalization than Richard Florida. With “The Rise of the Creative Class” in 2002, Florida created a paradigm shift in how we talk about the changing nature of the urban core. At the time, a professor in Pittsburgh, Florida identified a movement of young artists and knowledge workers back to center cities and noted that those cities that were attracting creative people were experiencing an increased uptick in economic activity. As a result, there was a rush by cities of all sizes across the country to adopt strategies to attract highly educated young professionals to their downtowns – like the adaptive reuse of abandoned formerly industrial buildings as working and living spaces. Florida’s ideas became the common currency of real estate developers and mayors.

Now writing from his post at the University of Toronto, Florida’s new book argues that the rebirth of cities around the country and across the world has actually created a crisis of affordability and inequality. Cities have become theme parks for the rich and have failed to create upward mobility for the poor. Florida has a sophisticated view of “gentrification.” He looks at the data and does not see much displacement of lower-income families actually happening, but he reviews mountains of data and describes what he calls “winner-take-all” urbanism which benefits an elite group of the highly educated and makes life increasingly difficult for the less well off who face long commutes, a lack of essential services and a lower quality of life. Outside of the North America and Europe, Florida sees a massive movement of the poor to cities without even basic infrastructure. He describes the construction of massive favelas made up of poorly constructed, minimal housing where residents live in grinding poverty. Continue reading

The Fountains of Andalusia

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The Alhambra and the Generalife, Granada, Spain

One principle that I’ve tried to communicate with this blog is that the temptation to begin the revitalization of public spaces and downtowns through major capital expenditures is one that is well avoided. I’ve also tried to stress at the same time that there are no hard and fast rules to successful placemaking; and that flexibility and balance are at the center of creating and maintaining great public places. The interplay of these ideas was brought home to me during a recent ten-day trip to Andalusia, Toledo and Madrid where I experienced a number of public space practices that impressed me with their effectiveness.

The presence of water and fountains in parks and on streets has a delightful positive impact on making places more inviting. People love running water. You can put a water feature in the most barren and under-programmed plaza, and it can make that place draw people – despite all the space’s other limitations. Kids like to play in them. Even adults like to throw off their shoes and socks and put their feet in them. In hot places like southern Spain, fountains provide cool. Fountains have a similar effect to plants – they are a visual and aural cue that a place is under social control. In order for the water feature to work someone must be taking care of it: keeping it clean, keeping the pumps running. Continue reading