December 5, 2012
by Julie Trebault

Joseph J. Aliotta, AIA, LEED AP, AIANY 2012 President.

Laura Trimble Elbogen

Jean-Baptiste Cuzin, Director, Office of International and Multilateral Affairs, French Ministry of Culture and Communication

Laura Trimble Elbogen

David Burney, FAIA, Commissioner, NYC Department of Design + Construction

Laura Trimble Elbogen

Marie-Hélène Contal, Deputy Director, French National Institute of Architecture

Laura Trimble Elbogen

Alexander Levi, AIA, and Amanda Schachter, AIA, Founders & Principals, SLO Architecture

Laura Trimble Elbogen

Nicholas Taylor, International Projects Manager, Agence Nicolas Michelin & Associés, Paris

Laura Trimble Elbogen

Rick Bell, FAIA, AIANY Executive Director

Laura Trimble Elbogen

Event: Sustainable Cities
Location: Center for Architecture, New York, 11.26.12 (introductory session) and 11.30.12 (luncheon)
Introductory session: Jill N. Lerner, FAIA, AIANY 2013 President.
Rick Bell, FAIA, AIANY Executive Director; Alan Mallach, Senior Fellow, Center for Community Progress, Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program of the Brookings Institution, Visiting Scholar, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia; Ernest W. Hutton, Jr., Assoc. AIA, FAICP, Principal, Hutton Associates Inc./Planning Interaction
Luncheon: Joseph J. Aliotta, AIA, LEED AP, AIANY 2012 President; Charles Kolb, President, French American Foundation; Rick Bell, FAIA, AIANY Executive Director; David Burney, FAIA, Commissioner, NYC Department of Design + Construction; Alex Washburn, Chief Urban Designer, NYC Department of City Planning; Alexander Levi, AIA, and Amanda Schachter, AIA, Founders & Principals, SLO Architecture; David Piscuskas, FAIA, Principal, 1100 Architect; Marie-Hélène Contal, Architect, Deputy Director, French Institute of Architecture, Paris, Deputy Director for Culture, City of Lille; Jean-Baptiste Cuzin, Director, Office of International and Multilateral Affairs, French Ministry of Culture and Communication; Sophie Landrin, Environment Reporter, Le Monde; Nicholas Taylor, International Projects Manager, Agence Nicolas Michelin & Associés, Paris
Organizer: Center for Architecture and the French-American Foundation
Sponsors: Florence Gould Foundation

From 11.26.12 through 11.30.12, the French-American Foundation, in partnership with the French Ministry of Culture, hosted a high-level delegation of five French urban planning and sustainability professionals. During this week-long study tour, French delegates visited the New York City metropolitan area and discussed policies and practices in U.S. cities with their American counterparts, especially in the wake of the Superstorm Sandy. The Center for Architecture organized an introductory session and a lunch panel, where U.S. approaches to urban planning and sustainability were discussed with the French delegates.

Alan Mallach, FAICP, examined the American planning system during the opening program. By underlining the legal responsibility of municipalities in the planning process, he emphasized the crucial role of Community Development Corporations. This mechanism, despite the complexity of its decision-making procedure, turns out to be particularly efficient for small-scale projects. When Ernest W. Hutton, Jr., Assoc. AIA, FAICP, described the specific planning exigencies of the New York metropolitan areas, he stressed the importance of seeing PlaNYC: A Greener, Greater New York as a planning framework. As the major environmental planning initiative of the Bloomberg Administration, PlaNYC addresses specific ways in which civic life can be improved.

Rick Bell, FAIA, used case studies of New York projects, including the High Line and Via Verde, to describe the process by which urban design, public health and environmental quality come together. Bike lanes, bicycle storage, pedestrian streets, Select Street dedicated bus lanes and revitalized parks are among the means to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The City of New York as a matter of public policy increasingly encourages the use of public transportation and bicycles, and New York has become, as well, a city of walkers.

After three additional days of meetings and site visits throughout New York and in Newark, the French delegate returned to the Center for Architecture for a larger lunch meeting at which additional presentations were made. Joseph Aliotta, AIA, LEED AP, AIANY President, noted in his introduction that some of the collaborations his firm, Swanke Hayden Connell Architects, had undertaken including the renovation of the Statue of Liberty. His welcome also addressed the Future Now theme of AIA New York in 2012. Next to speak was Charles Kolb, president of the French-American Foundation, who briefly described the role and purpose of FAF here in New York, thanking the AIANY and the FAF staff including Emma Archer, Chrissa Laporte, Nassim Alloy, and Patrick Lattin. He was followed by AIANY Executive Director Rick Bell, FAIA, who outline thoughts on the upcoming 2013 mayoral election and listed what were likely to become some of the key issues in the campaigns, including regulatory reform, affordable housing, parks & open space, transportation & infrastructure, risk & reconstruction, and globalism. His PowerPoint also hinted at the ways in which New York was a French city, with images of Lafayette Street and the Bastille Day street celebration at Le Cercle Rouge in Tribeca.

Commissioner David Burney, FAIA, outlined the process by which public works are funded, designed and built, and showed examples from his agency, the Department of Design + Construction. Alexandros Washburn, AIA, Chief Urban Designer at the New York City Department of City Planning, speaking in superb French, delineated the correlation between environmental planning and effective urban design, talking as well about the City’s Active Design Guidelines. Amanda Schacter, AIA, and Alexander Levi, AIA, of SLO Architecture – one of the AIANY New Practices winners this year – presented an animation of their Bronx River project which aims to adaptively reuse a former rail station designed by Cass Gilbert. And David Piscuskas, FAIA, of 1100 Architect, presented two of his firm’s projects, the Queens Central Library in Jamaica and the Brooklyn Detention Center, which reinvigorated street life and augmented the functionality of pre-existing structures.

The French delegates also shared their perceptions of what they had seen and heard during their four days in the US. Marie-Hélène Contal was impressed by the ability, manifest in New York, to link environmental issues with considerations of social justice. By contrast, she noted, social equity is not systematically taken into account in French practice.

Catherine Cullen said that one of the principal differences between the two countries is the role culture typically plays in the French urban planning process. She cited particular examples from her experience as Deputy Mayor for Culture in the City of Lille. And Nicholas Taylor, noted the relative dynamism of civil society in New York, as evinced through the community-based planning system.  He contrasted the role of Community Planning Boards with the more centralized top-down approach in France. Jean-Baptiste Cuzin, from the French Ministry of Culture & Communication and Sophie Landrin, from Le Monde, also shared observations.

An underlying theme of the discussion on both days was the impact of Superstorm Sandy on land use decision-making, codes and zoning, and methods of construction throughout New York City. The discussion of sustainable urbanism and green planning was tempered by the magnitude of the problems to be faced as a result of sea level change and storm surge. The inventiveness and resourcefulness of New Yorkers was contrasted with the maps that showed the topographic vulnerabilities.

Julie Trébault is the AIANY Communications Coordinator.