Infrastructure not only helps make a city run, but if you are a nerd like me, is fascinating in its own right. Unfortunately however, because it is often underground, it is also all to easy too overlook - that is, until it breaks. It's relatively rare to get as clear a three-dimensional picture of the rats nest of pipes and cables beneath our feet as you do here, underneath Worth Street in Manhattan's Foley Square. It helps you envision the giant, complex networks that enable so much of urban living. Also, this is the location of the abandoned Worth Street station from New York's first subway line. Closed when the platforms at nearby Brooklyn Bridge were extended northwards, most of the station still exists underneath the street here. Sadly, none of it is visible in this picture... #urbanism #urbandesign #urbanplanning #cityplanning #electricity #sewer #watermain #infrastructure #pipes #wires #underground #foleysquare #worthstreet #subway
Sometimes, you just have to admit you were wrong. . For the past few years, I've watched this hotel—a Holiday Inn—being built in the Garment District, at 39th & 8th Ave. The developers clearly received a height bonus for including a public plaza, one of New York City's many so-called privately-owned public places (or POPS). POPS have a sad history: not only have they more often than not been dead, lifeless afterthoughts, but developers had an *incentive* to make them that way—after all, they had no desire for non-tenants to hang out on *their* property. Given that history and this space, which is tightly tucked between two buildings, I was fairly sure it was going to be a failure. As late as 2016, it looked like the plaza was going to be a lightless, empty disaster, a space devoid of people where no one wanted to be. I was even ready to take pictures of the legally mandated Public Space signs and snark about how only the best public spaces require signs to inform you of their nature. Well, I'm glad to admit that I was totally wrong. The Garment District is a region almost devoid of public space, and this one is almost always full of a variety of people doing different things, including simply enjoying the city. There are many reasons it has worked: it is a relatively humanistic design with plenty of seating and plants, it is often bustling with hotel guests which in turn makes it more comfortable & interesting for other people to use, and it is not overly policed (in my experience, no one who isn't overtly begging is asked to leave). Whatever the exact reasons however, this space is working, and it has turned into a great addition to a neighborhood that desperately needed one. In other words, sometimes it is a good thing to be wrong. #urbanism #urbanplanning #urbandesign #cityplanning #streetscape #publicspace #publicspaces #pops #privatelyownedpublicspace #garmentdistrict #instablog #park #spacesforpeople
Spring has finally sprung in New York, and that means it's time for baseball, softball, and views! (Well, actually, today is more like summer—ah, New York weather, straight from Winter to Summer—but that's besides the point.) Anyway, I recently took a trip on a beautiful day to the beautifully redone Bush Terminal Piers Parks in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and oh my, is it a gorgeous place. You can not only see the entire harbor, but it makes it feel cozy. Natural touches mix with industrial decay, and great views. And of course, there are people, including these softballs teams, whose constant chanting at one another was amazing. Such a great place to play ball. Hopefully I'll do a more complete write up on the park sometime soon! Until then, I think I’ll just share some of better photos W #urbanism #urbanplanning #urbandesign #cityplanning #parkdesign #newyork #sunsetpark #brooklyn #skyline #softball #baseball #park #parks #waterfont #bushterminal #bushterminalpiers #bushterminalpierspark
Looking out at the a Manhattan skyline, a NYC Ferry dock, and the sunset from Long Island City. . No big observations today; I'm already *way* behind on sharing my pictures here—this is from January. 😅 Damn my proclivity to want to write and share my thoughts & observations! 😂 Going forward, however, you may notice a jump in the quality of my urban photographs. I finally invested in a nicer, compact camera—something that's a good jump in quality from a phone but that I can still carry stealthily & easily. Also, quality zoom without carrying 100lbs of lenses. 😉 Hope you enjoy! #urbanism #urbanplanning #skyline #newyork #manhattan #nycferry #longislandcity #waterfront #sunset #newcamera #showingoff
I ended my walk through downtown Jersey City in its waterfront warehouse district, which forms a literal and metaphorical bridge between old and new Jersey City. Once, these warehouses served the massive railroads that moved people and goods via ferry to and from New York and the rest of the country. Today, they are the only part of that old world that still exists, sitting between the historic downtown and its newly-built Houston on the Hudson counterpart. Like so many aging urban warehouse districts, Jersey City is trying hard to convert these buildings into galleries and artists’ studios. An artists’ district itself is not a terrible plan, although far from an original one. But it seems that the city’s plan, rather than to try and attract actual artist class, is to jump to the chic end-product; to skip the gradual money of unslumming and speed right to the cataclysmic money of redevelopment, to use Jane Jacob's terms. It is a deeply limited approach. Warehouse neighborhoods already lack texture and life, and skipping to the homogenization of wealth—no matter how cultured that wealth might be—isn't necessarily a great path for developing a truly urban environment, even if you ignore questions of equity. However, perhaps I am only this cynical because the neighborhood is so clearly in pieces. Many blocks feel cold and empty, with decaying streets and blank walls, only to be punctuated with the occasional window into a high-class, high-cost world, highlighting the artificiality and consumerist nature of the development. It’s certainly hard to consider this entirely a bad thing—there is no one to displace from decaying warehouses—but it seems to preclude the creation of fine-grained, functional urbanism. You can't have an instant city where you just need to add people—cities are far more complicated than that. Continued...
