NYC 2016: Visiting local planners pt.1 (bye NYC!)

Before arriving here, we arranged a few meetings in NYC with some professionals whose work was interesting and close to our own field. We got to visit two local planners: WSP-Parsons Brinckerhoff NY office and New York City Planning Departments office.

NYC Planning Department visit

A couple of weeks ago, we visited New York City Planning Department. Obviously, city planning is in a whole different scale in NYC than in Helsinki, but we found a lot of things in common as well.

We talked about New York City’s hottest development areas. Like in Helsinki, waterfront is attractive, and the focus has slowly moved outside of Manhattan. In NYC waterfront zoning, there is usually a required amount of public spaces along the water. Public access to the waterfront is usually a must. We discussed a lot about Brooklyn, which has undergone a lot of changes during its renaissance. Gowanus canal and Red Hook in Brooklyn are some of the most interesting ones. There are plans to clean up the polluted Gowanus canal, nicknamed “the Buttermilk Channel”, so that it can be turned into a canal-fronting park and develop the real estate in the area.

WP_20160821_16_04_59_Pro.jpgGowanus canal now

NYC waterfront areas have a distinct problem though – there is a risk for flooding all over lower Manhattan because of major storms. Helsinki is not as vulnerable, because it is not by the ocean and in tropical storms’ reach, but we are preparing for the climate change still. Right now in NYC there is a flood protection program on the way.

We also talked about the streetscape changes that DOT, the Department of Transport in New York has promoted and we have mentioned in previous blog posts. Among those changes is an interesting concept called “squeet” (square+street) .  In NYC there are loads of intersections where a diagonal street meets the orthogonal city grid resulting in leftover spaces in the crossroads. By reconfiguring the intersection the leftover street space can be turned into a “squeet”. The first squeet in 2007 was a former parking lot transformed into plaza: the Pearl Street Triangle in Dumbo. As explained in her book The Street Fight, Janette Sadik-Kahn stated the iniative to the transformation of the square came from the local entrepreneurs. Like the other squeets, it is a private-owned public space (POPS). There are dozens of similar privately owned public spaces in New York City, both street plazas and more park-like public spaces. The city puts a minimal public investment into changing the space and local community takes care of the maintenance.

NYC (111).JPGPearl Street Triangle in Dumbo

It seems that especially finance related issues in city planning and finding the role between a planner and a real estate finance negotiator are common problems both in Finnish planners’ life and here in NYC. In both countries the base degree for an urban planner or designer is usually an architect, which does not cover all the needed knowledge to master the profession.

The New York City Planning Department has basic planning guidelines which we could very much relate to: keeping in mind the sense of place, making plans open and accessible and designing with care. But the one that we would like to practice back home is “plans, that make us feel good” – isn’t that what it is all about?

Bye New York – blog continues

This is our last day in New York City. It has been hectic and amazing. So hectic, that many blog posts are yet to be finished – so we are publishing the last ones this and coming weeks. We will miss you!

– Laura & Tomi

NYC 2016: Street & park events

They claim that during August, every New Yorker escapes the heat to Long Island, but the city has been anything but dead. We have bumped into some awesome summer events all over New York.

New York is a big city in population as well as in distances, but the city structure of conjoined villages makes it easy to approach. Different neighbourhoods have their own characters and local events, which are often not too big at all.

NYC park events

As I mentioned earlier, we went to see a free movie to Brooklyn Bridge Park one night. I was delighted that the movie night was well put together, yet it was not too crowded at all. I noticed that there is an impressive list of events in the park during the summer season: from kayaking and basketball to horticultural volunteering. Part of the events run understandably spring through fall only, but all in all the event calendar covers the whole year. I find this kind of an approach a real asset for the neighbourhood, increasing livability and expanding scarce living area to outdoors. As the public spaces are used more, it improves social control and thus the feeling of safety, and maybe even increases the value of the nearby apartments.

NYC (608).JPGBrooklyn Bridge Park joggers

Besides movies, there are a lot of free or low-cost events in parks all over the city. The events are gathered under one website, where you can also filter the events according to the area or activity type.

