Welcome to Urban By Design Online! This blog is a notebook of my travels as a city planner, historic preservationist and nonprofit advocate. It's a virtual collection of the many things that I adore, featuring cities, the arts, architecture, gardens, interior design, and retail. Enjoy! - Deena
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David Byrne and Janette Sadik-Kahn

 David Byrne and Janette Sadik Khan at the Center for Architecture

Recently, I went to the Center for Architecture to hear a talk by David Byrne, the musician, visual artist, filmmaker and co-founder of the musical group Talking Heads.  In 2009 he released Bicycle Diaries, which chronicled his travels throughout many world cities via bike.  He has owned a fold-up bicycle for more than 20 years, and it is his transportation of choice on the streets of New York. In 2010, Mr. Byrne completed a series of commissioned bicycle racks for the New York City Department of Transportation.

Mr. Byrne gave a brief slideshow of his  travels throughout Latin America.  He raved about the public architecture and transportation projects that have been implemented fairly recently in cities like Quito, Ecuador, and Bogota, Colombia. “There were new libraries in the middle of incredibly poor neighborhoods. It created new public space, which for many neighborhoods it was the first time that they had a dedicated public space.  The architecture of those libraries is something that any major city would be proud of. It gives them a different perspective of themselves, and it connects to the bike lanes, and pedestrian lanes.”

The city has installed nine new bike racks designed by David Byrne. Each has an evocative name. Top row, left to right: MoMA, Olde Times Square and Villager. Middle row, left to right: Coffee Cup, Wall Street and Ladies’ Mile. Bottom row, left to right: Hipster, Chelsea and Jersey. (Photos: New York City Department of Transportation)

Mr. Byrne was later joined by Janette Sadik-Khan, the New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner.  As the NYCDOT Commissioner, Ms. Sadik-Khan has spearheaded a number of ground-breaking roadway projects that have catapulted her into the international spotlight.  She has implemented pedestrian plazas, most famously in Times Square, and in Herald Square.  During her tenure she has also closed off streets on several weekends, exclusively for recreational use in a program called Summer Streets.  However, her most controversial turn has been her tireless efforts to expand the network of bicycle lanes throughout the city.




Throughout the evening, Ms. Sadik-Khan cited numerous polls to show that New Yorkers overwhelmingly supported many of the new transportation initiatives.  “Critics who have come out against Mayor Bloomberg’s focus on the pedestrian experience said that it is somehow elitist for us to be doing this work, because the pedestrian plazas, the bike lanes, making buses go faster is only for a small number of New Yorkers. I think that the good news is that a majority of New Yorkers really don’t see it that way, and they see past the rhetoric that has been in some of the newspapers.  I also think that’s a very important message going forward for other cities, particularly for design of our cities, and transportation policy around the world.”

Ms. Sadik-Khan mentioned that she was amazed that human activities such as walking have been neglected within the public policy realm.  Surveys across the city have shown that walking accounts for the highest share of how New York City residents actually get around.  The audience laughed when she said that initially many people had been fixated on the design of the “lawn chairs” in Times Square, but that at least 58 percent of New Yorkers now supported the changes and improvements in pedestrian plaza. 

Overall it was an evening filled with vigorous head nodding in agreement, and rounds of applause from the staunchly converted.  The bicycle advocates came out en masse to make it a standing-room-only crowd in a matter of minutes early on a Monday. I’ve never seen a city official have such a dedicated constituency, and the majority of the audience appeared appreciative of Ms. Sadik-Khan's ongoing efforts. 

In this day and age where people are often jaded about the state of the government, and question the intentions of celebrities, it was refreshing to hear people actually applaud for pedestrian plazas, bicycle lanes, and even David Byrne’s quirky collection of bicycle racks NYCDOT bike racks.  The entire event restored my faith in the possibilities of government, and the effectiveness of campaigns that are endorsed by well-known personalities.   Change will always have its share of challenges, but at least there are still people willing to make the effort to try something new. 

