Note: This letter is in response to “43-Year Watch,” by John Morris Dixon, FAIA, published in the Spring 2010 issue of OCULUS.
To the Editor of Oculus:
My colleague John West, who was a Sr. Urban Designer in the Mayor’s Office of Lower Manhattan Development (OLMD), and I, who served as a Sr. Urban Designer in The Office of Midtown Planning and Development (OMPD) and later as Deputy Director of OLMD, were delighted to read John Morris Dixon’s article “43-Year Watch” in the Spring ’10 issue of Oculus.
After four decades the Urban Design Group (UDG) and the precedent it set for design and good government is overdue for such recognition. However, the article only covers half of the urban design commitment in the Lindsay years. The Paley Commission, referred to in Dixon’s article, actually went beyond just the formation of the UDG. In order to elevate the role of urban design politically, it also called for the establishment of an urban design presence within the mayor’s office. This recommendation was adopted and five offices were created. In Manhattan two offices were established: The Mayor’s Office of Midtown Planning and Development, led by Jaquelin T. Robertson, FAIA, and The Mayor’s Office of Lower Manhattan Development, under the leadership of Richard Weinstein. The other three were established in the CBD’s of Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.
The Midtown Office not only established special districts such as the Theater and Fifth Avenue Special Zoning Districts, it also greatly influenced the massing and relationship of new buildings to their urban context including Olympic Towers and 622 Fifth Avenue, along with many others.
In Lower Manhattan, OLMD, through the introduction of extraordinary zoning and financing, was responsible for the creation of the South Street Seaport. OLMD was also responsible for initiating the rezoning of Battery Park City that led to the highly successful Cooper Ekstut plan, and the rezoning of Tribeca legalizing residential use of the loft buildings.
The UDG and the five Development Offices did, indeed, make significant improvements to New York City, influenced other cities such as San Francisco and Chicago to follow suit, and were actually involved in the development of Form Based Zoning well before it even had a name.
Terrance R. Williams, FAIA
Professor of Architecture & Urban Design
The Catholic University of America
President , American Institute of Architects, 1984-85
John Pettit West III, AIA