Reviewed by Fran Leadon
And yet New York City held Wright in its sway all the same. In his meticulously researched, highly readable Wright and New York, Anthony Alofsin outlines Gotham’s influence on America’s foremost twentieth-century architect.
By Frampton Tolbert
By Ilana Teitel
For about a hundred days this winter, Long Island City was in the spotlight as a neighborhood about to be transformed. Amazon was coming, the national media was running articles about the 7 train, and brokers were selling condos via text messages. The word was out about this patch of western Queens and its waterfront views, central location, cultural diversity, and overtaxed infrastructure.
And then, on Valentine’s Day, it was over. Amazon pulled out and locals began to debate whether that much change would have been good or bad for LIC. But, this wasn’t the first time that Long Island City was the neighborhood that almost, maybe, soon, was about to take off. Here’s a look at three other times that LIC was briefly New York’s Next Big Thing.
In the late nineteenth century, municipal officials and boosters of a regionally-scaled New York City endeavored to reshape the material nature of the cityscape. Debates about the physical nature of the urban fringe demonstrate how the city’s coastal edge was both an ecological system and a cultural and political landscape. The harbor environment included both sides of the high-tide line — riparian land and lands underwater. Developers looked to control the material characteristics of the coast through infrastructure. Landscape architects, engineers, and street commissioners approached the urban edge as a laboratory for regional planning. These city builders focused on regional environmental boundaries in contradistinction to laissez-faire urbanization and development that overlooked the conditions of environment and topography. Parks, channelized rivers, and street systems expanded the urban fabric into rural hinterlands.
Reprinted with permission from New York Recentered: Building the Metropolis from the Shore, by Kara Murphy Schlichting, published by the University of Chicago Press. © 2019 by the University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved.
The Manhattan Street Grid Plan: Misconceptions and Corrections [Expansion] Myth #10: Example of Laissez-Faire Planning
By Gergely Baics & Leah Meisterlin
Not until 1916 did New York City acquire its comprehensive zoning resolution, the first in the nation. Through the 19th Century, the city’s land-use restrictions comprised a patchwork of fragmented and locally scaled public and private regulatory interventions, including nuisance laws, fire zones, building codes, and deed restrictions in the form of restrictive covenants. Although with this patchwork of caveats, it is fair to describe this early land-use regime as largely unregulated, at least by our contemporary standards. The Commissioners’ Plan was laid out within this historical context: even as it strictly defines the geometry of blocks and streets — and, consequently, a geometry of intersections — the plan remains silent on land use, save the location of a few public spaces. In fact, the 1811 Plan preceded the conceptualization of distinct categories of use. Such categorization arguably first appeared decades later in William Perris’s landmark 1852-54 Fire Insurance Atlas, which catalogued and systematically organized each building in Manhattan by its function, establishing our still familiar taxonomy of residential, commercial, and industrial uses.
Counter to the neoliberal tautology that gentrification is inevitable — a claim that justifies all manner of violence against vulnerable urban communities — Stein argues that there indeed is an alternative to land value planning and capitalist land markets. Shining through Stein’s history of imperialist expansion, mass displacements and enclosure, and bipartisan commitment to prioritizing real estate profits over people are stories of tenants, workers, and radical planners who successfully fought back against the commodification of urban space. Hilary Wilson — PhD student in Geography at the CUNY Graduate Center — recently interviewed Stein to learn more about his motivations for writing the book and the social, political, and economic struggles that have constituted the real estate state.
By Scott M. Larson
Wins by left-leaning candidates in 2018 midterm elections have led many to suggest a progressive revolution is under way in Democratic — if not American — politics. With each successive victory progressive candidates have staked out bold positions on hot-button issues from Medicare-for-all to a $15 federal minimum wage and free college education.
But what isn’t so clear is what this insurgent wave and its progressive mantle mean for the shaping and planning of our cities.
That question took on added significance just a week after the midterm elections when Amazon announced plans to build one of two new headquarters in Long Island City. Details of the plan, which involved more than a billion dollars in publicly funded incentives from New York City and New York State, drew swift criticism from many on the left, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the progressive movement’s rising stars.
“Amazon is a billion-dollar company,” tweeted Ocasio-Cortez, who in November was elected to represent New York’s 14th Congressional District, which borders the district that includes Long Island City. “The idea that it will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need MORE investment, not less, is extremely concerning to residents here.”
While opposition from Ocasio-Cortez and other local politicians, along with fierce resistance from community residents, ultimately led Amazon to back out of the plan, the larger question remains: what is progressive urban policy, and how does it hope to address the myriad problems facing America’s cities?
Walking around New York, Macaulay-Lewis says she “was struck by how many classical-looking buildings there were.” Indeed, references to the myths, gods, motifs and structures of the ancient world are seemingly everywhere: in courthouses, museums and libraries, in arches and columns, in Latin inscriptions and sculptures.
But these classical references aren’t just about aesthetics or engineering. They also symbolize the aspirations of a city that saw itself as a capital of learning, culture, and civic life, on par with the finest institutions of the ancient world.
[The Manhattan Street Grid Plan: Misconceptions and Corrections] Myth#9: A System of Block and Lot Divisions
By Gergely Baics and Leah Meisterlin
The New York City grid is often understood as a foundational system of land subdivision and cadastral allotment. Accordingly, the grid divides Manhattan into a highly regularized system of rectangular shaped blocks, subdivided into lots, making standard (and stackable) units of real estate available for urban development. The grid accomplishes the city’s apportionment through its collection of more frequently spaced and narrower east-west cross-streets and less frequently spaced and wider north-south avenues — each serving as partition and demarcation between the blocks with their nested lots. Indeed, conceptualizing the grid as a system of subdivided blocks highlights its underlying cadastral logic. Previous posts (#4 and #6) have addressed two myths following from this line of reasoning, specifically the extent to which block sizes determined lot sizes, and how the relentless regularity of blocks and lots contributed to rampant real estate speculation.
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