The Omnibus Roundup – Virtual city planning, transportation woes, Hudson River piers on film

This week we explored how web designers and developers can help city governments serve their constituents more effectively, particularly through thoughtful adoption of apps. Boston is one of the cities working with Code for America to do this, and some of its neighborhoods may be leading the charge. Participatory Chinatown, a new urban planning video game designed by the Asian Community Development Corporation, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and collaborators from Emerson College, is attempting to bridge the gap between the frustrations of top-down planning and the interactive collaboration possible through online games. Video games are potent ‘viewing machines‘ when it comes to urban experience, their abstract bounds often coinciding with real-life problems and constraints. In this one, players on PC can navigate a 3D Chinatown simultaneously with other players, making decisions about housing, public space and work, later exploring different redevelopment proposals while making comments and suggestions.

If Gov 2.0 apps and participatory gaming solutions can help streamline city services or engage community members in urban visioning exercises, can they help stem the tide of service cuts by city governments across the country? This week on The Avenue, Mark Muro and Kenan Fikri take a detailed look at a sobering report released in July by the National League of Cities that predicts “local governments… will shed up to 500,000 more workers by the close of fiscal year 2012–on top of the 300,000 already laid off between August 2008 and July 2010.”

More locally, an agency whose finances seem to be perpetually in a state of crisis is, of course, the MTA. This week City Limits took another look at the sorry state of affairs, further unpacking the implications of recent service cuts. Facing significant debts, the MTA’s uncertain financial future requires additional cuts to service, fare hikes, and the search for stable subsidies. Meanwhile, can private enterprise step into the void left by service cuts? Brooklyn is seeing the expansion of private commuter vans, or “dollar vans,” which provide affordable (and often unauthorized) transportation over discontinued MTA bus lines at around $2. Controversy has arisen over the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s plans to create a pilot program in this vein, which critics claim is a privatized replication that would further undercut the city’s existing bus service. On a regional scale, students at Penn have envisioned a high-speed Northeast Corridor that would best Amtrak’s current and proposed rail lines, creating a 37 minute ride from Philadelphia to New York City. You may remember Bob Yaro, one of the professors who taught the Penn School of Design students, from this UO feature last summer.

Still from Gordon Matta-Clark’s Day’s End (16mm, 1975). Courtesy of Light Industry.

And if you’re looking for something to do next Friday, Light Industry is screening two filmic records of the Hudson River piers before they were torn down. The first of these chronicles a 1975 piece by Gordon Matta-Clark, in which he made characteristic cuts and incisions to the derelict Pier 52 to transform it into an “indoor water park.” The film is “one of the few records we have of both [Matta-Clark’s] great work and of the abandoned Hudson River piers” and will be screened alongside another cinematic evocation of the architectural oddities of the piers immediately before their demolition, a classic of gay erotica by Arch Brown called Pier Groups. Something for everyone.

Another film made all the more poignant by the destruction of the buildings that provide its setting is James Marsh’s 2008 Oscar winning documentary Man on Wire. Philippe Petit, the high-wire artist who performed the 1974 stunt between the twin towers of the World Trade Center depicted in the film (and who has been hanging out at the Cathedral of St John the Divine ever since) has recently taught his first ever group master-class at the studio of choreographer and extreme action hero Elizabeth Streb, whom Omnibus readers might remember from her turn as a juror in the ideas competition to Reinvent Grand Army Plaza.

The Roundup keeps you up to date with topics we’ve featured and other things we think are worth knowing about.

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