The City Council is considering adopting a zoning text amendment that would eliminate 110,000 square feet of “privately owned public space” (POPS) along 13 blocks of Water Street from Whitehall to Fulton Street by allowing developers to “infill” these “arcades” with retail stores.
Approval of the Amendment would shred a long-honored promise made by the developers to forever preserve this space for use by the public. The promise was made in exchange for “bonus air rights” that enabled the developers to extend their buildings many floors higher which increased the value of their properties by millions of dollars.
In recent months, the developers have waged a campaign to undo their promise. They have argued in the public forum and before our City institutions that the arcades are worthless, “outdated”, “unwelcoming”, “under–utilized”, “bleak”, used for “smoking” and the product of an earlier approach to design that is now disfavored.
Contrary to these claims, most of the threatened arcade and plaza spaces are in excellent condition and people living and working in the neighborhood would like to see them stay. Two towers in particular—77 and 200 Water Street, both developed by Melvyn Kaufman—were once celebrated as having some of the most creative, playful, and useful public spaces in the city.
One of the original architects of the arcades, Richard Roth Jr, a former principal of Emery Roth, has explained that he designed the arcades as a “very nice public convenience where people could take advantage of the covering in heat and inclement weather.”
The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) strongly believes these public spaces have great aesthetic, financial and practical value, and should remain public amenities. If the Amendment is approved, the door would be flung open for developers to make similar land grabs of similar spaces across New York City, all on the spurious claim that the spaces are somehow imperfect.
To ensure that everyone will have opportunity to consider the full value of these spaces, AN invites all members of the public to participate in a design charrette to recommend creative ways to use the arcades and adjacent plazas that surround the perimeter of 17 buildings along Water Street in the Financial District. The recommendations will be presented to the City Council in June 2016.
Strong Entries will take the following factors into account:
1.In recognition of the fact that the City allows kiosks, cafes and events in these spaces, as well as trees, plants, benches, water fountains and bike racks, the entry may include one or more of these uses, or may recommend additional uses.
2.The entry should be conceived as an integral part of single plan for the street.
3. The entry should consider creative and economic ways to keep the public arcade and plaza spaces open to the public 24 hours a day.
4. The entry should consider ways for these spaces to be active and vital, responding to the Department of City Planning’s declared mission of “enlivening” the Water Street corridor.
5. The entry should take either or both of the two following forms:
a) a design idea applicable for all the arcade spaces surrounding the 17 buildings or
b) a design for a particular singular arcade space (including an adjacent plaza fronting on the arcade).
The entry should include the following elements:
1.A brief half page introduction outlining your proposal and design objectives are required. This should be concise and addressed to the jury.
2. A site plan showing your design in its downtown Manhattan context and with a north arrow.
3. Up to 3 digital images of your design project and a plan that details the site. (Digital submissions can be represented through renderings, Cad Files, photos, digital, collage or drawings or any other medium that indicates JPAGS at 300 dpi.)
All architects, designers, landscape architects, urban designers and planners are encouraged to apply. The top three entries will be featured in a story in The Architect’s Newspaper. The design charrette will end at 12:00am (midnight) on June 12 and should be sent to the following address: wmenking[at]archpaper.com
William Menking, editor-in-chief, The Architects Newspaper
Signe Nielsen, principal, Mathews Nielsen
David Burney, Professor of Planning, Pratt Institute
Alice Blank, principal, Alice Blank, Architect
Olympia Kazi architecture critic
Articles about the Arcade controversy: