Midtown Missionaries

Midtown Missionaries

Made in Midtown project fellows (clockwise from top left): Jordan Alport, Interboro Partners, Sarah Williams, and Tom Vanderbilt. (Courtesy Design Trust)

The Design Trust for Public Space, in partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), has announced four fellows for Made in Midtown, a land use and zoning study of Manhattan’s Garment District. Filmmaker Jordan Alport, urban design group Interboro, writer Tom Vanderbilt, and urban planner Sarah Williams will work together to illustrate the connections between fashion industry businesses and the spaces they occupy.

“New York is known as the fashion capital of the world in a very specific way,” said Deborah Marton, the Design Trust’s executive director. “The network of things that allows people to be innovative isn’t very evident, though.”

To help highlight that network, the four fellows will film interviews with a variety of neighborhood stakeholders, including designers, garment workers, landlords, and suppliers. Their stories will be combined with research that shows how fashion industry businesses are tied to one another and to the district itself.

Each fellow brings a different perspective to the project. Alport comes with experience producing story-based visual media with his firm alport.tv. Interboro, founded in 2002 by graduates of the Harvard Graduate School of Design—Daniel D’Oca, Georgeen Theodore, and Tobias Armborst—engage the complexity of the city through writing, teaching, and professional practice. Architecture and design writer Vanderbilt is well-known for his most recent book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What It Says About Us). And Sarah Williams teaches at Columbia University’s GSAPP, co-directing the university’s Spatial Information Design Lab.

Currently, the city is considering zoning changes for the area, something that the collaborators will keep in mind during their study. By shrinking the Special Garment District Center, garment manufacturers would have the opportunity to consolidate into one building. That plan is seen as a boon for efficiency, but raises concerns about ghettoizing those same employees and stifling creativity.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to slow the dwindling of the fashion industry and encourage entrepreneurs to relocate to New York, the New York City Economic Development Corporation is already funding the creation of an incubator for young fashion designers in the district.

There is little sense, however, of a cohesive plan. “The city has various ideas for the area, but nothing that presents a clear picture of exactly what’s here now,” said Marton.

The Design Trust team is pursuing an aggressive timeline, aiming to publish their findings on an interactive website as early as the end of March. The website, along with an accompanying publication, will guide policies for light manufacturing industries not only in the Garment District but citywide.