Roundup — July 4th Edition

Photo by look@j

The fireworks are returning to the East River and, serious concerns over the advisability of the investments required and individual opposition to certain yellow cards notwithstanding, the World Cup is filling the city with cheers and groans. In celebration of such celebration, we’re bringing back the Roundup for a July 4th edition — enjoy the holiday!

Visions of Urban Renewal Areas, Available FAR, Dollar Vans, and CitiBike 
Urban Reviewer, just launched by open space advocacy group 596 Acres, combines an impressive effort to unearth the plans for each of the city’s many, many urban renewal plans with a useful map application to navigate them. Building on two years of Freedom of Information Law requests to gain access to the plans, the tool gives a comprehensive look at the master plans that were used to reshape neighborhoods through slum clearance and to uncover what plans are still technically in effect. Another new mapping and visualization tool, the Municipal Art Society’s Accidental Skyline, shows the available development rights for properties throughout the city. The map serves to inform residents of the potential development that could occur as-of-right — without any zoning changes — in their neighborhoods.

On the transportation side of new representations of the city, the New Yorker just released an interactive project with maps and accompanying videos documenting one of New York’s unofficial transit systems: the dollar vans. And new from Columbia’s Spatial Information Design Lab are visualizations of CitiBike activity. These maps that pinpoint imbalances in the system over time, a first step toward helping the bike share more effectively deal with the necessary rebalancing of bikes at stations.

Mapping imbalance at CitiBike stations at the PM peak hours of use | Image via Spatial Information Design Lab

Eminent Domain (This Time) to Save Homes
A group of three New York City council members has proposed using eminent domain to protect the homes of thousands still struggling with underwater mortgages after the foreclosure crisis.  Under the plan, the City would first contract with a private investor to purchase the mortgages, who would change their terms so that homeowners can actually afford payments. If the current owners of the mortgages won’t sell, the city would use eminent domain to buy the mortgages at their appraised value, then sell them back to homeowners, allowing them to stay in their homes. In Newark, newly sworn-in Mayor Ras Baraka’s proposal to do the same was recently approved by the Newark City Council to address  1,000+ homes facing foreclosure.

Reinventing the MTA
It’s been a big year for talk of authority reform: Mayor de Blasio called for a total reset at the New York City Housing Authority, and the Port Authority has its own reform panel currently at work. Now, with the due date for its five-year capital plan coming up on October 1st and its megaprojects — the Second Avenue Subway, 7 line extension, Fulton Street Station, and East Side Access — all behind schedule and/or overbudget, the MTA announced a 22 member reinvention commission tasked with recommending ways the authority can better adapt to challenges of increasing ridership, demographic shifts, and climate change. The commission includes some famous names in the transportation world, among them former US transportation secretary Ray LaHood and Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogota renowned for promoting alternatives to car transportation in the city.

In other MTA news, the de Blasio administration has revived plans to rezone Midtown East, a Bloomberg administration proposal squashed near the end of his term over considerations that the contemplated densification of the district would be too much for the area’s transportation infrastructure to handle. The de Blasio plan would put congestion-easing investments at Grand Central ahead of further development in the area, but whether funding for a full Second Avenue Subway line – which would take some of the heat off the 4/5/6 – will be part of this vision is yet to be seen.

New York City Emergency Housing Prototype | Image by Andrew Rugge via Garrison Architects

A New Architecture of Disaster Relief
Housing residents who have permanently or temporarily lost their homes in a natural disaster always proves a challenge, one compounded in dense urban settings where land is at a premium and the number of those displaced is high. The City’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), in  partnership with FEMA, the Department of Design and Construction, and the Army Corps of Engineers, set out to create solutions for such situations, resulting in a set of standards and specifications for the future of urban post-disaster housing. Head over to Cadman Plaza in Downtown Brooklyn if you want a peek at what this could be: Garrison Architects in collaboration with OEM built a prototype of a housing module that could be deployed in natural disaster areas, keeping residents in their neighborhood as they recover. The prefabricated structure, assembled in 13.5 hours, will stay up for a year as it undergoes testing by studios at NYU-Poly and the Pratt Institute and city employees who will live in the units for five-day intervals.

Rent Freeze Unfrozen
Despite Mayor de Blasio’s lobbying of New York’s Rent Guidelines Board to freeze rents for rent-stabilized tenants on one-year leases, the Board approved a 1% increase on one-year leases and a 2.75% increase on two-year leases in a 5-4 vote. While tenant advocacy groups called for the freeze as a necessary response to rapidly declining affordability, landlords claimed the lack of a raise would leave them unable to invest in upkeep. Affordable housing lenders expressed that a freeze would undermine the financial structure of such projects. The increase still ranks as the lowest in the history of the Board, which has never approved a rent freeze.

Another New Timeline for Atlantic Yards
NY State’s economic development authority has signed a new agreement with Forest City Ratner, the developer of Atlantic Yards, to speed up the project. Under the agreement, the timeline has been bumped up ten years to 2025. And following negotiations with the City, Forest City will also start to build two buildings composed entirely of 600 units of affordable housing within the next year or face a $5 million fine.

Urban Giants
Urban Giants is a new short film that examines the ongoing life of two of the most advanced telecommunications buildings in the world built between 1928 and 1932: the Western Union and AT&T Long Lines Buildings in Lower Manhattan. The film is directed by Davina Pardo and written by Andrew Blum. For more on Blum’s ongoing research and writing on architecture and the built infrastructure of the internet, look back at the UO feature “Pulses of Light Beneath the Streets” and the 2012 interview with Blum published on, “Touching the Internet.” 


Maps of 20th Century Brooklyn
Join the Brooklyn Historical Society on July 10th as their map cataloguer Lisa Miller uses the Society’s archive to trace Brooklyn’s urban experience across the 20th century, with urbanization, industrialization, urban renewal, and preservation all represented. Then, join your fellow cartographic enthusiasts for a drink in their beer garden.

Rockaway! & Hy-Fi
If you need another reason to head out to the beach this summer, MoMA PS1 in collaboration with the Jamaican Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy just opened Rockaway!, a free public arts festival featuring projects by Patti Smith, Adrián Villar Rojas, and Janet Cardiff, as well as an international group show, in celebration of the reopening of Fort Tilden and in recognition of the ongoing recovery of the peninsula following Sandy. The exhibitions are on view through September 1st.

And at MoMA PS1’s location in Long Island City, Hy-Fi, The Living’s installation that won this year’s Young Architects prize, is now open. Made from bricks grown from fungus, the towers of Hy-Fi will stay up through September 7th, when the biodegradable structure will be composted. For more on The Living, check out our interview with principal David Benjamin from 2009 about his Amphibious Architecture project, and stay tuned for the publication of Benjamin’s 2014 Architectural League Emerging Voices lecture and interview, including a look at the design of Hy-Fi, which will be published on on July 21st.

The Living’s Hy-Fi at MoMA PS1 | Photo by Kris Graves, courtesy of MoMA PS1

The Roundup keeps you up to date with topics we’ve featured and other things we think are worth knowing about. Formerly a weekly tradition published every Friday, we now bring you the roundup on an occasional basis. 

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.