Last night, at the Frank Gehry-designed AIC building in far west Chelsea, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Municipal Arts Society honored an esteemed group of urban activists, designers, and community developers with Jane Jacobs Medals, a prestigious prize named for the ground breaking urban writer and activist. Ron Shiffman, founder of the Pratt Center for Community and Environmental Development, was awarded the medal for lifetime leadership. Roseanne Haggerty of Common Ground and Community Solutions, received the award to new ideas and activism. A new award for technology and innovation was given to Carl Skelton, the founder of Betaville, and Cassie Flynn, Erin Barnes, and Brandon Whitney, the creators of ioby (In Our Backyards), a crowdsourced sustainability platform (the trio also donned Jacobs-like glasses after accepting their award).
The event was originally scheduled for last November, but had to be rescheduled due to Hurricane Sandy, which damaged the IAC building as well as many of the galleries, businesses, and residences in the surrounding neighborhood. Social and environmental resilience were strong themes of the night, and Ron Shiffman closed the ceremony with a rallying cry for greater civic activism–a fitting message for an evening dedicated to Jacobs.
[ The AN editorial team is on hand for Zoning the City conference, now in progress at the McGraw-Hill Conference Center in Manhattan. We'll be live blogging and tweeting @archpaper with hashtag #zoningthecity throughout the day, so check back and follow us on twitter for updates! ]
In a wrap-up conversation moderated by Kayden, a panel brought together Thom Mayne, A.M. Stern, and Mary Ann Tighe to investigate a few non-planning factors, though of course it rounded back to planning within moments. The exchange was peppered with A.M. Stern wit, Mayne theory, and Tighe pragmatism.
Remarking on the more than 4 billion square feet of undeveloped FAR in New York City, Stern remarked, “That’s a lot of development–even for Related!”
Tighe said that zoning remained necessary, at the very least, for developers’ peace of mind. “I think we need some boundaries,” she said. “Things that will allow capital an amount of comfort that it’ll need to move foreword.” Tighe, who heads up New York’s real estate board, provide an audience full of zoning wonks and architects an investors voice, “What we keep forgetting after the vision is that the money has to come, the as-of-right things are needed.”
Stern replied no spoon full of sugar was needed to let this medicine go down. “Architects complain, they always complain,” he said “But they do their best work with difficult clients, financial constraints.”
Mayne broke through the realm of brick and mortar. “New York is inseparable from its intellectual capital, that’s it’s certainty and predictability.”
Matthew Carmona of University College London played to a re-caffeinated crowd, using humor to diffuse a very complex approval process for zoning London’s 32 different boroughs. With each borough weighing in with their own distinct processes and opinions, plus the mayor putting his two pence in, and even the secretary of state having a say, its amazing London plans as well as it does. The process looks more nightmarish than a West Village community board debating a university expansion. One intriguing aspect was the specificity of the Views Management Framework, which include river views, linear views, townscape views, and panoramas. But it was left to Loeb Fellow Peter Park, paraphrasing Goldberger, to best describe London’s beautiful mess. “Some of the greatest places in the world were built before zoning,” he said. “There’s an element of serendipity.”