Tag Archive for 'cities'

The New New Times Square

The New New Times Square

Looking north at 42nd Street, in Times Square.

A few col­leagues and I walked over to Times Square at lunch to check out the new Broadway—now shut off to cars, it’s anoth­er attempt by the city and the Bloomberg admin­is­tra­tion to reclaim the streets for pedes­tri­ans.

The Times archi­tec­ture crit­ic Nico­lai Ourous­soff says:

Now, stand­ing in the mid­dle of Broad­way, you have the sense of being in a big pub­lic room, the tow­er­ing bill­boards and dig­i­tal screens press­ing in on all sides.

This adds to the inti­ma­cy of the plaza itself, which, how­ev­er unde­fined, can now func­tion as a gen­uine social space: peo­ple can mill around, ogle one anoth­er and gaze up at the city around them with­out the fear of being caught under the wheels of a cab.

There’s a cou­ple of great slideshows, too. And, don’t miss Michael Crowley’s New York Mag­a­zine pro­file of the woman behind it all, NYC Trans­porta­tion Com­mis­sion­er Janette Sadik-Khan.

Google Earth in 3D

Google Earth now has 3D-build­ings, and it’s real­ly fun to play with. Here is the Times Build­ing, where I work:

Times Building

A 3D rendering of the New York Times Building in Midtown, as shown in Google Earth.

If you have Google Earth installed, see it for your­self. Or, try land­ing on the deck of the Gold­en Gate Bridge, (just zoom in).

There seems to be data for a lot of cities, includ­ing my home town of Buf­fa­lo, and for­mer home of Boston.

Carroll Gardens Featured on Gridskipper

Grid­skip­per put togeth­er a nice fea­ture on our neigh­bor­hood in Brook­lyn, includ­ing a snarky com­par­i­son:

Car­roll Gar­dens fea­tured on Grid­skip­per
Car­roll Gar­dens is quaint, and for those in love with the West Vil­lage but who sim­ply can’t afford to live there, it will do.

I’m not sure that I agree with this – we chose to live in Brook­lyn over Man­hat­tan, and I would argue that the neigh­bor­hoods to the north (Cob­ble Hill and Boerum Hill) are prob­a­bly more fit­ting equiv­a­lents. Also, with few excep­tions, Car­roll Gar­dens is still very much a fam­i­ly neigh­bor­hood. Sure, it might be chang­ing, but take a walk down our street dur­ing the day, and you’re going to see a lot of old men who’ve lived there for 50 years, as well as kids play­ing on the side­walk. Err, maybe that is what the West Vil­lage is like.

Still, can’t deny that Car­roll Gar­dens is awe­some, and rel­a­tive­ly afford­able, con­sid­er­ing the restau­rant and bar options – we rarely make it into the city on week­ends.

[via]

Con­tin­ue read­ing ‘Car­roll Gar­dens Fea­tured on Grid­skip­per’

Buffalo Central Terminal Update

Chuck Maley's Central Terminal picturesA while back, I post­ed about a piece of archi­tec­tur­al won­der­ment lying van­dal­ized and dor­mant in Buffalo—the old Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal. It’s a beau­ti­ful Deco train sta­tion from the 1920s, plopped into an oth­er­wise unex­cep­tion­al sub­ur­ban neigh­bor­hood.

At the time the sta­tion was built, Buf­fa­lo was still an indus­tri­al and cul­tur­al cen­ter, with a pop­u­la­tion over one-half mil­lion. It was sec­ond only to Chica­go for its tan­gling rail net­work. How­ev­er, by the late 1970s, both the city and the sta­tion had seen bet­ter days. The sta­tion was board­ed up, and the trains instead stopped at a new, strip-mall like park­ing-lot sta­tion not far away.

Well, there is some good news… it seems that some peo­ple do care about pre­serv­ing the city’s her­itage. Despite its van­dal­ized and trashed inte­ri­or, the build­ing is draw­ing crowds—including some Cana­di­an urban explor­ers.

What I love about struc­tures like the Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal is that they were built for the pub­lic to use. It’s absolute­ly unthink­able to imag­ine pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions build­ing such pub­lic spaces today—I think those years have passed, (as have the years of ridicu­lous­ly cheap immi­grant labor).