I have tried different yoga and pilates classes in Fort Tryon Park, Hudson River Park and Jane Bailey Memorial Garden. They have all been very professional and a good way to get to know NYC parks. There are so many options all over the city that groups tend to stay small and you can just sneak in. I think these kind of easily accessible events could work for example in Helsinki, too. In best case scenario you develop a closer relationship to your neighbourhood community when you start going to your local yoga.

pilates.jpgHudson River Park pilates

jooga.jpgJane Bailey Memorial Garden yoga

BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival

Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival is a one of New York City’s longest running, free, outdoor performing arts festivals and it takes place in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. It was launched in 1979 and the organizer, Brooklyn Information & Culture or BRIC, claims that the event was an early anchor in the park’s revitalization and brought people back to the park after years of neglect. Naturally, they work in cooperation with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation and the Prospect Park Alliance.

Two weeks ago, on a Friday night, we happened to pass by the Prospect Park festival venue and decided to stay for the concert. The performers were a psych-pop band Dr. Dog with an orchestra collective the Knights. The event was free, even though they hoped for a small donation of a few dollars at the door. Despite it being free, the venue was professionally executed, nicely decorated, not too crowded and there was plenty of lawn to lay down your picnic quilt. The food trucks deserve a special mention, because food was delicious, local and reasonably priced.

NYC 2016 känny (163).jpgCelebrate Brooklyn!

I was once again impressed how a free event can be of such high quality. Obviously, a free lunch is never free, and this event is largely funded by Friends of BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn!. There are different donor levels and benefits accordingly. I am sure that this event gathers a lot of donors since it has a distinct image and sense of locality combined with a tradition.

Street events

A long tradition is New York City is to to open up their streets to pedestrians for play on a recurrent basis under Play Streets Program. For schools and community groups with insufficient active play spaces, Play Streets open up streets in quieter blocks for physical activity. The change is meant to be permanent, but it can be easily dismantled if there was a need to do so.

I visited 78th street Play Street in Jackson Heights. The location is ideal, between a playground and a school. It is a renowned public space improval that started with the community initiative. The project began in 2007 when a group of neighborhood activists, the Jackson Heights Green Alliance (JH Green) wanted to improve and increase the amount of public space in their neighborhood. The street was quiet during the day, but even some benches and trees are obviously a welcome sign to spend time on the public space instead of walking by, or worse, driving by.

NYC (209).JPGA Play Street in Jackson Heights, Queens.

When talking about temporary street closures, Summer Streets should be mentioned. We took part in it the first Saturday of August. There will be more on that in Tomi’s recently released blog entry!

…and more

Pop-up events seem very trendy in New York at the moment. I actually noticed an event series called Pop Up New York, where they close a part of a central street every now and then to open it for people, food and live music.  think I am going to check it out this weekend.

– Laura

NYC 2016: Summer Streets

On our first weekend here in NYC we participated in the annual Summer Streets event. It is a street celebration where nearly seven miles of streets in Manhattan, mainly Park Avenue are closed from motorized traffic and opened to the public to exploit it on foot or on a bicycle. Additionally, a big part of the intersections were closed as well and where there was crossing traffic, crossing supervisors and even police officers helped people get through safely. The event was held this year on the first three Saturdays in August between 7 am and 1 pm.

The idea for the event came from Medellín, Colombia, where they have been arranging temporary street closures on Sundays and public holidays. NYC’s first Summer Streets was arranged in 2008 and after almost a decade of arranging it, it has a long list of partners that provide activities during the event and it seems to attract a large crowd. The idea of regular street closures has also spread to other major cities around the globe, including London and Paris.

kollaasi1.jpgThe Summer Streets route map and a few views of the event

We started our exploration of the event relatively early, at 9 am and hit the route towards the grand Park Avenue. In the morning hours there were times you couldn’t see that many other cyclist or runners around so the avenue felt really spacious. It reminded me of a scene from the movie Vanilla Sky where Tom Cruise cruises around empty streets of NYC… Somehow it was a little disappointing at first that the streets weren’t packed with people. But actually, it was kind of cool to experience a major city street that way, meaning that as a pedestrian or a cyclist you are so used to the idea that you should stay on the edges of streets and keep out of the way of “real” (read cars) traffic.