Three of my favorite NYCDOT pedestrian plaza projects:

Dumbo Pedestrian Plaza

In 2007, the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn, received a vibrant pedestrian plaza adjacent to the Manhattan Bridge.  This space once housed a 12-car parking lot at Front and Pearl Streets, and was transformed into a triangular-shaped living room, complete with outdoor furniture.  The Dumbo Improvement District asked the NYCDOT for help in turning this into a pedestrian space.  The Brooklyn Botanic Garden was also summoned, and together they created a space with a green-painted floor, café tables and chairs, umbrellas and planters filled with flowers and trees. Great granite blocks from the Williamsburg Bridge delineate the space, which also showcases a large abstract sculpture.


Madison Square Plaza

While most people venture over to the popular Madison Square Park, there is also a unique plaza that offers an interesting vista to see New York City’s historic landmarks The Flatiron Building and the Empire State Building. Completed in 2008, this space is an unexpected surprise in the heart of the bustling city.

Chelsea Plaza

In 2007, Chelsea Plaza on West 14th Street and Ninth Avenue was transformed from one of the most dangerous pedestrian crossings, into a gracious pedestrian plaza.  Located near Gansevoort Plaza, the Apple Store, and steps away from the High Line, it is one of my new favorite public plazas.  The dynamic public space also offers weekly Salsa and Capoeira classes.  Streetfilms has an excellent documentary of the before and after:


Living with History: The Beacon Theatre

Part II of the report from the  Living with History forum.

The legendary Beacon Theatre was built by theatrical impresario Samuel “Roxy" Rothafel.  Constructed between 1927 and 1928, and designed by Chicago architect Walter W. Ahlschlager, the 2,800 seat theater is located on Broadway and 74th Street on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  It was bought by the Warner Brothers in 1929, and remodeled to accommodate vaudeville acts, musical productions, plays, and movies.

The theater’s interior was designated as a New York City Landmark in 1979.  In the Guide to New York City Landmarks, Andrew Dolkhart wrote that, “The lavishly appointed lobbies, stairways, and auditorium of the Beacon, with their eclectic Greek, Roman, Renaissance, and Rococo detail, are characteristics of the great movie palaces built in the 1920s.” The theater is also well-known for its nearly flawless acoustics.

Cleary Larkin, a preservation architect at Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners, gave an excellent overview of the seven-month, $16 million renovation of the storied venue.  Madison Square Garden purchased the theater in 2006.  Beyer Blinder Belle was hired in 2007 to do an infrastructure upgrade and renovation of the Beacon Theatre. 

Ms. Larkin said, “The Beacon Theatre is one of the premiere rock houses in Manhattan. It’s been used as a rock venue since the 1980’s.  The acoustics are superb, but the decoration was not.  Over the years it had been overpainted, and it had a gritty interior that exemplified a rock house experience.  The original intent of the project that was created by Madison Square Garden was to really keep this rock house vibe.” 

The theater was built to give visitors the feeling of entering into another world, a place to escape and engage in fantasy.  Ms. Larkin said that there was always an element of surprise, and that attending a performance was meant to evoke a magical journey.  However when Beyer Blinder Belle surveyed the space before renovation, it had undergone severe years of wear and tear.  The theater had an illustrious history as a “gilded palace” and the “Baghdad on Upper Broadway” but they had no initial idea of what the colors and finishes were.  Part of the extensive renovation process included a thorough examination of the original and decorative painting elements that had been hidden under 10 layers of paint. 

“We did a finishes analysis all throughout the theater, and because it was an interior landmark, we had to go through LPC (Landmarks Preservation Commission) review.”

Madison Square Garden was very interested in the restoration of the theater, and encouraged the team to push beyond “a gritty renovation.  Some locations had sponge-finishes.  Others walls were gilded, glazed, and gold-leafed, and stippled paint. It was really a wild interior.  We decided to do a historic interpretation that brings out the aspect and finish of the original intent.”



