Tweetcap: BIG Design Charette 3

Last week, Bjark Ingels Group, better known as BIG, presented their final master plan for the Civic Arena site to the residents of the Hill District. Just like for the first and second meetings, I was once again on hand to bring you up-to-the-minute reporting, and then wait a week to put it in a format that people actually read.

Just kidding, nobody actually reads this.

The first and second meetings were basically clones of each other, so I was half-expecting the free dinner to be the most valuable part of the night.

Richard Baron (of McCormack Baron Salazar, who are developing the site) introduced Kai-Uwe Bergmann. An intriguing change, since MBS had been largely aloof at these meetings.

Two images to support that, first is a before/after shot of how the expressways took over:


And another, a macro-scale rendering of the site:

The part of the plan that caps the expressway is at the far left, and you can get a sense of how far it goes to connect the Hill District back to the city.

Also, throughout this post I’ll be using images to flesh out my tweets, and they’re taken from this Dezeen article about the redevelopment and the Civic Arena redevelopment website, where you can download PDFs of the presentations that Bergmann (of BIG) gave.

Back to the show.

Here’s the slide that shows the hill climb, notice how much stronger the connection to downtown is with the expressway cap in place:

Could be metaphor of the year right there. #justsayin

Jokes on Twitter always work best if you break them up into multiple tweets. Not.

The renderings were really compelling, and she talked about several stops on the main path, their specific character, how people would actually use the space. I thought maybe the design had enough details that it would capture the imaginations of those present, spur them to consider the spaces, not the economics that drove their creation.

I thought wrong.

So, 20% is the number of affordable units required by the Preliminary Land Development Plan, or PLDP, which is the “governing” plan. Any deviations from said plan must be approved by city planning. My understanding was that the community, or at least, the people at these meetings, were present to police the developers and make sure that they would not try to duck the requirements of the PLDP. Turns out, the most vocal protesters are pushing for the principles in the Greater Hill District Master Plan (links to a large PDF). Those requirements require a greater share of units to be affordable, and also has a more strict definition of how much an “affordable” unit costs. As far as I can tell, the GHDMP has no legal backing, and it also has a less elegant acronym.

The first of many great responses by Bergmann. He was in top form that night. Nobody said “gated community” outright, but they got close, and it’s a totally invalid criticism. Sorry. So good on Kai for shutting that right down, and being able to point to a project in East Harlem to boot.

Probably Kai’s biggest misstep. At least he got it out of the way early?

Called it last time. At this point, the community started to really press Bergmann, demanding specific demographic figures for neighborhoods, both before and after BIG got involved.

Kai had to drop a Harlem reference again, but wasn’t able to provide the demographics, so Richard Baron had to take the mic and mount a spirited defense of MBS.

That should say “slap him”. Whoops.

Anyway, to be clear, I don’t know enough to become a MBS fanboy. I haven’t looked into those projects. Who knows, maybe they’re actually doing more harm than good. But that aside, it was surreal to finally hear someone say “this is about architecture, not policy”, and it was especially weird to hear that from the developer.

We do need to have those conversations! It just shouldn’t be the only conversation at three consecutive design charettes.

Between that and the “we’re creating jobs” angle he took earlier, could be that Bergmann is trying to get on the Republican ticket.

We seemed to reach some resolution here, and a coworker who came with me tried in vain to offer up some architectural comments. The meeting was destined to end up in a weird, unsettled place, though. We had some echoes of previous sentiments, and then a woman who wanted to address the requirements for minority contractors.

Not long after, the meeting was concluded without applause.

So there you go. This was my favorite of the three meetings, and I wish this meeting would have happened first. I’m not sure it would have prevented affordability from dominating the other two, but it would have helped. Maybe. Probably not. The problem is that gentrification is far and away the top issue on the minds of anyone that lives (rather, rents) in a neighborhood that they are proud of. And nobody has an answer for how to stop it from happening. And these are the only kinds of meetings where it seems appropriate to address the issue directly. And depending on which side of the issue you fall on, the other person is guaranteed to be wrong.

For instance: “There are plenty of vacant properties left on the Hill that can be developed as affordable housing”. This was stated, in perhaps not the exact same words, by the developers and the design team. On the one hand, MBS has a financial obligation to develop the site as profitably as possible, which, to them, means providing the bare minimum of affordable housing required. And looking at the site plan, it seems like they’ve done an admirable job of developing the site to be a gateway to the rest of the community. On the other hand, that’s passing the buck to a handful of nameless developers that all have similar financial obligations, so it’s hard to see a scenario in which the rest of the vacant properties are developed to be more affordable.

And so it will go for the next 10 or 15 years, I imagine. Here’s to hoping that BIG has laid the foundation for a Hill District renaissance, one that the current community will be there to enjoy throughout.

4 thoughts on “Tweetcap: BIG Design Charette 3

  1. I read these, dude. So, you’ve got that going for you [sad trombone]. But seriously, you’ve highlighted a lot of issues that necessarily extend beyond design questions. I want to sit down and talk about all this at some point…for as many beers as it takes!

    • You wouldn’t happen to be in town for Thanksgiving eve, would you? We could get a head start. Something tells me we’d have a lot to agree on after 4 or 6 or 10.


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