summerstreet1At the early hours Park Avenue looked deserted at times…

…but streets started to fill up soon.
summerstreet3Towards the end of the event there was already a pedestrian and bicycle rush hour

Being suddenly able to choose whatever lane you want and set the pace as you prefer was not only empowering and sort of cool, but also it allowed you to see the street in a totally new perspective. It is not often that you have so much time to observe sight-line endings and street side buildings. Usually there is only time for seeing the things on the ground floors of the buildings since you are concentrating on the traffic. The experience must be even more empowering for kids and other people who are not used to cycling amongst heavy traffic.

different_groupsSummer Streets attracted cyclist from different age groups

The event was of course not only about cycling. There were actually a lot of people running, walking and just lingering back and forth Park Avenue. We ran part of the route and it was great fun as you could imagine yourself taking part on a New York City marathon.

Laura_runningSpeeding through Park Avenue on foot

There were lots of other activities offered on five rest stops, including a zip-line, educational and informational stands by co-operators, art performances and fitness classes. Especially the dance-classes offered by a local studio had a nice impact on the crowd as passers-by started to spontaneously join the fun. On our journey we also stopped by at a farmer’s market along the route.

summerstreet4At the last one of our stops it was a full-on street festival with during the public dance classes

vihanneksetFarmer’s market: wow, such nice groceries!

It is no wonder that temporary street closures are listed as one of interim design strategies in NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide. I’ve been impressed here in NYC  about the not-so-polished interim designs to add bike lanes or make lane diets to streets. The street closures add another layer to thinking differently about streets as it lets you imagine in a real setting what it would be like if our streets were not dominated by cars. For example, it was great to have Kurvi Block Party in Helsinki last summer to close part of Hämeentie from motor vehicles. We should really get a regular event like Summer Streets in Helsinki as well. I think that giving us a chance to see a radically different use for streets more often would help us better imagine a streetscape that doesn’t have to be dominated by cars.



NYC 2016: Waterfronts so far so good

New York City is surrounded by water with different uses and relationships with water. Here are some that I observed.

Outdoor living room Brooklyn Bridge Park

We went to see a free outdoor movie in Brooklyn Bridge Park one night and while there, I took a look around. It seems that there something for everyone and the park is basically an extension to their living rooms.NYC (671) muok.jpg

The park consists of several piers and a greenway which combines them. Like usually, this area used to be an industrial  harbour until the 1980s. The first redesigned piers 1 and 6 were opened to public in 2010. The construction is still going on in the pier 5.NYC (673) muok2.jpg

Each pier has a different function. There is a picnic lawn, sports fields, a sandy beach, secret hideouts under the luch vegetation, you name it. The event calendar is very impressive and offers a lot of free options. All of this is managed by the Conservancy and enabled apparently largely by volunteer work, donations and memberships.NYC (685) muok2.jpg

But despite all the activities, the view is the best part of this park.

Self-organized Hudson River Greenway

Last Sunday, I wandered around Harlem trying to find a place to read a book. Behind a railway overpass and a highway underpass the Hudson shoreline was suddenly there. And I wasn’t alone – there were dozens of locals jogging, biking and hanging around, having a nice Sunday afternoon.NYC 2016 känny (117) muok.jpg

Families had BBQs and birthday parties along with booming reggaeton music. I found it nice that people were enjoying themselves despite the elevated Henry Hudson Parkway and its enormous junction nearby. This area is a vague no-mans-land, except that it is not, because it is  very much in a proper use! Luckily the road was originally built far enough allowing the use of the waterfront.NYC 2016 känny (119) muok.jpg

Ecological values in Muscota Marsh

On the way to a free outdoor yoga class (the luxury!) I went to see the northernmost tip of Manhattan, Muscota Marsh park. It is a tiny wetland park that was built by Columbia University, in collaboration with the NYC parks department. It is place where freshwater of Hudson River and salty water of the sea meet.  There was a rich estuary ecosystem before European arrival.

