80+1 » New York http://www.80plus1.org A Journey Around the World Thu, 25 Nov 2010 14:24:05 +0000 http://wordpress.org/?v=2.7.1 en hourly 1 A railway line, now an elevated park http://www.80plus1.org/blog/a-railway-line-now-an-elevated-park http://www.80plus1.org/blog/a-railway-line-now-an-elevated-park#comments Thu, 11 Jun 2009 01:20:20 +0000 Florica Vlad http://www.80plus1.org/?p=1196 This week Highline Park opened in New York City’s west side, spanning the section from Gansevort Street to West 20th Street.

The Highline is an elevated railway line built in the 1930’s, abandoned in the 1980’s, and was stated to be demolished. Nature…

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This week Highline Park opened in New York City’s west side, spanning the section from Gansevort Street to West 20th Street.

The Highline is an elevated railway line built in the 1930’s, abandoned in the 1980’s, and was stated to be demolished. Nature had taken over and the tracks became overgrown with shrubs and wildflowers. The haunting images of this peaceful, neglected, elevated oasis inspired neighborhood activists to campaign against its demolition and to fight for its preservation as a public space.

In 1934, when the Highline railway first began service, it connected freight trains from Penn Station all the way to to St. John’s Park Terminal, at Spring Street. It was designed to pass by factories and warehouses on Manhattan’s west side, allowing easy transportation of meat, produce and other raw and manufactured goods by connecting directly to the industrial buildings while avoiding street-level traffic.

The Highline Park retains the memory of the trains by integrating the original railway tracks, which weave beautifully throughout a colorful quilt of wildflower varieties that grew naturally when the Highline was abandoned. The elevated park still passes by industrial buildings, casting views on old factories with shattered windows, graffitied walls and barbed wire. But there are also new and elegant views of the Standard Hotel at Washington Street and high-end boutiques and restaurants where once stood industrial yards and meat-packing plants.

Large reclining benches take advantage of sweeping views of the Hudson, allowing guests to lay in the sun or watch its descent to the west. The only other re-construction of an elevated train line into park space is found in Paris at the Promenade Plantée (the planted promenade).

While the park currently only extends up to 20th street, future plans will lengthen the public green space all the way up to 34th Street at Penn Station. The stretch leading up to 30th street is set to open in 2010, while the fate of the final section of railway from 30th to 34th street is still up in the air. (Since this section is owned by the MTA and Related Companies, a public hearing was held in the city yesterday, June 10, on the fate of the railway yard.

Friends of the Highline, the non-profit organization responsible for the preservation of the Highline and its transformation into a public park writes:

The High Line is a monument to the industrial history of New York’s West Side. It offers an opportunity to create an innovative new public space, raised above the city streets, with views of the Hudson River and the city skyline. Its conversion is a global model for the reuse of transportation infrastructure, offering greening opportunities, alternative transportation options, and social and economic benefits to meet changing needs in post-industrial urban environments.

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No Impact Man speaks in New York http://www.80plus1.org/blog/no-impact-man-speaks-in-new-york http://www.80plus1.org/blog/no-impact-man-speaks-in-new-york#comments Fri, 05 Jun 2009 14:53:57 +0000 Florica Vlad http://www.80plus1.org/?p=1099

On Sunday afternoon I attended a volunteer organized event titled “Evolver Town Hall”. Gathering in the St. Mark’s Church on the Bowery in New York City, the event spilled out into the adjoining courtyards with workshops, panel discussions, art and…

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On Sunday afternoon I attended a volunteer organized event titled “Evolver Town Hall”. Gathering in the St. Mark’s Church on the Bowery in New York City, the event spilled out into the adjoining courtyards with workshops, panel discussions, art and food. The St. Marks Church is known for hosting unique and sometimes outrageous events and the Ontological-Hysteric Theatre makes its home in the Church attic.

The event attracted an eclectic mix of individuals and on the balmy day music from an ad-hoc gathering of bands could be heard from the Church garden.  The Evolver Town Hall was aimed not only at exposing current issues, but also to giving people the ideas, information, connections, and contacts they need for getting involved within their community. Nonprofits, government organizations, local businesses and active individuals all gathered to address the environmental and economic issues that are affecting New York City, and by extension, the world at large.

