In November of 2004, a reconstituted APA Urban Design Committee tackled the question of the intersection of Planning and Urban Design, acknowledging the artificial split that exists between architectural design of public open space – which focuses on form – and planning of public open spaces – which focuses on policy and participation in development. I developed this project with Robert Lowe, Urban Designer for the RPA.

To get started we sought submissions to demonstrate lessons learned and products created that link public participation and urban design on behalf of the New York Metro Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA) Urban Design Committee

Thirty Projects were submitted from planning and architectural firms, public agencies, university-based programs, community development corporations and civic associations in New York City, the Hudson Valley and Long Island. The program encouraged sharing of successes and frustrations over the last decade to the present. For more detail:

A Whitepaper and Comment section is here: (pdf) ENTER: Public Process Public Space
See San Antonio PowerPoint Presentation (pdf) San Antonio Workshop

The committee wanted to insure that a planning framework for discussion would differentiate how APA would view urban design from that of the AIA. In this era of a star-architecture culture and so-called signature-buildings the tendency to celebrate bold new urban design visions has a side effect. The haunting sense that additional forms of community input was missing, and without it a deeper understanding for the underlying political, economic, environmental, and/or technical concerns would not emerge. This lack of depth contributed to the failure of some high-profile projects in the New York Region, such as the building of a new Jets Stadium on the west side of Manhattan and the delay in rebuilding of the World Trade Center Site. Consequently, the committee sought a way to recognize urban design projects in the planning realm that were sensitive to these underlying planning concerns. In addition, the task force sought to distinguish New York metro urban design initiatives from a regional perspective.

Unlike most of the country, the New York metropolitan region is an area with a two hundred year physical development heritage. The redevelopment, renewal, and preservation of existing communities is the primary challenge, rather than the planning of new development projects on expansive green-fields. The literature currently describing nationally celebrated urban design projects have little relevance to the issues and concerns of communities within the New York Metro Area. The committee understood that the most exciting planning and urban design projects in the nation are taking place in the New York City-Westchester-Long Island metro area. This is a geographic area that captures an incredibly diverse range of urban and suburban landscapes. Nowhere is there as rich a tradition of civic involvement in community planning and design as here, nor as much creative professional talent. And yet, each community rarely understands what even their most proximate neighbors have accomplished, let alone the value that this work would have to a national audience.

The Public Place Public Process sought answers to questions about how well the planning and design community engages the community to build a “public spaceâ€. The Committee’s 2005 call for submissions garnered 23 submissions. In March 2006. a full day workshop at the Regional Plan Association’s (RPA) offices yielded unique insight into the impact of civic engagement practices on the products of planning and design. This paper reflects on these events at the close of 2006 with a summary of findings to date and an outline of plans for a workshop about launching the Committee’s next steps.

At the start of the April 2006 presentation of our findings at the APA conference we brought a quote from the legendary New York Yankee Baseball Manager and Urban Planner, Yogi Berra, “You got to be careful if you don’t know where your going, because you might not get there.” This is not only an amusing turn of phrase; it is a timely thought for New Yorkers. Our review, comment, criticism, and contribution to the growing list of major planning and construction events in New York City are daunting challenges. As a result, examining the quality of the public processes in defining the public space in all of its dimensions remains a significant interest of the APA Planning and Urban Design Committee. To date it continues to be a viable mechanism for defining the central question. Is it possible for us to acquire some assurances in the conduct of these events that we are building better communities.

Best Practices

Community revitalization, smart growth, legacy, brownfields

The committee settled on a process of soliciting best practice case studies from around the region. Metro APA and AIA mailing/ e-mail lists, as well as those of several other organizations were used for the outreach effort. The call for submissions stressed The APA is especially interested in projects that demonstrate a strong connection between a robust public process and a physical plan or design. These are projects where a specific design solution, as illustrated in plans, renderings and models, was arrived at through a public process and where design was used to communicate to the public the consequences of the goals and polices which the stakeholders adopted.

1. community revitalization
The community has a comprehensive strategy for revitalizing a neighborhood, or perhaps the commercial or cultural center of the neighborhood. The design studies may illustrate how new housing is designed to reinforce existing neighborhoods, how a commercial corridor is revitalized through a streetscape or façade restoration initiative, or how a new public space is landscaped and programmed.

2. brownfields or greyfield redevelopment
The community has reclaimed a strategic property that was abandoned or underutilized, perhaps a former industrial site. The design studies illustrate how environmental restoration is accomplished in the course of finding a new use for the property.

3. smart growth initiative
The community has found a way to capture development that would otherwise have sprawled out to some undeveloped area. The design studies illustrate how new context-appropriate development completes the existing neighborhoods or town centers, or how new development is oriented towards transit such as a subway or commuter rail station.

4. legacy project
The community has created a plan that celebrates the history or cultural heritage of the community. The design studies illustrate how historic buildings have been re-used or how new spaces are created around buildings, monuments or parks that have significance for the neighborhood.

While impressed by the quality of responses, we felt compelled to put the idea of ‘best’ aside to focus on practice. Our interest in the ongoing potential of this project held higher ground, so we began to mine the all of submissions for insights regarding the meaning of the term public process as it was described in each submission. Participants presented the interplay between public processes and design very differently. It was used as a tool to protect, defend and inform the public, as well as, a means to discover and affirm community values and culture.

For all of these thoughts we express our gratitude to the Peer Review Committee (organizations listed for affiliation only) Thank you.

Bruce Rosen, New York City Department of City Planning
Charlie Zucker, Consultant in Urban Design
Lance Brown, City College of New York, School of Architecture
Peg Seip, Consultant Community Planning and Development
Susan Meiklejohn, Hunter College Department of Urban Affairs and Planning
Tamara Greenfield, New York City Department of Parks
Terrence O’Neal, New York State Chapter of the American Institute of Architects
Tom Lunke, Harlem Community Development Corporation
Wayne Benjamin, Harlem Community Development Corporation

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