Here’s hop­ing there is a devel­op­er out there with deep pock­ets and a cre­ative will.

The Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal at a glance:

  • The Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal opened four months before the Wall Street crash of 1929
  • Designed to han­dle an antic­i­pat­ed Buf­fa­lo pop­u­la­tion of 1.5 mil­lion, it cost $14 mil­lion to build
  • The 17-sto­ry office tow­er stands 271 feet high
  • The sta­tion closed in Octo­ber 1979 after years of dwin­dling rail pas­sen­ger ser­vice
  • A 1969 study esti­mat­ed it would cost $54 mil­lion to restore it for office use, and $16.3 mil­lion to demol­ish it

The Hotel Commonwealth


Ken­more Square, Boston, has always had a rep­u­ta­tion for being a lit­tle bit seedy—much the way Times Square used to be. It boasts a major Sub­way inter­change, the best Ball­park in the Amer­i­can League, if not all of base­ball, and it used to be home to a diverse group of small busi­ness­es and restau­rants.

When I first moved to Ken­more Square, in 1996, there was a Methadone clin­ic, a punk-rock venue called the Rathskeller, a late-night restau­rant called Deli-haus, a grit­ty cof­fee house called Fuel, and a bunch of oth­er busi­ness­es housed in the clus­ter of Brow­stones on the oppo­site side of the Square. In 2003, chalk these land­marks into a new chap­ter of Lost Boston.

When Boston Uni­ver­si­ty pro­posed bull­doz­ing much of the south side of the square, and replac­ing the cen­tu­ry-old brown­stones with a “Euro­pean-style” hotel, city and com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers large­ly sup­port­ed the idea… large­ly, I sus­pect, because BU was will­ing to pay gen­er­ous­ly to relo­cate affect­ed busi­ness­es with neigh­bor­hood asso­ci­a­tion ties, such as Cornwall’s Pub. Also, the uni­ver­si­ty is giv­ing mil­lions to upgrade the Sub­way sta­tion and traf­fic con­fig­u­ra­tion in the Square.

Whether or not you iden­ti­fy with my bemoan­ing the loss of a funky piece of an oth­er­wise bor­ing city, what is not in ques­tion is the pub­lic reac­tion when the work­ers final­ly unveiled the facade. For a hotel look­ing to project Con­ti­nen­tal lux­u­ry and flair, it looks like a repro­duc­tion on the back lot at Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios, or, per­haps, Main Street USA, Dis­ney­land. Tacky, cheap, and an insult to a city with tru­ly excep­tion­al archi­tec­ture.

I am not, I think, an elit­ist when it comes to archi­tec­ture… I think clas­si­cist ideals of style and mate­ri­als are prefer­able to 90% of all avant-garde rub­bish of the past 50 years. But, BU and the devel­op­ers cheat­ed by try­ing to copy the style of the French Sec­ond Empire, while using mate­ri­als com­mon on a Wal-Mart job site. Instead of lime­stone, let’s use fiber­glass. Brick too expen­sive? Sub­sti­tute fiber­glass for the real thing. And, the dorm­ers can just be cut-outs—I mean, who looks that close­ly, right?

The fact is, this hotel would look pret­ty good from your car on the Inter­state at 75 MPH, if it were locat­ed out in the sprawl belt of I-495 and 128. It’s car­toon col­or and fea­tures would blur from the high­way strip. But, this hotel is in the heart of the city, with thou­sands of pedes­tri­ans walk­ing by each day. And it looks Mick­ey Mouse, com­pared with the sur­round­ing build­ings.

The pho­tos I took, unfor­tu­nate­ly, fail to show how bad the facade real­ly is. Trust me, it looks as if they were try­ing to save a few bucks… which is pre­cise­ly not the image you’re going for in a 4-star hotel that wants to charge hun­dreds of dol­lars a night. Appar­ent­ly, BU and the devel­op­ers are going to spend $2 mil­lion to “fix” the facade. Good luck.

Biography of an Architectural Icon

coverI start­ed read­ing this book, Divid­ed We Stand, a biog­ra­phy of the build­ing of the World Trade Cen­ter.

