The Town

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Trenton Makes Bridge

Trenton, the capital of New Jersey, is a very diverse city nestled forty-five minutes from Philadelphia and an hour away from New York City. Downtown Trenton is very historic and has seen many renovations throughout the last few years. For example, the New Jersey State House, located on 125 W St Street, is the state capitol building for the U.S. state of NJ. It started construction in 1792 and was completed more than a century later in 1911. Since then, a plan to renovate the building began in 1982 and in 2017 a complete restoration of the building began and is expected to be completed in 2020. The building itself is designed as the alphabetical letter H with its long side along W St Street and a rotunda dome connects the building to its other half. The public is permitted inside on tours Monday thru Saturday. I like that the building itself blends well in the urban setting and historic state street alongside other legislative buildings. There are also multiple public squares. It is a shame that the renovations have taken decades to complete.

Mill Hill is a historic neighborhood which is still considered to be a part of Downtown Trenton (5 min. Drive from state house). It is just a few minutes walk from Trenton Transit Center which is perfect for commuter citizens. Furthermore, the Mill Hill District spans only 10 linear blocks and was almost destroyed by redevelopment in the 1960s. The historic row houses are better for the environment and heating costs due to the fact that less of the building is exposed to outside elements (Levy).

MillHillsign

I appreciate this area in particular because of the design of the houses and the calm and quiet feel of the neighborhood. Most do not know that mill hill acquired its name after a mill was flooded out almost two centuries before. The area is purely residential and very welcoming. Since the given economic decline of Trenton due to the closing of many industrial factories, and the American dream to find a suburban rather than urban lifestyle of the 1950s, the decline of Mill Hill was almost inevitable. By this time most people owned cars, therefore urban planning almost destroyed, “Trenton’s urban fabric (e.g.the Trenton Freeway, surface lots for state workers), cut off access to the Delaware River (Rt. 29), and much more (Trentonmillhill.org).”  

Although these developments greatly facilitated the movement of people and goods, it changed homeownership of predominantly single-family to more multi-family dwellings. Many properties in Mill Hill became vacant from 3% in 1952 to 17% in 1970. 

The only thing I do not like about this neighborhood is that it is hard to find parking as all the parking is on the street and permitted. Also, not all of the houses have attached garages or come with a place to park multiple cars so when a Nor’easter blows through not much can be done as with any city.

Finally, the town is a cultural hub; therefore, many people come to the area to eat. Thomasena’s is Trenton’s favorite soul food restaurant. It is also located within walking distance of the capitol building that I mentioned above. If you are looking for other cuisines, such as Jamaican food, The Hummingbird is a great place to stop in at. Again both of these restaurants are located in downtown Trenton so there is not much parking as the nearby streets are categorized as T-4 and T-5 areas with living quarters above Thomasena’s. All in all, downtown Trenton is a walkable neighborhood with very diverse eateries. 

In conclusion, it seems as if the The Town (Trenton) is making large improvements and restorations to not only its legislative buildings but its historic districts. Focusing in on the good in Trenton may be the right mindset to bring back more innovation and technology into the state’s capital.

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The Impact of Double-Decker Trains

Although double-decker trains have been around for nearly a decade, when they first came on the scene they were a force to be reckoned with. A positive aspect of these newly engineered trains were that passengers no longer had to squeeze into the horrid middle seat of a three seater. Every seat on the train is either an aisle or a window seat so passengers no longer have to ask other fellow passengers to move their luggage from the middle seat. This was a very good plan because New jersey Transit customers and its employees had a say in the design process of the new double-deckers. The cars had fifteen to twenty percent more capacity than the single level cars and each cost about 1.9 million dollars on average. In 2006, a New Jersey Transit spokesperson, Dan Stessel,  claimed that, “the new cars would be sent to the system’s busiest rail lines beginning December 11, 2006, [and] “over 234 cars would replace some of the 908 single level cars that were currently operating.” Stessel also stated that, “having the double-decker trains on those lines the Northeast Corridor, the North Jersey Coast Line and Midtown Direct service would reduce crowding on all of the system’s eleven commuter rail lines.” All in all commuter citizens would not be rooted to the location of their job. 

