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Snohetta's 9/11 Memorial Museum will open on September 11, 2012

On September 12, 2011, the National 9/11 Memorial opened its doors to the public for the first time, after years of budget hurdles, construction delays, and endless bickering over design minutia. For many, the opening of the memorial plaza was a comforting—if somber—chapter in the aftermath of the attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives exactly ten years before. That the memorial was delivered on time and under budget is a testament to the determination and resilience of a city wracked by grief and anger.

Standing by the two sunken pools that form the anchors of the memorial, the roaring water drowns out the noise of construction that continues ceaselessly on all sides. The sheer size of the fountains is a mesmerizing reminder of the towers that once stood in their place. It is a haunting and beautiful place. It’s a landmark, a burial ground, an urban scar. But it is not a sanctuary or an oasis, and is hardly a place for a casual stroll. At least not yet.

Due to extraordinarily tight security measures paired with greater than expected demand, the memorial plaza (sans museum until next year) is open only to those who have pre-registered for a specific time slot, often months in advance. Once at the site, hopeful visitors must endure a winding obstacle course of metal detectors, concrete bollards, and dozens of staff barking directions. Beyond a measure of security, this process does ensure that the plaza is never too crowded, a welcome policy for those seeking a moment of solace in a city all but alien to the concept. But it also ensures a somewhat disarming homogeneity in the crowd: tourists mainly, nary a street performer or casual passerby in sight.

When Michael Arad, the landscape architect behind the memorial, spoke at Columbia University last month, he revealed that his vision for the site was for a central urban gathering place – where office workers would come and sit for lunch and nearby residents would take their kids to play. He wanted it to be another of the city’s great public spaces, not the fortress it currently resembles.

Perhaps one day, after the chain link fences come down and the crowds start to diminish, Arad’s vision will be realized. But visitors may never be able to shake the gravity of the place they stand on. The role of the largest urban memorial in the US will be evolving, and its impacts felt, for a long time.  But for now, we must grin and bear the pat-downs and bag checks, and kindly keep off the grass.

NYC Goes Three Ways


Every day, New York City’s intersections play stage to a never-ending dance performed by its drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists. It is a suspenseful drama filled with strong wills, daring exploits, and narrow escapes. Most of the time, these players make out safely to the next intersection and the next charade. But for around 140 unlucky New York City pedestrains and cyclists every year, this show will be their last.

Ron Gabriel, a New York City artist and activist, created a campaign called “3-Way Street” for his graduate thesis project at the School of Visual Arts. The campaign is composed of a video, posters, and a website, and promotes a three-way balance of street priority for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. “3-Way Street” asks New Yorkers to reconsider some of their longstanding bad habits such as jaywalking and running reds.

The campaign comes at a time when the city’s Department of Transportation is investing considerable effort into expanding bike lanes and transforming car-dominated Broadway into a series of pedestrian-friendly plazas. But infrastructure improvement is only half the battle. Attitudes must change too. As Gabriel writes on his blog, “old habits exacerbate attempts to expand ways to use our streets; existing dysfunction makes change more difficult.” As anyone who has crossed a busy Manhattan avenue can attest, there is still a long way to go.

The Whitney takes a look at New York City foreclosures

“Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Chicago’s new mayor Rahm Emanuel’s words seem to have captured the spirit of the times, especially among planning and policy wonks. With the foreclosure crisis reeking havoc on communities across the country, not to mention the national economy, policies promoting homeownership are beginning to be questioned.

This Saturday, the Whitney Museum is bringing together an interdisciplinary panel of speakers to discuss these new challenges and the opportunities they present at a new exhibit Foreclosure: Crisis or Possibility. None other than Columbia’s Peter Marcuse will be on the panel, joined by New School Professor of art and design Radhika Subramaniam, Architect Damon Rich and artist Tania Bruguera to discuss:

How does the current economic crisis reconfigure urban space, specifically in New York City? How do contemporary artistic and urban practices engage with and impact the social imaginary of the city? Bringing together the disciplines of urban planning and design with artistic and curatorial practices, this platform considers the city as a stage of conflict, desire, and imagination.

