Design Excellence in Newark Overshadows NYC

Event: Designs for Living: Public Architecture and Design Excellence
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.10.08
Speakers: David J. Burney, FAIA — Commissioner, NYC Department of Design and Construction; Charles McKinney, ASLA — Chief of Design, NYC Department of Parks and Recreation; Toni L. Griffin — Director of Planning, Newark, NJ
Moderator: Matthew Schuerman — Reporter, WNYC
Organizers: AIANY; New York New Visions
Sponsors: Champion: Studio Daniel Libeskind; Supporters: Gensler; HumanScale; James McCullar & Associates; Friends: Benjamin Moore & Co.; Costas Kondylis & Partners; Forest City Ratner Companies; Frank Williams & Associates; Hugo S. Subotovsky Architects; Ingram Yuzek Gainen Carroll & Bertolotti; Mancini Duffy; Magnusson Architecture and Planning; Rawlings Architects; Ricci Greene Associates; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Syska & Hennessy; Trespa North America; Universal Contracting

Newark, NJ.

Courtesy Google Earth

It turns out NYC might just have reason to envy Newark, NJ. “They’ve just got so much open space to work with,” gushed NYC Department of Parks and Recreation’s Charles McKinney, reflecting on the sweeping plans for new housing and recreational projects presented by Newark Director of Planning Toni Griffin. With a much-depleted urban core and a newly energized city government under Mayor Cory Booker, Griffin is looking to draw on Newark’s present advantages — a thriving seaport and proximity to NYC — in remaking the face of the city. And she already has ambitious proposals coming from the likes of Richard Meier, FAIA, to help her do it.

Not to say that NYC isn’t making great strides of its own. David Burney, FAIA, of the NYC Department of Design and Construction (DDC) pointed to recent and upcoming projects that demonstrate the benefits already accruing from the city’s Design and Construction Excellence Initiative, established by Mayor Bloomberg in 2004. Queens’ Glen Oaks Library designed by Marble Fairbanks, Caples Jefferson Architects’ Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, and Bronx Rescue Company 3’s new headquarters by Polshek Partnership are just a few of the city’s new civic buildings adhering to higher design and environmental standards (all buildings approved by the DDC must now be LEED-Silver certified). Nevertheless, Burney was frank about the difficulties of balancing cost, quality, and schedule.

McKinney reviewed a number of already well-publicized schemes for the expansion and enhancement of city parks, including the Parks Department’s goal of planting one million trees citywide and the resurfacing of asphalt play areas with softer, more foot-friendly synthetics. He also described at length the crown jewels of the Parks Department’s current capital improvement plan: eight vast regional parks, at least one per borough, undergoing extensive rehabilitation. Two projects in the earliest phases of research and planning are the 160-acre Fort Washington Park in Upper Manhattan, and Soundview Park in the Bronx.

But Newark stole the show. With so much on the boards — a projected waterfront park on the Passaic River and new residential infill that breaks the boxy, car-centered mold of recent area housing — many in the audience wanted to know how architects could get involved. Griffin demurred, referring inquiries to the office of Newark’s Chief Architect, while insisting that her proposals were still in the early planning stages.