Mass transportation such as trains help reduce traffic along roadways and highways such as the 295, Route 1, and the New Jersey Turnpike. Even further up the turnpike the Holland and Lincoln tunnels are usually backed up relentlessly. Therefore I chose to take the train into the city whenever I can to avoid bumper-to-bumper traffic. Furthermore, trains assist workers to move further away from their jobs so that they do not have to stay rooted in an expensive area such as New York City.

George D. Warrington, the executive director of New Jersey Transit, said in a statement. “While adding capacity, we are able to give customers a new level of comfort with two-by-two seating, as well as more legroom, better lighting and updated restroom amenities.”

Today, New Jersey Transit and its over 72,000 commuters who travel to New York City during the weekdays are happier customers due to the fact that they can finally see why fair rates and monthly passes skyrocketed in years past. A typical adult ticket from Trenton transit center to New York Penn station on the Northeast Corridor line is around sixteen dollars one way. That does not even include paying for monthly hang tags or parking in Trenton. I personally travel from Hamilton Station Park and Ride since Trenton Transit Center and Hamilton station are equidistant from my home in Columbus, New Jersey. Parking at Hamilton is seven dollars per day outside. Many Pennsylvanian commuters also come to this station so parking spots are not always readily available.

A negative about riding the train is the inevitable train delays due to rail repairs. Even until today NJ Transit does not solely operate double decker trains. Some local trains around midday are older, slower, and have less space to relax.

In conclusion, the double decker trains have been a major addition to NJ Transit lines. They create more space for passengers during high peak times and allow for more leg room and seating and even the bathrooms are larger.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/12/nyregion/12train.html

Hammel House’s Radiant City and The School-to-Prison Pipeline

Housing subdivision apartments are at the center of urban life in New York City. For example, the Hammel Housing Subdivision in Far Rockaway, New York is a lesser version of Le Cobusiser’s Radiant City.  Although Le Cobusier believed in creating a better life for its residents, many that live in remnants of radiant cities may not see his vision as clearly. The Radiant City (Ville Radiuse) is an unrealized master plan designed by Le Corbusier. It was first presented in 1924 and published in 1933. In modern day planning, he influenced high-density housing subdivisions to deal with overcrowding. Not only did his plans focus on high-density skyscrapers, Le Cobusier planned a vast green area arranged in a Cartesian grid. Le Cobusier’s style was characterized by geometric forms and structure. Furthermore, the master plan permits the city to function as a “living machine.” A Radiant City allows for great views of living beings such as trees, shrubs, grass and other shrubbery that usually would not be allowed in a concrete jungle otherwise known as New York City. There are many ways for not only kids but parents to enjoy a radiant city. However, American realized visions of Radiant Cities are not fully implemented to Le Cobusier’s liking. There are no parks and recreation centers at the tops of the buildings like Le Cobusier intended. The separation of the recreation center from purely residential areas may be the reason that crime is on the rise.   

Not much is written on the beginnings of this housing subdivision besides hgh crime rates in Far Rockaway. Many injustices such as shootings and robberies have left those in the neighborhood skeptical to walk home after dusk. Students in the up and coming neighborhood of Far Rockaway look to the streets for an upbringing that schools may never teach them. This is why it is so important to gain public interest when implementing a radiant city. Although the neighborhood is very diverse, the public school is majority minorities. To prove my point, in a study conducted by the US department of Education Office for Civil rights, “African-American students, for instance, are 3.5 times more likely than their white classmates to be suspended or expelled” (Marilyn Elias). Policies and practices that send minor disciplinary acts of students to juvenile detention centers all around the county is a bust. In my opinion the school-to-prison pipeline clearly exists in Far Rock. It favors incarceration over the “living machine” dream that Le Cobusier intended his residents to live amongst.

