Well, it’s the middle of February and it seems that spring will never come. So, in the interest of pitiful and weak-minded self-preservation I thought it would be good to prime the Springtime pump and head out to the streets to report on bicycled-themed developments which promise big changes in our city landscape, should the god-forsaken winter ever break and fairer days finally start to peak through.
Firstly, last week while waiting in line for a “slice of plain” I regrettably found myself paging through the NY Post. While it’s true that the Post is the rebellious, sleazy kid-brother to the Times’ stately and dignified journalistic voice it can be a good time-killer. No one covers a melodramatic non-story as hysterically as they do. Occasionally they even impart knowledge of real significance.
As mentioned in our previous post, the efficacy of the automobile transit system is critical to the viability of the project. In the report, which I recommend you page through if you’re a New Yorker or planner/urban designer, one of the most telling sentences comes on page 1:
“Given the improvements in mobility, safety and satisfaction noted above and in the following report, DOT recommends that the new network changes be made permanent and built upon for the continued vibrancy of West Midtown. This includes enhancing the Broadway corridor by upgrading the temporary materials used in the Green Light for Midtown project through future capital projects.”
Alas! Jailbreak for landscape architects!
The truth is, this project has the potential to be one of the most significant landscape initiatives in the city, at least since the west side parks on the Hudson were begun in the 1980’s. The symbolic significance of Broadway– that old indigenous trail, the anomaly in the famous city grid, running the length of the island, creating famous plazas at every avenue intersection (Columbus Circle at 8th Avenue, Times Square at 7th, Herald Square at 6th, Madison Square Park at 5th, Union Square at 4th)- cannot be overstated. In fact, it’s worth of a clever NY Post-esque title: JSK power slams the Power Broker!
In addition, the critical mass of pedestrians afforded by subway stops all along the route, the well-known parks and plazas, the uniqueness of its geography compared to the other streets, its name recognition, and the city wide push for “sustainable streets” and environmentally conscious initiatives all provide potent raw material to draw from. The pedestrian mall experiments of the 60’s and 70’s provide perfect precedent studies and test cases, and the sophisticated and forward-thinking way the DOT has gone about this- combining community input and temporary projects with dizzyingly fast decisions and the heavy-handed backing of the billionaire mayor- has been incredibly effective thus far and serve as inspiration.
For us here at FASLANYC, many questions remain. What are the most appropriate precedents? How does this fit into larger patterns in the city? Will a high-profile firm be brought in to reconceptualize the former Longacre Square (the name of Times Square prior to the New York Times moving there and convincing Mayor George McClellan to rename it) or a design competition held? How will the DOT’s designers fit in (yes, they have recently taken advantage of the downturn to hire young landscape architects cast off from the Field Operations’ and MVVAs of the city)? Most importantly, what are the implications of a redesigned and repurposed Times Square for the other major avenue intersections up and down Broadway?
It’s an exciting development, one I can only hope doesn’t get mired in the muck of professional ambition and clamoring for credit. At any rate, it is heartening to read news of bike racks and new pedestrian squares in the dead of February, that meanest of northern months. Let the ululating begin…