Category: 4/27/2010
Governors Island’s Future
| May 1, 2010 | 8:21 pm | 4/27/2010, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Situated in the savvy New York Times Center building was the all important “Arts Forum,”  featuring Leslie Koch, president of the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation, sponsored by the not-for-profit organization called Alliance for the Arts. This was a very informative presentation for the public and especially the constituents of Governors Island (such as resident artists, emerging artists, lovers of this vacation spot) because it delineated not only the progress Governors Island has seen in the last 4 years but also the master plan for the future.

The title of Ms. Koch’s presentation was “Governors Island: Creating New York City’s Newest Playground for the Arts,” unveiling the nature of activities and programs prominent on this island. From sculpture-making events to art galleries and music concerts to dance festivals, this island is a perfect venue for the arts. However, the developers of Governors Island refuse to stop there. In their master plan, they strive to include a greater variety of activities to attract New Yorkers. For example, this summer they are planning an event around unicycles and other carnival-related acts.

It was interesting to note that the audience of this event was an adult population in their late 20’s to their early 50’s who were either artists, education leaders, or ardent fans of this beautiful island. Following Ms. Koch’s presentation was a reception where I had the great opportunity to meet and chat with these creative constituents of Governors Island. A theater artist by occupation and a lovely person by nature, Mary Tiery has been involved with Governors Island since its early beginnings. She is one of the many talented residents who puts up theater plays for visitors of Governors Island and is in the process of securing her place again to present her play called, “Women at War.” Another lady I met was Jane Rubinsky, a writer and editor who worked for Julliard Performing Arts School for 15 years. Coincidently, her father was in the Coast Guard and so lived on Governors Island. She is now currently putting together a proposal for a newsletter for the New York Harbor School that is being shifted from Brooklyn to Governors Island. She is intrigued by the school’s focus both because of her dad’s nautical path, her own love of the water, and  her longtime involvement in education.

I am really glad I had the chance to attend this wonderful event because not only did I get to know what is potentially in store for the future of Governors Island but also got to meet amiable artists who are creative and friendly. I am really looking forward to visiting this island this summer since it’s really a diamond in a mine that the city of New York is finally polishing.

Readings for 4/27 Class
| April 27, 2010 | 12:24 am | 4/27/2010, Blog | Comments closed

In “The Neighborhood, the District, and the Corridor,” Duany and Plater-Zyberk describe their ideal visions of neighborhoods, districts and corridors, all functional aspects of a given city in their view of New Urbanism. They place most focus on what elements are necessary for an ideal neighborhood, perhaps because it is the most expansive of the three. According to Duany and Zyberk, the key elements in developing a successful neighborhood are small size, diversity, inclusion of edges, and the presence of a center. They state that the optimal size of a neighborhood should be about a quarter of a mile, or five minutes at comfortable walking space from edge to the center of a neighborhood. They state that a neighborhood should contain a mix of various activities, and have them be accessible to ensure that youth and elderly can utilize the area without having to rely on others to bring them places. Housing options within the neighborhood should also be diverse, having various options to suit different income levels. According to them, edges may vary in characteristics, often based on whether the neighborhood is more urban (likely having an edge composed of some sort of man-made infrastructure) or if it is more rural (likely having a natural edge such as a forest, or some kind of land used for cultivation). Edges are not even always a necessity for a neighborhood, but a center however, is. A neighborhood’s center should be the location of its important, necessary buildings such as a post office and town hall. The center should be a public space that also includes commercial businesses and workplaces, although taking certain other things into account this might not always be the case. In general, they believe that public space should be a priority within neighborhoods. Duany and Zyberk discussing districts and corridors at a much lesser level of depth. Districts should serve a primary function, but also include the diverse activities of a neighborhood to support that district’s primary function and the importance of public space. Corridors are natural or man-made divisions that serve as partitions between various neighborhoods and districts. The plans that they outline in the article serve to develop compact, fully functional areas that are accessible enough to limit, or cut-down, on the necessity of using a car as a primary mode of transportation.

In “Planning Sustainable and Livable Cities,” Wheeler explores the concept of sustainability in relation to urban planning and development during a time when the concept was still a relatively fresh idea. He explains that the themes involved in the issue of sustainability include concern for long-term effects of urban development, maintaining the health on the natural environment, and maintaining the livability of the area for the residents. Some of the specific issues Wheeler cites as being in need of improvement are using land in more beneficial ways that maximize its potential, increasing accessibility to frequented places, cutting down on the amount of transportation used to travel to such places, finding ways to reuse and prevent waste/pollution, maintaining and restoring natural resources around us, increasing community involvement in the efforts of achieving sustainability, and other ideas along these same lines. Wheeler explains that in order to achieve these visions of sustainable cities, these issues need to be addressed in established planning processes so that the solutions are integrated going forward. Actually executing the changes is the most difficult part of the plan for sustainable cities.

In “The Uses of Sidewalks: Safety,” Jacobs discusses the function of streets and sidewalks as a definition of a city’s safety. Jacobs points out that cities are not just defined by a larger scale, but by the increased density of its residents. Since there is such a high density within cities, everyone becomes a stranger, increasing the overall sense of danger, and also eliminating the controls on acceptable behavior that are present in smaller areas where everyone knows one another and fears becoming the victim of gossip or judgment. Jacob says that a safe street is made by three elements: a clear distinction between public and private property, a sufficient amount of people watching the street, not by law enforcement, but by residents that have clear views of the sidewalks, and continuous use, adding to the idea of safety in numbers, as well as increasing the appeal for residents to people-watch, and contribute to the eyes watching over the street. The last element of the three is the most difficult to achieve since people will not use streets that they have no use for, as well as people will not watch the streets without reason. One solution to this problem is to ensure that there are a significant number of public places (such as delis, bars, etc) along streets to make them of constant usefulness to people, ensuring population. This then causes the businesses to become additional eyes on the street as they worry about the safety of their own businesses, which as public areas become related to the safety of the sidewalks outside.

In “Green Urbanism and the Lessons of European Cities […],” Beatley explores the idea of green urbanism, or “building cities in harmony with the natural environment.” Beatley discussed the various ideas involved in this idea of sustainable city planning, despite it’s being unclear, and states that many of the ideas involved are becoming more clear and solid through modeling after European concepts and efforts. Some of these major ideas are working to reduce the ecological footprint of cities by planning and developing within more limited means, increasing and incorporating more nature into urban makeup, and making use of urban output so that so that it does not just become waste (basically closing the loop of cradle to grave processes to become cradle to cradle). The article goes on to cite examples of ways that European countries have successfully promoted and achieved greener urban societies and explored how the United States might be able to follow in such footsteps. Some of these examples include sustainable transportation, policy that promotes greener transportation and discourages less green modes of transport, incorporating more ecology into the city itself (as I mentioned before), utilizing sources of renewable energy, getting people involved (both groups to support the efforts, and businesses and individuals by providing incentives for green practices). Beatley also discusses the importance of enforcing policy and regulation for sustainable cities to be a successful goal to achieve.

Sustainability and Public Health- Noa Krawczyk
| April 24, 2010 | 12:49 pm | 4/27/2010 | Comments closed

This week’s readings by the authors Jacobs, Duany and Zyrberk, Beatley, and Wheeler, all focus on ways to improve urban areas. This is very relevant to our current final projects, as we are working towards improving neighborhoods by attempting to solve essential problems found in them and make more efficient use of the land and resources they offer. These four articles consider a very wide range of issues of urban planning and living, including community safety and satisfaction, transportation and accessibility, efficient and economic land use, and the sustainability of the natural world and ecosystems. To do this they often compare American living environments and their problems to more efficient European cities and their planning practices as proof of the potential to improve the quality of life and future of American cities. All the authors were firm believers in the superiority of dense cities over spread out suburbs (Lakshman, I thought you would enjoy this) and were very optimistic about the possibility of improving them. What I found most interesting was that the authors addressed how largely culture comes into the way a city is planned and its patterns of development. When looking to improve these living areas it is therefore crucial to define and emphasize social values of the community and to plan towards a sustainable future that will satisfy both the population who lives there and the well being of the environment.

