Message - Re: WTC, Basic Planning Issues

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Posted by  Paul Malo on September 17, 2002 at 06:26:49:

In Reply to:  Re: WTC memorial posted by Issi on September 16, 2002 at 20:15:46:

Good to hear from you again, Issi.

A basic, unresolved question is whether the entire 16-acre site should remain a single parcel, to be developed as a whole, or whether the pattern of original streets should be restored, at least in part.

There is a sort of widespread, conventional wisdom these days that the notion of removing streets to create pedestrain sectors was unwise. In the city where I live streets have recently been reintroduced into a pedestrian quarter.

Why? The pedestrian enclave didn't work. Properties were vacant, and pedestrians didn't go there. Given your beneign climate, Issi, you may not readily visualize what ours is like in January, when people don't enjoy strolling down pedestrian steets through wind-blown snow.

More importantly, there weren't sufficient users to "activate" (as we say) the place. Designers frequently make this mistake. If there is too much empty space, the few users will be uncomfortable, so a cycle of disuse increases. We've learned that even passing automotive traffic provides activity and a sense of vitality often missing in lovely pedestrian enclaves. Of course, for the merchant, exposure is everything. The more passers-by, the better the business.

So there is a general sense these days that getting rid of cars is not so self-evidently a goal as we used to think. There is also a sort of nostalgia for pre-planned, ad hoc urban environments, which seem "authentic." Thus we saw as an initial WTC proposal, one of the first from the design community, the breaking up the super block with restoration of the original streets at the WTC site.

I have seen designs developed from this premise. In order to yield the density desired by the authorities, a cluster of spindly towers on small sites results. These are, of course, inefficient in terms of ratio of core and perimeter to useable area, hence are relatively costly. The benefit seems questionable formally, as there is little hierarchical organization, similar buildings being replicated as determined by the accident of the street grid. And there is a certain phony quality to designing the ad hoc, undesigned city.

I can't speak to the vehicular circulation aspect of returning streets to the site, but merely observe the obvious--that this pattern of many narrow streets with many intersections requiring stop lights certainly has slowed traffic in Manhattan to a virtual standstill in many places and rush hours.

The opposing argument observes that a huge site of 16 acres ought not be thrown away so readily. To assemble such a large single parcel in Manhattan is almost impossible today except in marginal locations. Having this vacant land presents an exceptional potential for exploration of alternate urban forms. Simply to regress to traditional patterns seems lamely inept.

I don't see the choice as between vehicular streets on the site or an entirely pedestrian sector. I think automobiles and people can occupy the same environment. The real issue is whether the development (in terms of investment planning) should proceed as a whole, or be parceled out on many discrete sites as separate projects, pursued by different developers. That seems to be a major planning issue at the moment.

I (naturally) favor design of the whole area as a single, integrated project, but I would not preclude allowing vehicular traffic through the site. One can build over streets, of course.

As usual, the key design factors are in the initial problem definition. We have seen hundreds of proposed WTC solutions to a problem that has not been defined. The most visionary factor will be in defining the program (or "brief," as you may call it). We have little reason to be sanguine that the authorites will have much vision in this regard, as evidenced from their performance so far.

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