Sunday, January 15, 2017

Thoughts on the new Astor Place

jigsaw falling into place

A photo posted by S A M H O R I N E (@samhorine) on

I missed this essay from Justin Davidson in the current issue of New York magazine.

And the architecture critic, who provides some history of the space, is on board with the redesign, which provides "a blackboard full of possibilities."

Some excerpts:

Now, after several years of construction on the knot of streets and plazas, the fences have been peeled away like bandages, leaving a broad and orderly plain designed by the New York architecture firm WXY. New curbs confine traffic to sensible channels rather than let it slosh across a delta of conflicting lanes. Sidewalks have been broadened into pedestrian boulevards. Astor Place in 2017 feels like fresh turf waiting to receive its next deposit of history.


Even as recently as a couple of decades ago, this area formed a junction of classes and lifestyles. Ukrainians wandered in from the borscht and pierogi joints on Second Avenue, squatters and punks from Tompkins Square Park and Alphabet City; addicts and alcoholics drifted up from the Bowery. At Astor Place, they met clean-cut newcomers, NYU professors, and aging hippies, along with the new wave of West Village bankers on their weekend slumming excursions.

The triangle no longer has that souk­like vibe, and no amount of street design can bring it back, but, with a combination of modesty and flair, WXY has literally paved the way for the next iteration.



cmarrtyy said...

Mr. Davidson is a tool of corporate New York. Yes, the traffic configuration has improved. But the "blackboard" design as in blank slate is a failure. Obviously Mr. Davidson doesn't live in the EV. We have very little green space. The Astor Project encompasses the largest swath of land available to solve a problem that has long persisted in the Ev. Instead of designing a park-like space, we get Chernobyl on the Hudson - dark, blank environment left open to be monetized rather than adding to the basic needs of the community.

We needed a greenboard not a blackboard, Mr. Davidson.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to the architecture firm and Davidson for making enlarged sidewalks sound so inspiring. If this is architecture, than I'm tearing up my degree.

The end result looks more like the DOT and XYZ played urban planners for the day and didn't pick up after themselves. It's a maze of street tchotchke with no obvious foot traffic studies. Go read People Places by Clare Cooper and get back to me.

Anonymous said...

Thank you 12:01 and 12:21. I was fuming when I read the NYM piece but you articulated it much better than I could.

Anonymous said...

That article was good, thanks for pointing it out. The new design accommodates extreme pedestrian density well and does roll back some of the vehicle chaos of yore. Other than that it's as boring as the bank, chain department store and pharmacy street level retail surrounding it, which is to say it is peak-boring. Which does fit in with the current era of flavorless smartphone bubble people that define local (lack of) culture right now.

Anonymous said...

Worst design ever. Worst pedestrian layout ever.
Need proof?
Look at the photograph posted above.
See those people crossing in the crosswalk?
See the angle at which the crosswalk is directed?
See the people standing on the the corner waiting to cross going south?
Now, imagine that scenario on a summer evening, around 5pm.

Anonymous said...

> the next iteration.

Keep trying until you get it right. Meanwhile, everyone who did thought they did.

Anonymous said...

Great comments above, thanks folks. The "blackboard" is actually a public space which rents itself out to any corporation wanting to shill it's wares to the weary. It now attracts tourist and locals have to circumvent these ridiculous displays of consumerism and make sure to piss off the hired security. We can only imagine if Astor Place had become a green oasis against the Death Star and that other glass monster. Our loss corporate America's gain.

Anonymous said...

I agree that some greenery, and well planned, parklike density, would have been a vast improvement over this corporate souless sarcophagus.

This is actually not an improvement, as pedestrian and motor traffic is coming -- it seems -- from every direction. The plaza does not improve the flow. And a bike path cut through should have been added, as this poses a bottleneck for cyclists.

Anonymous said...

There is no feeling to the new Astor Place. It is dark and non descript, practical like strip malls and highways, it is blank; craving some imagination and a sense of life.

Anonymous said...

@ 12:01 PM I don't see how this small area, which is a traffic hub to the east and west villages, would have been suitable for green space. It's a high traffic area. Are you suggesting that all the pedestrians should navigate AROUND the area?

Gojira said...

What a crock of hyperbolic shite. Who the hell wants "orderly"? This isn't George Orwell's 1984, and since when has NY been orderly? His description of the area when it was full of life and all different kinds of people sounds, and was, far more interesting than the corporate blandness that rules today. That clashing cacaphony of styles, ethnicities, ages, races, and lifestyles was what was New York was, what it was supposed to be, what it still should be, but of which it has been robbed thanks to the imagination- and taste-free yobs, developers, corporate monkeys and politicos with which the city now abounds.

Anonymous said...

Not pretty or welcoming at all.

Anonymous said...

Now I bet Bloomberg feels dumb he didn't step in to save CBGB for a tourist destination.

Anonymous said...