What: City as Stage: A Conversation with Tania Bruguera, Peter Marcuse, Damon Rich, and Radhika Subramaniam
Saturday, June 11th @3pm
The Kitchen, 512 W 19th Street (not at the Whitney!)
How Much:
The Whitney Museum

Municipal Art Society Explores Zoning at 50

This Wednesday, the MAS is hosting a panel discussion on New York City’s landmark 1961 Zoning Resolution — arguably the single most important factor dictating the city’s built form. From height and setbacks to parking lots and preservation, there’s little zoning doesn’t influence.

Yet at fifty, the zoning code is beginning to show its age. A product of 1960s planning theory, it is perhaps the last remaining holdout of an era the profession has largely turned its back on. With the code now full of special districts, quality housing provisions and parking waivers that actively seek to remedy past mistakes, the document has grown to an unmanageable 900-plus pages.

But is a new code really the answer, or can more amendments throw out the bathwater while saving the baby? That’s what Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger, midtown planning consultant Michael Parley and general counsel for New York City’s DCP will be discussing Wednesday, June 8th at 6pm.

As planning students, we’re automatically members of MAS, bringing the price of attendance down to $10. If you’re thinking of writing for the next issue — which is a special edition on zoning — or are just interested in this landmark document, come check out the talk.

What: The Zoning Resolution at 50: Addressing the Challenges of the Next 50 Years
Where: Scandinavia House, 58 Park Avenue (between 37th and 38th streets)
When: Wednesday, June 8th @6pm
How Much: $10 for MAS members (all us students) and $15 for non-members
Register at: MAS Website or call 212-935-2075

A reception will follow.


Summer Issue hits newsstands today!

URBAN’s summer issue hits the newsstands this afternoon. Be sure to get yourself a copy either around campus or at GSAPP’s ‘End Of Year Show’ tomorrow night.

In this issue, we cover New York City’s flea market scene, growing homeownership in the South Bronx and weigh in on the city’s contentious bike lane debates.

Further from home, we look at Jane Jacobs’ impact on Toronto — her adopted home after leaving Hudson street in the ’60s — as well as regional governments in Brazil and street culture in Rome.

A low-resolution digital copy will be posted online shortly, but if you’d like to get your hands on a print version of this or any other issue, please email us at urban.submission[at]



Passionate Urban Economics

Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier

By Edward Glaeser (Penguin Group Inc.)

“Cities enable the collaboration that makes humanity shine most brightly. Because humans learn so much from other humans, we learn more when there are more people around us.”
— Glaeser, Triumph of the City

Not only do humans make cities, but also, Harvard economist Glaeser argues, cities make us more human. Cities triumph because of their ability to enhance our greatest strength—our ability to think and learn. This is because we learn most fully when we interact face-to-face, and communication technology has not yet been able to replicate this.

As Glaeser points out, cities have been the source of our progress throughout time and space. 2,500 years ago, Athens attracted many of the brightest minds in Asia Minor, producing much of the Western canon of philosophy, theatre, and other arts. Glaeser provides many interesting examples of how cities allowed humankind to make great leaps forward. In each case, he explains how urban proximity was fundamental to innovation.

The book clearly reveals Glaeser’s sincere passion for cities, making it a pleasurable read. The tone of the book is much like The Economy of Cities by Jane Jacobs (1969) and The Wealth of Cities by John Norquist (1998) that shed light on the under-appreciated benefits of cities.

The book’s main virtue is its big-picture evaluation of cities. Despite being loaded with examples, it gives a clear overall sense of how we can make cities better, and more importantly, how cities make us better.

– Kyle M. Kirschling

Roadblocks Remain for Regional Equity

This Could Be the Start of Something Big: How Social Movements for Regional Equity are Reshaping Metropolitan America

By Manuel Pastor Jr., Chris Benner, and Martha Matsuoka (Cornel University Press)

In their 2009 work, Pastor, Benner and Matsuoka explore the theoretical framework of the regional equity perspective. The authors provide a thorough synopsis of social movement regionalism, which identifies the metropolitan region as not only the scale of problems and potential solutions, but also the scale at which to create a social movement for change.

A main criticism of the book is that the authors oversimplify the concept of regional equity in their failure to clearly differentiate it from social equity, which leaves the reader with an incomplete picture of the transportation equity conundrum. Although it is clear that Pastor et al. are social equity advocates at heart, their conclusions fail to consider a sustainable transportation viewpoint to help untangle the issues of regional and social equity.