I think it is amazing to have a place like this to see a bit of the the original Manhattan nature rehabilitated. Even the name is a reminder of the history: “Muscota” is the Lenape word for “meadow by the water,” or “where the reeds grow.”NYC (40) muok.jpg

The cityscape is also interesting: the gigantic Bronx apartment buildings and Henry Hudson bridge behind the peaceful marsh and Spuyten Duyvil creek. Quite a contrast!NYC (46) muok.jpg

Industrial Red Hook, soon to be developed

There was a music-and-arts festival in Red Hook last weekend. If you ask me, this kind of an industrial environment is the only appropriate background for electronic music. The venue itself, Gowanus Bay Terminal, was very far from all the public transport, but I guess you have to be willing to walk miles to see places like this.

We could have taken a ferry to the festival though, because since 2008 there has been an Ikea that is served by a ferry from downtown. The rugged industrial area is getting a real clean-up now that the construction work of an enormous Norman Foster-designed office building on the other side of Ikea begins and the development of  Fairway Market and waterfront gets going. I predict it is “bye-bye festivals” soon.NYC 2016 känny (170) muok.jpg

Echoes from the past in Coney Island

Last week we took an impromptu trip to Coney Island. Brighton Beach was the last stop of a subway line, far away from the city both in my mind and in reality. Russian-language signs, high residential blocks and the suddenly opening beach behind them make a peculiar mix. The amusement park was a refreshingly old-school place, like time has stopped in the early 1900s. On a weekday the beach was half-empty.NYC (352) muok2.jpg

– Laura

Bonus: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir

Tomi admires the Central Park view.NYC (384) muok2.jpg

NYC 2016: Visiting NACTO

We got the opportunity to visit the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ (NACTO) headquarters here in NYC last week and meet two members of their Global Designing Cities Initiative program.  NACTO is a non-profit coalition between 42 US  and 4 international cities (Canada and Mexico) that promotes cities’ interest in federal decision making regarding transportation and works as a knowledge sharing network. As mentioned before as a part of the knowledge sharing they’ve made an impressive set of street design manuals with distinctive, comprehensible and high-class visuals.

nactovisualsimage 1: Example of the appealing visuals of Transit Street Design Guide by NACTO

I first came across with NACTO’s guidebooks when I was working in WSP Finland on a project to set principles for designing Espoo’s city centers to more urban areas. Going deeper into the ingredients of urbanity, walkability stood out as one of the main components of urban neighborhoods. Most of the (sub)urban centers in Finland are missing a public environment and streets that encourage to walk. Looking through Finnish cities’ street dimensioning manuals I noticed that most of them could be improved with a more complete spatial vision of streetscapes (image 2 shows a typical representation of street type). This is why I started to look for examples from abroad.

HKI-pääkatuimage 2: A typical Finnish depiction of a street type. 

As it turns out, we are not of course alone with our pursue for walkability and automobile-centric practices in designing streets are still a norm also here in the US. As Jeff Speck puts it in his book Walkable City “What characterizes the discussion on cities these days is not a wrongheadedness or a lack of awareness about what needs to be done, but rather a complete disconnect between that awareness and the actions of those responsible for the physical form of our communities”. Like in Finland, also in the US urban street design is often hampered by instructions made for either suburban or highway conditions that lack the understanding of streetscapes as important public spaces. That’s the reason why e.g. NYC Department of Traffic lead by commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan worked with NACTO on street designs more appropriate for city needs.

Seeing NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide is like a breath of fresh air among street manuals. It is immediately comprehensible and it has great visuals to support the ideas. Already in the beginning of the book the street design principles set the tone for human-centric and versatile approach (see the principles below in picture 3).

