Eastern Parkway / East New York Avenue

This presentation presents the conceptual design ideas for the Eastern Parkway / East New York Avenue strip at the east side of Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
One of the important influences on my design choices is the part of the Eastern Parkway that was designed by Olmsted & Vaux more than a century ago. They wanted to create a parkway system that would connect parks throughout the city. But in Brooklyn, only 2 of those parkways were actually built: Ocean Parkway and Eastern Parkway, resembling the grand boulevards in Paris.        
The Eastern Parkway design from Olmsted & Vaux runs from Prospect park in the East of Crown Heights until Ralph Avenue. The parkway consists out of three roadways: the wide roadway in the middle is flanked by two wide malls that separates the middle roadway from two narrow roadways, carrying one lane of local traffic and two lanes of parking. Along the parkways, six rows of trees form borders between the pedestrian walkways, bike paths and housing units from traffic. The Eastern Parkway is a desirable residential area, due to the buffer of trees between traffic and housing.
An extension of this parkway runs through the site I'm working on. But from Ralph Avenue on, the extension of the Eastern Parkway is nothing like the green infrastructure Olmsted & Vauw designed. The road has 2 traffic lanes in each direction, and a parking lane on each side, and a limited amount of trees is the only greenery provided.
My objective for this part of the parkway is to transform it into a contemporary, which means that it addresses some of ecological issues: a green environment with less impervious surfaces and a water collection system to lower storm water volumes, a water treatment system to lower pollution in local waterways due to surface runoff water, and local healthy food production.
When taking a closer look at the site, we see that 2 grids with a different orientation come together at the East New York Avenue. Right next to it, the Eastern Parkway crosses the grid parallel with the East New York Avenue. A lot of streets are coming together on this strip, because of that a lot of the blocks have an irregular shape.    
All these streets crossing at different angles, have resulted in  irregular shaped blocks and triangular shaped residual spaces that are often vacant or used for parking.
All these vacant lands together hold a lot of potential, and maybe they can be use more efficiently.
That's why I started looking at the traffic circulation to see whether or not all of these streets cutting through this strip are necessary. The 2 parallel streets Eastern Parkway and East New York Avenue are most important for the circulation. And in the Crown Heights grid, the streets running from North to South are more important than the ones going from East to West. That's how I came to a new traffic circulation. The Eastern Parkway and the East New York Avenue are now both one way traffic streets, so they can work together with the North-south connections in between.
This new traffic circulation opens up a lot of space and creates a couple of new possibilities:       
On Eastern parkway and East New York Avenue, the reduction from 4 to 2 traffic lanes creates space for green pedestrian walkways and bike paths at both streets. Along these streets rows of trees can create a buffer between the traffic and the housing units. The east-west streets are now no longer accessible for cars, so they can be transformed into strips for urban agriculture. Instead of small scale community gardens on vacant lots here and there, this system of healthy food production will be on a scale for the neighborhood. Local food production will secure healthy food supplies, lower food transport into the city, and create a strong community. The vacant residual spaces can be turned into small parklands or recreational areas for the residents.          
When taking a look at the built environment, it is clear that Pitkin Avenue is a very commercial street. There is no need to add any kind commercial activity to the site. On my site the residential land use is most prominent, so I would like to enhance that by filling in the vacant lots with housing units. That way the whole strip becomes a green and productive environment to live in.
The topography shows that all surface runoff water coming from the northern part of Crown Heights runs to the site. All this runoff water can be collected at the Eastern Parkway, treated and then used to irrigate the strips where the urban agriculture takes place.
All these concepts will be worked out on a smaller scale, at the junction of the Eastern Parkway, East New York Avenue, and Park Place.


Design Proposal

The area around the extension of the Eastern Parkway and parallel with it East-New York Avenue is very interesting to me. At this particular place in Crown Heights, the Eastern Parkway crosses the existing grid, and the grid changes direction at the East-New York Avenue. Because of this, there are a lot of streets, and all kinds of irregular shaped blocks, which make it a very interesting place. The numerous vacant lots (2nd image, in brown) and poorly used parking spaces (purple) make this a site with a lot of potential.
The extension of the Eastern Parkway, west from Ralph Avenue, is not at all the kind of Parkway Olmsted & Vaux had in mind more than a century ago. It lacks greens space, proper malls for pedestrians and cyclists and has only 4 car lanes. One of the conclusions from my case-study on parkways was that new grand, green infrastructures, such as the Eastern Parkway, aren't possible in the middle of the dense neighborhood Crown Heights is today.
That is why I propose to redesign this parkway extension through small interventions on the vacant lands and the small residual spaces on the irregular blocks along the parkway. These design of these spaces is supposed to take in account the needs of the neighborhood. When designing the streetscape, they should be envisioned together with public functions nearby, so that these redesigned spaces will actually be used.
Because this site has a lot of streets, it would be easy to close off one for events that will improve the neighborhood. For example a farmers market, an art festival, a street BBQ,...
My intention is to make a vision for the extension of the Eastern Parkway, between Ralph Avenue and Rockaway Avenue, which incorporates the unused pocket-parks to create a "parkway for the 21st century".  After that I will focus on one particular part (4th image) of the eastern parkway to design a community-oriented building, which relates to adjacent streets and pocket-park(s).