The multi-faceted transportation agenda must address regional and social inequity. However, these objectives are not necessarily mutually supportive. The authors point to examples of investment in commuter rail, endorsed by both suburbanites and central city residents, as regional equity success stories that also promote social equity. While commuter rail does facilitate reverse commuting, which can have social equity benefits, from a social equity perspective, the limited funding available for transit investments would be better targeted to improving accessibility within the central city.

Although the book does not discuss the anticipated federal transportation re-authorization bill, it concludes by asserting that a national movement built around regional equity can, will, and must emerge as a “transformative force for a better America.” It remains unclear whether the envisioned “better America” will be able to pride itself on true social equity or merely the socially inequitable status quo couched in achievements of regional equity.

– Maxwell Sokol

Beyond Alternative Fuel Solutions

Two Billion Cars: Driving Towards Sustainability

By Daniel Sperling and Deborah Gordon
(Oxford University Press)

Transportation policy will arguably play the most important role in mitigating the inevitable effects of climate change. Worldwide, there are one billion cars on the road—a number that could double in the next 20 years.

More cars on the road and more drivers produces more congestion and pollution, more strains on quickly depleting and environmentally sensitive resources, longer travel distances, and inequitable effects on others. As countries like China and India turn to car culture, there is still opportunity to revamp the entire way we move around.

Daniel Sperling and Deborah Gordon, the authors of Two Billion Cars: Driving Towards Sustainability, see this as an opportunity. Both transportation policy experts, Sperling and Gordon write of America’s reliance on the car, and what is needed to instigate a move away from car culture. Their argument covers three main points: innovation in alternative fuel sources, development of an efficient car, and progress in consumer behavior. They apply these not only in the United States, but most pressingly, in rapidly developing China.

The authors believe that by 2050, massive shifts will be underway in alternative fuel, efficient vehicles, and consumer behavior. Improvements and changes in fuel source and efficiency are required to reduce projected climate change, but this alone will not be enough. For both the short- and long-term, policies must shift travel behavior, as the effects will be more effective and lasting. Technological solutions are also needed for the short term. Mobility is now cheap and is seen as a “right” in the US, but it obviously has major costs. Ultimately, the marginal cost of a car trip is less than the marginal cost of public transportation – this must change if there is to be any global transformation.

– Mia Pears

Cold Future Ahead

The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization’s Northern Future

By Laurence C. Smith (Dutton)

An exploded population leveling off around 9.3 billion, dwindling sources of fresh water and fossil fuels, rising global sea level, mega storms, and warmer global temperatures are just a few of the changes we can look forward to in the next half-century. In The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization’s Northern Future, Laurence C. Smith thoroughly surveys these “hot” topics on the global agenda.

A professor of geography and earth and space sciences at UCLA, Smith also took the time to travel the world documenting firsthand accounts of climate change on the atmosphere and civilizations. He provides an account of the current state of the world’s environment and combines the current trends to project a portrait of what the future may look like. It is clear to the reader that the future is bleak—the clock is ticking and we need to take action! Smith’s forecasts revolve around four forces that he posits will shape the future of the world: demographics, natural resource demand, climate change, and globalization.

In the end, Smith argues that much of our future lies to the north, where economic opportunities and stability should stand out. Cities like Toronto and Stockholm, he says, will continue to grow. Less so in the high Arctic, which will still be foreboding. “Its prime socioeconomic role in the twenty-first century will not be homestead haven,” Smith writes, “but economic engine, shoveling gas, oil, minerals, and fish into the gaping global maw.” Nothing is inevitable, though, as he makes clear. The actions we take in the next few decades could reshape the world of 2050 that Smith has laid out. We can either grab up real estate in Oslo and Reykjavik, take one last long look at the Arctic, or we can start to plot a new way forward.

– Dan Rosen & Joyce Tam

Paralyzed by Property Rights

Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives

By Michael Heller (Basic Books)

“The cold war is over, most socialist states have disappeared, intense state regulation of resources has dropped from favor, and privatization has accelerated.”
– Michael Heller, Gridlock Economy

A study released by the American Institute of Biological Sciences in February has announced that, worldwide, oysters no longer play a significant role in their ecosystems. The usual culprits are to blame: overexploitation, degradation of habitat, invasion of non-native species. A commonly held resource that supported life for millennia has now become a tragedy of the commons.

