voteFollowing the 2016 American Presidential election, I turned to the writing of Jane Jacobs. I went straight for “Dark Days Ahead” on my library shelf and immediately came across this helpful passage in the first chapter:

“…the death or the stagnated moribundity of formerly unassailable and vigorous cultures is caused not by an assault from outside but by an assault from within, that is, by internal rot in the form of fatal cultural turnings not recognized as wrong turnings when they occur or soon enough afterward to be correctable. Time during which corrections can be made runs out because of cultural forgetfulness.”

In this election, will we forget the assault on the dignity of women carried out by a candidate for the Presidency of the United States? As a candidate, he is a part of that unrecognized “rot” fully validated by the cultural turning of a national election. Nevertheless, we must take some hope in the idea that he is not a “fatal turning” as the terms of office in the U.S. Constitution assure the observance of character sufficient to support renewal or to deny it. Terms are kernels of political time, and like seeds, they carry the subtle stories of leadership. Some terms will champion the highest of human ideals and guide us with the opportunity for growth; others do not for the lack of crucial nutrients. The message of the seed is not to grieve, but to find the nutrients to be free to grow. I cannot think of a better time in history to build a broader foundation for the vote than the 100th year of the 19th Amendment. Now is the time and 2020 is the deadline.

This idea may have nothing, or everything to do with design in the dense urban setting.  I think it is the latter and the “vote” in the city is an urban design and community development problem that has been ignored.

The cities (for hundreds of reasons) are skeptical, but unafraid of change because they are highly skilled with it.  There is a lot to learn from the day-to-day reality of our city. Today, it may seem very difficult to get to the truth and I can tell you exactly where you will find it.  Walk to your street outside of your home, that is where you will find the truth.  It is right at your feet, look up and you will be eye-to-eye with the truth.  I can walk for miles from my home, and that is how I know what is true and what is not. How far does your street reach?

Those willing to accept this idea should do so knowing we are in period where the worried search for nutrients and fear of change is strong. History says we are tempted to choose the warrior’s promise that he will take what we want at no cost. Turning away from this path by the 100th year of the 19th Amendment will move us toward more diligent and intelligent work of amassing social and material resources. To succeed in this task, one dark force in the world requires exposure.


Urban Design Committee is Back!

Planning and Design

Is it like bringing two versions of time into the room?  Yes/No?

The answer would be No”, unless implementation is involved, then it would be a simple matter of cash via step#1 plan and #2 design.  In my experience watch out for the times when #2 goes first.

Meanwhile, the Urban Design Committee is back up and running, it will set goals and discuss ideas on

  1. community outreach
  2. sponsorships and,
  3. engage in public policy reviews

All good. Picking new targets could not be more important.  If you can contribute drop a note to: or look at the new LinkedIn Forum

The Mission:

  • to educate communities and public officials on the nature and purpose of urban design in defining the physical form of the urban landscape through the creation of public places and spaces.
  • lato inform the public on the relevance of zoning recommendations on the shape of the physical environment and the process by which they are affected.
  • to respond to planning and policy initiatives while in the formative stage.

Top ten options for review..

  1. impact of ten years of zoning change on urban design…
  2. waterfronts outside of Manhattan  — the failure of “restrictive declarations” and “MOUs”
  3. review of school playground project –paint? really? seriously?
  4. revisiting Long Island City — too big to fail?
  5. revisiting Brooklyn’s west coast — and then there is “billburg” vs. (would that be the L train?) I don’t think so….
  6. massive increase in density is good, right? something is missing and it is not on the streets.
  7. are the urban designers at the MTA idiots?  an inside story?
  8. getting past HPV lanes, street finger painting, official graffiti and getting to dedicated rights of way.
  9. Jane Jacobs was right — the city is a place made for strangers to be safe and all the rest of it absolutely right
  10. name the best urban place contest…. then prove it… get cash and prizes!


Town Prospector

Urban Prospector


The New York City Master Plan – published in 1968 presented the community districts at that time a equivalent in population and total employment with cities throughout the United States, a distinction smaller cities only partially enjoyed.

Hopefully, the efforts of exploration outfits such as the Prospector  will bring attention to the enormous potential small towns and villages have in taking public leadership forward in “finding value in cities” — the tag line of this interesting new blog site.  The images presented are stimulating and demand attention.

