"We’ve been so fixated on fancy new buildings that we’ve lost sight of the spaces they occupy and we share," New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman argues in a long article about how the city is shaped.
Kimmelman presents a series of observations by Alexander Garvin, a New York architect and urban planner who has worked with five city administrations, beginning with Mayor John Lindsay (1966-73).
"What passes for public space in many crowded neighborhoods often means some token gesture by a developer, built in exchange for the right to erect a taller skyscraper," says Kimmelman.
He starts his critique by accompanying Garvin to Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street in Manhattan, where they find two ill-coordinated public spaces: the sunken concrete plaza of Citicorp Center on the northeast corner and "a triangular patch of wind-swept sidewalk" on the southeast corner.
Kimmelman acknowledges that the Citicorp plaza has a few shops, trees, and building and subway entrances to draw people. But he laments that the public spaces in front of Citicorp and at the base of a high-rise just to the south suffer from having been conceived as "separate footnotes to skyscrapers."
Good public spaces are among the most fundamental elements of a successful city, Kimmelman observes.
"Mr. Garvin argues that the city should reverse its approach, zoning neighborhoods like Midtown, Lower Manhattan and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, by thinking first about the shape of public space instead of private development," Kimmelman notes.
The Dutch today put together what they call “structure plans” when they undertake big new public projects, like their high-speed rail station in Rotterdam: before celebrity architects show up, urban designers are called in to work out how best to organize the sites for the public good.
For more in-depth coverage on this topic:
• See the December New Urban News, which reports on a public plaza program that is creating new public places throughout New York City.
• Subscribe to New Urban News to read all of the articles (print+online) on implementation of greener, stronger, cities and towns.
• Get New Urbanism: Best Practices Guide, packed with more than 800 informative photos, plans, tables, and other illustrations, this book is the best single guide to implementing better cities and towns.
• See the June 2011 issue of New Urban News. Mid-rise living, elevated walkways, Jane Jacobs and observational urbanism, affordable transit-oriented development, the coming housing calamity, rental and TOD to dominate market, New Town in bankruptcy, regional approach for high-speed rail, the civic costs of sprawl, redevelopment of mall