Ms. Larkin mentioned that Beyer Blinder Belle worked with Brooklyn-based muralist Mason Nye to recreate a custom mural above the entry doors.  She said that the original mural was designed by Rambusch Studios, and it was an advertisement.  It was removed, and replaced by wallpaper in the rotunda.  Fortunately, they found a color palette that reflected the time period, and recreated the Rambusch mural.

More than 1,000 people involved in the crafts, trades, and other artisans worked on the project.  The entire theater was modernized from its infrastructure to the backstage functions.  Overall, the renovation was deemed a great success, because the client took an interest in revitalizing one of New York's landmark theaters without any hesitation.  The theater reopened in February 2009, and continues to attract major musical acts from across the globe.

All photos: Madison Square Garden


Living with History: Gracie Mansion

Gracie Mansion, New York City

Last weekend, I attended an outstanding program at the Museum of the City of New York entitled, "Living with History: Restoring, Redesigning, and Reviving New York’s Landmark Interiors."  It was a half-day symposium that highlighted several extraordinary projects that have successfully managed to bring historic buildings back to life.  It was presented in conjunction with the New York School of Interior Design.

The museum staff did a superb job of selecting some of the liveliest speakers that I’ve ever heard talk about historic preservation.  From start to finish, the presenters were passionate about their projects.  Each gave solid evidence as to why some of New York’s most iconic buildings are truly incredible gems that must be protected and celebrated.

Donald Albrecht, the museum’s Curator of Architecture, and Design, stated that the museum decided to host a symposium to showcase, “preservation as a living tradition. How do you take interiors and bring them up to date to modern times? How do they change in the broader sense?”

Originally I was going to write a general post. However, due to the depth of each project, I’ve decided to write a series of separate entries that will appear over the next several days.

Jamie Drake's Gracie Mansion

Jamie Drake of Drake Design AssociatesJamie Drake, a celebrated New York City based interior designer, gave an illustrious talk about his work on the renovation of Gracie Mansion in 2002.  The ceremonial residence of the Mayor of the City of New York was built in 1799 by Archibald Gracie, a shipping magnate.  Over the years the house was expanded by Mr. Gracie, and Mr. Drake jokingly referred to it as “the McMansion of its day.”

Overlooking the East River, the 11-acre country estate was appropriated by the City in 1896, and incorporated as a part of the newly built Carl Schurz Park.  The mansion was used for a variety of purposes, including the first home of the Museum of the City of New York, from 1923 until 1932.  

Eventually Parks Commissioner Robert Moses convinced city authorities to designate it as the official mayoral residence.  Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and his family moved into the home in 1942.  Nine mayors have lived in the mansion.  However, the current mayor Michael Bloomberg does not reside there. For the first time, the building is open to the general public, and about 40,000 people visit annually.

The home had not been renovated since Mayor Edward I. Koch’s administration in the 1980’s by interior designers Mark Hampton and Albert Hadley.  Mr. Drake was hired by Mayor Bloomberg.   There were $7 million secured in private funds to complete the renovation of the four-bedroom, seven-bathroom home which was his first historic preservation commission. While doing the project, Mr. Drake said that he learned what it meant to be a preservationist, by doing in-depth research about the home, and its former occupants.  Mr. Drake said some of the challenges included the fact that there was little information about the Gracie family, and only one room in the house had maintained all of its original moldings to do paint analysis.

Sitting Room, Gracie Mansion

Mr. Drake chose a Brunschwig & Fils striped wallpaper, with an overprinted border, for the foyer, which is furnished with antiques from the collection of the Gracie Mansion Conservancy.  Previously the fireplace had been covered up.  Mr. Drake said that the floor was restored by members of the Alpha Workshops.  The nonprofit organization trains people with HIV/AIDS in a variety of the decorative arts.  Trainees learn gilding, decorative paint finishes and faux finishes, color theory, and wallpaper design and production.  Mr. Drake is currently the chairman of the board.


The Parlor, Gracie Mansion

Mr. Drake showed this photo of the home’s parlor.  The John Boone chairs are upholstered with Green Schumacher velvet.  Brunschwig & Fils rosette-patterned silk on drapery swag, open-arm chair and sofa.