NACTO-street-principlesimage 3: Street design principles from Urban Street Design Guide by NACTO

Downtown Transit corrdi.jpgimage 4: Downtown transit street from Transit Street Design Guide by NACTO

Taking things to the global level

We were super lucky to get an appointment now in August since it was a hectic time in NACTO’s office: they are just about to publish a new book called Global Street Design Guide. A guidebook that tries to address street design issues on a global level might feel a bit of an exaggeration at first, but when it comes to walkability and streets as public space, things are truly global. After all, doing pedestrian-friendly environment is about human dimensions which are universal. And as we got to see some sections from the upcoming book, human-centered design is indeed the focal point of the book as seen in the great visual seen in image 5. Helsinki has also made a similar prioritization in its traffic development plan but yet again NACTO does the same accompanied with great complementing imagery.

NACTO_GSDG_Teaser_final_v15_Page_1image 5: Prioritization pyramid from Global Street Design Guide by NACTO

Another important and ambitious point in the global guide is to build a worldwide peer-to-peer network and to collect a good set of best practices from around the globe. (E.g. Helsinki has also contributed some examples to the upcoming manual.) Typically in Finland one might look at a street design recommendation and think “how does this work with snow”. The idea in the global guide is to show more general principles on comfortable, safe and delightful street designs in the manual and have the global network of cities as an extra support for more detailed solutions. The global network has also provided realized examples of different street solutions which is a great addition to the visual representations.

It is also interesting to notice in this kind of peer-to-peer meetings that although the contexts may vary, a lot of the current topics are the same. For example we all shared the notion that different professions in planning tend have different approaches and this kind of proactive street design guidelines should be made as a multidisciplinary joint effort. I think this is why it is important to share the experiences and knowledge instead of competing professionally and NACTO is doing a great job in that!


WP_20160810_12_05_38_ProTwo happy urban designers after a great visit to NACTO.

PS. On our way to the meeting we got a good example of the versatile transport options in NYC. As we were heading to the meeting office the subway train suddenly stopped about 15 streets away from NACTO’s headquarters. We first tried to walk (a little bit of runnig occured as well 🙂 ) but we soon noticed a Citibike-station nearby. Luckily it is quite quick to purchase a day-pass to the system! Thanks to this unusual travel-chain we were able to make it to the meeting on time.

NYC 2016: Changing High Line pt.2

Spatial structure and views

The scenery and spatial structure of the park has changed a lot compared to the last time I visited it. At first I couldn’t tell exactly what was so different, but then I realized that vegetation has grown so much it is hard to recognize places. Paths are narrower and there is more shadow all over. Tall grass creates isolated spaces for lingering. In some sections, grown trees hide the urban landscape outside of the High Line and you can almost pretend you are somewhere away from the city.

NYC (106).JPGWildness in the city.

The quiet benches on the edges of the park offer good places for people observing. In a way, the life and people are the main attraction of the park. On the other hand, people sitting behind the tall grass are almost like elegant statues.

People that are walking on the High Line are also observed by residents on the neighbouring apartments. Most of the new residential buildings had balconies facing the park. That means that the residents are also being watched by the people strolling in the park. From a Finnish point of view that is quite hard to comprehend – in Finland, privacy is highly valued.

NYC (117) muok.jpgPrivate terraces by the High Line. 

Not that people are the only thing worth observing here. There are several viewing points where you can look at the skyline in the distance and roaring traffic below the High Line. I find it quite interesting that the city itself is seen as a valuable ever-changing landscape, with the traffic noise and all. And since the park flows through the block structure you’ll get to see the insides of the perimeter blocks that remain a mystery when walking in the surrounding streets.

The questions of temporality and conservation

Walking along the High Line I noticed a lot of temporary structures where there were building sites. Sometimes it was hard to tell what was temporary and what was not – beautifully curved canopies turned out to be Zaha Hadid’s designs. This could be a good point to learn in Finland as well – temporary can and should look beautiful. Pedestrians’ safety and orienting should always be the main concern around the building sites. If they are well taken care of, suddenly it doesn’t even matter if there is a construction work going on.

NYC (180) muok2.jpgZaha’s construction shed.