This is bad news for lots of reasons: epicures can no longer slurp freely, oystermen will go out of business, and oyster-beds will cease to filter water, reduce algae blooms, buffer erosion, and support coastal biodiversity. But it’s especially bad news for the handy symmetries of Michael Heller’s book Gridlock Economy, in which oyster conservation is offered as a kind of paragon of public-private cooperative commons management. Tragedies of the commons, according to Garret Hardin, occur when a resource is available for use by all yet no one in particular feels a responsibility to preserve it.

Heller builds on Hardin’s concept to suggest that resource use occurs along a spectrum, with overuse on one side and underuse—the “anticommons”—on the other. An anticommons is a resource or a good that is split so many ways that it is unusable.
Heller believes that “commons and anticommons tragedies mirror each other, so solutions for one may inform the other.” If this is the case, our anticommons may be in trouble. If the oyster’s expense failed to save it, perhaps market-based solutions to problems of the commons are not as robust as we had hoped.

Yet overall, Heller’s argument about the patchwork of ownership that builds optimum resource management makes sense. The more we shift toward public-private partnerships in transportation policies and across government, the truer this will become, and the more useful the “gridlock”concept.

– Greta Byrum

All reviews edited by Sara Beth Rosenberg

There they are in the middle of page A19 in the New York Times: the young couple, scruffy but stylish, all plaid and beard and leather jacket, holding a chicken. A few weeks ago there was a different chicken story, about the front yard hens on Franklin Avenue in Bed-Stuy and the way the neighborhood rallied when one went missing. After losing (badly) at board game night this past week, I was awarded a consolation prize of a dozen eggs laid by my friend’s four backyard hens — Rhonda, Shirley, Rosie, and Sandy.

But really, does anyone want to hear about backyard chickens anymore? Is feeling a lack of a “connection” with your grocery store produce really the most pressing issue of the day? What do urban chickens have to do with democracy and human rights?

Geographers Michael J. Widener and Sara S. Metcalf at SUNY Buffalo write about the the negative reaction of many Buffalonians to the legalization of backyard chicken-keeping. Chickens and their keepers, according to a letter written to the local paper, don’t belong in the city: “It is the ultimate in anti-social behavior for someone to move to the city and try to force their neighbors to endure health risks and nuisances due to their unwillingness to live on a farm where they would prefer to be.”

As Buffalo continues to suffer, folks who lived through its heyday would like to see it return to a busy industrial city; they are not interested in the “subversive spatial fix” of urban agriculture and chicken keeping.

Underneath this attitude lies the premise that there are things, behaviors, activities, and people that do not belong in the city. However, the cities in this country contain a great many things, many of them at odds with each other: kitchens too small to cook in and stores devoted entirely to spatulas, bicycle lanes and the police cars that park in them, wheelchairs and subway stairs, loud bars and 311.

In 1903, the German sociologist Georg Simmel wrote about the alienation one feels in the modern city but also the way it frees individuals from the rigid confines and social control endemic to small communities. The city, Simmel wrote, “can give room to freedom and the peculiarities of inner and external development of the individual…the citizen of the metropolis is ‘free’ in contrast with the trivialities and prejudices which bind the small town person.”

Cities are the places for peculiarities and freedom, for all to craft the lives we want to live, to the best of our abilities. Earlier this winter, Ben (the friend who awarded me the eggs) took a certain glee in posting photos of himself shoveling the chickens out of the snow. “I don’t think this is what people have in mind when they think of a New York City life,” read the caption. By affording us the freedom to take delight in not quite belonging, the city creates an alternate—and completely reasonable—way of being. Chickens in New York City are their own “subversive spatial fix.”

So this is what we are talking about when we talk about chickens: democracy, self-determination, and the way we must learn to live together. Chickens are allowed, but roosters are not. Their cock-a-doodle-doos are loud and will disturb the neighbors, (though, by this logic, I don’t quite understand why car alarms are permitted).
The chickens are not faux-utopian garden-cities-in-reverse. They are not the saviors that will make us renounce the evils of industrial agriculture. They will not solve New York City’s garbage problem by eating all our food waste. What they do is remind us that we are all individuals living in a place where we must recognize each other’s peculiarities. They ensure that the city remains, as Simmel writes, “the seat of cosmopolitanism.”

By Dory Kornfeld

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