He described the room:

The house is a living, breathing house.  It is open to the public, but it is not a museum.  The furniture arrangements are still contemporary for usage and conversation. We did purchase many pieces for the house’s collection that were period antiques.  All of my decorative schemes were based on historic precedent.  This patent yellow was popular at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The wallpaper borders in this room, and the wallpapers throughout the house were based on documents from the Nancy McClelland historic wallpaper company. The fabrics were woven to order, and those off the rack were all historically correct. The carpets were woven to order from a mill that has been in existence since the 19th century on original looms.

The Dining Room, Gracie Mansion

The scenic Zuber Les Jardins de Paris wallpaper was installed during the mansion’s 1984 restoration by Albert Hadley.  Most of the lighting throughout the house is either English or French, which would have been typical of the nineteenth century. 

A circa 1810 French chandelier, from H. M. Luther Antiques, was added to the dining room to complement the wallpaper.  There is also Scalamandré trim and silk taffeta drapery.


The foyer of the Susan E. Wagner Wing leads to the ballroom and reception area.

Mayor John Lindsay had a wing added to the home in 1966 that was designed by architect Mott B. Schmidt.  Mrs. Wagner requested the addition to meet the concurrent space needs of entertaining and raising a family.

Mr. Drake decided to use a blue runner to compliment the faux limestone gold walls.   A blue-and-gold wool carpet by Patterson, Flynn & Martin highlights the space.

Gracie Mansion is open to the public on most Wednesdays by reservation. For more information visit their website here.

Additional Links:

Alpha Workshops

Brunschwig & Fils

Jamie Drake

Museum of the City of New York

Photos: Architectural Digest


Touring the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center


The Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center’s (GMDC) flagship project is a 300,000 square foot complex of buildings built between 1868 and 1910 for the textile industry. 

New York City is known as a leading destination for artists, and other creative professionals.  I've often been curious where they maintain their businesses, given the high rents, and changes in zoning that have reduced the amount of manufacturing space that is available in the city.  Recently, I visited the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center (GMDC) at 1155-1205 Manhattan Avenue in Brooklyn.  Founded in 1992, GMDC is New York’s premier nonprofit industrial developer.  The organization manages a complex of five buildings, currently home to 100 businesses that employ 500 people. 

The informative tour of the sprawling building complex was led by Cassandra Smith, a GMDC project manager. Historically, the Chelsea Fiber Mills began operations on the site in 1868, where marine rope was manufactured until after World War II. In its waning years of full-fledged production, the building was used for textile manufacturing.

The City took possession of the building in 1974, when the property went into tax foreclosure. Eventually, month-to-month tenancies were extended to an existing group of small manufacturers, and artists. In 1992, GMDC acquired the building from the city, which needed extensive repairs, due to deferred maintenance.  Within a few years, the building was restored by utilizing public and private financing.  As a result, GMDC preserved the architectural heritage of manufacturing buildings in Brooklyn, while creating new urban redevelopment opportunities in the borough.

GMDC fulfills a need, as industrial space becomes a scare commodity

New York City continues to attract a significant number of design professionals.  In June, the Center for an Urban Future released a study, "Growth by Design," which documented some of the gains made in the city’s creative industries:

Between 2000 and 2009, design sector jobs in the New York metro area grew by 75 percent, with especially large jumps in the number of interior designers (which increased by 223 percent), graphic designers (139 percent) and industrial designers (127 percent).  Overall 40,000 new jobs were added. 

However, New York’s manufacturing sector overall has been less than prolific, as more than 64,000 jobs were lost, representing a decline of 46 percent.  According to research conducted by the New York Industrial Retention Network

23.4 million square feet of industrial space was lost to approved rezonings between 2001 and 2008, impacting some of New York’s most populated manufacturing districts. Significant portions of Greenpoint-Williamsburg, Long Island City, the midtown Garment Center, and Port Morris in the Bronx were rezoned during this period, mainly for residential development.