As the environment is in constant change, the whole question of a “ready” or “temporary” seems to become irrelevant. When is the High Line with its surroundings built ready? Does the area lose something of its rough charm if it is doomed ready?

The uniqueness of Chelsea was noticed as it was designated as a Historic District 1970. In 2008, a new Historic District focusing on the industrial history in West Chelsea was approved. It seems that the previously mentioned Zaha Hadid luxury apartment house is rising in that small historic district. Without a doubt, many others are also interested in building there. But every time a new design is erected, a piece of the original landscape disappears. Ultimately, what will there left of the industrial Chelsea and the High Line? At least the locals are worried: there is a community-based organization Save Chelsea that wants to maintain the economic, social and architectural variety in the area. After all, that very history is the base of all the recent development and added value.

– Laura

NYC 2016: Changing High Line pt.1

From an industrial rail to a park

I am quite sure that everyone who is into urban planning and urban development especially in industrial areas is familiar with the High Line. But if not, let’s revise the history quickly. The High Line was an elevated rail that ran from 34th Street to St John’s Park Terminal. As the goods traffic ended in 1980, a group of property owners lobbied for demolition, but thanks to local activists, planning for the reuse started in the early 2000s instead. Finally, the first part of the new park was opened in 2009.

I was lucky to visit it soon after its opening in 2010. I was interested in urban fallow visions and city transforming through regeneration. The High Line was a perfect example of those optimistic visions becoming true. Back then only the first part from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street was open. Nevertheless, I was thrilled. The transformation was successful – there was a distinctive touch of the industrial past left to see and the landscape architecture adapts to the existing structures seamlessly. The park seemed to be very popular then, and now even more. The latest figures show it has nearly 6 million visitors per year.

P1070188.JPGThe High Line, second section.

High Line and surroundings go hand in hand

Obviously the development of the High Line park has benefited a lot from the on-going gentrification of Meatpacking District and Chelsea. The area has transformed into one of the trendiest – and most expensive – neighbourhoods, and for example Chelsea Market in that area is another successful example of industrial turned commercial. In 2005, much of West Chelsea was rezoned to allow the reuse of High Line and to encourage the residential development and the use of former industrial spaces as art galleries, while maintain the mix of residential, light industrial and retail uses.

NYC 2016 (29) muok.jpg520 West 28th is advertised to the strollers on the High Line.

The success of the High Line and other projects has attracted high-end architecture and investments in Chelsea-Meatpacking District area. Back in 2010 there were already shiny new buildings surrounding the High Line, such as the world headquarters of IAC by Frank Gehry and the residential building “Vision Machine” by Jean Nouvel. Now I noticed the well-advertised Zaha Hadid design, which is a luxury apartment building, and Thomas Juul’s new double apartment complex. Many residential or commercial buildings, often designed by big names, are yet to be finished. Everybody is trying to ride the High Line wave. But with the visitor numbers like these, who wouldn’t? The cityscape around the High Line is mixed and puzzle-like and tolerates well different types of buildings. The big object-like buildings are observed from an elevated level, which makes the scenery far more interesting than observing from the street level.  The starchitect designs are changing the High Line more like an architecture outdoor gallery though, adding the hype and making prices skyrocket.

NYC 2016 (48).JPGIAC headquarters and the Vision Machine seen from the High Line.

At the southern end there is the new building of Whitney Museum of American Art. It is designed by Renzo Piano, and includes approximately 50,000 square feet of indoor galleries and 13,000 square feet of outdoor exhibition space and terraces facing the High Line. I think that along the outdoor architecture gallery the museum fits in the place perfectly. Coming from the north, it frames the view elegantly.

NYC 2016 (148)_muok.jpgThe terraced building of Whitney Museum of  American Art.

NYC 2016 (21)_muok2.jpgWhitney’s main entrance creates a pleasant plaza in the front.

