The Omnibus Roundup – Towers-in-the-Park, Convention Centers in Queens, Tidal Turbines in the River, Presidential Omissions and Lots of Things To Do

First up, a reminder: The deadline for The Unfinished Grid essay competition, our call for writing on the Manhattan street grid as paradigm, rubric or muse for urban life, is just around the corner! Submit by 5pm on Wednesday, February 1, to be considered for publication here on Urban Omnibus and a monetary award. More information here.

Also this week in the Omnibus roundup: Kimmelman looks at towers-in-the-park; New York goes convention center crazy; Verdant Power gets a green light for the Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy Project; President Obama forsakes infrastructure investment in “An America Built to Last”; the Asian American Writers’ Workshop calls for Creative Nonfiction Fellows; the South Street Seaport Museum reopens; Studio-X hosts a discussion on Roosevelt Island’s pneumatic trash tubes; the DOT calls for public art proposals; and Lead Pencil Studio exhibits in Boston.

A viewing of the The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, a documentary by Chad Freidrichs, prompted Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic of The New York Times, to question the limits of architecture’s role in determining the success of failure of a public housing project. The piece once again confirms the writer’s commitment to interrogating the social and urbanistic implications of the built environment. He contrasts the fates of the infamous Pruitt-Igoe project in St. Louis — a complex whose rapid descent from model low-income housing community to a national symbol of urban deprivation and crime led to its demolition in 1972 — with Penn South — an example in Chelsea of the same towers-in-the-park building typology that has, according to the residents Kimmelman interviews, thrived. He notes that part of Penn South’s success has to do with the ways it serves the needs of older residents, which led to its official designation as a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community, or NORC, in 1986 (the nation’s first). Using the phenomenon of NORCs as a lens through which to reconsider towers-in-the-park — a typology maligned in the popular imagination specifically because of examples like Pruitt-Igoe — is an argument that the urban design firm Interboro introduced to Omnibus readers in “NORCs in NYC.” Read that feature again, wander by Penn South or some of the other NORCs in the city, and then go see The Pruitt-Igoe Myth at the IFC Center.

If the demolition of Pruitt-Igoe signalled an end to a particular philosophy of urban problem-solving, what would the demolition of the Jacob J. Javits Convention Center on 11th Avenue in Manhattan signify? Especially if Governor Cuomo gets his wish of a replacement venue — intended to be the nation’s largest — at the site of the Aqueduct racetrack in Ozone Park, Queens, a place whose vibrant flea market we visited just before redevelopment plans shut it down for good. Skepticism about the long-term financial viability of a convention center has not dimmed the governor’s enthusiasm for the project. Nor has the new plan changed Queens Borough President Helen Marshall’s mind about the need for a second convention center in Willets Point. Critics of both projects cite evidence that this kind of megaproject is rarely the panacea it claims to be, an economic analysis explored in depth in this 2009 article in Next American City.

Power Grid Scenarios | Illustration: Michael Loverich for Urban Omnibus, “East River Power,” February 9th, 2009

The kind of urban infrastructure investment that looks forward rather than looking back is one that capitalizes on New York’s unique assets and seeks to provide viable and affordable energy alternatives. In the hope that tidal power might be the energy source to make that possible, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission awarded Verdant Power Inc. the first license for a tidal energy project for the Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy Project, or RITE. Verdant will use the ten year pilot contract to test the commercial viability of the project as well as the environmental impact on fish and the river’s sediment. In an Urban Omnibus feature from way back in 2009, “East River Power,” we looked at some of the questions that the prospect of tidal power raised for New York City’s waterways, and for the framework of energy generation and distribution. As the first grid-tied system of tidal turbines, RITE will hopefully be a sign of things to come. Read more at Bloomberg and Inhabitat.

Infrastructure investment was once a policy priority for President Obama, but was all but absent from his State of the Union Speech this week, entitled, “An America Built to Last.” Gone are the promises of high-speed rail included in his 2011 speech; gone was mention of an urban agenda. The President did cite America’s past endeavors to revitalize its economy during the Great Depression through large-scale building projects like the Hoover Dam or the Golden Gate Bridge, or to knit the nation together through the interstate highway system after World War II. But the larger focus of the address, the point to which he returned again and again, was to try to bridge the chasm between the two parties and redress growing income inequality. Check out more of the coverage at The Atlantic Cities and The Transport Politic.

South Street Seaport Museum | Photo by Andrew Hinderaker via


The Asian American Writers’ Workshop is about to start a new year of its Open City project, profiled last year on the Omnibus, for which a competitively selected group of writers documents and reflects on urban change in the three New York Chinatowns. The call for Creative Nonfiction Fellows has just been announced, so if you’re an emerging creative nonfiction writer passionate about New York City neighborhoods, apply today. The application deadline is February 17. Check out the call here.

The South Street Seaport Museum is reopening this week after an eight-month hiatus during which the museum was renovated to respond to its expanded scope under the creative direction and management of The Museum of the City of New York, which has thrown its full weight into the project. The re-opened space aims to connect more powerfully with its surrounding neighborhood, avail itself of the top two floors as exhibition space, and make the museum more easily navigable through signage and other measures. Read more of the coverage in The New York Times.

A couple of years ago we spoke to Juliette Spertus about her exhibition Fast Trash, about the Roosevelt Island AVAC (Automated Vacuum Collection System). Since then, she and Benjamin Miller have been studying the feasibility of upgrading Roosevelt Island’s AVAC system and also expanding the system to Manhattan using existing transportation infrastructure. Join them as they discuss their preliminary findings, followed by a discussion on the future of waste disposal in New York City featuring Vishaan Chakrabarti, Claire Weisz, Marcia Byrstryn, Juliette Spertus and Benjamin Miller. Tuesday, February 7, 6:30-8:30pm, at Studio-X. More information available here or here.

The New York City DOT has announced its open call for proposals for their pARTners and Barrier Beautification Projects. Both projects seek to create a more livable city with public art. The Barrier Beautification project asks artists to imagine how they would decorate the barriers that have become necessary in our bike friendly city, separating bikers, pedestrians and drivers from one another. For pARTners, the DOT commissions artists to produce site-responsive art in collaboration with community-based organizations for high priority sites owned by the agency. Check out the full call for proposals.

Back in April we spoke to Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo of Lead Pencil Studio about their firm’s work with LIDAR. For our Boston area readers, Lead Pencil Studio will be in Edifice Amiss: Constructing New Perspectives, an exhibition about the constructed world opening January 30th at the Stephen D. Paine Gallery of MassArt. The works in the exhibition reveal the secret lives of the architectural spaces in which we live and work. More information available here.

Lead Pencil Studio in Edifice Amiss


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.