This year alone in Far Rockaway, there has been 332 counts of theft, 243 counts of assault, 54 counts of robbery, 35 counts of robbery, and 5 counts of shootings. According to NYCHA, there has been an increase in security cameras to control crime in the Hammel Housing neighborhood.  On the upside, this is a good sign that the Housing Authority is trying its best to lessen crime in one of the worst subdivisions in Queens NY.

Sources: https://www.archdaily.com/411878/ad-classics-ville-radieuse-le-corbusier

http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/nycha/downloads/pdf/RTR-Hammel.pdf

https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/spring-2013/the-schooltoprison-pipeline

Good Morning Chicago

Good Morning Chicago! Today’s hot topic will be about the history of Chicago’s redevelopment. Chicago has always had issues with its population growth. However, many do not know that Chicago of the early twentieth century looked a lot different than the Chicago we all see today. 

For example, The 1909 Plan of Chicago is the start of modern city planning in America. It is otherwise known as the Burnham Plan, named after Daniel Burnham. Furthermore Burnham enlisted help from Edward H. Bennet a co-author of the plan of chicago. In 1906, a group of wealthy businessmen reached out to Burnham in order to reconcile the city’s growth in population. Daniel Burnham earned his right to make a large comprehensive plan for the city because of his participation in the Columbian Exposition of 1893 which was the start of the City Beautiful Movement. The Movement alone helped to justify architectural improvements and monumental changes to cities that last until today in American history. The 1909 Plan of Chicago was created around this monumental time because it sought out to beautify Chicago and make commerce more efficient.

Both Burnham and Bennet researched the lifestyles of Chicagoans by globally studying how transportation (mobility), and socioeconomic shifts affected not only the city’s businesses  but its citizens. More importantly, the two focused on the lakeshore, highways, railroads (railways), diagonal streets in and out of the city, and civic buildings. Here’s a look at their plan:1909-plan-of-chicago-civic-center-plaza

Although the plan was not implemented immediately, Burnham and Bennet’s plan was world renowned and city planning has been changed ever since. The streets and boulevards of Chicago are diagonal and wider from the civic center plaza and buildings which took decades to establish and complete. This design reduces traffic and increases money the city can make off of toll roads or highways. In retrospect, why did Bennet and Burnham decide on diagonal roads instead of a grid system similar to Manhattan, another bumbling city full of wealthy New Yorkers, businessmen, and high tourist traffic. Anyways, the most essential part of the plan was the city’s 25 miles of lakefront to be used as a public park. Burnham and Bennett wrote in the closing of their plan that, “If, therefore, the plan is a good one, its adoption and realization will produce for us conditions in which business enterprises can be carried on with the utmost economy.” Even though much of their plan was not utilized to its fullest capabilities, modern day Chicago is established due to their hard work as urban planners. For example, downtown Chicago has many hip restaurants and businesses along the lakeshore. Public transportation has improved drastically. Historically, Burnham and Bennet live up to their names as the grand co-authors of the 1909 Plan of Chicago. 

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Economic Development and the Impact of Amazon’s New Headquarters

Economic development and growth is something that benefits a wide range of people. “Real estate brokers will benefit from an increased number of transactions. Property owners will benefit from increased demand for land and structures. Retailers will benefit from increased sales resulting from increased personal income” (Levy, 270). As one can see from this quote, economic development is of great importance to local residents and municipalities as well as for larger states and federal programs. Most economic development organizations take place at the local level and this seems to be the place that most focuses and is effected by economic development. Communities care about working towards increased economic development for several reasons which include; employment, property tax relief, and because it is good for overall sectors of business. Urban planners and economic developers are linked and must work together in the pursuit of economic development through issues of “public investment in infrastructure, land-use controls, environmental regulations, and anything else that affects the what and where of industrial and commercial development” (Levy, 271).

