Tag Archives: NYC

Manhattan’s Hudson River Park

On a recent trip to NYC, I saw wonderful urban planning strategies at Hudson River Park. It offers a huge variety of recreational activities and landscaped public spaces throughout its 550-acre footprint and sets a useful precedent for the ongoing development of Toronto’s waterfront.

Canada’s largest city’s skyline has been rapidly changing, in part due to a blitz of condo construction. Guided by Waterfront Toronto, the city has spent billions to revitalize a once heavily industrial lakefront and transform it into beautiful and sustainable new communities and parks. Now a private entity is proposing to expand a small inner-city island airport on the waterfront through jet aircraft and extended runways, paving 500m into the harbour and Lake Ontario.

Below are images of Hudson River Park in NYC. I imagine what the area would look like with an airport disgorging thousands of passengers per day. I think of its impact on neighbouring communities and services, on cultural activities, and on the quiet enjoyment of the waterfront by citizens and visitors alike. Alarming.

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Manhattan Waterfront

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Public spaces like the High Line and the 9/11 Memorial grounds are well worth a mention, and a visit, as well.

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The Freedom Tower

9/11 Memorial

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Long Island City II

Williamsburg

Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Hipster central.

I resided for one week in this influential hub, a mere 3 subway stops away from Manhattan’s Union Square.

Vintage shops, indie theatres, phenomenal restaurants – you name it, it’s there. The area’s many industrial buildings have always been a magnet for artists, who’ve transformed them into studios or galleries. Characterized by diversity, it boasts a happening arts and music scene and various ethnic enclaves formed by long-established immigrants. Creativity of all sorts permeates the neighbourhood and its main thoroughfare, Bedford Avenue, buzzes day-in day-out with activity and twenty- and thirty-somethings.

But, like the usual story goes, the booming real estate market is transforming the mixed-use character of the neighbourhood. High-rise buildings are ‘mushrooming’ and long-abandoned factories are being converted to expensive condos and apartments. The locals that I talked to were not too thrilled about the rapid development, about the gentrification that has prompted an increase in rent prices, driving people out.

On a positive front, the city’s re-zoning has also called for revitalization of the waterfront, which had fallen into neglect. The East River State Park looks back upon the Manhattan skyline. On clear evenings, residents gather here by the water’s edge to watch the sunset. That’s a sweet view you can’t put a price on.

Next stop: Coney Island

Eager to escape Manhattan at the peak of summer, my friend and I decided a full-fledged beach day was in short order. A quick jaunt over on the subway and we were in Coney Island, America’s “People’s Playground” in Brooklyn, NY.

A stop at Nathan’s Famous is an American tradition that must not be missed so we nabbed a couple of their signature bacon cheeseburgers and crinkled fries and made our way through the obstacle course of beachgoers to a breezy spot by the water’s edge.

The boardwalk is lined with eateries and other attractions. No amusement park rides for us (those particular thrills ceased to wow me years ago) but seeing them again does take you back. I don’t really know what I was expecting to see in Coney Island but it was more along the lines of circus freaks and other outrageous types strolling about, hot dog eating contests, and multitudes of children shrieking with unbridled enthusiasm. It was a little tamer on this day.

Once a thriving entertainment destination, Coney Island is now but a shadow of its former self. Much of it is slated for redevelopment, and many of its historic buildings are threatened with demolition. There is a strong effort by preservationist groups and the like calling for their safeguarding, citing economic incentives for the rehabilitation of these unique structures. It’s interesting to imagine what they could become if they were preserved, restored and reused…

I’d like to return to Coney Island in the wintertime, to behold the sweeping calm of the beach and ocean and, while walking the empty boardwalk, to search for traces of its former glory.

NYC & all things ‘Design’

It seems that whenever I visit New York City, it’s a guaranteed good time.  This particular trip revolved almost exclusively around Design:  design shops & galleries, design events, and a stay in a boutique hotel to boot.ace_lobby

The Ace Hotel, located in the gritty wholesale district, opened in May and it seems, has been covered in every (design) magazine.  Though perhaps not defined by any specific time period or style, it’s a remixed Americana, visible in the interiors’ mélange of furnishings, lighting and finishes, reclaimed pieces, and vintage finds.  In contrast to the layered and historical lobby, our room was very efficient and kind of quirky.  We appreciated the turntable, the jersey robes, and the wooden hangers labelled with affirmative words:  “You look good in this.”  Custom-designed furnishings like the desk and coat rack curiously used plumbing pipes, demonstrating how stock materials can be re-appropriated to make something elegant but simple.  Overall, we were impressed to see how consistently the brand is carried through every single thing in the hotel.

I let my friend Traci orchestrate the trip.  I happily went along with her splendid suggestions, knowing full well I wasn’t taking a risk since we like much of the same things.  We wandered from one design node to another, Google maps on iPhone guiding us through the city.felt exhibitfelt wrap

First on the itinerary was a visit to the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum to see, in particular, the exhibit ‘Fashioning Felt’.  We went because Traci has an ‘unnatural’ interest in felt.:)  In fact, she is co-owner of Filzfelt, a Boston-based company which sells industrial felt imported from Germany for a range of purposes:  product design, architecture and home furnishings.  The exhibition showed firstly historic examples and continued with innovations in the handmade felts, and explored varied contemporary uses of this ancient and versatile material.

Organized by The Nature Conservancy, the other noteworthy exhibit ‘Design for a Living World’ showcased sustainable projects by ten leading designers.  They were commissioned to develop new uses for harvested materials “in order to tell a unique story about the life-cycle of materials and the power of conservation and design.”  The featured designers and places included:  Maya Lin using certified wood from Maine, Yves Béhar’s cocoa tool in Costa Rica, and Isaac Mizrahi fashioning pieces with Alaskan salmon leather.  I enjoyed viewing the prototypes, drawings, and finished products created by the designers.elevated path

Next up was a stroll on The Highline, of which the first completed sections opened in June.  Emerging from an open ideas competition soliciting re-use proposals, architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro collaborated with other visionaries to create a public park on the old elevated freight train infrastructure.  It called for huge site prep:  before the landscaping could take shape, everything on the structure (rails and all) had to be removed and rehabilitated prior to returning the pieces to their original location.  This ‘signature landscape’, which floats 30ft above the ground, consists of  a walking surface of smooth concrete planks that taper into the surrounding native plantings which push up through seams, fixed & moveable seating, and energy-efficient LED lighting elements.  Everything is just so beautifully integrated, with such attention to detail.  But after all, isn’t that what they say: “God is in the details?”

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I retrace our next steps:  a visit to the Young Designers Market, Droog, Housing Works Bookstore Café, as well as some shopping in Uniqlo, MOMA, Marimekko, and Matter in the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Park Slope.  In the name of Design, fashion in this case, I endured a truly nightmarish scene as hawk-eyed shoppers combed the racks at the lavish Barney’s New York Warehouse Sale.  Posters on the walls read:  “You’re not done yet.  Buy more!”

All weekend long we explored the power of Design.  If you appreciate good design, regardless of whether it’s at a large or a small scale, you see the value and are more likely to pay for it.  Only two of our stops didn’t quite resonate with the theme of (high) Design.  For one, we had dinner at Hill Country Barbecue Market – a ribs & live music kinda place where you carry your meal on a tray.  Secondly, we inspected the items of the Soho store Evolution, with its framed bats, anatomical models, fossils, tribal masks, larva paperweights, and freeze-dried mice.  One might argue – Natural Evolution – that’s the most perfect design of all!!graffiti