Writ­ten before the col­lapse on Sep­tem­ber 11, though informed by the ear­li­er bomb­ing in 1993, the author offers con­text and cul­tur­al com­ment on what was arguably the world’s most famous build­ing (were they one or two build­ings?). What is espe­cial­ly shock­ing is that not only was it one of the last cat­a­clysmic ‘urban-renew­al’ mega-schemes held over from the 60s, (it was com­plet­ed in 1972), that elim­i­nat­ed 16 blocks of low-income (though thriv­ing) com­mer­cial space, but also it was the largest gov­ern­ment-spon­sored real estate spec­u­la­tion in the his­to­ry of the world.

Man­aged by the Port Author­i­ty of NY & NJ, a dubi­ous orga­ni­za­tion, it was pitched as a ‘ver­ti­cal-port’, to replace the decay­ing ship­yards below, (which were trad­ed quid pro quo to NJ for their ‘ok’ to build the WTC). What it became, was a state-spon­sored play­thing for the Rock­e­feller broth­ers, (both Gov­er­nor Nel­son, and Chase Man­hat­tan CEO David). With mas­sive tax breaks for ten­ants, the city of New York lost mil­lions of dol­lars in tax rev­enue, and by the mid-1970s was bank­rupt.

Pres­i­dent Ford, at first, decid­ed to let NY wal­low, but polit­i­cal pres­sure forced him to orga­nize a bailout. Fun­ny. How could you con­sid­er let­ting America’s first city implode, and expect to get elect­ed as America’s first cit­i­zen?

hi! Detroit Sucks. Big Suprise.

hi! Detroit sucks. big suprise. my aunt has one of those black Dells that that dumb blonde kid on TV is always telling peo­ple they’re going to get “it”… and she has a cable modem. so hot.

The cig­a­r­rette smoke here can be cut with a wed­ding cake knife. In fact, i’m doing that now… wav­ing, and wav­ing a knife around so as to breathe.

UPDATE: I don’t appre­ci­ate the ras­cist com­ments, so I am fil­ter­ing them now.

I will allow neg­a­tive or dis­re­spec­tive com­ments, but cer­tain kinds of lan­guage are out-of-bounds.

Play nice & thanks,
Ned

Convert, don’t Build

Any­one fol­low­ing the Adel­phia bid to build a huge sky­scraper on the Buf­fa­lo water­front, has to laugh at the company’s deter­mi­na­tion to get it done. The com­pa­ny is hav­ing Enron-like finan­cial woes, yet still wants to build this tow­er in a city that has com­mer­cial vacan­cy rates that rival occu­pan­cy rates. I’m not say­ing the Adel­phia project is a mis­take, how­ev­er I think peo­ple aren’t focus­ing prop­er­ly on how to fos­ter the 24-hour down­town a vibrant city needs.

First, I think, you need to lure peo­ple who work in the city to also live in the city. Cities have cer­tain advan­tages to offer: A con­cen­tra­tion of local busi­ness­es and ser­vices with­in walk­ing dis­tance (or by train), includ­ing restau­rants, arts and cul­tur­al offer­ings, and shops. Instead of infill­ing the city with sub­ur­ban-type devel­op­ments (main place mall), or huge gat­ed res­i­den­tial projects, why not play off the strengths of city-liv­ing, by revi­tal­iz­ing dense, mixed-use neigh­bor­hoods, and pro­vide a hous­ing alter­na­tive for peo­ple?

I’ve been encour­aged to see, as I have point­ed out in my blog, that devel­op­ers in Buf­fa­lo are tak­ing inter­est in con­vert­ing old com­mer­cial and indus­tri­al space into res­i­den­tial hous­ing (lofts.) It’s been shown to make mon­ey, and I think that might be the cat­a­lyst for a true down­town recov­ery. The kinds of peo­ple look­ing for this kind of hous­ing have been will­ing to pay upwards of $1000 for a one-bed­room loft—(incidentally, in boston that would be a bar­gain, but in buf­fa­lo! My god, that’s no bargain)—so they must have mon­ey, and need ser­vices like gro­ceries, restau­rants, and bars. Presto!, urban renew­al… You don’t need to throw cat­a­clysmic mon­ey into develp­ing a new sky­scraper, when the mar­ket­place can do you just as good.