If you are interested in making small urban centers work, have a look at The Urban Prospector  The issue is serious as this article by William H. Frey Senior Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program on the “Population Slowdown for Small Town America” clearly illustrates.


ASL Building Doomed: 100 Years or Less

Open Letter to the Art Students League Membership and The Resistance


As the proposal stands now the ASL is turned into an artifact.   It is being readied for placement in nothing more than photographs of where it once was. I have three ideas for addressing the problem faced by the membership of the ASL. Each one recognizes the status of the existing conditions.  Each has an outside chance of keeping ASL a part of the New York City artist community.  All three would be a slam dunk.


A concern of every institution of learning is to reflect effectively on its experience. This responsibility now remains posited firmly before the entire membership of the ASL. At present, to “not vote” or to vote “NO” has been predefined as an act of futility, if not the essence of an”absurd vote”. This has made the members of the ASL part of a radically changed society, but more importantly it is now required to fully assess the terror of this new condition, but look on the bright side. The coalitions of those who resist “the project” have an opportunity to establish new principles for adoption by a more innovative, possibly energized ASL board and membership. These principles arise from the three new realities embedded in the project and revealed in the ongoing evaluation of its proposals.

Without doubt the members of the ASL are of “the 99%” of citizens of this city and nation.  The ASL will therefore re-dedicate its aesthetic vision, art and talent to the recognition of social inequality and to the best of its ability, take the steps needed to move toward its eradication as a social pathology in this city and this nation.

  • Never has the seriousness of this issue been more clearly revealed than in the value of residential and commercial floor area defined by this project.   Over one third of all renters (2/3 of all residents) in NYC now pay over half of their income for rent.  Rent has increased by 8.6% from 2007 to 2011 while the cities median-income decreased by 6.8% in the same period. [1]  The income gap in Manhattan is comparable to areas of great social distress such as Sierra Leone.  None can present the beauty and dignity of being poor with greater clarity than the artist.  This truth must remain in the heart of ASL.


The second fact revealed by “the project” is equally disturbing to any rational observer not blinded by the ways gold can darken our future. The nature of membership in the ASL society has been revealed as a token, each participant a mere actor on a stage of their choosing, but damned by their will to lead.  In the face of this great change the value of the ASL society is strained by clouds of tradeoffs, exchanges and quid pro quo rationalizations.  If there is to be art, the artist must see the truth.  The leaders of the ASL have delivered nothing more than a sense of hopelessness and for this the members of the resistance should be saddened, yet resolved to move forward with new leadership.

  • The resistance to “the project” recognizes the capacity of great wealth to overwhelm the old and weak with its power.   With this knowledge the resistance to “the project” will pledge their unyielding energy to a new purpose.  The resistance to the project and membership of the ASL therefore call for the resignation of the board, not in distrust, but with common recognition that new leadership is the only chance the members might have to recover from the overwhelming sense of worthlessness bestowed upon the history and legacy of the ASL by the current board.


The third strategy has value in two ways, first, if heard by the developers and deemed reasonable, it offers an overwhelming motive to maximize the projects potential and therefore give pause to re-evaluate.   This may yield the time to assess the ability of “the resistance” to move the following proposal forward.   It offers the possibility to acquire a briefly postponed vote in order to obtain a serious review of a wholly new future for the ASL.

A innovative proposal has yet to be fully considered.  It is one that is equally controversial, but it suggests a vision for art in our society is now required to leap into the future as opposed to being “bought out” of it.   In reviewing the literature and the law, the only way to assure that the ASL will survive as an institution is to completely reinvent itself.

  • The resistance therefore offers to yield to “the project” all of the land held by the ASL in trade for a doubling of the equivalent floor area in perpetuity and in a manner that will meet the needs of artists for the next millennia.   Charge the developers with the responsibility to provide for the ASL a superior space, dedicated to the future of fairness and to the truth that art brings to life and society.  The ASL has the opportunity to weave its belief in this unique part of human energy into the mission of urban development.  The opportunity for a rebirth is the rarest of all gifts.  This is the true offer; it is not in the few coins now tossed on the table.

A personal note:

In reviewing the literature and the law it is highly unlikely this option could inject the ASL into the future, it is however one that must be reviewed.   The reasons for the “unlikely success” of this option is that half of the resistance to the proposal as it stands is resistance to change itself.  It is therefore extremely difficult to establish a majority view toward inclusive forms of change.