This is not really a "high traffic area" at least regarding vehicles. Think about it, how much traffic does Lafayette street see during an ordinary day? 8th street which becomes St Marks at 3rd has little traffic since most traffic heading from the Village going east take 10th St. The city missed a great chance to green this space and provide some soul to the hardscape and glass office towers.

Morgan Tsvangirai said...

I definitely agree with the complaints here about lack of green space, but there's another big obvious problem with it that I've experienced:

The Astor Place-Cooper Square crosswalk is very poorly designed, and this is best illustrated when people walk on the south side of Astor Place along the old Cooper Union building heading west to walk down Astor Place to Broadway or walk south down Lafayette.

What happen is that people often walk through stopped buses and moving cars outside the crosswalk because the crosswalk is too far north. The cars should have to stop further down Cooper Sq and the crosswalk widened because people logically wont go out of their way to utilize a crosswalk.

What I'm talking about is a bit difficult to describe, so I've used EV Grieve's trademarked arrow to illustrate the path I'm talking about.

In both of these pictures, there aren't any vehicles, but there is usually at least one stopped bus and a couple of cars that people are wading through.

This doesn't seem like a huge deal, but after years of design and development, this should have been thought of.

Anonymous said...

Gees, I'll have to mosey back down there. I missed the grandeur described herein.

Anonymous said...

When you review the Astor Place project you find a lot of wasted money. Wasted on construction delays caused by mistakes in planning (traffic islands put in and torn out to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars); wasted space (little pockets of grassy areas enclosed by ugly, non-functional painted metal plumbing pipes) that could have been used for playgrounds, dog runs, trees instead of becoming garbage pits and ashtrays; wasted sense of aesthetics (what aesthetics?); and wasted opportunity to create a beautiful space in the city. Whoever approved the designs of this reconstruction project should have to live there in a tent for a year as punishment.


Thoughts? I have a few thoughts.

Yes, the Astor Place reconfiguration is a blank slate eagerly waiting for a new chapter of history to be written on it, but it’s a corporate chapter. That the author – whose work I like and is often sympathetic to the people in these David vs Goliath situations - wrote such a well-researched essay, setting us up to have the discussion of the corporatization of this next chapter and then didn’t is suspicious. It reads like sponsored content thinly disguised as damage control, really desperate damage control.

Why so desperate? Because the team of Dr. Frankensteins tasked with creating a thriving public space, instead, hacked together a magnificent gray monster and it’s not breathing. The doctors are now in damage control mode, desperately pounding on the chest of the cold, dead beast with all their might, hoping it will come to life.

The Astor Place reconfiguration project was doomed from the beginning because it is a public space redeveloped for corporate use. They hoped we would all be too stupid to notice that events like the one they hosted for Game of Thrones, attracts fans who boost ratings and spend money on merchandise. Block parties, street fairs and other community organized events, whether we like them or not, are for the community.

The Astor Place reconfiguration, scarred from running over schedule and over budget, is a high-profile example of urban planning gone wrong. (For an ironic laugh please watch Amanda Burden-Christ’s TED Talk on the subject. At one point she illustrates poor urban planning with a photo that looks nearly identical to the new Astor Place.)

The other day I stopped to watch two tourists attempt to spin the Alamo with no success. Why? It no longer spins because someone decided that spinning it could cause a back injury. I’d love to see the data informing this decision.

The unaltered Alamo managed to accomplish something so few things in New York City can pull off. It brought together locals and tourists for an engaging, positive New York City experience. Tourists would look at the sculpture and locals would stop to show them a secret, it spins. Now locals apologize to the tourists for the diminished experience, something we do for New York City a lot these days.

The Dr. Frankensteins can fill room with all the fragrant essays they’d like but the stench of death is thick in the air and everyone smells it.

Walter said...

Some of the nicest memories I have of the cube is sitting in the K-Mart cafeteria (Yes, they had a cafeteria) overlooking Astor Place on a snowy winter's day.

Brian said...

The erection of 51 Astor Place, a.k.a., the Death Star Building, a.k.a. 101 Astor Place, ruined the vibe at Astor Place before the corporate reconfiguration occurred.

Gojira said...

NOTORIOUS, spot on, you should expand your comment into an editorial and send it to the Times. Seriously, it's fabtastic

Walter, I share that memory, and have long mourned its passing.


@Gojira I wrote a full editorial but decided to edit it down and scorch the cement field rather than completely level it. Get my email from Grieve and I'll send it to you.

StevenS said...

The cube no longer spins? Says who?

StevenS said...

NOTORIOUS wrote, falsely
"The other day I stopped to watch two tourists attempt to spin the Alamo with no success. Why? It no longer spins because someone decided that spinning it could cause a back injury. I’d love to see the data informing this decision. "

BULLSHIT. I saw a group of kids turning it just this past Friday evening. I'm so tired of you aging EV anarcho-cranks spreading propaganda about this.

Also, the FACT is, the Cooper/Astor/6 train project has yielded MORE green space than was there before. As you will see come Spring 2017