Author Archives: City Atlas

What’s your big idea?


Find us at IDEAS CITY by the New Museum, Saturday from noon to six, and tell us what your big idea for the city is. Also, get a tattoo (of great things the city already has — examples from 2013) and a sticker (of one of the things we’d like to see) – as supplies last!

And you can tell us on Facebook or Twitter: #WHATSYOURBIGIDEA @CityAtlas

How many wind turbines would it take to power NYC?

Are electric garbage trucks quieter than diesel, cleaner, and more efficient?

Low carbon trans-Atlantic; zero carbon trans-Atlantic

MAS Summit 2014: four visits to New York’s big survey of ideas

MAS Summit 2014 at the TimesCenter, 41st Street and 8th Avenue (Photo: Chiara Zaccheo)

MAS Summit 2014 at the TimesCenter: more than 140 speakers joined over 1000 attendees in a two day forum on the future of NYC. Photo: Chiara Zaccheo

On October 23 and 24, the Municipal Art Society (MAS) held their fifth annual Summit for New York City. This year’s theme was ‘equity, place, and opportunity,’ and the conference comprised a brisk review of new ideas and commentary on how to make the city work for all its inhabitants. Four City Atlas writers attended; their comments and curated choice of the talks follow here:

Mallorie Thomas: can parking spaces transform into affordable housing?

Day One of the two day MAS summit featured panelists on a variety of topics; one of the things that makes New York City such a special place is the opportunity for professionals, public officials, cultural groups and individuals alike to collaborate on ideas for the future of our city.

As a case in point, the evening session of Day One at the Summit concluded with the Jane Jacobs Forum, Projects That Ignite. Jane Jacobs, a celebrated, self-taught urban expert, believed cities thrive when people can interact to produce a positive impact on their surroundings. The forum named for her showcased three unique urban interventions, all of which have the potential to positively transform the city.

One of the teams presenting, 9×18, showed a plan to transform NYCHA housing parking lots to mixed-income housing units. Current NYCHA parking — precious open space — would be efficiently replaced by multilevel garages elsewhere, and the lots would be converted to new housing.

Given Mayor de Blasio’s goal of installing 200,000 affordable housing units over the next decade, the project is a poignant and inventive approach to the housing crisis that plagues New York City. 9×18 describes their concept as a way to “rethink the role of parking as an agent of change in the current affordable housing discourse. [They] believe focusing on the citywide issue of parking could help shift affordable housing debates away from project-specific nimby-ism and toward a conversation about neighborhoods, lifestyle choices, mobility and social justice.” You can watch the team’s presentation below:

The 9×18 proposal was particularly interesting to me, because New York City’s urban planners, architects, politicians, communities, and urban activists are in broad agreement on making the city a resilient, equitable, and prosperous place for all residents. Yet to make that actually happen, everything needs to be on the table, and thinking needs to be flexible.

On Day Two, Carl Weisbrod’s talk, Building a City for New Yorkers: Affordable Housing and Economic Development described how a city still growing in population can work on developing neighborhoods with equity, place and opportunity; Weisbrod is director of the Department of City Planning, and he sketched how planners, in open dialogue with stakeholders, may be able to add density in order to provide housing, while increasing the efficiency of infrastructure in the process. The very next panel, 200,000 Units: Realizing the City’s Affordable Housing Plan continued the focus on the 25% increase in affordable housing units that are part of the de Blasio Administration’s plan. Clearly, the urgency of providing new housing is driving the conversation both among young designers and the Mayor’s Office.

William Wepsala: why do cities matter?

Cities across the world are growing so rapidly that vulnerable populations are marginalized before services and infrastructure have time to expand to accommodate their needs. Equity, part of this year’s theme at the Summit, is a particularly crucial subject, as panels investigate challenges relevant not only in New York, but to cities everywhere.

Cities can be equipped to meet the challenge of growth, even for the members of the community with the least. In a Day Two discussion titled, ‘Why do Cities Matter to the World?’ a group of experts and practitioners gave their views on the outlook. Benjamin Barber, author of “If Mayors Ruled the World”, highlighted how cities are able to act and solve issues in a way that regional and national governments can not.

Barber’s premise: as dense urban centers become home to a majority of people on Earth, they can change to meet the needs of their inhabitants, improving life for all. Barber thinks city government is inherently more responsive to citizens than government at the national level. To capitalize on that strength, he proposes a Global Parliament of Mayors, and cites the existing international organization United Cities and Local Governments as an inspiration for this idea.

Joining Dr. Barber on the panel was Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr., mayor of Charleston, South Carolina, and one of the longest serving mayors in the world. Mayor Riley talked about how he was able to address issues faced by his constituents on a level unknown to practitioners at the national level. He then talked about the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, which he co-founded to provide a forum for mayors to share best practices. Mayor Riley’s initiative shows how mayors working together and sharing knowledge can overcome national boundaries that can inhibit cooperation.

See the talk here:

While the challenges facing cities may be large, the MAS Summit reminded us that cities have the capacity to meet them. In a world where transnational cooperation often goes only as far as the interests of the parties involved, cities, with collective creative resources and many common interests, must now be key players in building global community.

Chiara Zaccheo: building on the waterfront of the city

Waterfront development in NYC is a hot issue. Traditionally, the East River waterfront in NYC has been viewed as the city’s edge rather than a central hub, but with parks and housing initiatives sprouting up, commercial development has found a new home. At the MAS Summit, one panel — Vishaan Chakrabarti, Helena Rose Durst, Dan Levy, Keith O’Connor, Michael Stern, and Andrew Winters — put the changes into perspective by coining the term “Central River,” showing the impact of new building in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens.

Development sites along the East River, aka "Central River", presented by Vishaan Chakrabarti, SHoP Architects (MAS Summit 2014)

The East River is central to much new development, which includes Cornell campus on Roosevelt Island. Image: V. Chakrabarti, SHoP Architects (MAS Summit 2014)

With more and more people populating this area of our city, architecture and urban design must commit itself to the knowns and unknowns of the post-Hurricane Sandy and climate change reality. In alliance with this resiliency effort, panelist Helena Rose Durst, President of The New York Water Taxi, stressed the importance of building and expanding a reliable ferry network. One concern that was brought up was that currently ferries drop New Yorkers at the edge of the city — the FDR. But with waterfront development, one panelist remarked, “you will now be at your destination when you get to the edge.”

Another issue that surfaced during this panel discussion was neighborhood density, and Mayor Bill De Blasio’s affordable housing plan, “Housing New York, A Five Borough, Ten-Year Plan.” This plan includes more than 100,000 housing units along the East River. With the increased gentrification in the area, the panelists agreed that diversity, quality of life, open air opportunities, and transportation were all issues that must be carefully considered and addressed throughout the planning process. More and more hubs are transforming New York City’s natural, political, and social landscape. Just as Brooklyn and Queens have shown us that Manhattan is not the only city hub, new neighborhoods are making taking their spot on the city’s center stage. How will this change affect our city? What advantages and disadvantages for the existing communities will transpire? Stay tuned.

Lydia Miller: sustainability and equity

MAS Summit 2014 was my first experience with this annual conference on pressing urban issues, and I was intrigued by the pace and organization of the talks. MAS was able to cover a broad range of pressing urban issues and keep viewers engaged by keeping panels brief and to the point.

I was particularly looking forward to Friday’s discussion about “Closing the Sustainability and Equity Gap: What Does it Mean to be Both a Green and a Just City?” with Toni L. Griffin and David Maddox. Griffin is the Director, J. Max Bond Center on Design for the Just City and a professor of architecture while Maddox is the Founder and Editor of The Nature of Cities, an essay and discussion site on cities as ecological spaces; and Principal and Chief Scientist of Sound Science LLC.

In their ten minute discussion about Sustainability and Equity, the speakers spoke to their their professional endeavors on the issues of green and just cities. This gave interesting anecdotes into what is being done on the topic right now. Maddox and Griffin pondered the justice of public access to green space, particularly the right to have access to open park land near your home. This issue is a difficult one and not necessarily at the forefront of the justice discussion in conversations marked by the visible challenges of housing shortages and building a climate resilient city. Land for new green space is inherently expensive and thus there is an inequality in access. This panel really sparked my interest; is it expected that a healthy and sustainable lifestyle is more available to the wealthy in our city?

The MAS Summit did a great job of showcasing experts on urban issues and their current projects, and I wish there had been more time for questions and dialogue amongst the speakers. There is much to dig into to on these vital topics; the talks framed new questions for us all to ponder.

