Newsletter of the Institute for Urban Design
March/April 2004 Vol. 20 No. 2
BIDS TAKE ON BOLD NEW PROJECTS IN SEATTLE AND NEW YORK
Are Business Improvement Districts taking over the cities of the world? It would seem so from
the just issued Business Improvement Districts, whose second edition (see review page 4) has now
been released by International Downtown Association with Urban Land Institute. According to
book author Lawrence Houstoun, Jr., there are over 400 BIDs in the U.S.A. today. And
educated guesses state that another 400 are operating in Canadian cities. Estimates on BIDs in
other parts of the world vary, but researcher Lorlene Hoyt at MIT has identified 1,200 worldwide.
BIDs began to be formed in the 1980s by associations of merchants in cities no longer able to fund
cleanup services. Now urban designers are providing services to BIDs in cities around the
country. The Thompson Design Group, Boston, recognized for its pioneering work on the Grand
Central Station BID in the mid-1990s, has since then worked on Lincoln Road, Miami Beach.
David Feehan, President of the International Downtown Association, says that second generation
BIDs are offering a host of new services not heretofore available. The Fashion BID in Los
Angeles, in collaboration with two other local BIDs, is offering free storage space in public
lockers to the homeless. A cleaner streetscape is now contributing to a boom in nearby residential
development. Downtown Seattle BID, says Feehan, seeks to extend the monorail as an alternative
to the now crumbling Alaska Highway. The new D.C. Partnership in Washington has undertaken
a sophisticated data collection project on office vacancy and pedestrian activity.
Daniel Biederman, Director of the Bryant Park Business Improvement District as well as President
34th Street Business Improvement District, says that BIDs are growing more sophisticated in
mission with the Flatiron BID, the total is 60. For poetic audacity nothing matches the Santiago
Calatrava - designed townhouses in the sky, being approved by Carl Weisbrod, who overseas the
Lower Manhattan BID, and developed by Fellow Frank J. Sciame.
Similar to BIDs but art-focused are such organizations as the Brooklyn Arts District where Frank
Ghery, together with Fellow Hugh Hardy have been commissioned to design a $22 million
building for theatre for a new audience. The city’s Economic Development Corporation will
provide $6.2 million while the remaining $16 million will be raised by the 40-member board of the
theatre. This fundraising capacity distinguishes the Arts District from the BID. It will be key to
completing a $630 million master plan for the Arts District itself.
Michael Weiss, Director, Metrotech Brooklyn, points out that their main planning mission since
founding in 1991 has been safer, cleaner streets. BAM Arts District, on the other hand, has mission
of raising funds for capital projects, such as planned library by Enrique Norten. He sees a shared
purpose, however, in creating a multi-node downtown Brooklyn. To that end, Metrotech Brooklyn,
will retain Streetscape designers to reanimate Fulton Mall, now coming into jurisdiction of
As Vancouver and New York Increase Water Transport More Housing To Follow
Vancouver and New York are increasing use of waterborne transit just as Baltimore harbor seeks
to diversify. In March, Goldman Sachs awarded a contract to New York Watertaxi to carry nearly
1,000 passengers per day from its new Jersey City office tower to Lower Manhattan reports Vice
President Timur Galen. New York Waterway, the largest private service in New York Harbor,
with 20 routes and some 40,000 passengers per day, is currently developing a contract for a route
between Bayonne and Manhattan. There is also talk of service to Governors Island as it prepares
for reopening and even more talk on routes for the 2012 Olympics.
San Francisco’s historic ferry terminal building, revamped by Simon Martin-Vegue Winkelstein
Morris, has become a social center as well as a gateway to the bay. Baltimore has a non-profit as
San Francisco well as commercial ferry service operator. Both are experimenting with getting commuters out of
autos from northern suburbs and into boats at Ft. McHenry. From there, vessels cross the water to
Baltimore’s inner harbor where commuters can walk to jobs.