Giving Back

Ani DiFran­co recent­ly donat­ed $40,000 to her alma mat­ter, Visu­al and Per­form­ing Arts High School in Buf­fa­lo, and to oth­er Buf­fa­lo pub­lic school arts pro­grams.

Trains are better than Cars

buff-central-term-2.jpg
Cen­tral Sta­tion, Buf­fa­lo, NY, cir­ca 1930.

Presley’s sis­ter Kel­ly was in town this past week­end, and she left yes­ter­day on the Amtrak train from Back Bay Sta­tion, which got me think­ing about train sta­tions and trains in gen­er­al. Every­one in these New Urban­ist books that I read can’t fath­om how Amer­i­ca end­ed up wed­ded to the auto­mo­bile, while the Euro­peans remain con­tent­ed with trains.

I think it’s a sim­ple answer: after the war, we just could. It was the thing to do, and we had the resources. But, isn’t there some­thing won­der­ful about trains? And more impor­tant­ly, big city train sta­tions? Grand Cen­tral in Man­hat­tan is gor­geous. Mod­erin­ists moan on about how style should be down-played because it is the taste of eco­nom­ic elites, but I don’t care if putting a build­ing like that up was a cap­i­tal­ist show of wealth and power—it had beau­ty, craft­man­ship and it was a place where peo­ple of all races and incomes passed through. They destroyed Penn Sta­tion in the six­ties to put up Madi­son Square Gar­den. big whoop. If any­thing, MSG is more cap­i­tal­ist-mind­ed than the build­ing it replaced.

So, it brings me around to Buf­fa­lo and Kelly’s depar­ture… Ear­li­er in this cen­tu­ry, Buf­fa­lo actu­al­ly was in the top 5 for most rail­road track—Buffalo had indus­try, and it was locat­ed on the impor­tant route between new york and chica­go. The city built some beau­ti­ful train sta­tions (sub­se­quent­ly demol­ished), who’s archi­tec­ture seems won­der­ful­ly as grand as Grand Cen­tral itself. The last remain­ing sta­tion, Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal, still stands on the East Side, though it’s falling apart. I wish to God the city could find some new use for the facility—problem is, it is locat­ed in the most eco­nom­i­cal­ly depressed area of the city.

Boston as a Blueprint

The new Plan­ning news feed at the right of this page is already reap­ing inter­est­ing rewards—among the inter­est­ing links, an arti­cle that dis­cuss­es Boston and it’s neigh­bor­hoods. May­or Meni­no has made neigh­bor­hood-based com­mer­cial devel­op­ment a pri­or­i­ty over the past decade or so, and it’s just the kind of thing that makes eco­nom­ic sense. In award­ing grants to indi­vid­ual small busi­ness own­ers, (most of which is fed­er­al mon­ey any­way), for lit­tle improve­ments such as new store facades, Boston has cul­ti­vat­ed a neigh­bor­hood approach to devel­op­ment. Occa­sion­al­ly, big “urban-renew­al” projects, such as the new Ritz-Carl­ton mon­stros­i­ty in Chi­na­town, do get built, but usu­al­ly they include some kind of mixed-use, (even if that mixed-use is upscale in this very work­ing-class neigh­bor­hood).

It’s nev­er been a very sexy thing to talk about, but the suc­cess­es of this pro­gram can’t be ignored, and many cities are start­ing to emu­late Meni­no. Buf­fa­lo is try­ing to cul­ti­vate this, through the cre­ation and encour­age­ment of city neigh­bor­hoods such as the “Pan-Am Dis­trict” around Elm­wood Ave in North Buf­fa­lo. Even pri­vate col­lege cam­pus­es such as Can­i­sius are con­tribut­ing to the qual­i­ty of their sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hoods by pro­vid­ing low-inter­est mort­gages to pro­fes­sors and staff, to encour­age them to live near the schools. Now, answer me this: Why is the major state school, SUNY at Buf­fa­lo, locat­ed in Amherst (not buf­fa­lo)?

