A Walk with Bob Yaro

Since 1922, the Regional Plan Association has promoted plans, policies and investments needed to improve the quality of life and competitiveness of the New York metropolitan region, America’s largest urban area. As president of RPA, Robert D. Yaro advocates for coordinated regional planning across municipal and state boundaries that integrates community design, open space, transportation, housing, and economic and workforce development.

Recently, he took Lisa Chamberlain, executive director of the Forum for Urban Design, on a tour of some sites of ambitious mega-projects – past, present and future – in Midtown West, including Penn Station, the Hudson Rail Yards and the Javits Center. Yaro’s comments reveal him to be equally comfortable discussing advances in tunnel-boring technology as he is delving into the fine grain of urban design or the sense of place a commuter feels arriving on a train platform.

Penn Station

Penn Station is the major intercity rail hub in New York City, and one of the busiest train stations in the country. The station is situated in the Pennsylvania Plaza complex, which includes Madison Square Garden, retail and offices. The original station – widely considered a masterpiece of Beaux Arts architecture – was designed by McKim, Mead and White, completed in 1910 and demolished in 1963. The controversial demolition of Penn Station was a galvanizing moment for the American landmarks preservation movement. The last decade has seen many iterations of plans to rebuild the station as Moynihan Station in the eastern half of the Farley Post Office.

When you’re in the regional planning business, you have to take the long view.

Click the audio player above to stream Bob’s reflections on Penn Station. Click here to download the mp3. Click on any of the photos below to view a slideshow of the spaces he’s discussing.

Hudson Yards

Hudson Yards refers to the underutilized area bounded roughly by West 42nd Street and West 30th Street, Eighth Avenue and the Hudson River. It includes the MTA‘s 26-acre John D. Caemmerer West Side Railyard. The city adopted a rezoning in 2005 that changed the land use designation from manufacturing to residential and commercial. A proposed stadium for the New York Jets, to be built over the railyard, figured largely in the City’s bid for the 2012 Olympics. The stadium project failed to receive state approval. The Hudson Yards Development Corporationclaims the area currently has capacity for approximately 24 million square feet of new office development, 13 thousand units of housing, 1 million square feet of retail and 2 million square feet of hotel space. Check out these Architectural League podcasts of the competing visions for the site, submitted to the MTA in response to their October 2007 Request for Proposals.

The economics I’m convinced of; I’m not sure about the urban design. We have to be really clever about how we do the Yards.

Click the audio player above to stream Bob’s reflections on Hudson Yards. Click here to download the mp3. Click on any of the photos below to view a slideshow of the spaces he’s discussing.

Javits Center

The Jacob K. Javits Center is a large convention center, designed by James Ingo Freed of I.M. Pei & Partners and completed in 1986, that boasts over 675,000 square feet of exhibit space. In late May 2009, the Empire State Development Corporation voted in favor of a 100,000 square foot expansion and substantial repairs to the structure. The project currently awaits approval from the Public Authorities Control Board. As part of the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project, the 7 train will extend beyond Times Square to a new terminus at 34th Street and 11th Avenue, providing improved access to the convention center and the surrounding area.

While walking around the Javits area, Yaro and Chamberlain discuss the prospect of “TGV” in the Northeast corridor. TGV stands for Train à Grande Vitesse, which is French for “high-speed train.”

…with Javits gone, 11th Avenue could become one of the great addresses in New York.

Click the audio player above to stream Bob’s reflections on the Javits Center and surrounding area. Click here to download the mp3. Click on any of the photos below to view a slideshow of the spaces he’s discussing.

Urban Omnibus has a few more walks like this coming up with architects, planners, designers, scholars, artists and citizens. If there’s a particular individual you’d like to take a walk with, drop us a line and maybe we can call him or her up, take a walk, and share the conversation, observations and imagery. C.S.

All photos by Lisa Chamberlain unless otherwise noted. Edited and condensed by Nick Buccelli.

Lisa Chamberlain is the Executive Director of the Forum for Urban Design and lives in Red Hook. Previously, she studied urban planning at Columbia University and covered real estate for the New York Times.

Robert D. Yaro is the President of Regional Plan Association, America’s oldest independent metropolitan policy, research and advocacy group. He co-chairs the Empire State Transportation Alliance and the Friends of Moynihan Station, and is Vice President of the Forum for Urban Design. He serves on Mayor Bloomberg’s Sustainability Advisory Board, which helped prepare PlaNYC 2030, New York City’s new long-range sustainability plan.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.