The Oculus book talk on the new book, How to Study Public Life, at the Center for Architecture with Jan Gehl and his co-author Birgitte Svarre was like seeing the documentary The Human Scale come to life—only with a sense of humor.
Gehl’s urban theories have gained a lot of traction, not least in New York City. Jeanette Sadik-Khan went to Gehl’s native Copenhagen two weeks into her job as commissioner of NYC’s Department of Transportation (along with fellow commissioner of City Planning, Amanda Burden) and experienced the city’s pedestrian-over-cars public plazas, rode bicycles on protected bike lanes, and absorbed the lessons of the city that is repeatedly named the most livable in the world.
It was the opening shot heard ’round the Village–and the East Village, and SoHo. An overflow crowd gathered at the Center for Architecture last night to rally the troops opposing NYU’s twenty year expansion plan. It certainly wasn’t the usual black-clad crowd found at the Center. No, these were some good old fashioned Village rabble rousers.
The event was organized by the Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, who assured the crowd that the NYU Core plan is “not a done deal.” On Tuesday, the university certified proposals with City Planning, thus kicking off the ULURP process for what is likely to become one of the most contentious development debates of 2012. The proposal is, after all, in the heart of Jane Jacobs country.
Just across the street from the Center are the remains of Robert Moses’ failed attempt to build the Lower Manhattan Expressway through SoHo after Jacobs and Co. put a halt to the plan. Parcels of land assembled by the Department of Transportation to accommodate the failed highway are now parkland commonly known as the DOT strips. A substantial portion of the 1.3 million square feet NYU wants to build in the area would be placed beneath the strips. The university has proposed designating the strips as parkland after the construction is complete, with the new green space designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.
No matter the promises, this was not a crowd that trusts the university. The term “Midtown Zoning” got thrown about with on-message regularity. As did square footage metaphors, such as “bigger than the Waldorf-Astoria,” “the size of the Empire State Building,” and “three Jacob Javits Convention Centers.”
Council Member Margaret Chin was on hand to listen, but not to state her pro or con position–despite pressure from the crowd.
This month’s Community Board 2 subcommittee meetings will no doubt be unusually crowded as they’re all dealing with the proposal. If you want to see some New York zoning theater in action, here’s a selected breakdown:
Land Use: Mon., 1/9 6PM at The Center for Architecture, 536 LaGuardia Pl.
Traffic and Transportation: Tues., 1/10 @ 6:30 NYU Silver Building, 32 Waverly Pl. room 520
Parks: Thurs., 1/12 @ 6:30PM at NYU Silver Bldg. 32 Waverly Pl. room 520
Full Board: Thurs., 1/19 @ 6:00PM 116 West 11th Street, Auditorium
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.”
Mississippi Metro. Strange Maps pointed out a clever reinterpretation of the Mississippi River basin as a subway system. Check out a bigger version at Something About Maps. (You may also be interested in the Sustainable City Collective’s list of top five urban infographics.)
Byrne-ing Down the House. David Byrne waxes poetic on the arts-and-crafts bungalows of Berkeley after taking a recent bike ride through the city’s early 20th century neighborhoods.
Janie’s got a Walk. With warm weather closer on the horizon (despite a fresh blanket of snow across parts of the country), Shareable recommends planning a Jane’s Walk in your city, after the famous urbanist Jane Jacobs, to explore the history, ecology, and social issues in your neighborhood.
Mega Watts. The Los Angeles Times reports that the James Irvine Foundation has granted $500,000 toward the preservation of LA’s Watt’s Towers, declaring the folk-art stalagmites “an important cultural icon.” (Photo courtesy Robert Garcia/Flickr)
Luck in School. The NY Times relays the story of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck who has chosen to pursue a degree in architectural design at Stanford’s School of Engineering rather than head off to the NFL draft. We wish Mr. Luck, well, all the best in his endeavors, but life as an architect can make the NFL seem like a walk in the park.
Al Matisse? Variety brings us news that Al Pacino has been selected to play Henri Matisse in an upcoming film called Masterpiece detailing the French painter’s relationship with his nurse, model, and muse Monique Bourgeois. Producers will soon be looking for female leads.
Like Jane. The Rockefeller Foundation is accepting nominations for this year’s Jane Jacobs Medal honoring two living individuals who have improved the vitality of NYC and, among other things, “open our eyes to new ways of seeing and understanding our city.”
Move over NY Times Holiday Guide… Our friends at Planetizen have come out with something wonkier: their annual top 10 list of books in urban planning, design and development. The winners were based on a combination of editorial reviews, popularity, reader nominations, sales figures, recommendations from experts and books’ potential impact. Some of our favorites include Los Angeles In Maps, a visual history of maps in LA that makes sense of the city’s crazy grids and charts development over the years; What We See: Advancing The Observations of Jane Jacobs, a collection of essays putting a fresh perspective on Jacobs’ views on topics like preservation and urban planning; and Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Urban Mobility for the 21st Century, which suggests shifting automobiles to “Ultra Small Vehicles,” which could mean far less gas use and even automated driving. Any of these would be a perfect gift for anyone who knows what FOR, CEQA, or TOD stand for..