Nevertheless, it is highly important to retell and remind all who can hear, that the history of New York City is filled with the energy of institutions in buildings that are no longer here.  Far too many of them remain lost to a hope that parts of the human spirit cannot be crushed forever. Like MAS, the ASL should be an institution capable of recognizing its fate and therefore return to the challenge of art.

[1] See report released by New York University’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, the “State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods 2012”

AIA for Mayor


The American Institute of Architect’s New York chapter (AIANY) released a mayoral platform to help them set the 2014 agenda: See: PDF

  1. buildings, what is built, how it gets where, for who, when
  2. neighborhoods planning and community development issues
  3. city systemic change in building and zoning codes
  4. world state, federal and international policy on cities.

Some of the details in NYC

  • 100,000 new units of affordable housing units built over next ten years building on the 150,000 produced since 2000
  • Complete the green code, passed in 2010 to support energy-efficient and sustainable buildings.  Only 29 of the 111 proposals from the draft code have been passed,
  • Build “active design” programs to make existing buildings healthy, safe and efficient.
  • Add open space throughout the city
  • Establish a position: Deputy Mayor for Design and Planning and make the Office for Long-Term Planning and Sustainability a commissioner-level position

Zoning GHG


New York City’s newest set of proposed zoning changes will re-write rules to remove impediments to the construction and retrofitting of buildings in every land use.  The objective: reduce urban energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) production. The bottom line is the $15 billion/year spent to heat and power buildings that represent 80 percent of the city’s carbon emissions.  Reduction in consumption improves well being.

Can zoning regulations reduce the urban carbon footprint and lower energy costs? Assuring buildings have a good air-barrier and insulation on the exterior will yield energy performance. Why is encouraging a good air/insulation barrier, (four to eight inches) a zoning issue?

The added bulk to get energy efficiency is counted under existing regulations.  This reduces the usable space within the building and ends up in a cost/income trade-off and it tends to build in a substandard “triple net” energy cost transfer from the developer to the lease holder or owner. The new regulations will exempt the added bulk in relation to floor area limits (FAR) and open space regulations (OSR).

Will this reduce the TDC/ROI energy trade off? (total development cost to return on investment ratio)

Solar panels, rooftop greenhouses will also be exempt from FAR, and height limits in some cases, as long as the greenhouse is on top of a building that does not house residences. The result of these changes will be slightly bulkier, somewhat taller buildings that are more energy efficient.

A number regarding the discount from $15 billion in today’s energy cost and the reduction of GHGs also requires an estimate. The cost of confirming compliance is yet another public responsibility. This requires a factor as well, that is sufficiently off set by penalties that are equal the obvious incentives.

The City Planning Commission process began December 19, 2011 with the submission of the new regulations to the five borough presidents and the city’s 59 community boards. The goal is to formalize the new regulations by Spring 2012.

One Bryant Park

In thoughtful research reporting the requirement to sum up should become a responsibility of participation.  In Skyscrapers and the World of Tomorrow posted to Planetizen on September, 1 2011 by editors Jeff Jamawat, Kris Fortin, Tim Halbur and Victor Negrete, the questions sought to define the place for very big buildings, but the article ends by suggesting, the problem lies in a lack of a clear, agreed-upon vision for the future. Lots of luck with that one, but they give it a try.

According to the article, the content of this vision requires data that confirms the efficacy of the following steps.

  1. add full life cycle analysis (e.g. embodied energy) to LEED certification (McEeaney, Toberian)
  2. advance smart building technologies (Black, Leung, Appel)
  3. remove barriers to high (even ultra) density in the right places (Glaeser)
  4. prevent bottom-feeding architecture and beware the onset of tower blight (Kunstler)
  5. remove political gridlock (everybody)

Top of the line sellers provide the data needed for the first two steps thanks to high-end buyers of the technology (see video below).  Much of the data from these systems is proprietary and slows the rate of change, but at least it is pay-it-forward change. These investment institutions are strong and global.

The remaining three define the lack of clear vision problem less optimistically.  All of our democratic institutions face demands for NASA-style investment goals amidst fix-it-first philosophies.  How do we dissolve the contradictions of these two different approaches?

