Urban Planning

Changing The Meaning Of A Euphemism

by Don Friedman on December 6, 2017

Whatever your personal definition of “meadow” is, the New Jersey meadowlands are not it. The area is a vast swamp, barely above sea level. It’s the combined valley of the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers before they empty into Newark Bay, which itself is a branch of New York Bay by way of Kill Van Kull. It’s absolutely flat, wet ground, that people have built on only with great difficulty because of the problems in constructing foundations there. “Meadow” is, in this case, an eighteenth-century euphemism for “swamp.”

The Regional Plan Association, fresh off the publication of their fourth plan for the New York metropolitan area, had an interesting idea: convert the meadowlands into a climate change national park. There’s an interesting idea there, letting the park change as the climate changes, particularly as water levels rise. It’s unlikely to be realized as such, because the homes and businesses in that flood plain are likely to remain there as long as they are viable.

I think the meadowlands drives people a bit crazy because it’s such a large chunk of mostly undeveloped land in such a dense urban environment. It seems like a waste to let that land be nothing more than a swamp, even if that’s what it is and even if that’s beneficial to the adjacent waterways and built-up areas of land. I’m not sure there’s really that big a difference between developing the meadowlands as a national park and simply preventing further development in an area where flooding has always been a problem and will be more of one in the future.

But I’ve got to say that the New Jersey Climate Change National Park sounds a lot better than “the waste land no one wants because it’s a swamp.”

Everything In A City Is Manmade

November 29, 2017

Another great article from Karrie Jacobs, this one on Prospect Park: here. I’m not even going to attempt to summarize it. You should read it because it’s a fascinating look at how parks in New York have developed over the last 150 years. Jacobs’s painstaking descriptions of the work that went into the creation of […]

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Three Myths About Brutalism

October 25, 2017

Neave Brown, the architect of the Alexandra Road housing estate in London (above, click to enlarge) as well as other brutalist housing projects, has recently been recognized for his work. In architectural terms, this is undiluted brutalism, with nearly all exterior surfaces as bare concrete or glass. The article at the second link above summarizes […]

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Not Quite What They Meant

October 1, 2017

An idyllic small-city residential street: But let’s look close up at that sign: A sign to warn drivers that children are playing (and might, for example, chase a loose ball into the street) is a good thing. This sign, though, is a bit confusing. If the children are playing on a seesaw then they’re not […]

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Planning For Future Floods

September 30, 2017

The South Ferry subway station after Hurricane Sandy, courtesy of the MTA: Here’s a good article on infrastructure improvement, specifically on repairs to mitigate future disasters: 6 rules for rebuilding infrastructure in an era of ‘unprecedented’ weather events. The third rule, “Design for climate change” jumped out at me as it’s something we see every time we […]

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The Two Extremes of Subway Planning

September 13, 2017

An accidental but informative juxtaposition: planning to make the entire city a one-fare zone in 1920 by building a lot of new subway lines and the decay of subway development after World War II. The Second Avenue subway is, of course, a symbol of the change in fortune: it was first planned in 1920 but the […]

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Code Intersectionality

September 12, 2017

There’s been some discussion in the last couple of weeks on the topic of Belgian Block paving – usually and somewhat incorrectly referred to as cobblestones – being impassable for people with mobility issues. A solution exists for this particular problem, which is to provide smoother pavement at crosswalks. This allows people in wheelchairs or […]

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Rail For The Future

August 25, 2017

The Regional Plan Association has a really good suggestion – a plan, one might even say – for running a new mass transit rail line from southern Brooklyn through central Queens to the south and east Bronx. It is potentially much cheaper per mile than other projects, like the Second Avenue Subway, because it uses […]

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Mental Mapping

July 13, 2017

This article from the Architectural League on avoidance mapping is interesting in itself – it has a lot to say about what different people feel is important in their local environment – but it’s also interesting in what it has to say accidentally about how people see those environments. Some of the people interviewed have […]

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July 12, 2017

It’s hard to overstate the rapidity of New York’s growth in the nineteenth century. Just the bare facts of the census – Manhattan had 60,000 people in 1800 and 1,850,000 in 1900 – are astonishing. When you add in the construction required to provide housing, workplaces, and all the other functions of a city, it’s […]

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