How NYC gets cooler: NYC°CoolRoofs

In the second of our TEDxCity2.0 videos, from an event hosted by City Atlas and the sus­tain­able cof­fee bar COFFEEDDiahann Billings-Burford, New York City’s first Chief Service Officer, talks about launching NYC Service and the city-led volunteer initiative NYC°CoolRoofs.

NYC°CoolRoofs leads volunteers to combat heat from climate change by painting rooftops reflective white. Over 5100 volunteers have worked with NYC°CoolRoofs in four years, painting over five million square feet of rooftop across the city. The powerful benefits from this simple idea include blunting the ‘urban heat island effect’ and reducing the city’s energy demand during stretches of hot weather. Impact volunteerism, like CoolRoofs, is a method that can spread; it provides an opportunity for public education and participation, and gives people a way to take direct action on this critical issue for New York City and other cities around the world.


TEDxLongIslandCity: Brooklyn Grange and City Growers

The TEDx evening started with a visit to the farm. (Photo: Jennifer Davis)

The TEDx evening downstairs started with a visit to the farm upstairs. (Photo: Jennifer Davis)

As part of the TEDxCity2.0 events around the world, City Atlas and the sustainable coffee bar COFFEED held an evening of talks in Long Island City, where COFFEED shares the same renovated industrial building as the rooftop farm enterprise Brooklyn Grange.

In the first of our videos, Anastasia Cole Plakias of Brooklyn Grange and Cara Chard of educational partner City Growers talk about building and running a rooftop farm and how it can give urban kids hands-on learning about agriculture and nature.

Coming next in our City Atlas TEDx talks: NYC Chief Service Officer Diahann Billings-Burford talks about NYC Service and NYC°CoolRoofs, and Eric Sanderson introduces his new project Mannahatta 2409. See behind the scenes here:



How to move forward, one year after Sandy


This Sunday the 28th and Monday the 29th, Occupy Sandy and a number of other organizations join together to remember a year of post-Sandy New York, to celebrate what has not been lost, and to demand a just rebuilding of the five boroughs’ neighborhoods and communities.

Sandy hit New York last October 29, 2012 and in many ways our city and citizens are still reeling from the impacts the storm waters and winds themselves caused, and the existing, deep inequalities they revealed.

Events include a march to City Hall organized by Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, Sustainable South Bronx, Coalition for the Homeless, the Sierra Club,, Occupy Sandy, Red Hook Initiative, Legal Aid Society, and many more; a day of music and healing with Coney Island Gospel Assembly, conferences; a writing workshop; Rebuild by Design receptions at NYU and in New Jersey; the unveiling of a memorial plaque in Staten Island for those lost in the storm; and the release of a book of photographs on the storm and its impacts.

Turn The Tide on Sandy Rebuilding

Events and actions are free and all are welcome.

More information here. 


MAS: now is the time for a new Penn Station

Diller Scofidio and Renfro's concept for a new Penn Station (image: DSR)

Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s concept for a new Penn Station (Image: DS+R)

The Municipal Art Society is campaigning hard for a new Penn Station — which would restore the second great train station of New York City to the grandeur it once had before the original building was demolished in 1963. The loss of the elegant glass roofed original was so painful to New Yorkers and to lovers of architecture that it resulted in strengthening New York’s landmark laws. The utilitarian replacement station, under Madison Square Garden, is still the busiest in the country, yet inspired these lines from architectural historian Vincent Scully:

“One entered the city like a god. One scuttles in now like a rat.”

According to the MAS, the City Council is holding a hearing on Wednesday, June 19, at which the public can express support; written support will be accepted till the council vote on July 10th. For more information about the campaign for a new Penn Station, see the MAS site. And watch the video below:



Museums for free, every day of the week

Romance Under the Stars, 2/14/2012, Education

Say you have two hours between classes on Thursday afternoons, an hour and a half to kill between your first job and your second job, or some time between your first evening plan and late-night engagement on a Friday evening. You don’t want to go back home, and don’t want to pay for a drink to sit in a coffee spot or a bar. Maybe, like today, it’s going to rain, so sitting in the park is out. What to do?

A list of museums you can visit for free, or pay-as-you-wish, can be found here. Or if you prefer calendar format, here.

A few that are not to be missed: the Studio Museum of Harlem, free every Sunday, the Museum of Chinese in New York, which is free every Thursday, The Jewish Museum, free every Saturday, and the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, Queens, which is pay-as-you-wish every Friday.


