Urban Planning

We May Have Snow Tomorrow

by Don Friedman on March 6, 2018

New York has a history of late-winter/early-spring snowstorms. Recent years have included storms on March 1, 2009, March 5, 2015, March 16, 2007, April 1, 1997, and April 7, 2003. Compared to the size of late-winter storms in the mountain west, upper midwest, and New England, the snow totals of our spring storms aren’t that big, but compared to our supposedly temperate climate, it’s always shocking when it snows in the spring.

The picture above, from the famous 1888 blizzard, shows that it may sometimes be possible to toboggan down your stoop.

Suzanne Spellen has a good article in Brownstoner on the 1888 blizzard. A point that it makes, somewhat inadvertently, is that snow is a random natural event but its effect on a city is a matter of planning and technology. The 1888 storm brought down the overhead wires that carried telegraph and telephone signals around Manhattan, but also stalled almost all local transportation because nearly everything required wheels and horses on the street. The only exceptions were the elevated trains but they were not of much use with everything else stuck. As Spellen points out, all of the snow in that era had to be removed by hand, and a lack of transportation meant that coal deliveries were suspended and people faced a lack of heat.

In recent years, we’ve gotten good at removing the snow: plowing the streets, picking up the drifts, and (my favorite part) dumping the snow in the East River. The subways (including their elevated portions) may close during the storms, but are operating soon after, so the most important part of our transportation network keeps running. Most of our power and communications systems are underground; and all of them are in Manhattan.

A mediocre analogy to a snowstorm would be a low-grade hurricane where the storm surge doesn’t recede on its own. But ultimately, all forms of natural forces that impinge on a city’s life are unique, and create their own forms of stress.

Not Enough Water

March 2, 2018

That’s the Bronx River where it passes through the grounds of the New York Botanical Gardens. For people unfamiliar with the area, that picture is probably surprisingly bucolic. The lower reaches of the Bronx River, where it runs into the East River, are quite industrial. The river as a whole is not, and obviously was […]

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Building Nature

February 27, 2018

Yesterday’s post about the possibility of creating a park in the New Jersey Meadowlands didn’t touch on an interesting aspect of the proposed park: little of it would be built by people. Instead the park would be made by removing built structures and letting nature have its way. It’s easy to forget that most urban […]

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Adaptation as a Strategy

February 26, 2018

This article by Karrie Jacobs – What if New Jersey’s Meadowlands were a national park? – speaks for itself,  but I thought I might add a little context for people unfamiliar with the geography. People have heard of “the meadowlands” because of a football stadium located there but don’t necessarily understand what it is. Most of […]

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Urban Design Is More Than Roads

February 12, 2018

Via Curbed, comes notice of a report, Delivering Urban Resilience, on the intersection of urban design, resistance to extreme weather, and climate change. Three cities – El Paso, Philadelphia, and Washington – are used as examples, with Philadelphia’s circumstances being closest to New York’s. It is not really news to hear that technologies such as green […]

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Physical Reality Governs

January 30, 2018

Structural engineering is pretty much the reverse of the high-tech virtual world that is hyped in the press as “technology.” Whatever computerized tools we use in design, our work is grounded, literally, in the physical world and its constraints. This article and its linked source are fascinating in the way they reveal the lack of […]

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Wiping The Slate Clean

January 24, 2018

There’s a great article up on Curbed about a plan from the mid-1960s to replace most of the buildings and streets in Harlem with a series of 100-story circular-plan tower linked by diagonal boulevards: A ‘futuristic vision for Harlem’. This was a blue-sky plan that never got very far. It lacked backing from the government agencies […]

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Axial Planning

January 23, 2018

That’s a view up West Street (a few weeks ago, when we had snow) from an angle that has One World Trade Center more or less centered on the street. West Street takes a slight bend near Albany Street that makes this view possible. New York has very few such vistas. The Empire State Building, […]

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More Vestiges

January 22, 2018

This is an interesting article by Sarah Bean Apmann for the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation: The Lasting Imprint of Stuyvesant Street. Ms. Apmann is focussed on one of Greenwich Village’s many peculiarities in street layout, but there’s more to discuss in a larger context. First, oddly, Stuyvesant Street does not quite run true east-west. That’s […]

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Useful Tools

December 29, 2017

The New York City Department of City Planning has updated the ZoLa map making it easier to get zoning, service, and neighborhood information about any lot. Here’s our office: The Landmarks Preservation Commission has a new online map that shows information from the designation reports about all of the city’s landmarks. Our office isn’t a […]

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