Oculus - Winter 2014 - (Page 34)

feature Just Another Messy Urban Neighborhood Remarkable simply for being normal, Melrose Commons flourishes where the Bronx once burned BY JONATHAN LERNER T hanks both to New York's skyrocketing real-estate market and a mayor who promised to do something about it, affordable housing is a topic of the moment. The focus is often on below-market-rate units in high-profile new buildings (and, sometimes, on separate entrances for those units' occupants). But a different affordable-housing model has been maturing in the South Bronx for two decades. It possesses absolutely no glam factor. It has altered the skyline, but mainly by reestablishing a version of the closely knit, stylistically unexceptional, low- and mid-rise urban fabric that existed before the project area was decimated by poverty, drugs, and crime. It has certainly transformed the local streetscape, though. Into 30-some blocks now designated Melrose Commons, where it was once impossible to lead a normal life, a neighborhood has been reestablished with about 4,500 new low- and middle-income residential units and plenty of new retail operations. The lessons of this redevelopment project, which are really more about constructing community than erecting buildings, should be an operating manual for the reclamation of other damaged parts of the city. "Develop it organically" Melrose Commons lies within a larger area called Melrose, which had a population of 53,000 in 1920; by 1990 only 6,000 people remained, amid burnedout blocks and empty storefronts, with a median income of $12,000. The city floated a wholesale "new town" urban-renewal plan for Melrose Commons that would have razed and replaced buildings that were still standing. It met resistance from people living in them, who wanted renewal without themselves being first removed. Enter Magnus Magnusson, AIA, and his partner Petr Stand, APA, who met weekly with a community group called Nos Quedamos/We Stay, which coalesced in reaction to the city's initiative. They drafted a master plan adopted by the city in 1994 that, Magnusson says, aimed to "develop it organically." One thing community members knew they didn't want were towers like the dreary public housing a few blocks away; they insisted on an eight-story height limit. Magnusson's plan called for these mid-rise buildings to be located along the principal avenues; responding to another community desire for mixed-use, they typically incorporate retail and institutional spaces at street level. Smaller-scale infill went in on side streets. Adventurous design was not on the community's agenda. "They didn't understand modern architecture, so we created a Bronx palate," he says, taking cues from the area's original early 20th-century building stock, "incorporating things that were familiar." Most of the new buildings are primarily red and tan brick. Many have modest Art Deco motifs. The large ones are generally relieved in scale by variations in massing and in exterior finishes and color. New construction was slotted in where buildings had already been demolished or were unsalvageable. With only three significant sites now left to be filled, the result is a neighborhood that feels intact, human in scale, and much like parts of New York that never experienced the trauma of disinvestment and destruction. At the time Magnusson Architecture and Planning (MAP) was developing its Melrose Commons' scheme, Magnusson was unaware of the simultaneous founding of the Congress for the New Urbanism. "But since then we've felt that Melrose 34 Oculus Winter 2014 Changing Skyline/Evolving Streets ©Sparrow Construction ©Magnusson Architecture and Planning ©Seong Kwon Photography

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Winter 2014

First Words: Letter from Two Presidents - Vision and Transition
Letter from the Editor - Tall Is as Tall Does
Center for Architecture - Center Highlights
One Block Over - Not All High Line Highlights Are On the Skyline: As a “museum of architecture” rises along the lush, elevated park, some streetscapes are coming to life
Opener: Of Sidewalks and Skylines
Hello, We’re at a Place Called Vertigo - 57th Street is sprouting residential supertalls. With great height comes great expectations. What aspects of these buildings earn so much of the sky?
Tower at the Crossroads - One Vanderbilt sculpts its top and bottom to trade additional floors for street-level amenity
The Mid-block Move - Side streets aren’t just for background buildings anymore
In Step with the Neighborhood - The new BAM South development is designed with equal attention to Downtown Brooklyn’s skyline and streetlevel civic space
LULU Hits the Streets - A sanitation garage shows how to make a Locally Undesirable Land Use...desirable
Just Another Messy Urban Neighborhood - Remarkable simply for being normal, Melrose Commons flourishes where the Bronx once burned
New Practices New York 2014 - Farms, think tanks, sausages, and nomadic operations – just some of the things these young design firms are focusing on
In Print - How Paris Became Paris: The Inventio
80-Year Watch - Le Corbusier’s first sight of Manhattan’s skyscrapers evoked a controversial yet prophetic response
Last Words - Hit the Road
Index to Advertisers - Alphabetical & Categorical Index

Oculus - Winter 2014