Planning the ‘Port: A Public Conversation on Development at the South Street Seaport

Hundreds of passionate community members gathered at the Spruce Street School on 11.10.14 for a public forum on the future of the South Street Seaport. Co-sponsored by Save Our Seaport, the City Club of New York, and the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, the event was an opportunity for the public to hear from the Seaport Working Group (SWG), a committee of elected officials, nonprofits, local residents, and representatives of the Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC) tasked with creating a series of development guidelines and principles for the South Street Seaport Historic District. In addition, attendees had the opportunity to ask questions and comment, view the short film South Street Seaport: Voices for a New Future, and hear a panel of distinguished experts and stakeholders discuss the challenges and opportunities associated with developing the Seaport.

The South Street Seaport Historic District has been an active marketplace and harbor since 1642. The Save Our Seaport Coalition formed out of fear that recent development proposals by HHC for Pier 17 threaten the civic and historic qualities of the area. After months of dialogue, public comment, and compromise, the SWG members largely feel that given the rapid and constant change in surrounding neighborhoods, the area is ripe for development. However, the development must be appropriate and contextual, and the planning process must include community participation.

At the forum, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, a member of the SWG, said that future development on this site should include open space and affordable housing. He was enthusiastic about encouraging community members to participate in this process, and ensured that the Comptroller’s office would take part in overseeing spending.

In her statement, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, co-founder of the SWG, emphasized the need to “pause and plan,” and compared the original proposal for the site to “building a tower in the center of Colonial Williamsburg.” She said that the SWG is convinced that development at the intended scale is not appropriate for the site in question, but the group is in favor of increased density in the surrounding area.

New York State Senator Daniel Squadron, who represents the district, said that the SWG has discussed ways of developing this site correctly. He encouraged the attendees to not to give up on this process and to continue to share their opinions with their elected officials and policy makers.

New York City Council Member Margaret Chin, who represents the district in the City Council and also helped form the SWG, said that the group is taking a step back and looking at the Seaport as a whole. There is no rush to begin construction on the site, so she wants the group to take its time and create a plan that is contextual and visionary, but also includes repairs to the ships and restoration work to the Seaport Museum.

The forum was a powerful display of civic involvement. The South Street Seaport is a unique place in the landscape of NYC, and both community members and public officials are determined to find a solution that adequately serves the needs of the community and architecturally satisfies the historic waterfront context.

Pulse Points

  • On 10.30.14, Jerry Maltz, AIA, co-chair of the AIANY Design for Aging Committee, gave testimony before the New York City Council Committee on Aging at an oversight hearing on Age-Friendly Districts. AIANY supports the Council’s effort to create more Age-Friendly Districts throughout NYC, and looks forward to being involved in the planning and execution processes. Gale Brewer and the New York Academy of Medicine, which partnered with the Council to roll out the first wave of Aging Improvement Districts, also testified. Read AIANY’s testimony here.
  • On 10.31.14, the de Blasio Administration’s School Space Working Group unveiled recommendations to address space needs in city schools. The administration is seeking to create a school space policy that is a fairer and more transparent set of space guidelines for schools. Between April and August, the working group heard from parents, principals, and advocates to inform the set of recommendations. Read the recommendations here.
  • On 11.03.14, Jeffrey Dugan, AIA, co-chair of the AIANY Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, testified at an oversight hearing on assessing the economic impact of New York’s failing infrastructure before the New York City Council Committees on Transportation and Economic Development. The MTA and DOT also testified. Read AIANY’s testimony here.
  • On 11.10.14, Fulton Center opened to its first wave of commuters. AIANY Executive Director Rick Bell, FAIA, said, “It represents how architecture and design can improve our daily lives in significant ways – including how we move around a revitalized Lower Manhattan. The building is a symbol of post-9/11 resurgence and resilience, and the AIA New York Chapter was proud to have conducted three peer reviews during the design process.”
  • NYC Department of Environmental Protection announced on 11.10.14 that it would expand NYC’s nationally recognized green infrastructure pilot program. Construction is underway to build approximately 2,000 curbside gardens that will collect and absorb stormwater during heavy rains. The gardens will beautify neighborhoods, clean the air, and improve the health of the Bronx River, Flushing Bay, Gowanus Canal, Jamaica Bay, and Newtown Creek. Read the press release here.
  • On 11.20.14, representatives from the NYC Department of City Planning and a panel of policy experts will discuss what building owners can do to protect their buildings from flood risk within the context of local and federal regulations for urban buildings. Retrofitting Urban Buildings for Flood Risk will build on the 10.29.14 program that detailed the Retrofitting Buildings for Flood Risk report by NYC Department of City Planning, released on 10.08.14.