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TRANSFORMING THE EAST RIVER WATERFRONT THE VALUE OF FDR DRIVE TO NYC: A STUDY

EAST RIVER WATERFRONT

presentation by:

sarah mendel

fall 2013


table of contents [2] introduction [3] urban planning history: franklin d. roosevelt (east river) drive [5] urban planning history: the people [6] urban planning today: waterfront [8] analysis: evolution [9] sources

TRANSFORMING THE EAST RIVER WATERFRONT THE VALUE OF FDR DRIVE TO NYC: A STUDY

introduction Franklin D. Roosevelt (East River) Drive is enormously important infrastructure to New York City. However, while residents value its transportation convenience, they are also frustrated that it blocks the East River’s valuable waterfront. The following presentation will study how urban planning objectives led to the creation of an East River parkway and discuss how urban planning objectives will ultimately transform and revitalize the East River waterfront.


urban planning history: fdr drive The Great Depression hit the United States in the 1930s and caused mass unemployment and economic hardship. In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted the New Deal (1933-1936), a sequence of economic programs aimed at improving the American economy by providing jobs and social welfare. At least two of these programs--the Civilian Conservation Corps (“CCC”), which provided jobs conserving nature, and the Works Progress Administration (“WPA”), which provided jobs building streets, parks, libraries and schools—provided funding directly to local governments. When the New Deal went into effect, few cities were prepared with construction projects ready. However, New York City’s Robert Moses (1888-1981), who had been heavily involved with public works for about a decade, had several projects lined up. Therefore, New York City was granted a disproportionate amount of funding for CCC, WPA and other depression-era programs. And with that, Moses became the city’s dominant urban planner--at one point, Moses had 80,000 people working under him and one quarter of all federal construction dollars were being spent in New York. Moses, known as the “master builder” of the twentieth century, held simultaneous public positions in both New York state and New York City government. At one point, he held 12 separate titles and was in control of all federal dollars appropriated to New York City. His substantial political power, combined with the toll revenue earned from the city bridges he built, allowed Moses to build the large public works he envisioned, which largely represented the values of New York’s wealthy politicians in the 1930s. In short, Moses advocated for urban renewal--a program of clearing urban areas and redeveloping them. He answered urban problems by removing them and rebuilding. Moses heavily favored parkways over public transportation, in part because driving in the 1930s was as much for entertainment as it was for utility, but also largely because it kept the poor—those who could not afford a car and were therefore dependent on public transportation—out of Manhattan. Moses advocated for and built curving, landscaped parkways, which he called “ribbon parks,” intended for the pleasure of driving and to serve as “lungs for the city.” Where his parkways ran through poor or minority neighborhoods, people were displaced and moved to the newly created housing developments, called “projects.” Where his parkways would have run their course through Long Island’s wealthiest estates, infrastructure was redirected. Some of his transportation public works include the construction of the Henry Hudson Bridge (1936), the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge (1939), the Throgs Neck Bridge (1961), the Verrazano Narrows Bridge (1964), the Belt Parkway (1940), the Cross-Bronx Expressway (1955), the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (1961) the Staten Island Expressway (1961), and East River Drive (1966), all of which are used by automobiles.

R o b e r t M o s e s i s r e c o g n i z e d a s t h e “ m a s t e r b u i l d e r ” o f t h e 2 0 t h c e n t u r y. H e m o v e d s h o r e l i n e s , c r e a t e d p a r k s , b u i l t r o a d s , b r i d g e s a n d t u n n e l s a n d u l t i m a t e l y t r a n s f o r m e d l a n d s c a p e s a n d n e i g h b o r h o o d s t h r o u g h o u t N e w Yo r k f o r e v e r. H i s v i s i o n w o u l d i n f l u e n c e c o u n t l e s s c i t i e s ’ u r b a n p l a n n i n g o b j e c t i v e s a n d p o p u l a r i z e s u b u r b a n i z a t i o n a c r o s s t h e c o u n t r y.