One of the more interesting trends in American public space in recent years has been the rise of the food hall. There's much that can be said about these institutions, both good and bad, but a recent visit to the hip Urbanspace@Vanderbilt reminded me of a major problem in too many of today’s public spaces: noise. Urbanspace@Vanderbilt itself is certainly nicely decorated and trendy, and it’s full of local vendors that provide many quality food & drink options. It is somewhat pricy, but not overly expensive given its prime midtown location. That said, the hall does have a bit of a crowding problem. The space is small, and seating is at an extreme premium, which makes lingering a pain. This would certainly be a hard place to blend in without making a purchase if you tried to occupy a seat. By far the biggest issue, however, is noise. I recorded a constant 83-84dBa. This makes the interior as loud as, in no particular order: a diesel truck traveling at 40MPH, a milling machine, a snowblower, or a blender from a few feet away. Over 8 hours of exposure, such a noise level can cause hearing damage—a concern for workers. But worse, it is four times as loud as the average human conversation of around 60dBa. I don't mean to single out Urbanspace@Vanderbilt—it is a genuinely nice place. Instead, this is a problem that pervades far too much of America's public realms. Bars and restaurants are growing louder and louder. For instance, the Upper West Side restaurant The Ribbon, which I went to last night, measured a very high 79dBa! This can be good for vendors: studies have shown that people drink more in loud environments (probably because talking is so hard) and turnover is high. But it is a disaster for public space. Third spaces—places that are neither home nor work—are vital to the social life of a city. The increase in volume is a slow motion tragedy for the public realm: talking, the fundamental human social interaction, is simply getting harder and harder. #urbanism #urbanplanning #urbandesign #cityplanning #publicspace #publicrealm #foodhall #noise #loud #restaurant #bar #thirdspace #socialspace
While there is a lot to love in Jersey City, its waterfront is truly Houston on the Hudson™... . From New York, you can't miss the new downtown’s booming skyline. Towers, which have seemingly appeared overnight, rival those of Lower Manhattan. Better still, these new developments are heavily transit-oriented, based around PATH and Hudson-Bergen Light Rail. Finally, have we learned how to build an urban city from scratch? Sadly, the answer is no—no way, no how, and it’s not even close. The various waterfront neighborhoods of Jersey City may be dense and tall, but they’re also ultimately car-oriented. Giant, six-lane roads prevail, encouraging drivers to treat them like the expressways they essentially are. Buildings are set back from the streets by either parking lots or useless green areas, emphasizing the vast distances and making walking feel incredibly unpleasant. Crossing the street feels like an expedition. There may be sidewalks, but there is no street life—no stores, no frontages, just blank walls, garages, and parking lots. Almost all of the “neighborhood’s” retail is inside the Newport Centre Mall—a traditional, suburban mall surrounded by endless parking. It is a truly unpleasant place, and that’s reflected by how few people are on the street. Who would want to walk here, and where would you walk to? In the not-so-distant past, all this land was rail yards, where the various railroads from the West and South met the Hudson for people and cargo to transfer to ferries and barges. Today, with trucks, tunnels, and the like, that world is long lost—and the waterfront got a second chance at life. But instead of organic development, or even truly mixed construction, this is a neighborhood solely built by the massive capital of monolithic developers. The result is a near-dystopia of technically mixed-use, but fundamentally single-owner developments, from LeFrak's Newport to Forest City’s Hudson Exchange to Mack-Cali's Harborside—each almost their own, suburban world. Continued...