Crown Heights - Exploring the grid


This presentation is about the site Crown Heights, and in this analysis, we are exploring the grid. During our analysis we have seen a potential to improve the livability of the grid. That’s why we asked ourselves some questions related to these topics.
Our first approach was to define the borders of Crown Heights, between which we collected all kinds of data. But after a while we came to the conclusion that neighborhoods that are located in the grid don't have specific borders. The aspects that form these borders can change in a very short period of time. That is why we changed our area of analysis to a larger area, including parts of adjacent neighborhoods such as East Flatbush, Brownsville, Prospect Heights, and Bed-Stuy.

Presentation made by Antrees Engelen, Koen Moesen, Pieter Van den Poel, Arnout Van Soom, and Sofie Verjans.


Parkways: city-shaping devices

Over the last one and a half century, numerous parkways have been built in Brooklyn. The definition and design of these big infrastructures have changed over time from green pleasure drives for carriages to the main traffic arteries they are today.
In this case study, Haussmann's boulevards in Paris are briefly discussed, because they served as an example for many of the parkways later built. The definition of a parkway differs in time, as will be explained by the examples in this case study: the first parkways designed by Olmsted and Vaux, the first "modern" parkway and the parkways envisioned by Robert Moses.



To experience the city in a way were I would be actively involved, I decided to go volunteer for the Eagle Street Rooftop Farm. A community farm like that is a powerful way to bring people together in the city and reconnect them with nature. When I was replanting salad or harvesting peppers and cage for the market, I didn't feel the pressure of the city at all. I also felt proud of myself that I helped growing healthy food for the neighborhood.


How livable is Brooklyn?


The subject of our research was city ecology. We tried to approach this subject from an anthropologic point of view. City ecology is all about the quality of life and that is why we started asking ourselves: "How livable is Brooklyn?".

For many decades the New York Bay was home to one of the biggest and most successful harbors of the world. In the past decades however, industries started to shift their focus on to other harbors, where resources and cheap labor were present in abundance, leaving the bay neglected. New York developed into one of the greatest cities in the world because of its water, but really: "How swimmable is Brooklyn?".

Brooklyn is part of an island, but it doesn't feel like it's surrounded by water. In comparison with Manhattan, a great part of the borough doesn't have access to natural landscapes such as water or parks. The only physical element is the built environment, creating an artificial landscape on its own. Where connection to the waterfront could be possible, it is often obstructed by fences. On a waterfront accessibility map, it becomes clear that a major part of the shoreline is inaccessible and even invisible.

With the exception of the Brooklyn Bridge Park, almost no shore is reachable. When comparing real-estate prices of different neighborhoods with each other, a clear overlap shows between more expensive and regions with water visibility and/or access.
When you eventually succeed in reaching the shore, you cannot enjoy the water like you should be able to: the water quality doesn't allow for water recreational activities. The water quality of New York has significantly improved over the past years, but is still in very bad shape. Definitely the Red Hook bay and Jamaica are heavily polluted, due to previous or ongoing industrial activities, sewage overflow in case of heavy rainfall and standing water.

Streets, sidewalks, rooftops,... are all surfaces where rainfall can't be retained in the soil, the sewers have to cope with all of the water. In case of heavy rainfall, the sewage overflow ends up directly in the bay, which is one of the main causes of the water pollution.
By studying Brooklyn's topography we found a relationship between the topography and how Brooklyn developed its grid. The streets clearly run parallel with lines of equal height. The natural inclinations define how the directions of the Brooklyn grid were conceived. The grid wasn't implemented as rigidly on its environment as in Manhattan but rather adapted to the existing condition. Brooklyn's topography also defines which areas are in risk of flooding in case of a hurricane or because of arctic meltdown. This would create plenty of new shoreline if the city doesn't undertake actions in the future.

More inland, the quality of air is a major problem for public health. An interesting question to ask in this context is "How breathable is Brooklyn?".

Concentrations of particulate matter in the air are mainly caused by old heating boilers of buildings, vehicle exhaust and industrial processes. Creating tons of health problems for the people heavily exposed to it. Very striking is fact that the amount of hospitalizations caused by respiratory problems is for a major part attributable to the large amount of particulate matter in the air.
A remarkable big area in the south of Brooklyn  where a lot of inhabitants suffer asthma and other air-related problems might be caused by bad indoor air quality in larger housing projects.

Another big issue for Brooklynites is unhealthy food and the many problems related to it. That is why "How tasty is Brooklyn?" is the third question in our research.