urban planning history: fdr drive In the 1920s, public officials unsuccessfully proposed roadways along both the Hudson and East Rivers. However, with Robert Moses’s New Deal funding and political savvy, construction began in 1934. The first section, East 125th Street to East 92nd Street, opened in 1936 and was named East River Drive. The parkway was six lanes wide and lined with trees along the waterfront. However, from 92nd Street south to Battery Park, East River Drive was constructed as a boulevard* that opened to traffic in 1942. Moses was displeased that his parkway vision was unrealized. Therefore, in 1945 he cited the Arterial Development Program, a program he oversaw that aimed to relocate street traffic to multi-lane parkways, as reason for the East River parkway’s completion. Moses planned to convert the existing boulevard into a controlledaccess parkway from the Triborough Bridge south to the Battery. And again, under Moses’s vision and leadership, construction began. By 1966, Moses’s East River parkway was finally realized. Today, the East River parkway is 9.44 miles long and features at-grade, below grade and elevated sections, as well as three partially covered tunnels. East River Park, composed of walkways and bikeways, was constructed along the eastern length of the parkway from East 125th Street to East 63rd Street. Most of the East River parkway and East River Park were built on landfill--East 30th Street to East 23rd Street was filled with building wreckage remains from Bristol, which was heavily bombed in WWII, that was brought back as ballast on United States wartime ships--or platforms supported by piles. In total, the parkway was an engineering feat. In 1945, following President Roosevelt’s death, East River Drive was renamed Franklin D. Roosevelt (East River) Drive. Ultimately, the East River parkway (“FDR Drive”) succeeded in moving city street traffic to an arterial road and allowed New York City to be automobile-friendly as opposed to public transport-dependent—thus achieving Moses’s goals. However, the location of the parkway isolates the area between the river and FDR Drive, namely East River Park and the East River esplanade. It is difficult for pedestrians to access the park and waterfront because FDR Drive has very few areas designated for pedestrian crossing. Moses acknowledged this circumstance but claimed that “the inconvenience of crossing East River Drive is outweighed by the waterfront location [of the park].” However, today we see the result of that inconvenience. Due to its inaccessibility, the East River waterfront is underutilized. It lacks amenities, recreation, and commercial and cultural opportunities. The waterfront is isolated and therefore is not in or of its neighboring communities socially or culturally. New York City has had great success developing the Hudson River waterfront into urban parks and would like to see the same success on the East River. Therefore, the city is eager to create an accessible East River waterfront that engages the surrounding neighborhoods. In order to address today’s urban planning values, we will have to physically work with and around FDR Drive. *Boulevard is used here as a multilane public road. Parkway is used here as a large public road with controlled access entrances. By 1948, East 92nd Street south to East 49th Street was converted to a controlled-access parkway and Carl Schurz Park was created between East 80-90th Streets. By 1950, the Battery Park Underpass, which connected East River Drive with the B r o o k l y n - B a t t e r y T u n n e l a n d W e s t S i d e P a r k w a y, w a s c o m p l e t e d . B y 1 9 5 2 , E a s t 4 9 t h S t r e e t t o E a s t 4 2 n d S t r e e t w a s converted to a controlled-access parkway and was cantilevered over the East River on two different levels. By 1954, the South Street Viaduct from Jackson Street to Battery Park was completed above the existing boulevard. By 1960, East 14th S t r e e t t o J a c k s o n S t r e e t w a s c o n v e r t e d t o a c o n t r o l l e d - a c c e s s p a r k w a y. A n d b y 1 9 6 6 , E a s t 4 2 n d S t r e e t t o E a s t 1 4 t h S t r e e t was converted to a controlled-access parkway with new viaducts at East 23rd Street, East 34th Street and East 42nd Street.


urban planning history: the people Robert Moses’s political power and visions continued into the postwar years and ultimately became the accepted establishment. However, beginning in the 1960s, his objectives and motivations fell under heavy scrutiny. This was due in large part to Jane Jacobs (1916-2006), a Greenwich Village resident who voiced and published her disapproval of Moses’s city planning principles. The first line of her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, reads, “This book is an attack on current city planning and rebuilding.” In the book, she condemns urban renewal and counters it by advocating for rehabilitating the city. She writes that the city is a network of people interacting on sidewalks, at crosswalks, in shops, and that clearing those networks for parkways--as Robert Moses aimed to do with his proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway, which would have run through Chinatown, SoHo and Greenwich Village--is self-destructive. Jacobs’s ideas were revolutionary. Her book influenced entire New York City neighborhoods to come together and create a coalition that would successfully fight against the Lower Manhattan Expressway and other city projects. And on a greater scale, they momentously influenced public policy. City officials and planners began to question urban renewal. They began to see that the result of relocating poor neighborhoods to “projects” was unsuccessful as it led to isolation and increased crime. They began to see the needs of the people not from a sweeping overview perspective but rather from a day-to-day, neighborhood-to-neighborhood perspective. So much so that in 1965, Mayor Robert Wagner signed a law establishing a Landmarks Preservation Committee, which aimed to protect New York City’s architectural, historical and cultural heritage. It was a milestone. Rather than public officials resolutely deciding what was best for New York City, the people of New York City could contribute. As a result, the city’s urban planning values began to represent the values of its population. Today Jane Jacobs’s legacy is still strongly felt in New York City urban planning projects. Before a project is approved, planners must involve local communities, offer multiple strategies for consideration and go through a public hearing process. New York City’s project to reinvigorate the East River waterfront is no exception. From the start, the Department of City Planning, the Economic Development Corporation and the design team interviewed residents and workers in East River neighborhoods in order to best establish the waterfront’s programmatic needs. Through this process, the city learned that there is substantial public concern about the difficulty of accessing the waterfront due to FDR Drive’s obstruction. Also of concern, and ultimately largely because of inaccessibility, the waterfront lacks desirable amenities, recreation, and commercial and cultural opportunities. Therefore, the waterfront is isolated and is not in or of its neighboring communities socially or culturally. The program the city proposed and the public favored addresses these concerns and aims to create an accessible East River waterfront that engages the surrounding neighborhoods. In order to achieve these planning goals, we will have to cross under and incorporate FDR Drive.

