November 8, 2012
by Linda G. Miller

(l-r) Jonathan Marvel, FAIA, Rick Bell, FAIA, Ilaria Salvadori, Ariel Ben-Amos, and Andy Wiley-Schwartz

Linda G. Miller

Event: NACTO Conference, “Asphalt, Paint, and Gravel” panel discussion, 10.25.12
Location: New York University, Kimmel Center
Moderator: Rick Bell, FAIA, executive director, AIA New York Chapter
Panelists: Jonathan Marvel, FAIA, principal, Rogers Marvel Architects; Ilaria Salvadori, urban designer, City Design Group, San Francisco Planning Department; Andy Wiley-Schwartz, assistant commissioner of Public Spaces, NYC DOT; Ariel Ben-Amos, senior planner, analyst, Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities, City of Philadelphia

“Low cost opportunities in cities are transformational,” said AIANY Executive Director Rick Bell, FAIA, at “Asphalt, Paint, and Gravel,” the panel discussion he moderated 10.25.12 at NACTO’s (National Association of City Transportation Officials) Designing Cities: Leading the Way to World Class Streets conference held in New York City. The program, which explored ways that low-cost innovations can create vibrant public spaces and how cities can learn from each other, was attended by transportation officials and professionals from across the country and as far away as Copenhagen and Mexico City.

Streets comprise 25% of the city’s land and yet outside of parks, it has relatively few places to enjoy public life. One way to improve this condition is to create more public open space by reclaiming underutilized street space. Panelist Andy Wiley-Schwartz, assistant commissioner for planning and sustainability at the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT), who co-managed the development of the New York City Design Manual, cited several projects in the DOT’s pedestrian plaza program.

One such project, the Putnam Triangle in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn, now connects a traffic triangle to the sidewalk. The space was created with the support of local civic groups, block associations, nearby institutions, businesses, and the Community Board, after consultations with city agencies. Once void of benches, ripped out because they were a magnet for drug dealing, the public plaza now has moveable tables and chairs for those who want to sit and relax. The first day it opened, the Fulton Area Business Alliance, which maintains the plaza, held a block party, and the space is now available for community-programmed events. Wiley-Schwartz feels that the asphalt, paint, and gravel make a nice place for people to enjoy before a capital project begins.

Wiley-Schwartz also spoke about the success of the city’s bench program at bus stops and “pop-up cafés” and “parklets,” a term borrowed from San Francisco, and a nod to fellow panelist Ilaria Salvadori of that city’s planning department, who says her city is “nspired by what we are doing in New York City. She also noted that San Franciscan’s have a fear of change and there is no commitment to these temporary low-cost interventions. Philadelphia’s Ariel Ben-Amos, a planner and analyst, said his city has just launched its own pedestrian plaza program with its first parklet.

Jonathan Marvel, FAIA, principal of Rogers Marvel Architects (RMA), a firm whose portfolio includes several street projects such as their NOGO sculptural bollards on Wall Street and raised subway grates throughout Queens that serve as benches, spoke about the need for making streets more bike-friendly. RMA’s winning submission – “Streets for Everyone” – in Transportation Alternative’s Designing the 21st Century Street competition, reinvents a “car-first” situation in Park Slope, Brooklyn. by creating express and local lanes for traffic with two-way bike lanes in a median.

Linda G. Miller is a contributing editor to Oculus and e-Oculus.

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