Walking through Harismus, a residential neighborhood in Jersey City's historic downtown, very near the main shopping streets. One of the first things you notice walking down the tree-lined streets is the tremendous variety of architecture. By American standards, Harismus is an old neighborhood, with major developing having started in the 1840s and 1850s—and in essence, it hasn't stopped changing since then. Old, wooden row houses sit next to brick apartments; mid-century low rise houses sit next to brand new, modern architecture. The mix is enthralling; this is neither a neighborhood preserved in amber, nor one built all at once, but built over time, while maintaining a clear lineage from old to new. It is history lesson in various types of local vernacular architectures. And while the 20th Century building typologies tend to be a little garage-heavy for such an urban place, the streets are still tremendously walkable (and bikeable, albeit without protected lanes). One thing that is nice is the presence of intermittent corner stores. In more modern neighborhoods, zoning often prohibits what are wonderful community additions—amenities that not only make for shorter shopping trips for residents, but also making the streets more active and community-oriented. Last but by no means least, at the north border of Harismus lies the Harismus Stem Embankment, aka the Sixth Street Embankment. Originally built by the Pennsylvania Railroad to bring freight to cross-river carfloats at waterfront yards (the space now taken up by Jersey City's modern towers), it has sat abandoned for years. Not only is it an unobtrusive link to Jersey City's industrial past, it seems a ready-made spot for a park exactly like the High Line. In fact, local residents have been pushing for just such a transformation, only to learn that Conrail (the current owner) could not sell the property, because their predecessors had not followed the correct abandonment procedures! This is extra humorous considering that bridges over local streets have not only been removed, but the waterfront has long since been built over, making resuming service impossible. (Continued...)
Behind Grand Central Terminal is the Helmsley building, neé the New York Central Building, eponymous HQ of the once great railroad. To this day, beautifully restored NYC logos, including this one in one of the two public passages through the structure, adorn the building. Fun fact: for a time, the building was owned by the General Tire company, & they modified these logos to NYGE for New York General Building. #urbanism #urbanhistory #grandcentral #helmsleybuilding #newyorkcentral
A walk down Newark Avenue, the heart of urban Jersey City's historic downtown. While it begins with a pedestrianized block leaving Grove Street, Newark Avenue itself continues as a normal, major urban corridor. It meanders slowly to the northeast, forming a great counterpoint to the surrounding grid. It is a wonderful street, with a mix of shops, parks, apartment buildings—a place that is still full of people on a cold winter's day. This part of Newark Avenue epitomizes the human scale. Buildings are scaled gracefully to the street, while towers in the distance form beautiful terminated vistas. Sidewalks are wide enough, and while there is far too much traffic, the street is only two lanes wide (not including parking). As the street meanders, it bends and creates many non-standard intersections, both of which keep visual interest very high. Buildings form a street wall that is far from monotonous. Varied structures, changing frontages, and a new vista every hundred feet or so make walking feel effortless. New interventions, like neckdowns, are very much appreciated, and will hopefully eventually be made permanent and turned into even more active space. It is interesting that this stretch seems to be thriving, while the pedestrianized block seems to be struggling—the pros and cons of total pedestrianization remain hotly debatable. With all of that, however, Jersey City is still a town cut into pieces by expressways, and you feel it as you approach what clearly feels like the end of the street, at NJ Turnpike approach to the Holland Tunnel. While the street actually continues to the Journal Square neighborhood, the streetscape peters out, making the street and neighborhood *feel* like it ends—a sad tale repeated almost everywhere that there are urban expressways. Still, it's a deeply pleasant place, with plenty of public spaces, seating, vistas, shops, people, etc… It's a good example of what an urban environment can be. Part of my #JerseyCityWalk #urbanism #urbanplanning #urbandesign #cityplanning #streetscape #pedestrianpov #jerseycity #newjersey #architecture #walkability #instablog #newarkavenue #humanscale #architecture #vistas