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.
Gowanus 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.
Pearl 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