The Omnibus Roundup – Mayors, Houses, Pipelines, Parks and Neon, plus Generative Land Art and Joseph Mitchell’s Harbor

In Jihad vs McWorld, an influential and prescient article (1992) and book (1995), political theorist Benjamin Barber argues that fostering civil society through small, local democratic institutions might redress the threat posed by the intensifying clash between the forces of global capitalism and those of religious and tribal fundamentalisms. His forthcoming book, If Mayors Ruled The World, examines one such local democratic institution, the mayor’s office, and focusses on the effectiveness of mayors to get things done, especially when compared to national politicians. Check out a recording of a talk he delivered at the Long Now Foundation, where he elaborates on this thesis.  Mayors are more directly responsible to their electorate and as such need to make things happen: “The paramount aims of city-dwellers concern collecting garbage and collecting art rather than collecting votes or collecting foreign allies, the supply of water rather than the supply of arms, promoting cooperation rather than promoting exceptionalism, fostering education and culture rather than fostering national defense and patriotism.” While Barber argues “not simply that cities can and should govern globally, but that in many informal ways and in terms of ‘soft governance,’ they already are.

Mayor Bloomberg shares the view that cities and their chief executives are much more likely to create “innovative local solutions to national problems” than larger scales of governance, so Bloomberg Philanthropies is investing in a big cash prize to encourage mayors’ creativity. The Mayors Challenge is open to 1300 U.S. cities (any city with 30,000 or more residents), each of which can only submit one application, “under the direction of the mayor.” The idea is to encourage bold, visionary and replicable ideas that can solve a significant problem or somehow improve urban life. One winner will receive a $5 million grant, and four runners up will each win $1 million. Submissions are due by September 14, 2012.

Real estate blog Property Shark has put together a slideshow of 190 years of residential architecture in New York City, featuring one example for each year between 1821 and 2011. Though the slideshow starts and ends with single-family homes — 1821’s 24 Commerce Street in Manhattan, and 2011’s 7809 160th Street in Flushing — browsing through all 190 years shows a variety of housing typologies across neighborhoods and boroughs, along with property reports for each entry. (via Curbed)

New York City is expanding its parks system on a scale the city hasn’t seen in nearly 80 years. These parks need to be maintained, but the funding mechanisms for proposing, designing and constructing parks aren’t coordinated or commensurate with the funding mechanisms for the maintenance of those same parks once they’re built. This week in The Architects’ Newspaper, Caitlin Blanchfield takes a look at some of a models of park funding around the city, innovative ways that a variety of park advocacy organizations and city agencies have tried to overcome the funding gap.

As New Yorkers’ preference increases for sources of energy with fewer environmental repercussions than oil or propane, the demand for natural gas seems be growing faster than the supply and distribution networks of National Grid, the largest distributer of natural gas in the Northeast. So Williams, an Oklahoma-based energy infrastructure company, is developing plans for a pipeline to the Rockaways that would create an additional connection between the Transco Pipeline, a major pipeline that transports natural gas from the Gulf of Mexico along the East Coast, and the Brooklyn / Queens / Western Long Island region. While the Williams company claims that the proposed route of the pipeline “avoids sensitive environmental areas,” residents and local environmentalists are already raising concerns about the impact on the delicate ecosystem of the bays and nearby artificial reef. Williams has an informative (if dated) corporate video about natural gas pipeline development on the company’s website, and you can read read more coverage of the project at Gothamist and the New York Daily News.

Kirsten Hively and her Project Neon! aren’t the only obsessive documenters of New York City’s historic neon signage. Architectural designer Thomas Rinaldi has been seeking out and collecting images of neon signs in New York City since 2006. “Collectively, these things were as significant as the Empire State Building or any icon of the city, but they’ve been incrementally wiped away,” says Rinaldi. In New York Neon, his upcoming book, he highlights approximately 450 neon signs made before 1970. Get a preview at his blog, or read more at The New York TimesCity Room.

Fresh Kills Park | Image via Flickr user jamesdunham.


In partnership with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, the 2012 Land Art Generator Initiative design competition will be sited within Freshkills Park. The competition calls for site specific public art that pulls double duty, both beautiful and capable of harnessing clean energy and converting it for public consumption. The winning entry will be awarded $20,000, though it will not be guaranteed to be built. Jury members include architect Bjarke Ingels; Dr. Henry Kelly, Acting Assistant Secretary and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy; Jean Gardner, Associate Professor of Social Ecological History, Parsons New School, School of Constructed Environments. The registration deadline is June 30 and the submission deadline is July 1.

We’ve been reflecting on New York city’s waterfront a lot recently, focusing on recent and future changes to its accessibility and use. To appreciate the extent of its transformation, do yourself a favor and immerse yourself in the writings of the legendary chronicler of New York, Joseph Mitchell, whose non-fiction essays on the peculiarities and personalities of the city’s working waterfront in the 1940s and 50s are anthologized in The Bottom of the Harbor. Next Tuesday, writers of some of the most illuminating books about New York City, including Luc Sante (Low Life), Mark Kurlansky (The Big Oyster), Robert Sullivan (The Meadowlands and Rats) and Nathan Ward (Dark Harbor), will reflect on the lost ways of life Mitchell so lovingly conjured, in a panel discussion moderated by James Sanders. The event is part of the River to River Festival, a monthlong downtown celebration kicking off this Sunday with a great line-up of cultural programs and festivities. Tuesday, June 19, 6:30 pm at the South Street Seaport Museum, 12 Fulton Street. Tickets are free but reservations are requested.

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.