The planner’s role in economic development within the municipality manifests in a number of ways. They must guide towns and different communities on how to best plan and set themselves up to attract business, including firms looking to plant themselves in a new location. Towns must “sell” themselves to these companies hoping to sway them into settling in their community. They must also be concerned with making themselves visible and known to these firms to get their attention in the first place. Communities can use subsidization for development which helps reduce property tax for commercial or industrial development, thus making themselves attractive to a firm. This though may cause the problem of making themselves a good location choice for one company but not for others, because funds are limited and communities have to have the money to do this in the first place.

Currently this kind of economic development planning can be seen through the real-life example of Amazon. The company, Amazon, is currently on a search for a location to build their second headquarters. Many different cities are vying for Amazon’s attention and trying to persuade Amazon that their city is where they should settle. These cities are putting in bids, for Amazon which include tax breaks and many monetary benefits for the construction and overall being of this company. An article from CNN talks about how Amazon is so much controlling these different states and communities in this race to win them over, that eventually wherever they choose “Amazon doesn’t pay the state. The state pays Amazon.” Amazon is looking for a state that will meet their needs and many requirements which include; “convenient access to mass transit and an international airport, a highly educated labor pool, a strong university system and a diverse population.” Wherever Amazon’s new headquarters end up, will without a doubt, impact the community and the residents of wherever they land in many ways. They will bring with them many new jobs in the thousands, and economic boom, but there will also be impacts of transportation and traffic and other issues that will affect the local surrounding area of this new building and company. These are all factors that the planner must take into consideration when planning for amazon to come into a new municipality and for the town to process when putting in a bid for Amazon.

Check out this article which describes the competition of cities regarding Amazon: https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/20/these-cities-may-win-war-for-amazons-new-headquarters.html

source: Contemporary Urban Planning, by John M. Levy

The State Development and Redevelopment Plan

Although the United States does not have a national plan, it does participate in nationwide planning. This is done through different federal agencies such as the Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Transportation. New Jersey has it’s own history with state planning and dates back to as far as 1917 when the Home Rule Act was created. Throughout the next ten years, many things were enacted like municipalities being able to form their own school districts and the legitimization of zoning. In 1950, the first statewide development plan for New Jersey was announced, and twenty-five years later, we see the Mount Laurel I decision and the Mount Laurel II decision come about. This Mount Laurel doctrine required that municipalities affirmatively use their zoning powers to give realistic opportunities to the production of affordable housing for the lower income households. From this came the State Planning Act. The goals of the act that was in response to Mount Laurel II decision was to coordinate planning between state and local governments, revitalize urban centers, protect the environment, provide affordable housing, and balance private and public investment in infrastructure. This act also created what is now the Office of Planning Advocacy, and gave the responsibility for development and implementation of the Development and Redevelopment Plan to the State Planning Commission. The State Development and Redevelopment Plan was first implemented in 1992 and guaranteed regularity between the plans of the state and the plans of counties.

In 2001, the State Development and Redevelopment Plan was updated with the new objectives being to maintain and revitalize towns and cities, protect natural resources and farmland, and focus growth into mix-used communities. It also divided the land area in New Jersey into “planning areas” (i.e. PA1-urban, PA2-suburban, etc.) and promoted “center-based” growth such as urban centers, villages, and regional centers.

State Plan Map.jpg

Nine years later, in 2010, Governor Chris Christie was elected and threw away the State Development and Redevelopment Plan. Many people had criticized the State Development and Redevelopment Plan, saying it was bureaucratic, used a top-down planning system, and was overall ineffective. I find that the plan itself sounded like a smart plan in building up New Jersey, but wasn’t executed properly. Top-down planning isn’t the most strategic method and does not have the advantages that planning from the bottom-up would have. Therefore, the State Development and Redevelopment Plan had some good goals, but was ultimately seen as a failure.

Economic Development

Economic Development Programs are economic programs that help the community by addressing the economic needs of the people through the creation of sustainable business development and employment opportunities. They are important for the improvement of cities and the improvement of citizen’s lives that are living in those cities.

