Saturday, September 24, 2011

By the city / For the city: An Atlas of Possibilities for the Future of New York

A compendium of the initiative By the City / For the City as a result of the online inquiry by the Institute of Urban Design of New York. An inspiring atlas of different projects to indicate what's going on in the City and what neighborhoods and their people need.

The Public Space as an Internet of Things

Our information society is entering a new phase. We do not only surf the internet, we live in it. On the street we find ourselves increasingly surrounded by digital devices.

By reading this book I'll try to take a view about the importance of public space in this digital society and how both aspects can go together or even reinforce each other.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Spaces of Uncertainty, 2002

Public space in its traditional interpretations (its social and political ideas) is unable to follow the heartbeat of today's rapidly changing city. This book draws attention to public space in a changing city with a specific view for the in-between and a search for its margins.

Ground-Up City, Play as a Design Tool, 2007

A mapping of an urban design strategy for play in the city. Ground-Up City places the playground high on the agenda as an urban design challange. A second layer in the book gives an inspirational and refreshing new look at play in a picture essay with a welter of reference images illustrating play as an urban phenomenon.

Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York, 1978

Rem Koolhaas both analyzes and celebrates New York City. By suggesting the city as the site for an infinite variety of human activities and events (both real and imagined) the essence of the metropolitan lifestyle, its "culture of congestion" and its architecture are revealed in a brilliant new light.
The skyscraper is described here as a reproduction of the world, A city within a city. “The vertical Schism”. The city as an homogenous texture, like a grid of islands. It is the start of hiding the everyday street life. The start of an endless, increasing cocooning where people doesn’t meet each other anymore except from artificial climates.

“Like their towers, the men are dressed in costumes whose essential characteristics are similar”
The Barrels of Love
Two horizontal cylinders – mounted in line – revolve slowly in opposite directions. At either end a small staircase leads up to an entrance.
One feeds men into the machine, the other women.
It is impossible to remain standing.
Men and women fall on top of each other.
The unrelenting rotation of the machine fabricates synthetic intimacy between people who would never otherwise have met.
This intimacy can be further processed in the Tunnels of Love.

The skyscraper as a reproduction of the world, A city within a city. “The vertical Schism”
The city as an homogenous texture, like a grid of islands.
“Like their towers, the men are dressed in costumes whose essential characteristics are similar”
It is the start of hiding the everyday street life. The start of an endless, increasing cocooning.

Naked City _ The Red Hook story

In the 30’s Red Hook was a dangerous polyglot place. Homes were too small, the area is too far from mass transit, it has environmental nasty spots together with a large public housing project. Gentrification has been limited here. Though, it has two significant stories about the Food vendors at the ball fields and the arrival of Ikea.

The food vendors at the Sunset park ball fields are the most significant about the Red Hook neighborhood. Their story starts in the 1970’s when Salvadorian and Ecuadorean people brought food to the fields to picnic while their children could play here. After some time the picnic evaluated in preparing food at home and selling it to people playing soccer at the fields. This event brought a huge immigration of Latin-Americans into Red Hook. People started promoting the food at the ball fields and also a growing number of whites costumers came to these places. Because of the vendor’s growing media presence competition grew between the vendors to differentiate from others and serve the real authentic food of their home-countries. But everyone noted the changes. The intimacy was gone.
“Vending at the ball fields had become a bureaucratically controlled situation”
Ikea is another story of Red Hook’s waterfront. The idea of an IKEA in Red Hook has set residents debating the issue. With its narrow streets and no subway service the store would cause an overwhelming of the neighborhood. At the other side Ikea would create jobs in this under-served section of South Brooklyn. By promising metro-provision and a boat-service from Manhattan Ikea could settle.
“New York’s Zoning Law has prevented superstores from location anywhere except in manufacturing zones along the waterfront, like in Red Hook.”

So development has brought many changes to Brooklyn in recent  years. In short, the recent whitening of Brooklyn leads to an expanded gentrification into working-class black neighborhoods while new immigrants look for other areas to an ethnic mosaic.

“The new  Brooklyn is different. It’s a place people come to, not a place they come from.”

Naked City _ The Williamsburg Story

Williamsburg is described as the neighborhood that made Brooklyn cool as a new terroir for indie music, alternative art and trendy restaurants. From then people started to migrate over the Brooklyn Bride with a special attraction to artist and writers who were looking for authentic places.

