Brooklyn’s grandest public space at the top of Prospect Park has always been a work in progress. Grand Army Plaza, an oval-shaped public space composed of monuments ringed by an inner and an outer roadway, was built as the main entrance to the park in 1866, serving as a buffer between nature and city and happened to be the confluence of some of Brooklyn’s busiest avenues. Over the years, a monumental archway was added, fountains came and went, and eventually the roads were widened until the lush plaza was effectively cut off from the surrounding Prospect Heights and Park Slope neighborhoods. Last week, however, after months of construction to tame the out-of-control roadways, a group of civic leaders and officials gathered in what was once a busy street to celebrate the newly reclaimed plaza.
As we all know, Jane Jacobs was a visionary urban activist and author, whose 1961 publication of The Death and Life of Great American Cities had a tremendous impact on how we think about cities and urban planning today. She challenged prevailing assumptions in urban planning at a time when slum-clearing was the norm and emphasized the intricacies and sensitivities of an urban fabric. In 2007, the year after Jacobs died, the Rockefeller Foundation launched the Jane Jacobs Medal, an annual award given to those who stand by Jacobs’ principles and whose “creative uses of the urban environment” renders New York City “more diverse, dynamic and equitable.”
AOL’s New Offices Are Snazzy: Fast Company has a slideshow of interior shots of AOL’s new offices in Palo Alto. The space was designed to be bright and collaborative. “This being a tech company, naturally, it’s got a game room, too,” writes Suzanne LaBarre. The interiors are the work of Studio O+A, which has designed offices for other Internet companies like Yelp, Facebook and PayPal.
Philly Set For a Makeover: Sometimes it seems like Philly is the East Coast city people love to hate on for its small size, poor public transit and high crime rates. That may change soon with a new comprehensive plan for the city that could include: “more open space, bike lanes and preservation efforts, as well as specific goals including an extension of the Broad Street subway to the Navy Yard, an east Market Street that can really be Philly’s ‘Main Street’, a waterfront lined with parks.”
NYC’s Lesson for LA: New York Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan blogs on how Los Angeles can learn from New York City’s Plaza program. It’s the quintessential showdown of cities: New York, a dense metropolis where most native-born teens don’t even have their driver’s licenses, and LA, a sprawling auto-centric city. There’s even a book called “New York and Los Angeles” that says so. Sadik-Khan’s piece is part of Streetsblog’s new series on how the best transportation practices in other cities can be adapted for LA.
Brownwashing Republicans: Grist has a list of 10 Republican politicians who are backtracking on pro-environment statements they’ve made in the past. The #1 offender is presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who called for climate action in a 2008 ad for Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection. Earlier this year, he said, “”I would not adopt massively expensive plans over a theory.”
Heavenly highways. No, this isn’t a preview of the Rapture (whose marketing graphics leave much to be desired)–it’s a series of time lapse photographs of the quotidian take-offs and landings of airplanes, courtesy of Lost At E Minor.
Out of Gas. Sunday Zipcar drivers take note: when the current lease runs out, the Gaseteria-turned-BP at the corner of Lafayette and Houston Streets in Manhattan will become the site of a new “super-secret five- to seven-story commercial loft development with luxury retail” reports The Observer.
Pro “Roberta Moses.” In her article “Anatomy of a Take Down,” Karrie Jacobs of Metropolis deftly deconstructs the critical pile-on around DOT Commissioner Janet Sadik-Khan and her transformation of New York City’s streets. If Jacobs were mayor, she says, she’d throw Sadik-Khan a ticker-tape parade.
Two-wheeled Commute. Happy National Bike to Work Day! Dissuaded by inclement weather in the northeast? For inspiration, check out Street Films’ video–after the jump–of Lucette Gilbert, in her “very late 70s,” who has been getting around New York by bike since the transit strike of 1980.
Boardwalk Empire. The Brooklyn Paper reports that Coney Island will not be getting a concrete boardwalk, at least not if Community Board 13 has a say in the matter. The board members recently voted down a proposal from the Parks Department that would cement over parts of the historic Riegelmann Boardwalk while covering some of the famed seaside path with recycled plastic lumber.
That thin ribbon of green paint along Brooklyn’s Prospect Park West sure is a touchy subject for residents of the Park Slope neighborhood, and beyond–they’re even talking about it in London. Many love the new separated bike lane installed in June 2010–the “pro-laners”–but a vocal group packing some political power would rather see the lane removed–the “anti-laners.”
Iron skillet meets iron fist. Some of the most striking visuals to come out of this year’s TED conference weren’t made for the stage but for the street: Jamie Oliver‘s Food Revolution truck, an 18-wheeled kitchen classroom designed pro bono by Rockwell Group, launched last week and represents just one of the outcomes of Oliver’s 2010 TED Prize wish to make kids healthier. The wish of this year’s TED Prize winner, the artist currently known as “JR,” is that people will participate in his global art project INSIDE/OUT and help paper streets with gigantic portraits of themselves. Step 1: set up photo booths that print poster size pics of conference participants–quite a surreal experience, writes Guy Horton for Good.
Could 2011 be the year of the pedestrian in New York? Under the guidance of DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, NYC sidewalks will continue their slow march into the street next year as the city launches a major expansion of its “pop-up café” pilot program across its five boroughs.
The first pop-up café tested out in Lower Manhattan this year proved successful enough that Sadik-Khan has expanded the program, planning for up to 12 sidewalk extensions.
A formal dedication for a creative urban intervention called ARTfarm brings flowers and greenery to a formerly barren step street in the Bronx. Architects Valeria Bianco, Christian Gonsalves, Shagun Singh, and Justin Taylor designed and built the project with help from Architecture for Humanity and the Bronx Museum of the Arts.
Sidewalk cafes have long been a popular feature of New York City dining, but many restaurants’ sidewalks are too narrow to set out tables and chairs without violating city code. Offering a solution to this spatial problem, on August 12 the Department of Transportation (DOT) unveiled its first “pop-up cafe” in Lower Manhattan—an 84-foot-long and 6-foot-wide wooden platform with planters, wire railing, 14 cafe tables, and 50 chairs—as the agency’s latest move to reclaim road space for public use. Read More
First came Times Square, then, all in the course of a few weeks, 34th Street, Union Square North, and Grand Army Plaza. Now, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has set her sites on bus rapid transit for the east side of Manhattan. Granted this project, like those above, have been kicking around her office in one form or another for years. But to see all of them getting off—or should we say on—the ground in such a short window is welcome news, especially as the MTA continues to fumble and falter. For all the talk of parks, and not condos, being the legacy of Mayor Bloomberg’s third term, perhaps the exploits of his occasionally maligned Transit Commish should not be overlooked. After all, we’ve got 42 more months of this. At this rate, we could have a citywide space program going by then.