After the Great Recession, New Jersey had a much worse recovery compared to other states. There was an increase in business needs, transportation and energy costs, and global competiveness therefore shifting the economic dynamics. The New Jersey Economic Development Programs are essential to the economic growth of New Jersey. These include programs such as: The Business Employment Inventive Program, The Business Retention and Relocation Assistance Grant Program, and The Economic Redevelopment and Growth Program.

The Business Employment Incentive Program diverts the employee’s income taxes, up to eighty percent, to the employer for up to ten years. The Business Retention and Relocation Assistance Grant Program allows an annual corporate income tax credit of three thousand dollars per employee and includes any business that is considering leaving the state or considering expanding. Both these programs are aimed at job retention and creation. Other projects are focused on the encouragement of developing and redeveloping such as the Economic Redevelopment and Growth Program.  As of 2013, the Economic Redevelopment and Growth Program was consolidated with GROW NJ due to the Economic Opportunity Act that New Jersey passed.

Cities are constantly being developed and improved to help further the good of the economy. Essentially, the goal is to drive cities to be more entrepreneurial and to increase the competition between cities. Some plans that cities use for these developments are places such as pedestrian malls, arenas and stadiums, marketplaces, and casinos. My personal favorite of these difference schemes are the pedestrian malls such as Faneuil Hall located in Boston, Massachusetts.

Quincy Market

There, merchants and artisans can sell their products in places such as Quincy Market. It is the most successful marketplace in America. After visiting there, it was clear that Faneuil Hall was a beautiful place for the city to come together to experience different cultures and support one another’s businesses. It helps the economy in a unique way that is enjoyable for everyone. There are many ways to help the economy, and through these different schemes, the economy benefits as well as the citizens living in that city.

Mass Public Transportation

Of the images above the left is of students on one of the Rutgers buses and the right is of a subway car in the city; can you see any major differences? No? Well, that’s because there really are none. Any student at Rutgers who has used public transportation in the city during rush hour can compare it to the daily transportation on the Rutgers Bus System.

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Rutgers University has the second largest public transportation system in the state and the largest campus bus system in the county which comes as no surprise due to the fact the university currently has roughly 69,000 students! But even with the current amount of buses Rutgers has to offer its students, it’s clearly not enough. On any given day while waiting at a campus bus stop you can see 3 of the same bus line pass within minutes of each other, but can find yourself waiting 10-20 minutes for the bus you need to show up.

The current bus system in place has many flaws. First of all, when using the buses students are strategically planning out their bus schedules due to transfers and odd timing at stops. Furthermore, if your bus is one-two minutes late you can end up getting to where you needed to go 30 minutes later than you should have due to just a one minute delay; making the system extremely inconvenient as well. But due to the high price of parking passes and lack of parking many students rely on these buses to get around campus.

Student Center Rendering_0

Last spring semester a remodel of College Ave to make it safer for students was done. It featured bike lanes with protective fencing towards the road along with separate bus lanes as well.  There were a few flaws in this plan though, with the major one being the size of the bus lanes. They were implemented to help reduce traffic and improve the safety of students while entering and exiting the buses, however, the lanes are too small. The buses don’t fit well enough into the lanes and they still end up driving and pulling over on the regular roads more often than not.

With such a large campus and so many students, a better system needs to be put into place. Although most technology is still being tested and developed there are many concept theories that could benefit Rutgers Transportation; my favorite being the elevated bus system, or straddle bus system, by Craig Hodgetts and Lester Walker.

These buses would be able to carry around the same number of passengers as 40 regular buses could. Not only will this help with pollution, but by going over and around traffic it will make transportation faster and decrease the number of vehicles on road creating less traffic as well. Although this is a very high-cost plan and is still being developed it is a great idea for high-density cities. Ideas and technology like this are the types of innovative ideas needed to help shape healthy and well designed future cities.

