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Archive for November, 2010

The Flushing I.R.T., or the 7 train, would be extended to Secaucus.

This proposal, if completed, would mark a significant step toward the seamless incorporation of Hudson County, New Jersey, into New York City’s urban core.  This is a process that has been unfolding since the earliest days of the 20th century, when the PATH train (or the Hudson Tubes, if you like) first provided two heavy-rail, subway connections between Lower Manhattan and Hudson County– replacing the ferries that once linked railroad stations on the New Jersey waterfront with New York City.

If it were built, a Midtown connection to, presumably, uptown Hoboken and Weehawken, and then to Secaucus, would close the deal.  Almost inevitably, it would bring about the upgrade of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail (HBLR) line, since the right-of-way of the latter would link the Subway and the PATH by a north-south route, much like the G train links the subway lines that run out from Manhattan to Brooklyn and Queens.  It’s easy to imagine Hudson County becoming even more of a sixth borough with this sort of rapid-transit connectivity.  In fact, this would be the first time a NYC subway line ventured beyond the city limits.

Hudson Tubes, 1909.

This approach compares favorably, especially on a local scale, with the late, great ARC plan.  First, it would solidify Hudson County’s place, in conjunction with Newark, as the distinct urban core of New Jersey.  Second, like the ARC, it would increase the number of mass-transit seats that are entering Manhattan from New Jersey on a daily basis, thus alleviating the current capacity-busting rail schedule under the Hudson River.  Third, unlike the ARC, it would accomplish this increase in capacity without a parallel increase in the availability of single-seat access to Midtown from the suburbs.  This is important: in my view, the lack of additional single-seat bragging rights would make the increased capacity’s impact on development patterns more favorable to the redevelopment of suburban town centers, because, frankly, it would have less marketability for the kinds of developers who only seek to sell luxury units to Midtown commuters.  Finally, an exception, of course, would be found in those parts of central Hudson County which would be directly served by the subway extension.  These limited areas would see a rapid and powerful rise in demand: this, in an area which is already heavily urbanized, still undervalued, and which would, in my view, be an appropriate focus for very-high-density new development.

The Crain’s article cites a total cost of about half the projected expenditures for the ARC.  This strikes me as a simple, practical solution, given the current political and budgetary situations, and the region’s ongoing rail capacity needs.

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Spotlight: Ouro Preto, Brazil

Amazing town.  Architecture dates to the Brazilian Gold Rush, mid-19th c.  Nearby Belo Horizonte, a pre-planned city, replaced it as the capital of Minas before industry or growth set in.  Check it out in Google Street View.

One thing that’s really captivating about this town’s plan is the natural way in which it was built into the wild contours of the land.  For example, take a look at the 0-200 blocks of Ruo Claudio Manoel, and note how the dense buildings of the town center are worked into the steep hillside, without any sacrifice to the quality of architecture on a lot-by-lot basis.  A little further up the hill, near where the map is centered, the Praça Tiradentes represents an almost perfect adaptation to the land of a classic plaza or forum that one might find in a small European city.

Photos remain the copyright of Google, and are used in accordance with the principles of Fair Use.  Explore the streets of Ouro Preto, yourself, here.

Rua São Francisco.

Praça Tiradentes.

Rua Conde de Bobadela.

Ruo Claudio Manoel.

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“The Place Making Dividend”

Georgetown Apple Store. Source: ULI

Interesting piece from the PCJ, via the Urban Land Institute, that highlights the powers that local boards may have over the design of buildings subject to their approval.  The storefront (photo, left) looks nice.  But I do wonder whether an Edison or a Yonkers would really have the same ability to leverage concessions that a Georgetown or a Cambridge would have.

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UK Housing Benefit Cuts

This caught my attention, mostly because I don’t know very much about affordable housing policies in the UK.  The Guardian provides some insight, through its article on housing benefit cuts, into the vast differences that exist between types and degrees of governmental involvement in the urban housing economies of America and Britain.  Although, when you consider the amount of revenue that the US public sector loses annually by maintaining the mortgage interest deduction, the American system may actually be more generous.  As long as you aren’t actually, you know, poor.

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