Several of the city’s excellent museums are free or nearly free, always. The National Museum of the American Indian–New York, for example, is open every day but December 25 at no charge. And in case you ever forget, two of the largest and oldest of New York’s cultural institutions, the Met and the Museum of Natural History, are always worth a visit, and always pay-what-you-wish.

Images: American Museum of Natural History, Noguchi Museum 





Whose park? Our park.


There are about 1,700 parks, playgrounds, and recreation facilities across the five boroughs. Do you have a park among these that’s “yours?”

The sunshine is pouring in today, so now is a great time to enjoy the outdoors and plan a way to engage in, feel a part of, and give back to your neighborhood’s grassy spaces. We’ll be keeping you updated on free concerts and events in the parks as the summer comes, too.

Starting this coming weekend, Partnerships for Parks is collaborating with hundreds of neighborhood groups to organize and celebrate “It’s My Park Day” across the five boroughs.
Check this listing to find the date that you can join neighbors in cleanup and celebration.

For pre-celebration of It’s My Park Day, we hope you get to take your lunch outside this Monday afternoon. If you make it as far as your local park, we salute you.

Rising Currents


Rising Currents was a 2010 exhibit at MoMA featuring re-designs of New York City’s waterfront, as a way to showcase ideas for resilient, adaptive protection from rising sea levels.

Among the many activities and investigations tied to the exhibit, the museum participated in boat tours of the harbor, allowing visitors to see locations for proposed  protective infrastructure first hand.

One of the presentation videos is shown below:

Mannahatta 2409: a work in progress

Eric Sanderson, ecologist and creator of Mannahatta 1609 and the Welikia Project, is now leading a team to create a new version of Mannahatta: an interactive tool that will let visitors experiment with the design of the city of the future. On the following video, prepared by for the Rockefeller Foundation, you can see the development of Mannahatta 2409 taking shape.



As described on the website for the project:

“Mannahatta 2409 will be a map-based web application meant to inspire, inform, and generate new ideas about sustainable urban forms from the many diverse people who love New York City, Manhattan in particular. We want to engage everyone, from city officials to schoolchildren, in the search for ecologically informed sustainability, as measured by ecological performance indicators related to of carbon, water, biodiversity, and population.”

The project is planned to launch in the Spring of 2013. Progress can be followed on:

Mannahatta 2409 is a project of Dr. Eric Sanderson and the Wildlife Conservation Society in partnership with the City of New York Office of City PlanningTerrapin Bright Green, and Human Nature Projects, and is a recipient of a 2011 Rockefeller Foundation Cultural Innovation Fund award.


New Congestion Charge in Milan

Following in London and Stockholm’s footsteps, Milan has recently introduced a new congestion charge in an effort to reduce traffic – and the initial results are positive. In just the first week after its implementation, incoming traffic decreased by 37%, as did black carbon and other particulates along with it. The new congestion charge is for “Area C” – the new limited traffic zone in the center of the city.

Several other cities around the world are planning to do the same – what about New York?

Read more on TreeHugger or

New York by the Numbers; EPA Provides Searchable Map of CO2

The CO2 guide to NYC; not likely to be first resource a tourist asks for, but contains fascinating data, given our changing planet…as the city passes through a January in the 40’s and 50’s. The EPA has created an interactive national map of emissions sources, selectable by category and searchable by region (press release). The map is generated by the EPA’s database of “large facilities and suppliers” that are part of the EPA Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program. The project offers the public a new level of transparency for the location of large emissions sources, and gives businesses an incentive to improve relative to their peers.

Exploring the map, it’s hard to tell from clicking on an icon how efficient a facility may be when compared to whatever may have preceded it. NYU’s generating plant (selected on the image above) is a big emitter for Manhattan, but is also a success story of improved technology. NYU now gets 13.4 megawatts locally from a modern natural gas generating plant which is comparatively efficient.

Of course, CO2 (and other warming gases) emitted in the city are just a small fraction of the city’s total carbon footprint. Most electricity used in New York is generated outside the city, and New York depends on agriculture and manufacturing that produce emissions measured elsewhere. But to see the carbon activity of the city in detail is a good start to a more comprehensive profile of how the world works, and how our economic production may change in the years ahead. And having the data mapped resonates with other recent projects, where New York is defined by vulnerability to the sea, and by opportunities for solar.