In “The uses of sidewalks: Safety,” Jane Jacobs emphasizes the significance of high density and crowdedness for the safety of a community and a healthy and happy living environment. She writes that if a city looks interesting and attractive it is because its streets look interesting and attractive, and that people thus value a city based on the quality and safety of its public streets and spaces. Jacobs constantly compares urban areas to suburban ones, emphasizing the superiority of cities and the drawbacks of extended and unpopulated suburban spaces. A central point is that unlike in suburbs, in cities you are constantly surrounded by strangers and it is therefore crucial to create an environment where one feels comfortable among so many people one doesn’t know. I completely agree with this remarkable phenomenon in cities like New York, where I can walk around Manhattan, crossing hundreds of people a day, and never once feel uncomfortable among such a large group of strangers. Jacobs discusses how the more crowded the street, the safer it is and the more people are likely to come to it as people love to see people and not empty space, which I couldn’t agree more with. Yet while I personally would choose to live on a loud and crowded street over a peacefully quiet one, I am not convinced that this is necessarily more of an attractive living environment to everyone, and many people would still prefer to live in a more quiet and slow moving area.

Andres Duany & Elizabeth Plater Zyberk, in their article “The Neighborhood, the District, and the Corridor,” discuss the concept of ‘new urbanism’ to increase urban patterns of interaction and decrease the dependence on cars for mobility. Like Jacobs, these authors disapprove of suburban living practices, and emphasize that cities are no longer dangerous and polluted environments that they used to be when people first began moving out to suburbs. They focus their planning on the concepts of the neighborhood, the district, and the corridor, and for each define their ideal vision for what they see is the most satisfying and efficient living environment. A central argument of theirs is that dependence on cars in suburbs reduces the ability of children and elderly to travel within a community, decreases human interaction, and also highly pollutes the environment. They therefore strongly encourage efficient public transportation plans that will allow for everyone to be able to access and reach different places. Additionally, Duany and Zybrek highlight the importance of community interaction on the street, promoting more walking public spaces where people can meet and interact with each other much more often than they would by sitting in their cars on empty roads and high ways.

In “Green Urbanism and the Lessons of European Cities,” Timothy Beatley uses the example of several European cities and planning practices to prove the point that it is very viable and possible to work towards both a happier living community and more sustainable and ecologically friendly energy use. Like the above authors, Beatley constantly compares urban and suburban life, speaking about how European culture values the importance of cities and crowdedness over largely separate living communities like in American suburbs. An ideal element of European cities he speaks about is its efficient transportation methods. With faster trains, more bike routes, and larger walking spaces, European cities allow for more community interaction and accessibility to more places. Additionally, public transport largely reduces the pollution exerted from the excessive car use in the United States. Beatley also focuses on the green planning practices of these cities, showing that with the support of the government and public, it is indeed possible to find economic alternatives to wasteful energy use and their replacement with more friendly and renewable energy sources. A very valid point, however, is that all these great aspects of European cities including their social interaction and activeness, and their high value on urban life and dense population are all embedded in historical and cultural values of many European communities. The question is if the American population has the interest in adopting European patterns or if the car-culture and wasteful practices of the Americans is culturally embedded and will not necessarily be willfully changed.

Lastly, Wheeler writes in “Planning Sustainable and Livable Cities” about sustainable urban development and the significance of long term planning for the wellbeing of the community as well as the human and natural environment on the long run. He begins by defining the different conceptions of sustainability and the struggle to agree on what it means to plan for the wellbeing of the future. He also emphasizes the importance of ‘livability’ and again addresses the question of how to improve the quality of life for people in the present and in years to come. Wheeler, as the other authors this week, also focuses on pedestrian satisfaction as a way to improve community and decrease environment pollution and destruction. He reviews in detail the central problems that are needed to be addressed in long term future plans: While each problem should be addressed on its own, solutions must take in all of the different urban issues at the same time make sure not to worsen other important factors affecting urban life. Wheeler, too, writes about the cultural aspects that often compromise long term planning for social and environmental wellbeing such as capitalist values that tend to focus on creating short-term profits as opposed to addressing larger social issues more difficult to grasp.

Although the issues discussed in these four articles are far reaching and complex to address, I agree with these authors completely that it is crucial to be optimistic and plan towards an ideal vision of long term improvements. While not all the problems will ever be solved completely, we can hope that with time we can work towards improving urban areas and the quality of life for the people and ecosystems that inhabit them.