Vancouver, which cascades from mountain in the east to a chain of islands beyond its Pacific
shore, is among the most beautiful cities in North America. Perhaps the unmatched setting
encouraged local planners to create a financial district framed by 100 towers added in the past
decade. The towers have provided tax dollars to subsidize 1,800 units in the towers as well as
day-care centers. This miracle in a decade situation was brought about by a 40-page set of
guidelines under which all the towers were built. The guidelines specify ground-floor townhouses
open to the street. Then towers rise to 300 feet. Below sidewalks have been widened for a double
row of trees. Making the district attractive are a waterfront elementary school with three parks
reports John King in a the San Francisco Chronicle. Ferries, buses and subways facilitate
China is the site of more urban design, architecture and landscape assignments than any other
country. According to Robert Ivy’s report in last month’s Architecture Record. Skidmore
Owings Merrill is said to have as many as 200 assignments in China. Lee Pomeroy’s office is
completing a convention center in Tianjin. Pratap Talwar, Principal, Thompson Design Group,
Beijing is working Quing Yun Mountain Resort to provide visitor accommodations within Foujain
National Park. Dennis Pieprz, Sasaki Associates, leads work on planning for the 2008 Beijing
Olympics. Christopher Choa, who heads the Shanghai office of HLW reports that the firm just
won a competition for Minhan, west of Shanghai core. City, district and national government will
fund construction at some
Shanghai $20 million.
Institute Fellow Bob Kerrey, President of New School University has returned from Washington
for hearings of the September 11 Commission on which he sits as the 10th member. Prior to
departure, he was not too busy to announce Fellow Paul Goldberger’s appointment as Dean of
PEOPLE ON THE MOVE the School of Architecture, and one imagines a heightened activity on the part of both to urban
design issues now heating up in the Meatpacking District and along Houston Street in Greenwich
Village . . . Alex Krieger has been working on Trinity River in Dallas, Augusta, Maine riverfront
and along the Cincinnati Riverfront according to an announcement for the April Gropius Lecture,
called Scales of Practice . . . Rodolfo Machado will be taking Krieger’s place as Director,
Greenwich Village Graduate School of Design, once Machado returns from Saint Petersburg Pritzker Prize Award
Ceremony in late May . . . Leaving Harvard’s Urban Design Program is Richard Sommer, who
moves on to the University of Michigan to direct the Urban Design Program there . . . Deborah
Marton becomes the Director of Design, Trust for Public Space, while Fellow Claire Weisz steps
down as Co-Director . . . Warren A. James reports that the Sherman Creek plan, which he
completed last year is now being carried forward by New York City Planning . . . An avid
follower of Latino Urbanism, James also notes that Mexican architect Enrique Norten is at
work on a Marriott Courtyard Hotel high-rise slated for 125th Street in Harlem . . . Ray Gindroz’s
sketches of the Palais Royal, on view in Paris through late April, may be ordered as a booklet from
Urban Design Associates, Pittsburgh: (212) 263-5200.
EDUCATION The University of Toronto may be moving to consolidate its position as primary center for
landscape urbanism in North America. Charles Waldheim, said to have invented the term, joined
the Landscape Architecture faculty last year. George Baird, until now on the faculty at Harvard
will become Dean of the School of Architecture for the fall semester. Meanwhile, Robert Levit,
who now heads the Urban Design Program at Toronto, has just published, in Canadian
Architecture, one of the most provocative comments yet published on the topic. When questioned
why urban designers seldom enjoy the notoriety of star architects, Levit was prompted to think
and then write the following response:
“Amongst other things, the question points to the enigmatic status of urban design as a discipline
today. Because its dedication is to the artifact of the city, its objects are monumental in nature.
Urban design shares with architecture its faith in the power of built form to shape metropolitan
life. Yet, more often than not, urban designs are strategic in nature, orchestrating the urban
matrix-establishing block structure street and infrastructure layouts, open space networks, and the
parameters of buildings (but not the design of buildings in and of themselves). Urban design’s
objects which are big (bigger than individual buildings), and the nature of its instruments, which
are indirect, make its effect upon the urban environment seem diffuse by comparison to the
Toronto immediacy of architecture.”
“Urban design straddles the policy abstractions of modern planning and the concreteness of
architecture. It recognizes that the physical substance of the city - the material structure of our
social life - is the emanation of myriad intangible forces. Social, economic, political, technical
and ecological dynamics are organized in a fluid galaxy of customs and laws. These networks
give rise to artifact of the city. Urban design’s quandary arises from its recognition that the urban
artifact is both the generator of metropolitan life and the consequence of it. The particular
predicament of urban design has its roots in the historical dialogues of architecture and urbanism
reaching back the better part of a century.”