Mulchfest: Christmas trees recycle too

Building on the success of last year’s Christmas tree recycling event, at which almost 17,000 trees were turned into useful chips, this year Mulchfest will be held across the city’s parks and will allow you to drop off your tree at one of 70 locations. The chips produced are used by gardeners, on park paths, and as a layer of protection for the roots of New York’s street trees. Saturday and Sunday, January 7 and 8th; tree drop offs can begin on January 2. For locations:

[photo: Sam Brand]

Weekend Videos : Essex St Trolley Terminal & Return to the City

Check out the Essex St Trolley Terminal which has been closed off for 60 years. This is the space that has recently been proposed for a “Low Line” underground park. Return to the City is an awesome use of re-imagined time-lapse photography, in general it’s just beautiful and makes me happy to live in a vibrant city.

Video: Inside the Essex St. trolley terminal :: Second Ave. SagasA few months ago, as Jay Walder’s tenure at the MTA came to an end, word leaked out of an ambitious plan to turn some idle underground infrastructure owned by the MTA into a park. Called “Delancey Underground,” the plan involved bringing sunlight from above through fiber optic cables to create a park in the […]

via Vimeo by Woob


Chic Scaffolding, Water Infrastructure, and Urban Farms

Chic scaffolding makes its debut in front of 100 Broadway this December. Aging infrastructure may lead to increasing water prices, and funding for urban farms will help keep our waterways clean.

Coming Soon to the Sidewalks: A New Look for ScaffoldingBuilt from steel pipes and used plywood, they snake their way a million feet (or 190 miles) along New York's sidewalks and have long been considered egregious eyesores. "They're really ugly," said Robert LiMandri, the city's buildings commissioner, "but they're a necessarily evil for construction."

Why Your Water Bill Must Go UpChicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel launched a $4.1 billion initiative to replace his city's dilapidated water infrastructure last month, spinning it as a plan to create 18,000 jobs over the next decade. The rub is that by 2015, most Chicagoans would pay more than double their current water usage fees.

Breaking New GroundNevin Cohen teaches sustainable food systems, environmental policy and urban planning at the New School, and focuses on the evolution of municipal food policy. Kubi Ackerman is a research coordinator at the Urban Design Lab at the Earth Institute at Columbia University; he focuses on food systems and urbanization projects.



De-crowding the L, NYC 3rd Most Artistic City, Pilot Study Uses Mussels to Naturally Clean Bronx River

MTA reports that L trains should be less crowded after additional weekend trains are added, and a new signaling system should be finished early next year. A new scale looking at the number of artists relative to population, called the “location quotient” ranks NYC as #3 for most artistic city.  A new pilot project will evaluate the potential for mussel aquaculture to increase biological filtration in the Bronx River.

Soon, L Will Mean Less Crowded, Subway Officials SayWant to find a seat on the L train? Head to the back three cars. Avoid peak hours entirely. And if it's between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on a Saturday, forget it. Hipster haven, mobile supper club, amateur burlesque: the L train is many things to many people.

The Most Artistic Cities in AmericaArt Basel Miami Beach kicks into full gear this week, bringing nearly half a million people from across the globe to greater Miami. Art and design have played big roles in Miami's revitalization, from South Beach's restored Art Deco treasures to the more recent redevelopment of the Design District and the Wynwood Arts District, homes to galleries, private museum collections, bars and restaurants.

via Noaa

Happy Turkey Day

All of us at the City Atlas want to thank you for your support and interest in our work. We look forward to bringing you more on what New Yorkers are doing to work towards a sustainable future. For now, here is a little tidbit on saving money for a green Thanksgiving. My favorite is #7, reusable glass jars are great for food storage, they look awesome, and are way cheaper than Pyrex.

Less is more.: 10 Money-Saving Green Thanksgiving Tips – US News & World ReportFamilies across America waste nearly 25% of all food prepared on Thanksgiving. But just because our country's Norman Rockwell vision of Thanksgiving involves turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and green beans, it doesn't mean you're obligated to make any of those dishes-especially if they've gone uneaten before.

via Usnews

After Intense Weather, MTA Preps for Climate Change at a Cost

“On the Sunday after Tropical Storm Irene blasted through the five boroughs of New York City, the city exhaled. Huge swaths of Manhattan hadn’t flooded, high winds hadn’t caused widespread damage…” And the subway was shut down in case of flooding, which fortunately never happened. But if it did flood, how long would it take to get the trains running again? Check out this Transportation Nation/WNYC report — which includes an interview with City Atlas advisor Projjal Dutta of the MTA — for the answer.