The Omnibus Roundup — Music Island, Flushing Meadows, SimCity, River City, Storefront, and Stillspotting

While Prospect Park retains the grandeur of its original landscape design by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, it has been subject to repeated transformations over the past 150 years. One of the more aggressive interventions took place in 1961, when Robert Moses built the Kate Wollman Memorial Rink, ravaging the esplanade along the shoreline of Prospect Lake and “bulldoz[ing] into oblivion” Music Island, which had originally been a charming concert venue on a small island in one of the lake’s coves. The ice rink fell into disrepair around 2000 and was finally demolished in 2011, at which point park officials decided to revisit Olmsted and Vaux’s original vision for the lakefront. Restoring the esplanade and Music Island is part of a 26-acre park improvement project known as “Lakeside.” The design team includes Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, renowned for their attention to detail, and Christian Zimmerman, the Vice President for Design and Construction at the Prospect Park Alliance. Learn more about the project in the video above.

Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, April ’08 | Photo by Flickr user larryrrr

Many have criticized the Bloomberg administration’s use of public-private partnerships — a financial move that has enabled the expansion and revitalization of New York City’s public park system, including new parks like the High Line and Brooklyn Bridge Park as well as capital improvements to older parks, like Central Park and Prospect Park. Conservancies and trusts set up by groups of private citizens have enabled wealthy neighborhoods to pour millions into private conservancy organizations. The resulting imbalance among park investments citywide has led to what Michael Powell, writing in the Times, calls “a fact of 21st century life”: the inevitable “upstairs / downstairs class divide applies with great force to New York City’s parks.”

Flushing Meadows – Corona Park in Queens might be next to get the public-private treatment. This time, however, the neighborhood — surrounded by predominantly immigrant communities without the millionaires who live adjacent to the major parks of Manhattan and Brooklyn — won’t be footing the bill. So what’s in store? A 25,000-seat Major League Soccer Stadium, expansion of the U.S. Tennis Center’s roads and parking lots, and a 1.4 million-square-foot mega mall. In return, park improvements have been offered, with funds coming from the new stadiums’ lucrative revenue stream. Last monday, Nigel Chiwaya of DNAinfo reported that hundreds of residents opposed to the proposals crowded an Economic Development Corporation meeting for public comments. With a strong pocket of community opposition, we’ll have to wait and see how the process unfolds.

Cities are complex: systems of systems inside other systems. Managing infrastructure, economy, recreation, public safety, and housing are tough enough as it is without having to worry about asteroids hitting, tornadoes touching down, or Godzilla attacking. So you’d best brush up on your city planning skills with the new version of SimCity. Endlessly addictive, the computer game has taught millions the basics of urbanist principles, with over 180 million copies sold. In February 2013, the latest version of SimCity will be released, and it’s packed with stunning visuals and new features that make sustainability essential to the object of the game. Ariel Schwartz recently reviewed the game for Fast Company, calling out new complexities that reveal SimCity’s game designers share the concerns of progressive, contemporary urbanism, from multi-modal mass transit to long-view infrastructure investment to NIMBYism. Sims can now transfer between busses and subways; cheaping out on sewer pipes results in disgusting brown messes;  a coal mine “destroys the surrounding landscape and sickens residents”; and upper-class Sims won’t tolerate a nearby nuclear power plant. The version also brings a multiplayer environment, so other users’ cities nearby can trade resources with you — your city can specialize in certain sectors such as education, medical, and industrial production. Many urban planners, architects, and designers can trace their interests back to the early “primitive” versions, and the 5th SimCity just might inspire millions more. Check out an interview with Will Wright, the brain behind the entire Sims franchise, who wants to “make a game out of life itself,” in Wired UK.