Although GMDC is located in a rapidly gentrifying community, it continues to be an invaluable resource because it provides quality, affordable space to a wide-range of creative professionals.  The rent averages $12 to $15 per square foot, and tenants are given a vacant white box space to build-out to meet their specific business requirements.   The GMDC is available exclusively for work-use, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  

During the tour, we visited several studio spaces.  The tenants included:

Barbara Campisi's studio at the GMDC

Barbara Campisi is a studio artist who has been in Greenpoint since 2004.  She specializes in site specific installations, and her work incorporates many different and visual colors.  Ms. Campisi has exhibited in the Fulton Ferry State Park, and has had pieces on display at IKEA in Red Hook.

Janine Sopp in the Clay Space 1205 gallery

Janine Sopp was a textile and clothing designer, before she became a ceramics artist. She has been at GMDC for 17 years.  Her work is sold nationally and internationally and is represented in craft galleries, museum shops, gift shops and Judaica stores across the country and online.   Four year ago, Ms. Sopp decided to have other ceramics artists join her.  She created a Clay Space 1205, with the belief that this art form centers on the strength of community.  The 3,000 square foot space accommodates professional artists, and also offers classes to the public. 

A Clay Space 1205 member at work

Clay Space 1205 has also serves as an informal business incubator program.  "There are not a lot of places that allow you to start from scratch.  Some people don't know how to get it off the ground, and start a business with it.  Here, we are able to support each other’s businesses."   Currently member artists come from a wide-variety of backgrounds and market to interior designers, and galleries.  There is also an onsite gallery space that has rotating exhibitions.

Takeshi Miyakawa 

Takeshi Miyakawa, a Japanese-born architect, has been furniture designer in Tribeca and Williamsburg for more than 10 years.  He studied architecture in his native Japan, and previously worked in the construction business.  After arriving in New York more than 20 years ago, he found a job in Williamsburg, where he specialized in custom design, and fabrication.   Since 1992, he has worked as a model maker at Rafael Vinoly architects. He leased space at the GMDC after desiring additional work space for his practice, Takeshi Miyakawa Design.

Takeshi Miyakawa's studio.


Ronnie Parsons (center) and Gil Akos (right) of Studio Mode/modeLab

Ronnie Parsons and Gil Akos, are both architects and professors, as well as the owners of Studio Mode/modeLab.  Currently they have a design studio, and research collective, and teach workshops around the world.  They told the group that one of their most recent commissions was designing office space for a Mexican football stadium.  They came to GMDC a few months ago, and their light-filled studio had exceptional views of Manhattan.

What’s next? The GMDC will soon expand to Harlem

GMDC has been a recognized nonprofit leader in manufacturing development, and many city officials from across the nation have toured their facilities to see how they can grow an industrial base in their own communities. While GMDC has established a significant presence in Brooklyn, they are about to expand their reach to Manhattan.  The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYEDC) recently announced that GMDC will be one of the tenants leasing space in the new building, CREATE @ Harlem Green, a proposed $100 million development on 125th Street in Harlem.

NYCEDC selected Janus Partners LLC and Monandnock Construction, Inc. to redevelop the former Taystee Bakery complex into CREATE @ Harlem Green, providing additional commercial and industrial space to house tenants from creative industries.  If the project is approved, GMDC will be operating 53,000 square feet of manufacturing space to be leased as 1,000-5,000-square-foot spaces for small manufacturing and artisan companies.

Brian T. Coleman, Chief Executive Officer, Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center stated, “We are excited about the prospect of bringing our expertise and brand to Harlem, and we look forward to working with Janus to tap the creative energies of Harlem’s artisans and small businesses. New York’s entrepreneurial millworkers, jewelry makers, metalworkers and graphic artists will benefit from a community where their businesses can grow and thrive.”

More information:


Fourth Arts Block: Manhattan's Only Cultural District


La MaMa Annex at 66-68 East Fourth Street.