What Buffalo Was, and What it Should Be


If you’ve talked with me in the last few months, you know that I’ve tak­en an inter­est in Urban Plan­ning, and more specif­i­cal­ly those char­ac­ter­is­tics that make a good neigh­bor­hood and city. I don’t know why this sub­ject has peaked my inter­est, con­sid­er­ing I used to be in awe of places like Epcot and I grew up not far from strip-malls. But, I am deeply con­cerned about that place where I grew up, because the city of Buf­fa­lo is rot­ting at it’s core, while the end­less devel­op­ment of phar­ma­cy mini-malls, park­ing lots, and cul-de-sacs push­es far­ther out into the coun­try­side.

It used to be that Tran­sit Road was a mark­er or sorts—suburban devel­op­ment fell off notably in the town of Clarence. But now, Clarence and Lan­cast­er are becom­ing the newest sprawl sub­urbs. Hous­ing devel­op­ment is get­ting less and less dense, tak­ing up more and more land, and as a result, weak­en­ing com­mu­ni­ty ties. The goal in the Buf­fa­lo area these days, is to earn enough to “get yours”—which means a big house in the mid­dle of nowhere, with lousy archi­tec­ture, a big front yard, and curv­ing streets that don’t con­nect to oth­er devel­op­ments. You can’t walk to a cor­ner store, much less to work or school.

This, of course, means that cars must be used for any­thing and every­thing in Buffalo’s sub­urbs, and increas­ing­ly so in these new sub­urbs. Grow­ing up, I could walk or ride my bike to a cor­ner store, a super­mar­ket, a pizze­ria, a k-mart and a bagel shop. For kids grow­ing up in Loch Lea and oth­er devel­op­ments fur­ther out, this is sim­ply not an option—a ride from mom or dad is required, and an (unhealthy) depen­dence is born. Also, you spend much of your ear­ly teenage years look­ing for old­er friends, or pin­ing for that 16th birth­day, when mom and dad will pro­vide you with a car. There is a sense of enti­tle­ment that comes in such a place.

Buf­fa­lo, how­ev­er, wasn’t always so bleak. The Buf­fa­lo of my Grandmother’s youth was a vibrant and busy city. Look at some of these pho­tographs… Street­cars zipped up and down major avenues, auto­mo­biles co-exist­ed with pedes­tri­ans, com­mer­cial streets had first-floor store­fronts with apart­ments above, and you knew your neigh­bor, butch­er and neigh­bor­hood cop. I don’t want to sen­ti­men­tal­ize what was, but I think peo­ple under­stood that there was an art to build­ing neighborhoods—an art that seems to have been lost in post-war, post-indus­tri­al Buf­fa­lo. The pow­er­ful sub­ur­ban devel­op­ers like Ciminel­li, don’t build per­ma­nent places to live. They think that there is no mon­ey to be made in tra­di­tion­al (that is to say, mixed-use) neigh­bor­hoods. Every­thing is this set-back-from-the-street, bas­tardized mod­ernist, flat-roof, sin­gle-floor, hor­i­zon­tal mon­stros­i­ty, with 5 park­ing spots out front for every 1 cus­tomer.

I know I’m tak­ing hyper­bol­ic license here, but I do it only because the pre­vail­ing assump­tions are so ingrained and accept­ed that you almost need to shock peo­ple to wake them up.

We’ve been liv­ing in the age of the auto­mo­bile. Traf­fic engi­neers say we need to widen roads and inter­sec­tions to decrease traf­fic and increase traf­fic vol­ume. Every major study of road­way “improve­ments” shows that more lanes = more cars. By widen­ing a road like Tran­sit, you are actu­al­ly cre­at­ing more traf­fic in the long-run. Even Robert Moses real­ized this in 1939, when traf­fic con­ges­tion cropped up on his high­ways where there was pre­vi­ous­ly no prob­lem. You induce traf­fic, by build­ing more lanes. And, these wide inter­sec­tions you see on Tran­sit and oth­er roads, are less safe than nar­row­er, more tra­di­tion­al inter­sec­tions. Here in Boston, despite our rep­u­ta­tion for crazy dri­ving, there are rarely any acci­dents at all, due to our small blocks, odd inter­sec­tions and lack of sprawl.

