Thursday, July 26, 2012

NYC DEP Enhanced Tree Pits

New York City under Mayor Bloomberg has been making huge strides to improve the built and natural environment of the city. While other cities may be making bigger dents faster where it pertains to managing storm-water runoff, perhaps  in no other city is the problem  quite as big. The problem are Combined Sewer Overflows. In storm events the massive amounts of rainwater collected combine with the cities sewer pipes and are discharged into the surrounding waterways: The Hudson, East River, Harlem River and Jamaica Bay just to name a few. This all leads to high levels of polluting toxins and at times raw sewage being discharged into these waters. Think about that next time you're swimming out at Coney Island!

A couple weeks ago while riding on Carroll Street in Brooklyn I came across a new New York City Department of Environmental Protection Enhanced Bioswale Tree Pit. Then just the other morning I rode by and noticed that it had been completed!

As you can see this design is specific to intersections which provides the added benefit of shortening the pedestrian street crossing distance (more on that in an image to follow). Note the concrete baffles of this bio-swale which are intended to really slow the water down even further.

The entry point.

While not a bio-swale, this is a great example of DOT's new curb cuts which shorten the pedestrian street crossing distance at Atlantic Avenue and Hoyt Street. Interventions like these are being implemented throughout the five boroughs as a means of increasing pedestrian safety. These could also be a great opportunity for an enhanced tree pit bio-swale. All of the water which currently rockets into that catch basin could be slowed and filtered.

This bio-swale is located on Dean Street at 4th Avenue. This example is also at a street end (there are several other identical bio-swales along the mid-block portion of this section of Dean Street) though it does not extend out into the street to either capture water or provide additional pedestrian safety. In this design the water enters at the curb cut in the foreground of the above image and exits at the curb cut nearest the intersection.

The entry, again - also same as the exit.

Name tag with non-clickable url. You can read more about this design here.

As I was photographing the bio-swale on Carroll Street an gentleman in a car slowly rolled by with his window rolled down and arm sticking out of it gesturing towards the plantings. He exclaimed for me to hear (in a classic New York accent): Stoopid shit! It's really just people resisting the unfamiliar (phrase credit). When you consider the waterway that was just one block away, the famous Gowanus Canal and it's incredibly polluted waters, the irony of what he said is really like, stoopid. 

This is the Gowanus Canal and an outflow at the Carroll Street Bridge, just one block from the bio-swales. The big picture, is that little by little, with every bio-swale installed, we lessen the amount of pollution being discharge from this outflow. 
I really hope to follow up on this post with some images taken during a rain storm to see how these interventions perform precisely when they're intended to.

Monday, July 16, 2012

9/11 Memorial

On July 4th I had the opportunity to finally go check out the 9/11 Memorial designed by Peter Walker and Michael Arad. I had heard plenty about the fountains but did not know much about the plaza before going.

To gain access to the memorial you must first go online to reserve a time slot (and make a donation) weeks in advance - probably contributes to why I'd not yet visited. The time slot issue means that there are plenty of people that end up loitering outside the entrance waiting their turn. But unlike the dentist's office there are no cushy seats nor Good Housekeeping Magazines - just as well without the latter, people watching is far more entertaining - although a few simple park benches wouldn't have been a terrible idea.

Later in the circuitous entering process I found the benches, on the other side of the stanchions, to bad this is beyond the point where anyone is ever actually, spending time.

As I said, the entering process is quite circuitous. Also, pro-tip: they have airport level security, I was lucky that a security supervisor let me pass through with my pocket-knife.

Finally made it to the fountains. In a word: incredible.

There were no plants in the beds, just the starts of some ivy and tons of mulch. I was told after that last fall the beds were planter with Liriope, but they were immediately trampled by foot traffic. We shall see, but I wouldn't expect a result any different with ivy. These plant choices are nice choices given the design mood for this memorial, though they are not right for the crowds which will always be using the space. Taller and more robust flowering perennials. Also in my opinion the memorial space wouldn't hurt to have some color and hope as every other material is very muted: green, grey, black and bronze.

I was shocked by the modernist brutality of the plaza space (and I don't particularly hate modernism). Sharp and square monolithic benches in the baking sun. One might argue that when at maturity the trees will provide shade for the benches, though honestly I'm skeptical that they will. 

Could probably fry an egg, or your butt.

And what would a visit to a high profile public space be without some good old American over-policing. No ma'am, you cannot stand on this uncomfortable bench - which admittedly is good for nothing more than standing - to take a photograph.

While the fountains were truly an amazing spectacle (I particularly loved the 'bottomless pit' attribute) the landscaped plaza was anything but amazing. Although it should be said that when you call upon a corporate plaza landscape architect to design a space you should not be surprised to get anything less in the end. It will be interesting to see how the space evolves as the rest of the site is completed. Eventually the plaza's identity will become less about the temporal visitor and much more about fulfilling the everyday needs of those who live and work in Lower Manhattan. Whether this design is successful at each is yet to be determined.