Over the past several months, I had the opportunity to participate in a special series of walking tours, hosted by Open House New York (OHNY).  The first tour was led by Tamara Greenfield, the Executive Director of the Fourth Arts Block (FAB). FAB is a nonprofit organization that is leading the development of the East 4th Street Cultural District in the East Village, located between the Bowery and Second Avenue. As Manhattan’s only designated cultural district, it is home to more than a dozen arts groups, 10 cultural facilities and 17 performance and rehearsal venues.  

In the 1950’s, East Fourth Street was slated for urban renewal. Robert Moses, New York’s most powerful city planner in history, wanted to build a high-rise housing complex for the middle-class.  If the plan had been approved, 11 blocks of buildings in the East Village, and Lower East Side would have been demolished.  The Cooper Square Committee, a group of concerned residents and business owners, defeated the plan, sparing the community from destruction.

During the early stages of the urban renewal plan, the city acquired several buildings by eminent domain.  In the 1960’s, the city leased the vacant spaces to arts groups.  In 1969, one of the first organizations to take up residence on the block was La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club. La MaMa was founded by the late Ellen Stewart, a fashion designer, and one of the pioneers in the off-off Broadway movement.  Today, the theatre continues to nurture the talents of playwrights from around the world. 

In January 2006, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that six buildings formerly owned by the City were sold to cultural organizations that make up the Fourth Arts Block for $1. The existing tenants and cultural arts organizations renovated and refurbished the buildings sites with a $4 million contribution from the City.

Two cultural institutions graciously opened their doors to allow the OHNY tour group to see their facilities.  The first stop was at La MaMa's Annex at 66-68 East Fourth Street.  La MaMa acquired the building in 2005.  The site’s artistic roots are quite substantial, as the first Yiddish theatrical production in America called “The Witch” was staged there in 1882.  Today La MaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theatre and Archives, and the Millennium Film Workshop both occupy space within the building.

While visiting the La MaMa Annex, I noticed the photos of many now-famous actors, adorning the lobby’s walls.  Those who have appeared in past La MaMa productions have included  Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Nick Nolte, and Diane Lane.   A long-time member of the company spoke with the assembled group about her experiences as an actress.  She also shared lively anecdotes about the theater’s founder, and its evolution from humble café beginnings, to worldwide acclaim.

The second and final stop was to the Duo Multicultural Arts Center at 62 East 4th Street. Originally, the building housed a social hall in 1889 and “once hosted meetings by John Philip Sousa as he established the first musicians union in NYC as well as the early International Ladies Garment Workers Union organizational meetings.”   During the visit, we were shown the operetta scene featured in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II, which was filmed at the theater.  The tour concluded at the center’s upper level, where an exhibition of work by up-and-coming artist Alex Masket, is currently on view. 

Overall the visit to the East Fourth Cultural District was quite enjoyable.  Hopefully one day I will join the 200,000 annual theater-goers and take in a show on the FAB.

The New York Theater Workshop moved to the block in 1992. They purchased 79 and 83 East Fourth Street.

East Fourth Street is home to many small retailers.

For more information:




Art at the Festival of Ideas for the New City

The Festival of Ideas for the New City made its debut on May 4-8 in Manhattan.  The event brought together several arts institutions, community groups, as well as downtown organizations to showcase new ideas that may benefit New York City’s future.  There were a series of workshops, a conference, a street festival, and more than 100 independent projects associated with the new collaborative initiative.  Most events occured near the New Museum, one of the founders of the festival.

On May 8, I did have a chance to briefly visit the outdoor Street Fest that took place throughout various points along the Bowery, Sara D. Roosevelt Park, and the surrounding Lower East Side.  More than 75 local grassroots organizations, small business and nonprofits were represented.  I thought that it was great to see so many nonprofits that are normally engaged in some pretty invaluable work, have a prominent spotlight. 

It was one of the most educational, and oddly entertaining street festivals that I’ve ever attended.   The minute that I stepped out of the Bowery subway station, I immediately noticed this:

 Agata Olek created this crotchet bicycle using acrylic yarn. 

