Friday, July 10, 2009

Urban Design: New York City 2

Manhattan across the East River, from the Brooklyn Promenade

The previous post on NYC focused on urban design in Manhattan. This one is about parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, the only boroughs I've visited.

The dense physical complexity of Manhattan makes every aspect of its services unique. It's too densely populated for cars to come and go freely. Anything sold has to be delivered to its point of sale, so a lot of trucking and rail access is necessary, and is highly controlled for the same reasons. In much of Manhattan private cars other than taxis are basically not permitted at all. Construction in this environment has its own parameters, requiring ingenuity and in many ways more costs than would be incurred in other cities. Space is precious. The fact that this place is so livable is a testament to trial and error, and of some intelligent design to offset much of the blight that goes with any city.

Given the reliance on walking and using buses, trains and taxis, shopping is quite different from suburbs. Markets abound, with fresh produce within walking distance of home or a subway stop. A lady told me "New Yorkers tend to live a long time. We walk a lot. Fast. (At that point she smiled.) We eat healthy food, buying fresh vegetables in our markets. And, we talk a lot."

Grand Central Market

Project for Public Spaces often recommends markets of almost any description as a catalyst for downtown/intown revitalization. New York has everything from upscale Grand Central Market to street vendors, ( that link shows several street vendors ) and all kinds of markets in between, weekly or bi-weekly street markets and sophisticated operations under roof. A terrific outdoor market is one of the Greenmarket locations, at Union Square. Two of the most interesting under-roof markets are Chelsea Market, located in the old National Biscuit Company site, and Essex Street Market, which has always been a contiguous group of markets under roof.

Above, below, Greenmarket at Union Square

These Manhattan markets do add to the vitality of the city, and they work well because of the substantial customer base that surrounds them.

Above, below, Chelsea Market

Across the East River in Brooklyn, Montague Street looks and feels much like a central business district in a much smaller town, actually a lot like my home of Macon, Georgia. Montague Street's Business Improvement District has evidently been effective. In general, in a Business Improvement District, businesses within the district are assessed additional taxes or fees to pay for additional services such as security, cleanup, landscape, lighting, etc. It's well populated with residents and visitors most evenings of the week. A part of the photogenic Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, Montague Street ends at the Brooklyn Promenade, with its spectacular views of the East River and Manhattan.

Montague Street is a great example of, among other things, a Main Street Program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which draws together community and other resources, design professionals and business stakeholders in the target locations to plan and implement initiatives to enable a street or district to survive and prosper. Commercial, institutional and residential property all within a Main Street program are part of the mix that produces vibrant and livable historic cores for their communities.

Montague Street

The photos in this post are my own unless otherwise noted. You're welcome to use them as long as you give me credit, by noting with the photo.

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