Adrian Benepe donned swim trunks for the opening of McCarren Park pool (after the ribbon cutting, he jumped in and swam a lap). High Line co-founder Robert Hammond remembers him in bike shorts during the elevated park’s inaugural weekend. But on the steamy evening when the New York Restoration Project held its annual fund-raising dinner at Gracie Mansion, Mr. Benepe was dressed conventionally in a suit, albeit with a backpack slung somewhat incongruously over one shoulder.
The backpack, like the granola bars that he keeps in his office, suggested a recent or upcoming tromp through some greensward more rugged than Carl Schurz, making it an agreeable accessory for an event aimed at rehabilitating neglected parks. But the former parks commissioner—for that was how people introduced him, despite the fact that he has been working at the Trust for Public Land for the past year—checked the bag at the entrance.
Leaving behind the “best job in the world” at the New York City parks department, where he spent the better part of 40 years and the near entirety of his professional career, has been more difficult. Mr. Benepe no longer presides over the 29,000-acre emerald empire whose transformation from overgrown, shabby and often-frightening urban wilderness into one of the city’s major tourist attractions has paralleled not only New York’s shift from a down-and-out city to an almost terrifyingly prosperous one, but also his own rise through the department’s ranks.
It Takes a Village
New York University won a huge victory at the City Council today, when it received approval for its somewhat less massive plan to expand its campus in Greenwich Villag, from from 2.5 million square feet to 1.9 million. What does that look like? The university produced some handy visual aids that show exactly that.
Was it enough? Not according to the project’s opponents, two dozen or so of whom showed up at the council this morning to waggle their hands in the face of the assembled pols (cheers, boos and hisses were forbidden, so they were left with jazz hands, like an Occupy protest).
“I’m really disappointed,” Community Board 2 chair David Gruber said after the land use committee voted 19-1 in favor of the modified plan. “I really felt the plans was not modified enough. NYU, with the tacit backing of the mayor, felt they could do whatever they wanted.”
Until last fall and the occupation of Zucotti Park, privately owned public spaces, or POPS, were a mystery to most New Yorkers. Ever since, people have been debating the fate of these spaces and what the city should do to ensure their accessibility at the same time to public is expected to behave themselves.
But it turns out such contentious urban space is not the sole preserve of New York. As a recent report in The Guardian reveals, our arch-nemesis London has been grappling with “private estates.”
on the waterfront
Brooklyn Bridge Park has transformed the borough’s waterfront, replacing derelict warehouses with yuppie-packed lawns and playgrounds. The project would not be possible without the controversial private development surrounding it, a handful of apartment buildings, retail outlets, even a hotel. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend the night in New York overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge?
The developers vying for the right to develop Pier 1, that’s who.
Walking through the two N.Y.U. superblocks just north of Houston Street can be both a tranquil and oppressive experience. Surrounded by brusque, mid-century apartment buildings many times taller than the townhouses and loft buildings surrounding them, the open space at the Silver Towers and Washington Square Village is not exactly inviting.
Created by some of the greatest landscape architects of their day, these spaces are, to put it mildly, challenging. Like the modernist architects redefining what buildings should look like in the middle of the last century, so too did these landscape architects, favoring viny slopes and more concrete than vegetation in places. At the corner of Houston Street and LaGuardia Place, Alan Sonfist’s Time Landscape, which to most New Yorkers may look like an overgrown thatch, is actually a celebrated space taught in design and art schools around the world.
These “parks” need, if not improving, at least updating. That is a big part of N.Y.U.’s pitch to the community as it works to rezone the area, one of the most vicious Village NIMBY fights since Robert Moses built these superblocks half a century ago.
Still, does that mean N.Y.U. can bend the truth when talking about the project?
Upper Upper East Side residents have been locked in a development death match with The Related Companies for a few months now, ever since the company decided to exercise its right to build a residential tower on the site of a playground it has maintained for the past 25 years. Actually, 28 years.
Recently, Related decided to close Ruppert Playground, but the community is fighting back because there are no immediate plans to redevelop the site. Rather than let Related take its ball and go home, though, Council Speaker Christine Quinn has stepped up to the plate and potentially throwing up some hurdles that could bring greater oversight, and possibly concessions, to the site.
Michael Kimmelman returned to the public realm for this week’s column, where he all but declared what appears to be his raison d’etre going forward: “We’ve been so fixated on fancy new buildings that we’ve lost sight of the spaces they occupy and we share,” he wrote in the Sunday Times. But instead of Zuccotti Park and protest spaces, this time Mr. Kimmelman turns his attention on Midtown, where he ambles about with the esteemed planner (and mayoral soothsayer) Alexander Garvin.
Together, they argue that the city needs to do more to plan these spaces, which are largely designed ad hoc, if at all, by the developers who own the properties. They point to Holland, that godhead of urban enlightenment, as a prime example from which to learn:
It turns out New York City is more bucolic than we thought. According to a study by Sustainable Yards — a group that focuses on making lawns truly “green” — 27 percent of the five borough’s total surface area is covered by yards. The Journal turned up this nifty Read More