What perfect timing our good friend Christopher Gray has. No sooner has the city begun debating in earnest the merits of whether or not Midtown East should be upzoned to allow for ever bigger skyscrapers than The Times’ Streetscapist reminds us that such debates, always fervent, are as old as the skyscrapers themselves, stretching back a century and a half. Read More
Best Laid Plans
How many New Yorkers, after a long day of work, are headed home, a little beaten down, look up and think to themselves, “You know what Midtown needs? Bigger buildings.”
Probably not very many. But this is a question the Department of City Planning and the Bloomberg administration are very seriously considering as they work on rezoning a huge swath of Midtown East, the vaguest details of which were revealed to the land use committees of Community Boards 5 and 6 last night.
The goals of the plan, first revealed, also vaguely, in the mayor’s State of the City address, are quite reasonable. Like it has with so much of the city, from the Far West Side to the Brooklyn waterfront to downtown Jamaica, Queens, the administration wants to revise a set of zoning principals first laid out in 1961, and changed little since.
Meanwhile the world has, as has the city, and in order to stay competitive with places like London, Shanghai and Abu Dhabi, Midtown, where 80 percent of buildings are 50 years old or older, must modernize. “We need to think of the global context,” said Edith Hsu-Chen, director of the department’s Manhattan office. Read More
Spurring on SPURA: Lower East Side Mega-Development, Decades in the Making, Will Be Affordable Forever
Exciting news for residents and denizens of the Lower East Side tonight. After, oh, seven decades, the city has finally reached a deal to redevelop the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, those swathes of parking lots just south of the Williamsburg Bridge affectionately known as SPURA.
According to two people present at the meeting (The Observer had other commitments, tonight, in addition to closing the paper—more on that tomorrow), the plan presented by the city’s Economic Development Corporation, with 900 apartments and nearly a million square feet of commercial space, was unanimously approved by Community Board 3. The linchpin, announced by Councilwoman Margaret Chin, was that the city had agreed to make half of those units permanently affordable, rather than a possible sunset 60 years out. Read More
Last Thursday, a wooden formwork, or cast, for a concrete wall inside one of *Manhattan’s many new hotels broke. This sent a cascade of concrete into one of the city’s grand not-quite-new-but-not-old hotels, Le Parker Meridien. The construction accident on West 56th Street put quite a damper on things inside the hotel where, as the Post points out, rooms cost $600 per night and, The Times adds,a hot chocolate is $6 at the Knave cafe, where the foot-thick flood of liquid stone settled, and began to harden.
Fortunately no one was injured in the accident. “One second, I’m sitting there having a cappuccino and the next moment, we are running for our lives,” Bernard Gershon, a West Sider who had met a friend for coffee, told the Post. Had something bad befallen the cafe guests, it would have been tragic not simply for the pain and suffering but because none of them are supposed to be there anyway.
The Knave Cafe, with its red satin drapes, lushly upholstered chairs and “deliciously diabolical drinks,” as the menu declares, has yet to reopen, and hotel staff could not yet say when it would. Perhaps never would be best. The Knave Cafe, it turns out, is kind of illegal. Read More
The city’s Department of Transportation is putting the brakes on its plan for 6½th Avenue, yielding to oncoming concerns about the implementation of a plan to construct new crosswalks that would connect pedestrian plazas running from 51st to 57th streets between Sixth and Seventh avenues. The plan was due to be put to a vote at Community Board 5 last Thursday, but the department has delayed its presentation for a month to help pave the way for its approval.
There had been some concerns about whether or not traffic impacts on the corridor had been sufficiently addressed and what the best means to mitigate traffic at pedestrian crossings might be. “It’s not going to be quite so simple at the full board, and they wanted to take a step back and make sure they had all the answers,” one community board member told The Observer. As we previously reported, the board’s transportation committee approved the 6½th Avenue plan unanimously. Read More
Friday was Adolfo Carrion’s last day working for the Obama administration. He had been ensconced for the past two years in a corner office on the 35th floor of the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building downtown, serving as director of HUD Region 2, which is where The Observer met him a few weeks ago to discuss the president‘s flagging urban agenda.
Bronx paraphernalia filled the glass-line space. Near the doorway was a green highway sign, WELCOME TO THE BRONX. On a bookshelf behind his desk, beside family photos, books (Sonia Sotomayor’s biography, Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat) and hardhats of special significance, rested a miniature subway sign for the 161st Street-Yankees Stadium stop. Along the wall stood a T.V. tuned to CNBC, framed newspaper clippings, and not one but two Yankees groundbreaking shovels, one of which had a bat for a handle. Pinstriped paraphernalia was everywhere, declaring the Manhattan-born, Bronx-bred politician’s on-field allegiance.
Mr. Carrion left the Bronx to go work for the administration, first on the campaign trail, then as the inaugural director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs. He left that position to come work at HUD, a move many saw as a demotion, though he insists it was always part of his plan. Read More
From his corner office on the 35th floor of the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building downtown, Adolfo Carrion could once survey much of his domain. The regional administrator for HUD Region 2, Mr. Carrion was responsible for the federal government’s housing and urban development projects in New York and New Jersey. Stretching out before the floor-to-ceiling windows is lower Manhattan. Brooklyn and Queens are off to the left. Staten Island and the Statue of Liberty peek out from behind the towers of downtown. Out across the harbor to the right is Jersey City and, off in the distance, Newark. Glory and destitution in one vista.
Peering down, it is easy to see a century’s worth of transformational urban development. The redbrick monoliths of the New York Housing Authority, the brainchild of Robert Moses and the WPA, abound. Idyllic towers propagated by LaGuardia, Rockefeller, Lindsay and a thousand other urban dreamers, these are the projects that deteriorated into The Projects. Ringing the Battery and over the bridges to Long Island are the FDR, the West Side Highway, the BQE and the rest of Moses’s great interstate network. After four decades, Battery Park City is nearly complete, built on the landfill dredged up by the World Trade Center. More than $20 billion in Liberty bonds is at work rebuilding the Trade Center and other pieces of lower Manhattan, ravaged on 9/11.
Yet for all this work, it is hard to recognize a marquee project, a bright shining beacon of the Obama administration on the scale of those that came before. Read More
When the city rezoned Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn in 2005, it tried to nudge retail development onto Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, via the natural selection. Developers built huge residential towers, but the street wall remained blank, empty of retail, a blight for pedestrians. The Department of City Planning is revising its plans for the strip, hoping to ensure any future development will be better, but Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, as is his wont, wants more. Read More
If the Cuomo administration has been adhering to austerity in its first year, that is because there is a smaller pie to carve up, as the governor keeps reminding New Yorkers. But he was also taking his time because the money is meant to go where it can actually do real work, according Read More
For years, planners and politicos have talked about transforming Brooklyn’s dingy Fourth Avenue into the borough’s own version of Park Avenue. That transformation is still in the works, but thanks to a handful of rezonings along the thoroughfare, the strip has gotten its fair share of mid-sized apartment buildings. Leaning more Robert Scarano than Rosario Candela, it is not exactly the sexiest strip. But one issue that has caused some real complaints within the community is the utter lack of street life. Read More