by Emily Nemens
Event: Via Verde Groundbreaking
Location: 700 Brook Avenue, Bronx, 05.03.10
Speakers: Robert C. Lieber — Deputy Mayor for Economic Development; Shaun Donovan, Hon. AIA — Housing and Urban Development Secretary; Congressman José Serrano; City Council Speaker Christine Quinn; State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr.; Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.; Rafael Cestero — Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner; Jonathan F. P. Rose — President, Jonathan Rose Companies; Adam Weinstein — President and CEO, Phipps Houses; NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Organizers: NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development
Photos by Emily Nemens.
Yesterday morning, at an intersection in the South Bronx, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., declared May 3 Via Verde Day. As he shook the hands of affordable housing developers Jonathan Rose and Adam Weinstein, he also handed them a tremendous responsibility. It was not lost on the developers or project architects in the audience — a collaboration between Dattner Architects and Grimshaw Architects — that the city was also passing the team a huge responsibility: the affordable, sustainable future of a neighborhood.
The seed of Via Verde Day was planted six years ago. In 2004, AIANY sponsored a competition called “New Housing New York.” With City Council, City University of New York, the NYC Departments of Housing Preservation and Development, City Planning, and Buildings, it solicited proposals for affordable, sustainable housing in three New York neighborhoods. The ideas competition was so successful that two years later, the Legacy Project followed. Another competition, the New Housing New York Legacy Project, challenged teams to design mixed-income, mixed-use affordable, sustainable developments. This time, the competition asked for more than ideas: there was a site, (a brownfield in the South Bronx), and there was a commitment by city agencies to make it happen (not only did the site have to be cleaned up, with its out-of-commission rail-line, it required rezoning). A sesquicentennial exhibition at the Center for Architecture in 2007 showed a number of honorable entries, highlighting the Phipps Rose Dattner Grimshaw team that won for their green-roofed “dialogue between city and garden,” which spread across a plan that mixed towers, townhouses, courtyards, and terraces.
It’s been another four years, but on Monday — Via Verde Day — the ceremonial shovels broke ground at the corner of 156th Street and Brook Avenue, setting Via Verde’s construction on its way. The groundbreaking marked another occasion: the city passed a milestone of 100,000 affordable units developed or preserved under the Bloomberg Administration’s New Housing Marketplace Plan. The 10-year plan to reach 165,000 units feels closer than ever — so close that Speaker Christine Quinn challenged HPD to reach the milestone quickly, so it could set a higher goal of 200,000 or a quarter-million units. The importance of the city reaching this milestone with Via Verde’s groundbreaking was not lost on her. “This is a precedent-setting project for how green housing can be, how affordable housing can be… we’re talking about creating affordable housing that is beautiful and cutting-edge, leading technologically, and that is a very important message for our city to send.”
Via Verde also sent a message to the Bronx, and the locals who will call the new development home. “It is so nice to be back home,” HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, Hon. AIANY, confessed, as he stepped up to the lectern. He’d spent a lot of time developing housing in the Bronx, when he served as the head of HPD. (He held that post before joining the Obama Administration, and was responsible for creating the New Housing Marketplace Plan in 2006.) Of the Bronx, he said, “This place has been the symbol of the death of American cities and the symbol of the rebirth of American cities.”
Longtime Bronx Congressman José Serrano, took pride in the borough’s transformation. “Years ago, when we spoke about the environment in the South Bronx, people laughed at us. Now, we’ve become the leaders.”
The mayor took the stage last, thanking all the speakers before him. “You think that after all these speeches everything that could possibility be said has been said, but it has not been said by everyone.” He took the opportunity to thank all the city agencies that made 100,000 affordable units happen. “Creating or preserving affordable housing is a challenge even in the best of times, and we all know that this is not the best of times.”
While the focus of the day turned to the 100,000 milestone — the HPD planned a five-borough tour of the city’s affordable housing — the importance of Via Verde Day was celebrated by the architects in the audience. “AIANY is proud to have helped initiate this important project through the New Housing New York competition,” said AIANY Executive Director Rick Bell, FAIA, who attended the groundbreaking with AIANY President Tony Schirripa, FAIA, IIDA; AIA President George Miller, FAIA; and AIANY Board Member and New Housing New York competition advisor Lance Jay Brown, FAIA. Representing Dattner Architects, Richard Dattner, FAIA; William Stein, FAIA; Adam Watson, AIA; Steve Frankel, AIA; Eugene Kwak; Venesa Alicea, Assoc. AIA; and Kirsten Sibilia, Assoc. AIA were in attendance. And on behalf of Grimshaw Architects, Vincent Chang, AIA; Nikolas Dando-Haenisch, AIA; Juan Porral; Robert Garneau, AIA; and Virginia Little joined the festivities. Bell continued, “Our central idea, then and now, is that affordable housing must be green and be built to the highest standards of design quality. With the start of construction, this replicable model demonstrates emphatically that design matters.”
Note: Read the mayor’s press release here.
Emily Nemens is the AIANY Communications Director.