Hudson Yards development

The third section of the High Line opened in September 2014. The part seems to be still very much in progress, especially because there is a large construction site next to the railyard. I found out that this site is the largest private real estate development in the history of the United States, the Hudson Yards. When completed in 2024, 125 000 people a day will work in, visit, or live in Hudson Yards. I was surprised to find out that the High Line is barely mentioned in their site although one third of it literally wraps around the development site. The High Line is featured as “a neighbouring park”. Curious!

P1070146.JPGHudson Yards site.

Success attracts everybody

The smell of success attracts the most imaginative projects to hop on the High Line train. Recently, a project called the Lowline, an underground park, got New York City’s official approval. Although this project is not connected with the High Line as far as I can tell, just the name alone connects it with its predecessor. The Lowline Lab is yet to be visited, hopefully there is time for it next week.

More reflecting on the High Line following soon in an another post!


NYC 2016: The background of a transforming streetscape

One of our themes for the month here in NYC is streetscape and the way it is being altered to meet the needs of the ever growing metropolis.Transforming streetscapes that have been designed to mainly meet the needs of car traffic to pedestrian-friendly environments is an ever-growing trend both internationally and in Finland. Numerous cities have made a clear (re)prioritization between different modes of transportation. After a long period of car-first thinking key priorities are now pedestrian – cycling – public transport – private cars. Attitude change is a good start, but we also need good design solutions to create functional and comfortable, pedestrian-friendly streets and squares also in busy locations.

Background research

For background research of the ideas behind these changes we’ve looked at Streetfight by Janette Sadik-Khan and Seth Solomon and Walkable City by Jeff Speck. The first is essential in telling the story behind the transformations of the changes in traffic planning in NYC. Janette Sadik-Khan was was the commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation from 2007-2013. The book explains how the big transformations in NYC’s streets started to take shape during her time in the office. The latter, Jeff Speck’s bestseller is a good theoretical overview on why walkability should be a major concern among planners and how it could be achieved. Jeff Speck has been a popular lecturer since his book came out and he visited also Finland in 2015.

Since Jan Gehl is one of the important figures in reshaping the NYC’s streetscapes we also looked at his books Life Between Buildings and Cities for People. These two books give a good idea of Gehl’s design philosophy that has influenced planners around the world.

Lukemiset.jpgOur main reads for this trip – all of which are highly recommendable!

Expert meetings

In order to get a deeper understanding of the issues that the planners and designers are tackling here we are visiting some local colleagues here. We are going to visit the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) who have published excellent manuals regarding streetscape design. Urban and Transit Street Design guides and Urban Bikeway Design Guide all give an excellent answers not only to the question what should be done to streets but also good explanation of why and how these changes should be made.

After NACTO, we are meeting planners at WSP-Parsons Brinckerhoff and New York City Planning Department. We hope that these meetings will give us a better understanding how designs are put into practice here in NYC.

Boulevard design from NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide, 2013

The solutions

Besides the readings and discussions with the planners we are of course looking at the actual solutions in real life. We are trying to experience the streets on NYC in diverse ways and with different modes of transportation. In this field research part we are trying to investigate the streets in order  – as Jeff Speck says about his book – not to explain why or how cities work but what works in the cities. We are going to look at the more permanent and interim design solutions that have been made in the streets and try to evaluate how they work.

We have started our studies on the streetscape and we got a good start by running and cycling about 10km through Manhattan in the Summer Streets event which will be the topic of the next traffic post.


Action research.jpgHelsinki City Planner learning from New York in action


NYC 2016: First impressions

NYC 2016 (69).JPG

We arrived in New York City three days ago. The city is strikingly big! We took an airport train and subway from JFK to Harlem and Laura managed to sleep for quite a bit on the way – the trip through highly urban neighbourhoods took about 1,5 hours. We are both excited and anxious about the hugeness and endless stories of the city – how much can you even cover in only one month?

Our study program for this August includes four themes: urban regeneration, transforming streetscape, waterfront development and using public space bottom-up. In all of these we are interested in interfaces of different spaces, user groups or forms of development. We try to give you some insight on these topics while comparing our observations with our daily work.

– Laura & Tomi