In our recent national history, we attacked a similar problem from the top-down and the grass-roots-up with top end ideas such as the Hreat Society and things like Headstart in a local precinct. Part of it included an investment in demonstration cities, later renamed Model Cities while another part vociferously disagreed with an America entering a permanent state of war.  All of this began a process that forever changed the vision of the urban world.

Today, envisioning the a city and our future is inseparable but this begs the question.  The vision that will remove the barriers, release unlimited wealth for growth, and break the gridlock is one of the city and a wilderness that is separate and inviolate. That is what is missing, that is what we need.

Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park from Cook+Fox Architects on Vimeo.

Lincoln Institute

This history of the human settlement is a story of continuous growth and increasing urban densities that reduce per capita resource consumption among the successfully urbanizing countries and decreasing net densities among those who do not have an urban agenda.  The summary omits Africa in this context. It is a glaring omission of the summary, but it is covered well elsewhere.

That said, it should read:

The new Lincoln Institute report Making Room for a Planet of Cities should have, “With informal cities everywhere else,” as the tag line.  (Read Decline of Density Chap.2)

The rapidly urbanizing world needs a better analysis, so four data sets are offered to help:

  1. A global sample of 120 cities with 100,000 people via satellite;
  2. Population density data for 20 U. S. cities, 1910-2000, based on census tracts;
  3. Built-up sample of 30 cities, 1800-2000, from 120 cities using historic city maps;
  4. Urban land cover (3,646 cities of 100,000 or more in 2000, based on satellite


Densities in developing countries are double Europe and Japan.  Densities in Europe and Japan are double those of the United States, Canada, and Australia.  The growth rate of urban land cover was twice that of the urban population 1990 and 2000.

The urban population of the developing countries is expected to double between 2000 and 2030 and the nations of the world are largely ignorant of the impacts, or cannot act on the implications of this knowledge.


The data, images, metrics, and methodology from Making Room for a Planet of Cities are available in an accompanying sub-center, the Atlas of Urban Expansion, in the Databases section of Resources & Tools at the Lincoln Institute Web site.





Waterfront 2020

Locations Presented

The details on a Reach by Reach basis are well worth some urban design quires and perusals.  To this end, the following stipulation is offered for examination.

We have long known that we see is what we think is there and that this can be correct or incorrect at anytime but always considered correct, and we know that not every observation we make is exact.

We know errors in perception and measurement exist. These elements of the human condition are fundamental and accepted collectively in science and psychology.  The more important issue is our responsibility to seek or develop statements of fact that have such lasting clarity in describing the conditions of our time they will continue to make sense in a distant future despite these errors.

I would like your opinion of the waterfront draft on this basis (and on how much jargon can plan one take?).

Armed with this knowledge please read the Waterfront Plan for recommendations and procedures most likely to reduce error when discussing measurements and second, suggest ways to find these errors during the implementation of plan components that provide for adjustments.

Design police….

Nevertheless, the New Yorker only needs to recall the 6th Avenue commercial office bonus scheme to realize the limitations involved in the public’s regulatory interest in extending Central Park a bit to south with urban plazas. One only needs to look at a “restrictive declaration” used in Astoria, to recognize a public access failure when you see it. Both represented a straightforward and honorablex desire, but one that was interpreted very differently by the developer’s bottom line of that time. Today we have a double bottom line approach.  Please bring this do no harm value to your review of the plans revision as follows: 

The New York Department of City Planning website asks you to get involved with Vision 2020: NYC Comprehensive Waterfront Plan. It offers a set of links (below).x  Each seeks thoughtful people to reflect on “new public realm†and to deduce the purpose of the update from its 1992 version under Wilber “Bill” Woods.

Seek out the following and provide your view using the resource links below and share facts and opinions with thisx blog or the other venues known to many of you as listed below:

1. Read the Draft Recommendations
2. Send us your comments online
3. Read a recap of the workshops
4. Subscribe to our email newsletter

The connection of New York City’s 500+ miles of blue-interface to regulatory entities such as the NYC Building Code, the Clean Water Act, andx the long list or labyrinth of permits demand site-t0-site complexities.  The call for waterproofing every new structure within a few hundred feet of the waterfront at 14 feet ABOVE mean high tide is a “code” example.

