The Omnibus Roundup – Zuccotti POPS, MetroCard Use, Ferry Expectations, CAT Scans for Cities, Ward and MTA Manufacturing

Jerold S. Kayden has written two opinion pieces about the spatial and legal ramifications of Occupy Wall Street’s use of Zuccotti Park, a privately-owned public space just north of Wall Street (of the type discussed in our conversation with Raquel Ramati and at our potluck with the Design Trust this past spring). Kayden is known for having written the definitive book on privately-owned public spaces, Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience. The book outlined the many failings of the spaces that had been created in a bargain with the city: in return for adding “publicly accessible space” at the ground floor, a developer could attain zoning concessions or add floor area to their buildings. The argument was not that privately-owned public spaces were a failure, but that the regulations that permitted them left too much room for coercive developers to get the concessions without providing the intended public benefits. When a private property owner manages public space, what rights do the protestors have? And what rights does management have? Read Kayden’s pieces, one in The New York Times and the other in The Architect’s Newspaper.

screengrab of Examining MetroCard Usage from

The Wall Street Journal has sifted through a year’s worth of data about MetroCard use, recently released by the MTA, to see what they could find out about how people move around New York. By breaking down what kinds of cards (unlimiteds, pay-per-rides, senior discount) are used where, patterns emerge across demographics and neighborhoods. A high percentage of senior discount MetroCards swiped at a station suggests an older population, and the variation in use of 30-day-unlimited cards versus pay-per-ride cards tells a story of where commuters go as opposed to visitors. The dataset also coincides with the most recent fare hike, which allows for additional analysis into how the cost increase has affected ridership city-wide as well as ways it has disproportionately affected people of lower income levels. Read more about the analysis here, or head straight to the interactive map to explore for yourself.

When East River Ferry service launched early this summer, the city was optimistic that New Yorkers would take to the waters for a more pleasant commute away from subway crowds and service changes, but detractors claimed that waterborne travel was a flash in the pan, noting a drop in ridership once a month-long free pilot period ended. But now, word is that ferry use has exceeded expectations, drawing twice as many riders as anticipated (on weekends, ridership is six times higher than projected). Ferry operators are eager to expand service in response to enthusiasm and demand from both residents and tourists, and both the operators and the City agree that ferry service has the potential to bring economic activity and aid development in areas along the route. But city officials cite limited financial resources as a significant obstacle, and some are waiting until cold weather sets in to determine whether adding capacity year-round makes sense. Read more in The New York Times and The Brooklyn Paper.

Image by Massachusetts Institute of Technology via

Improved energy efficiency and reduced environmental impact are topics that dominate contemporary discourse about our built environment and urban spaces. Now, cities have a new tool to properly identify existing problems and better understand how to address them. A group at the MIT Field Intelligence Lab is advancing the use of “energy diagnostic imaging,” inspired by medical diagnostic scans like MRIs and CAT scans. Infrared cameras capture differences in energy use in the urban landscape in “thermal portraits” that divulge where insulation is failing or excess energy is being produced. Pinpointing the source of the inefficiency allows for more accurate and effective solutions, and a healthier city. Read more on The Atlantic Cities.

The 1906 and 1916 zoning ordinances in New York City were landmark policies that combined use zoning and form zoning, and were incredibly forward thinking for their time, setting the standards for cities around the country. But our zoning ordinances, which have enormous impact on determining the form of our built environment, haven’t been comprehensively rethought for 50 years. Last week, during the Municipal Art Society’s second annual MAS Summit for New York City, a panel of zoning experts convened for “A New Zoning Resolution for the 21st Century: Its Necessity and Potential” to discuss the ways New York’s regulations don’t align with the changing needs of its residents and what could be done to make them better. Touching on land use codes, environmental review processes and contextual zoning, the conversation also focused on housing issues, such as the restrictive definition of what a “family” is according to zoning code. These topics were highlighted by panelist Jerilyn Perine, the executive director of the Citizens Housing & Planning Council (and our partner in Making Room, the project we introduced earlier this month to address how we can make New York’s housing more responsive to the ways we live now). For more coverage of the panel, check out Streetsblog.

Also at the MAS Summit, outgoing Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward expressed some big ideas for New York. Calling the New York metro area a region in “economic and environmental crisis,” he emphasized the need for the city to wean itself off its dependence on truck transport and instead advocated the expansion of freight rail service — a topic we explored in depth earlier this week. Equally transformative was his vision for the Brooklyn waterfront and Governors Island. According to Ward, the success of Governors Island rests upon moving the activity of the Red Hook Container Terminal further south, to the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, and rethinking the use of different portions of Brooklyn’s waterfront, focusing instead on recreation and transportation to spur development. For more on Ward’s ideas from the Summit, as well as a recap of frequent Omnibus contributor Vishaan Chakrabarti’s thoughts on the advantages of intense densification for New York from the same session, click here. And to learn about Patrick Foye, Governor Cuomo’s choice to run the Port Authority when Ward steps down at the end of this month, click here.

Chris Ward’s proposal to shift industrial use out of Red Hook doesn’t mean the city is ready to abandon industry in the five boroughs. In fact, efforts are strong to restore manufacturing capabilities to some key sites. Building the Future, a conference organized a few weeks ago by “a coalition of union interests, policy organizations and sustainable-living advocates,” met to discuss options for encouraging the return of manufacturing to both New York City and State. One proposal: manufacturing for the MTA. The city’s public transportation system is in a constant state of disrepair — as many things that are loved and used constantly often are — but the production of repair parts and new vehicles is increasingly contracted to facilities out of state. Returning MTA manufacturing and repair to New York would be a boon for the economy and the job market, so what’s holding the MTA back from staying local? The buildings still exist, the workers are still here, but the money isn’t. Both the city and the state have decreased funds towards the MTA in the past three decades, and the proposals set forth by Building the Future would require unavailable public funds. Read more in The New York Times.


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.