“Recent analyses from outside of the discipline of urbanism lend support to the view of the city as
a field of activity resistant to totalizing formalization. Works like Manuel de Landa’s 1000
Years of Non-linear History (1997) and more recently, and in a more popular vein, Steven
Johnson’s Emergence: the Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software (2001) reassess
how cities take shape. These works describe the city as a ‘self organizing’ phenomenon. The
Sydney ethos of historical modernism, re-emergent in the illuminating theses of De Landa and Johnson,
may reflect an attractive democratic notion of the city - “self organizing”, dedicated to the broad
sweep of metropolitan life.”
The University of New South Wales celebrates the 10th anniversary of its Masters in Urban
Development and Design. With a graduating class of 40 students, it is currently the largest
program seeking to combine design and development. Mark Strauss’ class at Newman Real
Newman Real Estate Institute is a counterpoint in offering similar material within a real estate program. Ho Chi
Estate Institute Minh City and Fiji were the site of recent two-week workshops. Bruce Judd directs the program
while Sandy Cuthbert’s Designing Cities: Critical Readings in Urban Design (Black Wells,
2003) is an influential text. Sonja Lyneham, a program adjunct, is exploring New York and
Prague as sites for future for future workshops.
Buffalo SUNY Buffalo is following a community-based model for its urban design program reports
Robert Shibley, Professor of Architecture. Currently the school is collaborating with Buffalo
City Planning on a multi-million effort especially to bring back the lakefront.
The University of Pennsylvania Urban Design Program is currently led by John Barnett, whose
book, Redesigning Cities (published by APA) is now off press. Barnett, who works as a
consultant for WRT, is working on a plan, funded by Lively Omaha, for the entire city. The plan,
with a public space element by Fellow Jerold Kayden, will be reviewed by Mayor and City
Planning Department in October.
Business Improvement Districts. By Lawrence Houstoun, Jr. Illustrated. 248 pages. Urban
Land Institute/International Downtown Association, Washington, DC. $59.95 paperback.
Business Improvement Districts proves the point that such districts have been crucial to the rebirth
of downtowns in Philadelphia, Manhattan and New Orleans – to name three of the most
successful. Through the 1990s BIDs were introduced in most large cities: Baltimore and
Washington in the Northeast; Charlotte and Atlanta in the South; Denver, Los Angeles, San
Diego, Portland and Seattle in the West. David M. Feehan, President of International Downtown
Association, notes in his introduction that those cities who elected to introduce a BID began to
emerge from a decline that had lasted in many cases for as long as 40 years. As city budgets
shrank, mayors welcomed the privately-financed BID as the most promising mechanism for
downtown revitalization. By the 1990s the major components of these districts had been set:
• A BID is a system of cost-sharing among private sector interests.
• Local government authorizes and defines function of BIDs, which at minimum clean and
animate the streets.
Still debated is whether BIDs distribute costs and benefits fairly. They may sometimes take on
activities of government without obligation to serve all citizens equally. Finally, why have
American cities failed to accrue funds needed to provide basic security and cleanup services?
The Sea Ranch. Donlyn Lyndon and Jim Alinder. 200 color illus. 170 black/white illus.
304 pages. Princeton Architectural Press, New York. $65.95.
This second edition of The Sea Ranch includes new photos by Jim Alinder and a new essay by
landscape architect Lawrence Halprin that, by themselves, make the book a pleasure to own. By
giving us, with his plan for Sea Ranch, one of the best statements in North America of man at
home with nature, Halprin also confirms the role of the landscape architect in realizing a
biomorphic vision. If, in 1850, landscape architect Joseph Paxton enclosed objects at the Crystal
Palace in glass, Halprin at Sea Ranch gives nature in a sheltered landscape back to man.
In Halprin’s original drawing of the site, trees are given equal weight with cabin, studio and dance
space (used by wife Anna Halprin). Sight lines draw attention to a meditation log and seek rocks
beyond. In a note below the drawing Halprin says, “Myths, symbols – rituals have developed at
Sea Ranch over a period of many years based on family uses, ecological processes and the many
varied workshops and people who have participated. Halprin’s viewed his work at Sea Ranch,
begun in 1962, as “an experiment in ecological planning.
Fellow Donlyn Lyndon deserves most credit for bringing the new edition off press. His design
for Condominium One, completed when he was a founding partner at MLTW, can be studied in
detail in Jim Alinder’s superb black/white and color photos.
UPDATE, published six times a year, welcomes contributions from members. Send text and line
art to: Ann Ferebee, Institute for Urban Design, 47 Barrow Street, New York, NY 10014.
Phone: 212-741-2041; Fax: 212-633-0125; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ann Ferebee, Editor.