The Omnibus Roundup – Lighting as Placemaking, MTA funding, Green Zoning, Bridge Birthdays and Public Authorities

Might an illuminated Lower Manhattan resemble this colorfully lit Berlin cityscape? | Photo: Flickr user Dion Hinchliffe

The City’s plan to make Lower Manhattan more vibrant after dark goes beyond simply installing more lights. The title of the New York City Economic Development Corporation’s Request for Proposals, “Placemaking through Lighting,” explains the initiative’s priorities: to use creative illumination to enhance Lower Manhattan’s identity, to attract visitors and investment and to create a sense of place for the area. Some of the vanguard lighting technologies mentioned in the brief include projection mapping, 3D effects and a range of interactive strategies, including motion-activated lighting. According the The New York Times’ City Room, EDC officials and local Community Board members cited the fact that the Financial District loses out on the after-dark tourist foot traffic that small businesses in other neighborhoods enjoy, a concern that motivated the desire to use lighting to “transform the experience of Lower Manhattan at night.”

Transit advocates are angry at the implications of Governor Cuomo’s new tax code on MTA funding. Essentially, Cuomo sets to eliminate a payroll tax from which the MTA receives roughly $320 million and substitute it with a direct state government subsidy. This transformation of dedicated MTA revenue to discretionary funding makes the MTA particularly susceptible towards future budget cuts. Moreover, the new bill, rushed forward by Cuomo, avoided public discourse and “eviscerated” the previous lock box legislation, which made the government responsible for reporting fully the effects of funding cuts ahead of any fiscal re-appropriations. Assuming the MTA subsidies do wither out in the future, Charles Komonoff of Streetsblog did some number crunching to demonstrate the negative effects. In short, New York’s $320 million in tax savings would be offset with nearly $580 million in extra costs. Apparently the difference between $320 million from payroll taxes versus $320 million from direct subsidies is much more than semantics.

This week, officials from the Department of City Planning announced the beginning of the approval process for new zoning regulations that would remove impediments for property owners to build green buildings or to retrofit existing buildings with renewable energy technologies such as windmills or solar panels. Other energy-efficient measures that will become easier to implement if the regulations are adopted by the City Council include stormwater retention systems, height exemptions for greenhouses, and the building of walls thick enough to allow for external insulation. According to Amanda Burden, the City’s Director of City Planning and the chair of the City Planning Commission, the changes will amount to “the most comprehensive citywide initiative dealing with energy efficiency and green building in the U.S.” Read the full article on Crain’s.

On December 12th, the Henry Hudson bridge celebrated its 75th birthday. Originally built to accommodate light traffic, it is now one of the most vital and dense transportation nodes in the city, linking Manhattan to the Bronx across Spuyten Duyvil Creek. In celebration of this iconic landmark, the Riverdale Public Library will open a photo exhibit featuring historic photos of the construction and evolution of the bridge over time as well as an archival collection on other bridges built during the Depression. For more background about the history of the bridge, read the press release from MTA Bridges and Tunnels.

For another view of the government agencies and lawmakers that preside over public works, the Public Authorities blog, a project of the Government Law Center at Albany Law School. Its one of the more recent finds added to our increasingly geeky feedreader and offers an excellent overview of the “laws, practices and proposed reforms relating to state and local public authorities in New York.” Its comprehensive links roundups and its concise and measured summaries of bills or court cases or major capital projects (like the reconstruction of the Tappan Zee Bridge, reportedly among the largest public works projects currently being planned in the nation) will be of interest to anyone whose ears perk up at the mention of terms like “eminent domain” or “utilities reform.” The authors also dip into the history and culture of public decision-making, like in this recent post that recapped a live conversation with Robert Caro, author of The Power Broker, a tome sure to be on the shelf of every self-respecting urbanist.

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.