Trust Art's Bushwick Art Park

Peter Stuyvesant chartered the Bushwick section of Brooklyn in 1661, naming it “Boswijck” meaning “Little town in the woods” or “heavy woods” in 17th century Dutch.  Ironically, the neighborhood has the least amount of open space, 0.6 acres per 1,000 people.  The New York City Department of City Planning recommends a minimum of 2.5 acres per 1,000 people.

Recently, several neighborhood artists and organizations, led by Trust Art, Factory Fresh, and Skewville put forth a proposal to de-map Vandervoot Place, an underused street in Bushwick, and transform it into a permanent sculpture garden.  At the festival’s street fest, Agata Olek, a Brooklyn based artist with a current show in the Bowery, contributed crocheted street performers (who were "yarn bombed"), as part of the prototype of the Bushwick Art Park. The depiction of the Brooklyn apartment dwellers drew quite a crowd, and brought pedestrian traffic to a standstill.

A recent article in the New York Times recently referred to "yarn bombing" as a feminine form of street art (as opposed to graffiti, which is male-dominated).

Yarn bombing takes that most matronly craft (knitting) and that most maternal of gestures (wrapping something cold in a warm blanket) and transfers it to the concrete and steel wilds of the urban streetscape. Hydrants, lampposts, mailboxes, bicycles, cars — even objects as big as buses and bridges — have all been bombed in recent years, ever so softly and usually at night. -NYT, 5/19/11

Art After Hours: Murals on the Bowery


During the festival, 15 stores along the Bowery, had their security gates painted by artists. This temporary installation known as "After Hours, Murals on the Bowery" featured site-specific paintings.   At the invitation of the New Museum, the Art Production Fund selected a cross-generational, international group of artists, and approached proprietors of retail spaces along the Bowery who will host the murals for two months. In some cases, the murals may remain indefinitely.  Above is work by Deborah Kass and pulp, ink at 214 Bowery. 

 The Laundromat Project

One of my favorite community based nonprofit arts organizations, the Laundromat Project was also at the festival. They invited the public to silkscreen a tote bag while listening to music from 2010 Public Artist in Residence Bayeté Ross Smith’s tower of boom boxes.  Below is a video that describes the great work that they do throughout NYC.


More info:



A visit to Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 1

The Brooklyn Bridge Park by cbreuk via flickr

A dozen years ago, I toured the future home of the Brooklyn Bridge Park on a class fieldtrip. The site was a jumbled patchwork of vacant warehouse buildings, parking lots, and decayed piers, overlooking the East River. The Port Authority had ceased operations there in 1983, coinciding with the end of an era of manufacturing on a significant part of Brooklyn's waterfront. Historically, it was also the original home of the Fulton Ferry, that linked Brooklyn to Manhattan, as far back as 1642.

On the initial visit, a local Brooklyn Heights resident, gave my urban planning class her vision for the site's potential as a recreational resource. She shared how one day, this derelict space would become a park. I'll admit that I wasn't a believer, especially during an era when the city did not consider large-scale civic beautification projects a high-priority.

Fortunately, after nearly two decades of planning, as well as ongoing legal, and funding challenges, the Brooklyn Bridge Park made its debut in 2010. The $350 million, 80-acre, 1.3 mile park designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, is still under construction, but several areas are now open.

Here is the synopsis of the park plan:

Brooklyn Bridge Park will transform this underused and inaccessible stretch into a magnificent public space filled with lawns, recreation, beaches, coves, restored habitats, playgrounds and beautifully landscaped areas. The Park will connect visitors to the waterfront and NY Harbor in extraordinary ways with floating pathways, fishing piers, canals, paddling waters and restored wetlands. This is the most significant park development in Brooklyn since Prospect Park was built 135 years ago. -Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York City

The Brooklyn Bridge Park is a 21st century modern open public space that will inevitably redefine how New York City's parks are built from this moment forward. It has received rave reviews for its innovation in design, as well as sustainability practice. The park's infrastructure has several reused elements from deconstructed buildings that had previously been on the site. Park planners purchased native plants from nurseries located within a 500-mile radius. The landscape architects have also designed a sophisticated storm water management system that meets 70 percent of the pier's annual irrigation needs.

