Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

More on Manhattan

Midtown Manhattan rezoning areaI wrote pieces recently about the Grand Central Station area ("The Battle for Building Intensification around Grand Central Station") and the Penn Station area ("(Re)Conquering Gotham: Penn Station, railroad stations, arenas and Manhattan revitalization") in Manhattan.  (And you should read the comments, they are quite trenchant.)

The Wall Street Journal weighed in Thursday on the Midtown Manhattan zoning effort ("Not Visionary Enough").  The piece is worth reading as it makes the point that zoning in and of itself isn't the same as a comprehensive plan (it's not unlike the point I make that an RFP isn't a plan either).

It does make good points about how the Midtown area needs to be able to change and grow in order to maintain its competitive position with other parts of the city that have been getting public and private reinvestment.

And like the previous pieces, makes the point that the increased use of Grand Central Station when the LIRR begins service to that area, needs to be addressed now, through more and better accommodation and throughput.

Highlights from the WSJ article:

It's an ambitious proposal that strives to be inclusive but, as past missteps in this commercial core of New York show, zoning should not be mistaken for long-term comprehensive planning. ...

To be sure, Midtown desperately needs revitalization. The merits of individual buildings should not be the only issue. The whole area deserves architectural distinction, at every scale—street lamps or skyscraper silhouettes, public or private space. Reasonable people don't reject new buildings outright; they oppose bad design and monotonous, oversize boxes. And that's all too often what contemporary glass behemoths turn out to be.

But to be truly urban by today's standards, Midtown East needs texture and variety, different scales and mixed uses, green spaces and reliable infrastructure. It remains uncertain whether the rezoning proposal can deliver this, or aims to be as comprehensive as it could be. Oriented fixedly on office buildings, the plan currently contains no provisions to encourage residential building; its argument is that more than a million square feet of residential development are already in the works. The Department of City Planning report even cites conversion to hotels and condos as one of the drags on the ability of Midtown East to compete with the likes of Shanghai and Hong Kong. ...

All improvements, whether on Vanderbilt or on the below-grade subway platforms, is quite innovative. All improvements would be funded by a so-called District Improvement Bonus generated only as building permits are issued. The mandatory DIB is estimated to generate on average $50 million per new building (at a rate of $250 per square foot), to be spent exclusively on the public realm. Sounds great, and developers are accustomed to this kind of pay-to-play, but the plan is based on an untested model devised for the unbuilt Hudson Yards development.

Furthermore, the streets and subway stations of Midtown are in appalling condition right now. More people power through Lexington Avenue's subway lines in the course of a day than use the entire Metro in Washington. The Long Island East Side Access project, now under construction, will allow Long Island Rail Road commuters to travel to a new terminus in Grand Central. When it is completed in 2019, some 160,000 people will join the 750,000 daily commuters already fighting like salmon to get up the stairs to Lexington and Madison avenues during rush hour. But there won't be money in the DIB fund until at least then, when the first buildings get under way.

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At 8:57 PM, Anonymous Christopher said...

Maybe enough voices are raised NYC will do something about it. NYC doesn't do planning, it does zoning. There's no connection between transit and land use because of a lot of things but some of that is because the MTA is state organization and planning and zoning are local functions. They don't seem themselves as overlapping. This is an area that I think with increased pressure state reps and city council people are finally seeing the problem with and are pushing for it, but there's no leadership from the governor or mayor on this. NYC hasn't updated it's planning documents since the 1950s. That's another major problem.

NYC likes to work from the idea of "organized chaos" with both good and consequences, we are getting to point where the consequences are all bad. There's just lack of space and the ways in which the financial capital systems work in the country to many ways that the chaotic balance is out of whack.

I love it here but it's not without problems. :-)

At 7:07 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

But everyone talks about PlaNYC (which they call Plan YC in presentations) and how transformative it is.

Certainly Janette Sadik-Khan uses PlaNYC as the justification for the various DOT efforts.

What do you think about PlaNYC? (I can't claim to be familiar with it.)

In any case, thank you for pointing this out.

At 4:53 PM, Anonymous Christopher said...

I think there's great aspects of PlaNYC (and yes it's pronounced Plan YC) but it's very light on specifics. And mostly about big picture things that the city can control. NYCDOT is doing some great work but totally outside of the realm of the MTA which they don't control. And the planning for MTA project is SO SLOW. There's just a lot of resistance to change and while documents like PlaNYC is great, they don't often have enough teeth to actually do anything. And run into a turf battles and lack of connections between desperate orgs. And the state vs. city dynamics. (You remember the proposed plan for Aquaduct convention center? That kind of thing can happen because the state isn't beholden to the same rules that the City has. And controls some major elements within the city -- like the convention center, like the MTA, like the Port Authority (and hence Ground Zero).

Plus that pesky zoning code. Which is so dated, MAS has talked a lot about updating it and I know that's something on their agenda. For instance, it's really hard to open a gym in NYC as they were considered undesirable in the 1950s. The zoning codes make provisions for things like blacksmith shops. Because they were still something needed in the 1950s.

We just do a lot of things to shoe-horn around systems that are in place that there isn't enough political will to fix.

PlaNYC is just another way to get around the bigger problems that are seen as immovable by creating separate targets and guidelines.


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