Audiogram | Speech Banana Chart | Graphic: Phonak AG © 2012


Stillspotting NYC is coming to a close. The Guggenheim Museum’s two-year program, spurred by the increasingly loud urban environment, invited artists, designers, philosophers and composers to create site-specific installations in all five boroughs, finding “stillspots” of calm amongst the chaos. We have been following the events on Urban Omnibus, with coverage of Arvo Pärt and Snøhetta’s white balloons around Ground Zero, SO-IL’s poetic tour through Jackson Heights, Queens, and the tour of Staten Island’s inventor Antonio Meucci by Justin Bennett and Matthea Harvey (we missed the first installment, Pedro Reyes’ Sanatorium in Downtown Brooklyn). The fifth and final edition of stillspotting, “Audiogram,” is planned for the Bronx next weekend. Tyler Walker and Charlie Todd, from Improv Everywhere, and audiologist Tina Jupiter created a “65-minute interactive audio experience and theatrical group hearing test” through the South Bronx. Participants will walk from the Bronx Museum of Art to Joyce Kilmer Park with a pre-recorded audio guide that will use surprise, disorientation and humor to heighten awareness of the surrounding urban din. The event takes place October 13-14th, and you can buy tickets here.

But first, the Guggenheim is holding a stillspotting finale event on Tuesday October 9th, to celebrate the program’s run. A “variety show of talks, performances, films, readings, statements, and personal reflections by architects, artists, planners, scientists, politicians, philosophers, and musicians” will be accompanied by an installation of elements from each of the five editions of the program in the museum’s rotunda. Sparking a dialogue amongst the various projects, the evening will evaluate the series roaming journey to find stillness in the country’s largest city. Tickets are required.

Brooklyn Bridge Park, which we visited with landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh a couple years ago, is the newest jewel in New York’s waterfront parks. The Van Alen Institute’s current exhibition, Immensity + Intimacy: Brooklyn Bridge Park, brings a fresh eye to the generational shift from industrial to recreational waterfronts in New York. The show is part of the Van Alen’s River City: Waterfront Design for Civic Life, a series of exhibitions and public programs that reflect on the historical legacy and design challenges of the urban transformation of the shoreline.

The Urban Plunder: What New York’s Waterfront Can Learn From the Dutch, will delve into the Netherlands’ historic connection to — or protection against — its ocean. Tracy Metz, an author and journalist, will present research from her new book, Sweet & Salt: Water and the Dutch. A panel discussion will follow Metz’s presentation, analyzing how New York City can apply Dutch thinking to our own waterways. The panel, moderated by Bloomberg News architecture critic James S. Russell, will include Susannah Drake, Klaus Jacob, and Michael Marrella. October 10th at 7pm at the Van Alen institute. RSVP to

Redefining the River: Challenges in Urban Waterfront Design, brings the waterfront issue even closer to home. Panelists represent a sweeping list of entities central to New York’s future waterfront development, including: Jonathan Marvel of Rogers Marvel Architects; Regina Myer of Brooklyn Bridge Park; Matthew Urbanski of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates; Roland Lewis of the Metropolitan Water Alliance; Claire Weisz of WXY Architecture + Urban Design: and Michael Fishman of Stantec. The discussion will be moderated by Alex Washburn from NYC’s Department of City Planning. October 15th at 6:30pm. RSVP to

A few years ago, Urban Omnibus featured an iPhone app designed by Irene Cheng and Brett Snyder, entitled “Museum of the Phantom City,” that allows users to discover numerous unbuilt architectural projects in New York City. Storefront for Art and Architecture’s newest show, Past Futures, Present, Futures, focuses on similar themes. The exhibit will present “101 unrealized proposals for New York City, dating from its formation to today with 101 reenactments by invited artists, architects, writers and policy-makers to create alternative visions for the present and future of the city.”  All “Past Futures” will be on display starting tonight, at the exhibition opening, with new “Present, Future” reenactments added each day. The exhibition space was designed by Leong Leong as a “kaleidoscopic forest of movable thin walls, displaying and reflecting” the projects. Additionally, the firm installed the “F* Room,” a “circular soft space” that uses mirrors and eight screens to reflect the displayed project and the viewer together (it is to be entered barefoot). The Vito Acconci/Steven Holl designed façade has also been equipped with a sound installation. As pedestrians pass by the exterior, the names of unbuilt projects are pronounced “one word per stride.” A future publication will compile all the projects into one volume. The exhibition opens tonight, October 5th, and will be on view through November 24th, 2012.


The Roundup keeps you up to date with topics we’ve featured and other things we think are worth knowing about.