The Omnibus Roundup – On Aging, Penn Station Protesting, MetroCard Advertising, Bike Sharing Speedbumps and Velodrama

According to a report released this week from the California-based Milken Institute, the New York metro area comes in as the fifth best city for successful aging, due in part to its superior walkability and transit optionsUrban Omnibus has covered projects that demonstrate New York’s appeal to retirees before, but this city ranking, with a unique and convincing methodology, takes the growing desire to age in place to the national scale. The Institute, which cautions readers to “not confuse the [index] with the many rankings and opinion polls that identify the sunniest or most inexpensive spots to live out retirement,” claims their study is the most data-driven and comprehensive of its kind, with 78 quantitative factors, from wellness and community engagement indicators to living arrangements and financial metrics. In addition, all of the numbers come from publicly available data, not surveys. Although a normalized scoring system was created across each measure, the Institute also assigned different weights to each subcomponent in order to have two distinct age groups: 65-79 and 80+. More information about the study can be found on the Milken Institute’s Successful Aging data site.

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the AGBANY protests (Action Group for Better Architecture in New York) against the demolition of the McKim, Mead & White masterpiece, the original Penn Station. For more than a year before the resistance started, it was known that the developer Irving Mitchell Felt and the Pennsylvania Railroad planned to demolish the station, “replacing it with a new Madison Square Garden on Eighth Avenue, and an office tower and hotel tower on Seventh Avenue.” In the Times‘ City Room, David Dunlap engages architects Peter Samton and Diana Goldstein, original members of the group aimed at saving the late station, in some reminiscing about the movement and the players involved, including Jane Jacobs, Philip Johnson, Norman Mailer and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Image via Mayday Mayday Mayday

It seems tough economic times lead everyone to seek out thrifty and often unheard of ways to generate additional income, and it’s not just individuals who do it. For the first time ever, this month the MTA announced it will be offering advertising space on the front of its MetroCards. Apparently, no stone was left unturned in the agency’s quest for new revenue streams, and according to a spokesman, ‘The whole [card face] is available, except for the black stripe.” The back has been available to advertisers intermittently since 1995, but the face has remained virtually identical since 1997. Despite concern about the commercialization of all public space in New York City, some see the move as a creative opportunity. Branding agency Mayday Mayday Mayday has pitched its ideas for the future of the cards, which might one day become part of an emerging tradition of MetroCard art, as practiced by artists and designers like Nina Boesch.

Screengrab from

Speaking of MetroCards, did you know that each time you go through a turnstile, a data point is recorded with your subway stop, type of ridership, length of pass and time of day and week? faberNovel, a Paris-based company that collaborates and consults with large organizations and cities on how to “act more like startups,” has just released a geospatial data visualization using the massive data set from the 1.6 billion swipes recorded in 2011. Though it’s just the first iteration of mapping the data, the results are still fun to review. Aside from any broad conclusions one can draw (seniors don’t frequent the same places as students), the real appeal is getting a sense of how cities and private companies can potentially utilize big public data for novel applications in the future.

In April, 47-year old cycling enthusiast Joshua P. Rechnitz donated $40 million to Brooklyn Bridge Park, the largest single contribution New York’s parks system has ever received. Rechnitz approached park officials after searching around the tri-state area for a site suitable for his ambition to bring a velodrome “a 200-meter inclined indoor cycling track and stadium seating for almost 2,500 spectators” to greater New York. The ongoing capital projects at Brooklyn Bridge Park include a “field house,” which will now house the velodrome in addition to “limited space for more traditional sports like basketball, gymnastics or tennis.” The arena is receiving criticism and opposition from civic groups and community activists due to its size (larger than a football field), the crowds it’s bound to draw, a lack of parking and the green space its footprint will eat up. Supporters of the plan, like Assemblywoman Joan Millman and President of the Brooklyn Bridge Corporation Regina Myer, point to the fact that the field house will replace an old storage “eyesore” next to Pier 5 and that the site has always been slated to hold a structure (a maintenance facility), so no green space will be lost. Perhaps the 2012 Olympics — and the stunning, Pringles-esque Olympic velodrome designed by Hopkins Architects — will open parkgoers to the idea of welcoming a low-profile sport, like track cycling, into New York. Or perhaps the field house plans will renew questions about the encroachment of private interests on public land.

A recent New York Times article asserts that New York City’s visually impaired population is struggling to adapt to recent changes to the built environment, to reconcile familiar mental maps of the streetscape with the ever-changing layouts. Complaints include the lack of indication of changes to places like Times Square, where pedestrian plazas and bike lanes have blurred the distinction between street and sidewalk, as well as non-built environment shifts such as the increase in hybrid cars with inaudible engines and bikes with unpredictable riders. DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan points out that “the Transportation Department had already installed accessible signals at dozens of intersections, and that a law passed this year by the City Council called for signals to be added to 25 new intersections each year,” and Streetsblog calls the Times story “data-free” and “another Times‘ attack on safer streets.” What the data does indicate, according to City Journal, is that the transportation reforms of the Bloomberg administration have made the streets safer for pedestrians. But many blind New Yorkers, including former governor David Paterson, think more could be done.

New York City’s hotly-anticipated bike share program has hit another potential hurdle this week, according to the New York Post. Alta, the company putting the planned 10,000 bikes on the road, originally reached a deal with Citibank to receive $41 million over the next five years in amounts that coincide with project milestones. Fearful that software problems might hinder the company from reaching certain financial goals, Alta has requested at least $1 million from the bank in September and January, even if the targets are not met. One insider said that if the plan is not completed by October, the program would most likely be shelved until 2013; however, a bike share spokesman called both the bailout and 2013 delay “inaccurate.” City Hall will not comment on the matter, because the Bloomberg administration maintains that no taxpayer dollars have been spent on the bikes.



Summerstreets is back again this year, where nearly seven miles of New York City streets are opened “for everyone to play, run, walk and bike.” You can expect to see an outdoor rock climbing wall hosted by REI SoHo, bike helmet giveaways at 51st Street, a zip line at Foley Square, the Whole Foods Market City Picnic event and plenty of urban art and pedestrian activities. Summerstreets takes place each Saturday in August, from 7am to 1pm. Check out the website for more details.

A film covering the Making Room design competition (co-hosted by the Citizens Housing & Planning Council and the Architectural League of New York) will be screened at the Center for Architecture on Thursday, August 9th from 6–9 pm. The initiative looks at “how demographic shifts are creating a need for new architectural designs, planning, zoning, and housing policies,” and at the event, “together with a panel of housing and planning experts, audience members will also fill out, and evaluate, an interactive survey that will test assumptions about housing design, occupancy rules and housing programs.” More details and ticket information here.


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.