Still, there is hope. I think the eco­nom­ic pres­sures that 50 years of this kind of devel­op­ment has wrought on Buf­fa­lo is start­ing to change people’s minds about liv­ing and work­ing in close prox­im­i­ty. I hope envi­ron­men­tal, and eco­nom­ic real­i­ties force the city and it’s coun­ty of sub­urbs to draw a line in the sand (and the geog­ra­phy), and say enough is enough. It’s not about Growth vs. anti-Growth. It’s about Smart Growth. Banks, devel­op­ers and city & town offi­cials need to be shown that it is prefer­able to ditch this fast-decay­ing sub­ur­ban strip-mall way of doing things. If we are going to do this, the state needs to step in and set up stronger region­al gov­ern­ment. Many peo­ple fear this, as being ‘more gov­ern­ment’, when in actu­al­i­ty it could save mon­ey by elim­i­nat­ing redun­dant ser­vices.

But there is pow­er­ful resis­tance to any kind of region­al plan­ning.

Jane Jacobs Changed My Life… or, Modernists Should Die

What makes a good neigh­bor­hood? I’ve start­ed read­ing every­thing I can get my hands on regard­ing urban plan­ning and issues sur­round­ing sprawl, and I think it’s so inspir­ing that Jane Jacobs had it all fig­ured out in 1961. I think it would not be mag­nan­i­mous to say that she saved Green­wich Vil­lage from becom­ing anoth­er Robert Moses high­way. Check out this dis­cus­sion about Jane’s life and the state of urban plan­ning. (Real Audio)

As a design­er, I’ve always loved mod­ernist design — it’s big, it’s human­ist in the sense that it is utopi­an and egal­i­tar­i­an, and it shows off our won­der­ful tech­nol­o­gy. Look at Empire Plaza in Albany, NY, and you can’t help but think that we are capa­ble of amaz­ing things. How­ev­er, this HUGE plaza is most­ly use­less, except on sun­ny days dur­ing noon and 1pm, when work­ers might stroll out­side for fresh air. Nev­er­mind that there aren’t any delis or con­ve­nience stores with­in a 5 minute walk. Also, think of a place like this in the evening, or at night. Dead. I’ve been there! Prob­a­bly unsafe. But the 19th cen­tu­ry State Capi­tol is won­der­ful, and human-scaled. One might imag­ine shops or restau­rants on the sur­round­ing streets. It’s dig­ni­fied, and wor­thy of a civic build­ing. I think our post-60s mis­trust of gov­ern­ment makes us think that spend­ing the mon­ey and time to build last­ing mon­u­ments to pub­lic life is some­how waste­ful or bad. Albany Dan’s own neigh­bor­hood (not far from Empire Plaza) is a tes­ta­ment to How We Used to Do Things. It’s a mish­mash of income lev­els and uses. It’s won­der­ful too.

Urban renew­al is a fuck­ing sham. No news there. Look at Boston’s own place of civic activ­i­ty, city hall. Mod­ernist archi­tects can argue all they want about the ‘great­ness’ of build­ings and plazas like this, but I doubt any­one but a few intel­lec­tu­als actu­al­ly appre­ci­ate it as such. (Myself includ­ed) It flies in the face of hun­dreds of years of prece­dent and exper­tise, and yet we call it ‘bril­liant’. Lis­ten to the architect’s own words:

Kall­mann: ‘We dis­trust and have react­ed against an archi­tec­ture that is absolute, unin­volved and abstract. We have moved towards an archi­tec­ture that is spe­cif­ic and con­crete, involv­ing itself with the social and geo­graph­ic con­text, the pro­gram, and meth­ods of con­struc­tion, in order to pro­duce a build­ing that exists strong­ly and irrev­o­ca­bly, rather than an uncom­mit­ted abstract struc­ture that could be any place and, there­fore, like mod­ern man’ with­out iden­ti­ty or pres­ence.”

Does the build­ing and plaza cre­ate a good urban space? nope. The lan­guage itself is specif­i­cal­ly craft­ed to sound unin­tel­li­gi­ble, and to ele­vate the archi­tect to the sta­tus of some Ayn Ran­di­an demi-God. Even the weird geom­e­try of the plaza is psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly unset­tling, not to men­tion what I feel from the build­ing itself. There is some­thing pro­found­ly anti-social in a build­ing that is set back from the street so far with that much brick. The ‘style’, (if the mod­ernists let you call it that), is Bru­tal­ist Mod­ern, for christ’s sake.