No Impact Man

The Keynote speaker of the day was Colin Beaven, aka The No Impact Man. In 2006 Colin Beaven launched a year-long project in which he, his wife Michelle and their then two-year-old daughter Isabella, experimented with living with as little environmental impact as possible. Colin Beaven began the project because he grew tired of complaining about public policy and feeling disempowered in the face of government. When the United States went to war with Iraq, Colin Beaven, instead of criticizing events in public protest, decided to see how much change he can affect by focusing on himself and his own family:

“And so, at first,” writes Beaven in his blog, “when the politicians said that they were executing the Iraq War to protect the American way of life—my way of life—I was offended and angry. But then I realized how many resources I use in my life, including oil. I used so much that a war might actually be necessary to protect that way of life, to make sure there was enough to supply my endless consumption. If I expect to be allowed to use so many of the world’s resources, aren’t I partly to blame if my government fights to secure those resources?”

The result became a year-long adventure in minimizing waste, going off the power grid and eating locally. The many trials and errors of his project were documented daily on his blog, “No Impact Man,” and provided a narrative vehicle for engaging the public on issues of food system sustainability, water scarcity, climate change and energy and material resource depletion.

The series of panels hosted at the Evolver Town Hall included talks on “Taking Back the Commons”, “Collective Consciousness” and “Real Food and Water”, among many others. The organizations that were present include: Sierra Club NYC, Regenerative Culture, Vertical Farms, Rooftop Food, Eco Eatery, Just Food, Trust for Public Land and Green Edge Collaborative, among many others. Some of the prominent writers that were present include Daniel Pinchbeck, who is also the co-founder of Evolver, and Douglas Rushkoff.

To find out more about the Evolver Town Hall, and various ways to get involved see here.

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Local Economies and the Church of Life After Shopping http://www.80plus1.org/blog/local-economies-and-the-church-of-life-after-shopping http://www.80plus1.org/blog/local-economies-and-the-church-of-life-after-shopping#comments Thu, 14 May 2009 20:17:05 +0000 Florica Vlad http://www.80plus1.org/?p=978 The New York-based activist, Reverend Billy is an Elvis-inspired, white-suit-clad iconoclast and self-ordained minister of his own Church, the Church of Life After Shopping. As reverend, he preaches the evils of consumerism.

But with a 40 member choir and a feature…

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The New York-based activist, Reverend Billy is an Elvis-inspired, white-suit-clad iconoclast and self-ordained minister of his own Church, the Church of Life After Shopping. As reverend, he preaches the evils of consumerism.

But with a 40 member choir and a feature film under his belt, “What Would Jesus Buy,” Reverend Billy is not just a fringe comedian, he has become a recognizable figure and now he will be running for mayor of New York City.

Simultaneously mocking the religious right and consumerist culture, Reverend Billy acts like a televangelist as he preaches his dogma of local business first and how to empower communities to fight against the corporate landscape.

He pushes for “community finance” — neighborhood banks that lend to local business, allowing profits to stay in the community. He’s also campaigning on a community-first platform, under the Green Party ticket.

As he writes on his site:

Our actions to support independent business, unions, and sweat-free labor are rooted in the struggles of particular communities emblematic of larger struggles. In particular, many of our actions focus on New York’s East Village, internationally recognized as a site where flourishing shops and culture are seriously threatened by a rapid influx of chain stores. Currently, between 2nd Avenue and Avenue D and Houston Street and 14th Street there are less than 10 chain stores, making it one of the last few commercial sites in Manhattan where independently owned business predominate. The struggles to defend the East Village therefore set precedents for communities around the world. In protecting and strengthening neighborhood diversity, we build critical case studies that emboldens healthy neighborhoods everywhere to fight their own extinction.

The Wall Street Journal concurs, noting:

Sure, it sounds kind of dreamy, but such systems are already in place in the neighborhoods large and small. Small businesses thrive, but they are often at the mercy of big banks who giveth and taketh credit according to shifts in economic cycles.

“The Wall Street experience is parallel and equal to the destruction of neighborhoods through chain stores,” Reverend Billy says. Basic economics are on the Reverend’s side.

For every dollar spent at a chain store, studies show only 50 cents stays in that community. By contrast, 90 cents of every dollar spent at a local business remains in the local economy.

“It’s a little reductive, but people recognize there’s a truth in it,” Reverend Billy says. “Neighborhoods are economic powerhouses.”

Although he has little chances of winning the bid to be mayor of New York City, Reverend Billy is using the political platform to bring attention to his cause.

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Growth of Open-Source City Government http://www.80plus1.org/blog/growth-of-open-source-city-government http://www.80plus1.org/blog/growth-of-open-source-city-government#comments Mon, 11 May 2009 07:32:04 +0000 Florica Vlad http://www.80plus1.org/?p=944 In an effort to actively affect urban life citizen activists have been pushing for the development of open source / open data projects in government. As noted in a recent O’Reilly article it follows that “the conversation about the future of…

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In an effort to actively affect urban life citizen activists have been pushing for the development of open source / open data projects in government. As noted in a recent O’Reilly article it follows that “the conversation about the future of our cities should involve the people living in those cities” so there is a push to drive our cities towards open, crowdsourced and participatory government.