“The scale and style of the architecture are more deliberately suited to small, personal lives”

After Williamsburg, also other neighborhoods of Brooklyn’s inner city developed a new image of Brooklyn’s cool, but this time by hip-hop music (Biggie Small, Jay Z) and black movies (Spike Lee). These neighborhoods are Bedfort-Stuyvesant, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and East Flastbush.

Like Williamsburg’s artistic entrepreneurs, hip hop artists created a story of origin that became the basis for Brooklyn’s new authenticity. But unlike hipster Williamsburg, black Brooklyn was dangerous.”

Naked City, Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places, 2010

As 1960's sociologist Jane Jacobs, Sharon Zukin walks the streets of the contemporary changing city and tells us an updated story about gentrifications, revidalisation, immagration,...  illustrated by very specific stories in New York City. From IKEA up to Harlem, the street vendors in Red Hook to community gardens, to the farmer's market she investigates what drives the city's social diversity and makes it offending a character. An updated learning story of Death and Life about how to deal with the city's soul starting from the city's authentic neighborhoods without sliding into nostalgias.

According to Zukin, the contemporary city is losing its soul, one neighborhood after another had lost its small and local identity. The diversity of neighborhoods is gone and rebuilding of public spaces since 1980’s shows signs of the same homogenizing process of redevelopment. After 2001 the preoccupations of cities’ life are shopping and security.

Authenticity can be primal, historically first or in a traditional vision together with being unique, historically new and a creative process. To save the city’s soul it should take count of preserving historical building, small-scale boutiques (not the chain stores), cafés (not starbucks), distinctive cultural identities.

The urban space has been reshaped in recent years by consumer culture:
SOHO: art galleries and performance spaces in the 70’s and 80’s, retail chain stores in 90’s
WILLIAMSBURG: Indie music bars and ethnic restaurants, 90’s
EAST VILLAGE: terrific Farmer’s market and restaurants
HARLEM: new boutiques and chain stores, starbucks and H&M

Two chapters in this book are specific about Brooklyn neighborhoods: Williamsburg and Red Hook.

Watch an interview with Sharon Zukin.

Jane Jacobs _ Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961

A great influential book about (social) urbanism and city planning with a critique on the modernist planning of the early 20th century. Jacobs considers about the city’s community life and describes development seen from a bottom-up methodology, alarming against the arrogance of state power's developers like Robert Moses. The entire book is written within her own experiences by walking around the city’s streets and parks, observing community life.

Most significant are Jacobs’ four principles of diversity, against the great blight of dulness.
Mixed uses of primary user facilities, Short building blocks, buildings of various ages, concentration              

A good combination of these principles can, together with a good buildingsrank, lead to diverse neighborhoods and lively community life.
Lack for concentrated diversity gets people in their cars with high needs for highroads and parking lots. This is why Urban Sprawl leads to more concrete, more cars, a while the city center brings vitality, lively urban society, a meeting place for lots of people.

The consequences of Jane Jacob’s battle against top-down city planning continues to this day. The movie “Battle for Brooklyn” is an intimate look at the very public and passionate fight waged by residents and business owners of Brooklyn's historic Prospect Heights neighborhood facing condemnation of their property to make way for the polarizing Atlantic Yards project, a massive plan to build 16 skyscrapers and a basketball arena for the New Jersey Nets, designed by Daniel Libeskind.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A digital dialogue about the practice of tactical urbanism and socially active design.

Neil Freeman’s Brooklyn Typology Project is an artwork that imbues the sometimes prosaic and quantitative vocabulary of urban planning with a peculiar kind of poetic sensibility. The point of departure for his exploration is residential density – one of the most often cited and poorly understood metrics in urban analysis. But the project also reflects the boundless curiosity of a tireless flâneur: Neil visits and and documents a cross-section of Brooklyn communities that many New Yorkers will never see in a lifetime of exploring the city.

Urban Design Week 2011

Urban Design Week is a new public festival created to engage New Yorkers in the fascinating and complex issues of the public realm, and to celebrate the streetscapes, sidewalks, and public spaces at the heart of city life. Through an open-call ideas competition and a rich roster of discussions, tours, screenings, workshops, and events across the five boroughs, UDW will highlight the fact that cities are made by collective effort, and that each of us can play a part.