Another is use of the word elevated in reference to the inevitable rise of sea levels.  It suggests the need for other measurements to sustain the basic value of public access that sits as the foundation of the public interest. Perhaps it would be a good thing to see NYC function as well as Venice hasx in the centuries to come, or to plan as well as our friends in the Netherlands. It would seem prudent in a ten-year plan to outline factors that are in NYC’s interest as far into the future

Unlike the folks in the Netherlands that have confidently stated the country to be climate proof”, NYC-DCP selection is climate resilience. It says:

While Vision 2020 is focused on the next ten years, the plan recognizes the need to plan for a much longer timeframe as well. The New York City Panel on Climate Change. See 2010 Report (354 pgs) from the NY Academy of Sciences. It has projected hat sea levels are expected to rise anywhere from 12 inches to 55 inches by 2080. In addition, severe storms and the floods associated with them are expected to occur more frequently.

As a coastal city, many New York neighborhoods experience flooding and storm surges. These risks are expected to increase as the effects of climate change are felt.  The Department of City Planning is working with other City agencies on assessing the risks associated with sea level rise in order to develop strategies for the city to increase its resilience. Strategies include regulatory and other measures to improve the flood resistance of new and existing buildings, as well as exploring soft infrastructure approaches to coastal protection.


That is far more introduction than needed.  I implore you to read the DRAFT using your urban design lens as a planner or architect and offer your opinions. Observations from other cities, states in the USA or throughout the precious orb of life we call earth.

The venues for discussion are:

APA Metro NY Urban Design Committee

There are 40 members in this section andx the activity level is low. LinkedIn is known for its a job networking services, but its group function makes this system available to members to share articles, post questions and define issues affecting New York City and the Region. Anyone can view group content, request an invitation to join, become managers or set up a subgroup on an issue.

Urban Design Network

There are about 3,000 members in this group with 9x  managers and 12 moderators involved in sharing data on issues in the broad context of Urban Design as it is experienced from Da-bronx to Dubai

Urban Design Committee Via Google

There are 64 members with a low activity rating.  The objective is tox use this area to sift throughx issues that may occur with the revision of the 1992 NYC Waterfront Plan (or other issues) and it connects to various WebEx, Google Docs, WindowsLive locations, and so on. Members arex encouraged to develop individualx â€œdraft development areas.

Vision 2020 citywide policies was completed and offered as FINAL in March 2011.  It will seek to accomplish the following eight goals:

  • Expand public access to the waterfront and waterways on public and private property for all New Yorkers and visitors alike.
  • Enliven the waterfront with a range of attractive uses integrated with adjacent upland communities.
  • Support economic development activity on the working waterfront.
  • Improve water quality through measures that benefit natural habitats, support public recreation, and enhance waterfront and upland communities.
  • Restore degraded natural waterfront areas, and protect wetlands and shorefront habitats.
  • Enhance the public experience of the waterways that surround New York – our Blue Network.
  • Improve governmental regulation, coordination, and oversight of the waterfront and waterways.
  • Identify and pursue strategies to increase the city’s resilience to climate change and sea level rise.


We shall see.  Download a copy at Comment if you like….

Sum Up Vanderbilt Yards

x x 


The history of keeping things “out of your back yard” begins with demonstrable adverse health problems caused by pollution, but it does not end there.x  It has advancedx to the critique ofx poorly chosen uses of land, howx the usex affects others over time and the kind of society the uses produce.x  What happens in this section of a growingx Downtown Brooklyn is now one of those questions.x  What quality of society will we produce here?x 

For now, look at it as the collision of two interests, one is private and predictive toward profitable returns and the other is public and prescriptive toward resolving the errors committed in the pursuit of the first interest whether the errors were predicable or not.x  This leeds to expressions of due diligence that prove efforts are made to anticipate damages that are conducted through project approval and evaluation procedures that are capable of constant improvement.x  In this way, living in the world may not be risk free, but the path to it is both predictable and prescribed.x x  To sum up, the community is now like the building in this photo.x 

This photo’s traction for use in articles on the rise of NIMBYism in general has its roots in China.x  I have been unable to source it to a physical location other than the links below- it appears to be Shanghai, but I cannot be certain.x x x Photo sources:x 

Not in My Backyard: China’s Rising Middle Class Growing Environmental Contention.x