As noted in the article:

Take for example the case of the New York City MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority), which currently operates at a budget deficit of $1.2 billion, and has been trying and failing for almost 20 years to implement a realtime tracking system for the city’s buses, at a cost of millions. As the MTA sees it, their two options are 1. pay for a gigantic, centralized, monolithic tracking system or 2. don’t have bus tracking. (And with their current budget shortfall, it seems like option 2 is the only real choice for them).

What if, instead, they entertained the idea of implementing an open bus tracking system, one that relied to some extent on aggregated individual input from bus riders? What if they then crowdsourced ideas on how best to do this? And finally, what if they cooperated with the people who came forward with ideas, to make it easy for them to implement them?

Very quickly there would be some semblance of a bus tracking system in New York City–not a perfect one, but one that could be iterated on and improved on by all until it was robust enough to be relied on by residents of the city. That would at the very least be better than the complete lack of bus tracking the city has now, and it would cost the city nothing to initiate.

To the MTA of course this is unthinkable. They refuse to even make their timetable information public via API, citing legal and security concerns, and seeming to harbor a feeling that there’s money to be made from that data.

To be fair, some government agencies are more forward thinking that this, a few even going so far as to link out to third party applications built using their publicly available data. Most though fall closer to the MTA in their stance toward open data and third party applications. And so the damper is kept on these kinds of innovative solutions to our cities’ problems.

Of course these new sorts of user-built services are beginning to pop up anyway, even without the blessing of the city agencies they help. Programmers, on their own, are exploiting every possible resource to build applications that help people make better use of their city. The result in the case of the MTA is a variety of applications, built without the approval of the MTA, that exist to make the MTA’s service better.

These services are being built and used whether the cities want them or not.

Imagine now what would happen if cities did throw their weight behind this kind of innovation? The landscape of those cities would change virtually overnight, with legions of new applications springing up to provide residents with every sort of information conceivable, making their decisions more informed, making their movements more coordinated, and ultimately making the cities themselves work better.

This change would happen at a fraction of the cost of any proposals for change currently being considered by cities around the world. And much of that cost, for development and operation, would be offloaded from the city itself to the individuals building and using these services.”

The author illustrates that changes are already happening to the distribution of information and whether or not city governments actievely support them interested developers will continue to create new technologies to affect city life and push towards more transparent systems that encourage collective participation and move away from propiety stystems to give greater power to individual citizens.

For more inspiration see: http://diycity.org/

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Reclaiming Urban Public Space in New York http://www.80plus1.org/blog/reclaiming-urban-public-space-in-nyc http://www.80plus1.org/blog/reclaiming-urban-public-space-in-nyc#comments Wed, 06 May 2009 20:32:06 +0000 Florica Vlad http://www.80plus1.org/?p=888 New York City has recently began to more actively shape public spaces in the city, implement bike lanes and explore alternatives for dealing with traffic issues.

Various initiatives are in place for the reclamation of urban street space in an attempt…

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New York City has recently began to more actively shape public spaces in the city, implement bike lanes and explore alternatives for dealing with traffic issues.

Various initiatives are in place for the reclamation of urban street space in an attempt to make the city more walkable, build community and increase quality of life. One pilot program called “Green Light for Midtown” focuses on improving congestion along Broadway. The project is set to begin on May 25th, 2009.

The rendering above is what Times Square would look like if it became more pedestrian friendly.

times-square

photo courtesy of www.nyc.gov

Organizations like Transportation Alternatives are working on campaigns to promote bicycling, walking and public transport and The Trust for Public Land sponsors a yearly event called “Parking Day” where metered parking spots are transformed into mini parks for a day. (The Park(ing) Day concept was created by San Francisco art collective Rebar in 2005.)

parking

photo courtesy of www.nydailynews.com

Other reclamation projects include the creation of a 37,000 foot plaza at Madison Square and thanks to this and others initiatives, like the creation of a public square in the Meatpacking District, NYC was awarded an ITDP Sustainable Transport award in Washington D.C.

mad_square

photo courtesy of www.streetsblog.org

Another interesting project that is still under construction is the Highline park project. The Highline is an abandoned elevated freight railway line that was once active on Manhattan’s west side - the remaining structure will be converted into an elevated park.

highline

image courtesy of http://boulderspace.org/

For more inspiring public space work in New York City check out the Project for Public Places and the Livable Streets Initiative and also this interesting project about the representation of urban spaces.

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