Category: urban planning

Several decades ago, on the #1 train during the morning rush hour, there was an exchange between two strangers. A man and woman started talking about the delays at each station as more people packed themselves into the graffiti-covered car—the interior temperature inching upwards despite the open windows. Through several stops, they kept chatting. Finally, she had to get off. There was an awkward pause until he asked her if she would like to grab a cup of coffee. She said yes, there was hasty scribbling of a phone number on a piece of paper, and off she went. I…

My oldest son graduates from high school today and will attend college in the fall. There will be one less person in the house, lightening the laundry load, freeing up some wi-fi band width, and saving us a few bucks on food. After he leaves home, neither my wife nor I will be around each day to witness the events that will guide his transition to adult life. With our cultural chaos, I worry about the pressures on him to develop a mature set of values. With more years behind me than ones ahead, I spend a considerable amount of…

Photo courtesy of Kidz Engineering 101, Inc. I like to consider my life as a progression: continually learning how to be a better person, father, husband, friend, and architect. With the first four I engage with my family and social circle, learning from others who share their perspectives, opinions, and patience. Looking back over my shoulder, there were crossroads in my life where this prevented me from being directed down the dark path of ignorance and illegitimate inquiry. Growing up in the suburbs is not exactly a path towards enlightenment, but I was lucky enough to have good teachers, get…

Cultivating Community in a School Garden In January of 2011 I co-founded Sprout Farms, an urban agriculture education nonprofit project. The idea for Sprout came from my aspiration to understand urban infrastructure and to develop means to make it sustainable. My partner, Katie Hope, a teacher with a master’s degree in early childhood education, brought expertise, both in the garden and the classroom. We shared a personal desire to expand our own gardening space beyond our apartment windowsills. Through Sprout we’ve learned how to mold public space into a catalyst for community connectivity. We’ve learned how to work with the…

The word “homeless” is based on a judgment that reflects on the lack of architecture, of shelter, a person has, which leads to a solution that fulfills just that. However, there is yet another deficiency that is often overlooked, ignored and left undone which is the relationship between the poor and those that are not poor. This large gap between the two parties, not in terms of societal structure, but rather in the space for interaction that is needed in order to effectively help someone in need, remains a void that is one of the loudest aspects of the city.…

A few years ago, I co-founded Gowanus by Design. This was before the Gowanus Canal, a heavily contaminated post-industrial waterway in Brooklyn, New York, was designated a Superfund site. The canal has became a symbol for the urban planning challenges facing us in the early part of the 21st century that are a direct result of misguided 20th century industry growth. The Canal’s future remains still in doubt. Will the clunky vision proposed by developers such as Lightstone justify Spike Lee’s disgust with the gentrification of Brooklyn? Or will the hard work of many community based organizations, coupled with “Bridging…

In “The City in History,” Lewis Mumford described how the first great cities of Athens and Rome succumbed to the disparity of a city’s subcultures and accumulation of wealth for the privileged classes. Three weeks ago an article appeared in the New York Times about the developer David Lichtenstein; I started to wonder if the sunburst over Brooklyn will fade as those with similar track records and motivations determine its fate. Mr. Lichtenstein’s company, The Lightstone Group, has taken over a project on the banks of the Gowanus Canal originally put forth by Toll Brothers. The city granted Toll Brothers…

As I start to write this, I am sitting in my darkened office on lower Broadway two days after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on our city. There is no power in Lower Manhattan, the subways are not running, and my staff is scrambling to take a computer offsite. I am grateful for the battery power stored in my laptop. My wife, two sons, and I walked down to the Gowanus Canal the day after the hurricane swept across our city to survey the storm’s aftermath. Though the waters had receded slightly, there was ample evidence marking where the canal’s waters…

A few weeks ago, Sam Schwartz, traffic guru and the former New York City Traffic Commissioner, presented his Equitable Transportation Formula [ETF] at the monthly Institute of Urban Design breakfast club. With a series of images punched up with bold graphics, Mr. Schwartz laid out the pitfalls of the congestion pricing plan proposed by Mayor Bloomberg in 2008; gave us a brief historical snapshot of the East River toll rates for horses, pushcarts, and automobiles at the beginning of the 20th century; and presented his solution for increasing transportation revenue to support infrastructure development. Part of the current challenge with…

NYU recently announced that it would reduce the size of its proposed expansion by almost 20% in an attempt to overcome the surrounding community’s strong opposition to the plan. By reducing the development’s size, it hopes to win approval of the Community Board and the Department of City Planning who will determine if a zoning variance should be granted. NYU faces a unique challenge in traditional campus planning since its campus is spread around Greenwich Village, occupies a short stretch of First Avenue, has an outpost in Abu Dhabi, and has recently taken over Polytechnic University in Brooklyn. I first…