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 Traffic Department? has promoted and we have mentioned in previous blog posts. As explained in her book The Street FightJanette Sadik-Kahn stated the iniative… the leftover street space was turned into a “squeet” (square+street). The first squeet in 2007 was a former parking lot transformed into plaza: the Pearl Street Triangle in Dumbo. 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: 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