J a n e J a c o b s i n s p i r e d N e w Yo r k C i t y a s w e l l a s c i t i e s w o r l d w i d e t o r e c o n s i d e r c i t y p l a n n i n g i s s u e s a n d s o l u t i o n s . S h e advocated for urban rehabilitation as a solution to failing neighborhoods in contradiction to the prevalent ideology of urban renewal. Jacobs believed residents recognize their community’s issues and should offer opinions on how to address those issues. She called for a more horizontal political process that would allow residents to better contribute to city policies.


urban planning today: waterfront FDR Drive obstructs pedestrian access to the waterfront, and in areas where FDR Drive is above grade, pedestrian access is largely blocked by parking lots for cars, trucks and buses. This circumstance is indicative of the East River’s industrial past when pedestrian access was not a priority. Today containerization and mechanization have largely moved port activities away from the East River, so we are left with a number of

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unexploited piers. The city sees the value in urban parks and the waterfront and recognizes that the East River waterfront is underutilized.

EAST RIVER RIVER EAST WATERFRONT FRONT WATER

City planners and community representatives have applied Jane Jacobs’s principles and worked together to best determine and resolve the issues surrounding the East River waterfront in order to develop it. FDR Drive was built with the goal of moving street traffic to an arterial parkway, which it succeeded in doing, but it hinders waterfront access and development. At locations where pedestrians are able to cross over or under the parkway, it is loud and dark—a potentially unpleasant and unsafe circumstance. The city program, outlined in this section, aims to reduce the negative impacts of FDR Drive, respect the importance of its infrastructure and ultimately transform and revitalize the East River waterfront.


urban planning today: waterfront Pedestrian access to the waterfront is of utmost concern. If the current situation is not improved, the rest of the plan will follow suit and ultimately fail. Therefore, numerous strategies are being employed simultaneously. Firstly, the current parking lots and fences under the viaducts will largely be relocated and public open spaces free for recreation will exist in their place. These spaces can be used for temporary

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programming, such as farmers’ markets and exhibitions, as well as for recreation.

EAST RIVER WATERFRONT

Additionally, pavilions will be constructed at strategic locations under viaducts that may include commercial, social and cultural opportunities to further encourage pedestrian integration with the waterfront. In this context, the viaducts become canopies for public space and interaction. To further improve the experience, the program includes adding new cladding with enhanced lighting to the underside of FDR Drive’s viaducts, which will improve appearance, reduce parkway noise and increase lighting. Lighting the underside of the viaducts will allow visitors the opportunity to visit the waterfront at any hour and also greatly help to improve safety. The waterfront esplanade will be developed to encourage recreation. It will feature amenities such as benches, railings, planters and arbors. The bicycle lane that follows the Hudson River will be extended to run along the East River and connect with the bicycle lane at East River Park. Furthermore, the program calls for the construction of new piers, which will create new public space on the waterfront and will also offer the above amenities. The piers will tie local communities to the water. Slips, which historically were areas where the river “slipped” into the island and have since been filled and used as streets, will be redeveloped so that it is made clearer that they are linked to the waterfront. The plan is to bring the people to the water using piers and the water to the people using slips, thus creating a physical and cultural connection. In total, the program is designed as a series of projects that work together to address the waterfront’s needs. The plan will ultimately transform the underutilized waterfront into a fully integrated and highly valued urban park.

The East River waterfront project relates to the area outlined in red.

N e w c l a d d i n g a n d l i g h t i n g w i l l a l l o w t h e F D R v i a d u c t t o s e r v e a s a c a n o p y.

N e w p i e r s w i l l c r e a t e n e w p u b l i c s p a c e a n d b r i n g t h e c o m m u n i t y t o t h e w a t e r.


analysis: evolution Cities are evolutionary: they are constantly evolving in order to meet the needs and tastes of their populations. In the process of evolution, cities have to adapt and work with and around their preexisting conditions—whether they are physical, political, cultural, etc. To this end, visionaries like Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs are crucial. A city stuck in the past cannot meet the needs and tastes of its population, and therefore, is a failure. The most successful cities are those that are capable of addressing current issues while simultaneously planning for the future.

new york city values

1930s

1960s

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sources Caro, Robert A. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. New York: Random House,1974. Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House, 1961. Trefousse, Hans L. Carl Shurz, a Biography. New York: Fordham UP, 1998. Rogers, Cleveland. “Robert Moses: an Atlantic portrait.” The Atlantic, Feb 1939. The World That Moses Built. Dir. Mark Obenhaus. Distributer, 1989. Film Franklin D. Roosevelt (East River) Drive: Historic Overview. http://www.nycroads.com/roads/fdr/ Louis, Mark. “The Sweeping Legacy of Robert Moses.” 14 Feb 2010. < http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/02/14/837071/-The-Sweeping-Legacy-of-Robert-Moses#> The New Deal Achievements. <http://www.fdrheritage.org/new_deal.htm> Transforming the East River Waterfront. < http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/pdf/erw/east_river_waterfront_book.pdf>

TRANSFORMING THE EAST RIVER WATERFRONT THE VALUE OF FDR DRIVE TO NYC: A STUDY


Mendel Studio 2 Assignment 1A