Welcome to Urban Omnibus

When you walk by a blue plywood construction barrier, do you stop and poke your head inside the opening to see what’s going on? Are you designing a new way to deploy windmills on multi-family buildings? Do you bore your friends with your vehement opinions on the latest glass tower in Chelsea? Do you keep meaning to check out what really goes at your community board meeting? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you are interested in the relationship between design and the physical city. This is the place for you. This website, and the occasional meet-ups and live events that will emerge from it, seeks to probe and bear witness to the tremendous amount going on across the city that never quite manages to bubble up into a city-wide conversation. Some of the most exciting sites, projects and debates continue to be isolated in the various communities of interest surrounding design issues: professions, neighborhoods, periodicals, blogs. We want to bring innovative approaches together, and start a conversation about them that begins online but just might end up at the bar. The points of departure for this conversation are the multi-media features we will post each week going forward. We will have a new feature every Wednesday and posts to our forum throughout the week, so check back often and jump in. Please drop us a line if you have work want to show that fits the bill or an idea of something you would like to see covered. And leave your comments on features and forum posts so we can get the conversation started.

We’re starting off with a series of short videos – rolled out over the next couple weeks – that explores ten years of agriculture in East New York. New York’s renaissance in urban farming, particularly in communities with long histories of disinvestment such as Bed-Stuy and East New York, has been well-reported elsewhere. And much of this coverage is excellent. At Urban Omnibus, we’re not trying to recast human-interest stories in an architectural light but rather to investigate the multiple layers of design thinking that often lie beneath powerful urban transformations. On the other side of Brooklyn, we’ve also taken a look at an ideas competition for Grand Army Plaza organized by the Design Trust for Public Space and the Grand Army Plaza Coalition. It seems designs competitions are all the rage these days, but rarely do interested observers get the chance to go behind the scenes and hear jurors describe the issues at play in their own words. Rarely are concerned abutters encouraged to project into the future that sense of transformative possibility that competitions foster. And rarely are citizens from other parts of our metropolis invited to comment on the process. Indeed, providing greater access to the relationship between thinking the city and building the city is one of our core objectives. Sometimes the back-story that probes this relationship extends a century back or more, as in the case of the Floating Pool, whose founder and architect share with us captivating tales of its origin, design, development and implementation. But it’s not always a specific design or planning project that illuminates the complex processes that fascinate us. We’re also going to be talking to individuals – especially under-represented voices in design and related pursuits – about particular places, ideas and stories. The first of these is a walk with Richard Sennett, who takes us around his old neighborhood and shares reflections and insights that touch on a wide range of urban and architectural issues. In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing a process video on some live design activism, an in-depth conversation about the Newtown Creek Nature Walk, and a graphic exploration of tidal power. So stay tuned. Drop us some knowledge. Get involved.

Cassim Shepard served as the founding editor of Urban Omnibus from its inception to 2014.