The Brooklyn Bridge Park's manmade topography was constructed with fill from the East River.

Recently, I visited Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 1, a 9.5-acre site. This section is larger than Manhattan's Bryant Park, and includes two large lawns, known as the Bridge View lawn, and Harbor View lawn. There is also a playground, and a waterfront promenade. It was built on bulk fill, salvaged from the Long Island Railroad's drilling operations for the East Side Access tunnel project.

The park is surrounded by the most identifiable landmarks in New York City. It is an impressive space that takes full-advantage of the majesty of its surroundings. One powerful vista from a 29-foot hill provides sweeping, scenic, and stunningly unobstructed views of the Manhattan skyline, the East River, and the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.

The park is an exciting place to visit, because it marries the tranquility of open space with one of the most densely populated cities in the nation. As I walked the series of paths filled with mature trees (although not in bloom during my visit), I even spotted Frank Gehry's 76-story residential tower, 8 Spruce Street. The site contains over 500 trees, including Kentucky Coffees, Catalpas, Magnolias, Lindens, Sweetgums, Serviceberries, London Planes, and various species of Oaks.

New York City is surrounded by water, but its residents have rarely utilized it for recreational use. Unlike other cities where waterfront parks are fairly commonplace, New York's waterways have traditionally been used almost exclusively for manufacturing or transportation. This park is unique, because there are several walkways that led directly to the East River for a boat launch. It is also one of the few places in the city where one can meet water, and actually get close enough to touch it.

Throughout the year, the Brooklyn Bridge Park hosts many events including bicycle clinics, summer movies. and kayaking programs. There are also public tours of the park, and the surrounding historic neighborhood.

The Future: A new pedestrian bridge and park maintenance

The proposed Squibb Park Bridge

Currently, pedestrian access to the Brooklyn Bridge Park is not exactly direct. The Robert Moses-era Brooklyn- Queens Expressway, literally divided the nearby Brooklyn Heights neighborhood from the river. Park planners recently received approval for a $4.9 million, sustainable, 396-foot-long timber bridge designed by structural engineer Ted Zoli that will connect Squibb Park, a small, paved park at the north end of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade with the Brooklyn Bridge Park. It will provide a quicker path to the Brooklyn Bridge Park for those using several nearby subway lines.

According to a recent article that appeared in Crain's New York Business, the biggest challenge that the Brooklyn Bridge Park currently faces is a plan for operational revenue, which is needed to meet the park's estimated $16 million in maintenance costs per year.  A proposal has been floated to build six new residential towers, and a hotel on the park s edge, which is city-owned space. The revenues from the properties would be used for a maintenance fund for the park. However, many area residents have opposed this plan, because it would take away public space. The city has said that it will not give an additional $50 million, which is needed to complete the park, unless there is self-sustaining funding.

I look forward to returning when more plants are in bloom, because I really had an enjoyable time. Here are some additional notes from my visit:

A salt marsh at the southern edge of Pier 1, planted with native plant life and nestled within a salvaged granite seating area, provides a unique opportunity to experience the tidal river, and a boat ramp at the southern edge of Pier 1 provides access for non-motorized watercraft. Granite salvaged from the demolished Willis Avenue Bridge was used to create a seating area along the Salt Marsh.

The park benches and the cladding on park buildings were constructed with Long Leaf Yellow Pine, obtained when the warehouses on the site were deconstructed. This resinous wood is known to be resistant to fire.


Another sustainability project was the construction of the Granite Prospect on Pier 1, made with over 300 pieces of granite salvaged from the reconstructed Roosevelt Island Bridge. Visitors to the park can enjoy the New York Harbor from this vantage point overlooking the waterfront promenade.

For more information about the Brooklyn Bridge Park, please visit their website.

Recent articles:

Work on Brooklyn Bridge Park Could Stall [Crain's New York Business]

An improved Brooklyn Bridge Park Among the Changes in Dumbo [NY Times]