By drawing a Voronoi-diagram of pizza restaurants in Brooklyn, we discovered a very homogenous distribution throughout the borough. Pizza is quick, it's cheap and most of the time right around the corner. The Voronoi-diagram creates fictive communities, each defined by one restaurant. The area served by one place is rather small. We only considered pizza restaurants which showed up on Google Maps, obviously there are a lot of other places selling fast food. Mapping those would take a week.
When doing the same for the community gardens, we stumbled upon a remarkable fact: We expected that in places where there is a lot of poverty, fresh food would be a lot less available. But we discovered the opposite: A lot more community gardens are found in areas where poverty is the most strikingly present. This is due to the large amount of vacant lots in those areas, creating the possibility for urban farming.

Clearly, New York City is facing challenges concerning its ecology.
How can a long-term vision, such as PLANYC be realized in practice? Can projects be conceived beyond the terms of mayors?


A history of housing in New York City

Along with the new grid, a system of subdivision divided the gridiron blocks in lots. Row houses covered only 50% of the lots, leaving the other half available for a rear-yard. In order to satisfy the housing needs of the poor, “back building” filled these rear-yards, sometimes just leaving a small airshaft in between buildings.
New Laws were created to set some minimal standards to improve the living in tenements. The New Law of 1901 enlarged the air shafts of the tenements, creating new floor plans.

For the upper-class, high-rise apartment buildings already had an internal courtyard to improve the standards for light and air. These luxurious buildings were built alongside the eastern and western borders of Central Park.
The Flagg-type plan, with wider light slots, was the first philanthropic project to be build. Later variations on the Flagg-type plan introduced the open stairs, which allowed more light and air to penetrate into all rooms.


Around 1915, the evolution from the small airshafts to the internal courtyards now took a step further to a new housing type “the garden apartment” (for the middle- and upper-class). Using only 40% of the lot for the actual building.
The first of these gardens were only created for aesthetic appeal, but after the 1920’s they became a social meeting place for neighbors. The garden apartments were one of the most livable housing types in New York due to the balance between the build are and the open space. These garden apartments were, however, mostly located outside Manhattan.

At the same time in Europe, Auguste Perret, Le Corbusier and others wanted to give every tenant an equal amount of sun, space and green in their “Cities in the Park”. Because they designed vertical housing towers, there was al lot of land left for parks.
The first implementation of these ideas in Manhattan were Perimeter blocks with an interior garden, but in the beginning they still looked more based on the garden apartments than on the Towers in the Park.
In the 1930’s, the government occupied itself with housing. The Williamsburg Houses, which were the first Public Housing Project, already looked a bit more like the cities in the park, but were more garden apartments with a bigger garden.
After WOII, there was a large need for middle-class housing. “The cities in the park” ideology was the most economic answer for the mass production that was needed. One of the examples is Stuyvesant Town, completed in 1949.

But the Tower in the park idea became problematic, especially the increasing crime-rate in the surrounding parks. They also didn’t satisfy to the need for single-family housing.
While criticism on the Tower in the Park increased, new proposals were made to reconstruct the existing towers in the park through the introduction of new, low-rise continuous buildings in the parkland.
An alternative was, for example, the suburban Levittown on Long Island. The suburb provided mass-produced, inexpensive single-family housing.

In the 1980’s small-scale housing design became widespread in the outer boroughs. Federal subsidies were used to construct low-cost single-family row houses. For example Nehiamiah Houses in Brooklyn: a typical housing unit with rear yards and parking in front.
The idea was that the city’s housing needs could be solved with these small houses projects.

Bron: Richard PLUNZ, A history of housing in New York City, Columbia University Press, 1990.  


The New Urban Landscape

Central Park

In the fast growing New York of the 19th century, the distance between the urban and the rural environment increased rapidly.

The public competition for a park design in New York was the first for such a major landscape design. In the plans entered for the competition, there were 2 different approaches: one being a more natural landscape and the other one being a didactic landscape design.

Olmsted and Vaux wanted to create a rural landscape within the urban environment. No didactic elements (sculptures or other works of art) dominating the landscape. They created thick boundaries of trees to screen off the buildings and wanted to enhance the impression of spaciousness to refresh overcrowded urbanites.

The creation of Central Park began in the late 1850’s according to Olmsted and Vaux’s naturalistic landscape. Although they aspired a natural scenery, the park was completely manmade.

Prospect Park

Brooklyn evolved quickly from village to city, while realizing the inadequacy of public spaces. The success of Central Park inspired similar undertaking, as it did all over the nations cities.

The approved Prospect Heights site had a couple of difficulties. One of them was Flatbush Avenue which divided the park into two sections.
Egbert L. Viele couldn’t overcome these difficulties in his proposal for Prospect Park and in 1865 Olmstead and Vaux were brought in to create a new park plan. They suggested abandoning the land east of Flatbush Avenue to create a aesthetic unity for the park.

The two main purposes they defined for the park were that the scenery needed to offer the most agreeable contrast to the urban environment and that all classes of people should be able to meet on an equal basis.
The irregular boundaries of Prospect Park ensured visitors to forget about the rectangular outline of the grid, and therefore the city.

Bron: David SCHUYLER, The new urban Landscape: The redefinition of city form in Nineteenth-century America, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.