 

Importance of Green Space and Art in Urban Design

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(V-J Day Mural near High Line Park; taken in May 2014 around completion of park)

Studies have shown that there are more cases of anxiety, substance abuse, and depression in urban city areas than in rural suburban spreads. Due to the noise, tension, aggression, and other unappealing surroundings this comes as no surprise. Negative places generate emotional reactions such as hopelessness, anger, stress, disgust, fear, laziness and many more. Because of these, and many more reasons, the importance of incorporating green spaces, art, and public parks into urban areas can be seen. Positive places such as those generate the opposite emotional reactions; such as happiness, calm & peaceful, inspiration, safety, appreciation, and pride.

Green spaces do not only improve the visual quality of an area, but help to reduce stress, promote healthy and active living, and have also been found to improve cognitive functioning as well. In combination with art, which can serve as a form of therapy, the addition of these to any urban space can be nothing but beneficial. And that is just what the Highline in NYC does for the Chelsea community.

(Promenade Plantee in Paris)

The Highline in NYC began construction in 2006 and was completed in three phases by 2014, with one more additional phase projected to be completed in 2018 after the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project is finished. Also known as High Line Park, it was built on a 1.45 mile long abandoned rail line along the west side of New York inspired by the Promenade Plantee in Paris.

(Highline Park Photos)

Not only as High Line Park proven to increase the spirits and mental well-being of visitors, but has helped to increase real estate values as well. Along with this, it has also inspired the plans of over 30 purposed projects in New York City alone.  By combining art and green space New York has created a fantastic space for people of the community and tourist to go and relax while looking at beautiful art installations as well as taking in the fascinating view of New York City that this elevated park has to offer.

 

 

Port Authority Political Games

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was created in 1921 by New York and New Jersey legislatures originally as a way to refine the transportation of rail and freight in the region. However, this mission was short-lived as the mission became that of creating a bridge between New York and New Jersey to give access to people, business, and their automobiles to the regions most dominant metropolitan area. This fostered a ground breaking project called, the George Washington Bridge.

The George Washington Bridge was administered by one of the greatests civil engineers of the twentieth century, Othmer H. Ammann, a Swiss immigrant whom migrated to the United States. He was fully persuaded that he would be the mastermind behind the infrastructure that we change the face of New York and New Jersey. The project was record breaking during the 1920s as a suspended center span of over 3,000 feet was considered almost impossible. Ammann pushed these oppositions to their max as he was convinced that not only would he build this bridge, but he would also build it in a relatively short period of time and on budget. He proved himself right as the bridge came to be within 2 years and under budget. The talent behind this bridge and its beauty even caused renown planner Le Corbusier to comment,

 

The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson is the most beautiful bridge in the world. Made of cables and steel, it gleams in the sky like an arch upturned, blest. It is the only seat of grace in a disheveled city.

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Eventually along with the George Washington Bridge came the Lincoln Tunnel which connected New Jersey with midtown Manhattan, and other major transit operations came eventually such as, bus terminals, rail services, the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal, and Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, providing New Jersey residents access to mid and lower Manhattan, and freight workers with a port away from the New York City congested streets. By 2012 the Port Authority had revenue of $4.1 billion and made $3.3 billion in capital expenditures. It also had a workforce of 7,000 including its own police force of 1,800.

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The Port Authority is an economic powerhouse, making way for major business transactions between New York and New Jersey. However, with such great power comes politics. Since the beginning of the Port Authority, it has caused rivalry. First with commercial establishments rivaling to possible political payback. In the summer of 2013, the term “bridgegate” was coined by media journalists after inquiries received information that Chris Christie administration had been playing political payback. Story has it that in the summer of 2013, two entry lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, NJ were closed for four days supposedly to traffic studies resulting in major traffic jams in Fort Lee. But this claim was falsified and a new story said that staff within Governor Christie’s staff ordered this closure due to grievance between Governor Christie and Democratic Fort Lee Mayor, Mark Sokolich, because Mayor Sokolich had failed to endorse Republican Governor Christie and his initiative to have the $1 billion raising of the Bayonne Bridge and the Pulaski Skyway in return for the Port Authority’s funding of the rebuilding of the World Trade Centers.

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