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NYC real estate and architecture experts reflect on 2016's biggest moments

The year that was, and what to look forward to in 2017

Gowanus, one of the NYC neighborhoods that preservationists are watching in 2017
| Max Touhey

This may not have been the easiest year for the world at large, but it was a big one for the areas that Curbed NY covers: New York real estate, architecture, urban planning, affordable housing, and the like.

All this week, we’ve been taking a look back at the year that was, examining the best architecture, the biggest stories, the most outrageous amenities, and more. But to get a fuller picture of what happened in New York City in 2016—and to get a sense of where the city is going in 2017—we asked 15 experts in real estate, urban planning, architecture and design to reflect on their year.

They also shared some insight on what innovations and changes New Yorkers should expect for 2017, whether that be more closings of beloved businesses, a bigger focus on sustainable design, or new technology changing the face of urban planning. Read on for more insights.

The Stage Restaurant in better days
Stage Restaurant/Facebook

The saddest NYC shutterings of 2016, according to Jeremiah Moss, founder of Vanishing New York:

“It's always hard to pick just one, so I'll go with a pair from the East Village: St. Mark's Bookshop and The Stage Restaurant. St. Mark's had been struggling for a while and finally shuttered in early 2016. The Stage had been closed since the Second Avenue explosion in 2015, and was fighting eviction from its new landlord, Icon Realty. It officially vanished in March. For over 20 years, these two longtime locals were part of my everyday experience of life in the East Village. On a difficult day, just walking by them could make me feel better. The bookshop's window full of new titles would spark ideas and memories. A glimpse at the Stage's lunch counter, Christmas lights strung in the steamy window this time of year, was a balm to the soul. I miss them both every day.”

…And on what we can do in 2017 to curb small business closures:

“I am sure that small businesses will continue to be decimated in 2017 and beyond. City Hall can help by passing the Small Business Jobs Survival Act to give mom and pops fair lease renewals. Even better, let's bring back commercial rent control like New York had years ago. We also desperately need a rezoning to control the spread of chain stores, like San Francisco has done, and a vacancy tax on landlords who create high-rent blight by keeping commercial spaces empty for long periods of time while they wait for chains to move in. It's important to understand that many mom and pops are not vanishing because business is bad. They're vanishing because the game is rigged against them. It's not ‘market forces,’ it's policies—and policies can be changed.”

Joel Raskin/Curbed Flickr Pool

The biggest neighborhood of 2016, according to Leonard Steinberg, president of Compass:

“The Lower East Side stands out in 2016 as a vibrant neighborhood that exists already [that is] welcoming new buildings, as opposed to most other areas where buildings are built hoping for a neighborhood to follow.”

…And what 2017 will bring after a year of glut in the luxury market:

“2016's market slowdown started in 2015. Inventories have grown and will continue to do so, yet the volume is significantly lower than the longterm demand. And banks have stopped construction financing on all but the most conservatively priced buildings. Buyers who had withdrawn from the market because pricing had become uniformly over-heated will return, and have started already to come back into the markets. With lower personal and corporate taxes on the horizon, a new sense of urgency to buy due to the potential of rising interest rates and record-high equity markets, we expect the luxury markets to be very healthy in 2017.”

The prevalence of housing discrimination in 2016, according to Fred Freiberg, executive director of the Fair Housing Justice Center:

Many New Yorkers confronted discriminatory barriers in the housing market; discrimination based on race, national origin, disability, source of income, and other protected characteristics was persistent and pervasive. These policies and practices severely limit housing choice and inflict serious harm on thousands of individuals and families seeking to exercise their fair housing rights. They are also responsible for perpetuating the very pronounced patterns of poverty concentration and residential segregation in our region. New York City, one of the most diverse cities in the country, is also the third most segregated city for African Americans and the second most segregated city for Latinos and Asian Americans in the United States. This discrimination and segregation fuels myriad inequalities (e.g., homelessness, gentrification, isolation, poverty, hate crimes, etc.) that continue to harm all of us.”

...And on the major challenges for equitable housing ahead:

What looms as a potential and grave challenge in 2017 is the dark shadow of uncertainty over what role the federal government will play in advancing the national policy objective of providing fair housing throughout our nation. Will the government further abdicate its responsibility and reduce the paucity of resources currently devoted to enforcing the Fair Housing Act? Such action would most certainly have enormous adverse consequences for some of the most vulnerable populations in our society and lead to greater inequality and hardship. It would also seriously impair organizations like the FHJC from advancing our mission and vigorously enforcing fair housing laws. Our challenge, as an organization, will be to take whatever steps are needed to ensure that we can continue to pursue our mission and sustain this vital struggle for justice and fair housing.”

The biggest successes and defeats in NYC historic preservation in 2016, according to Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council:

“The Landmarks Preservation Commission putting the interiors of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on their calendar to be heard as potential landmarks was a coup. It’s an example of municipal preservation at its best; the public raised concern about the possible threat to an iconic New York City site and the City responded in a public, transparent, constructive way. Another thing that was very important was the designation of the Stonewall Inn and the surrounding area as a National Monument. The official recognition of Stonewall’s significance to America’s history is revolutionary; the designation will help communicate its story to a broader audience, and will benefit it in more far-reaching ways than its local landmark designation.

In a year filled with disappointments, neighborhood preservation had its fair share. The growth agenda of the de Blasio administration pushed through a citywide rezoning despite the united efforts of almost all 59 community boards. The final plan was less damaging to communities than what was originally proposed, but it was still a mistake. On the other side of City Hall, the City Council tried to put shackles on the LPC’s decision-making process with damaging and unnecessary legislation. Thanks to vociferous community objections, the worst of the legislation was removed, but the result still puts the LPC on a ‘do or die’ schedule without providing any new protections or resources to make the agency more effective.”

And neighborhoods on the preservation radar for 2017:

“Areas of the South Bronx that have been seeking to attract investment for decades are seeing it arrive in truckloads, but existing communities are being cut out of the plans for what that investment goes towards. Mott Haven, Port Morris and other areas close to Manhattan are already being primed for development, but the important question is: what kind? East Harlem is also going to be radically transformed; fortunately there is a strong, organized community that’s working to have a seat at the table. In Brooklyn, forces are actively seeking to transform Gowanus; the question is into what? The dense area east of Prospect Park is experiencing an increasing number of tear-downs on previously-untouched historic rowhouse blocks. Even the areas of the Lower East Side long thought plowed under by gentrification are seeing more and more out-sized modern incursions.”

Downtown Brooklyn and Borough Hall
Flickr/Tectonic Photo

The challenges facing Brooklyn in 2017, according to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams:

“I am impressed with how every corner of our borough continues to grow in popularity with its development potential. The challenge we face is ensuring that popularity translates into prosperity for every Brooklynite, particularly longtime residents that were our foundation in the challenging years. We face continued challenges in access to affordable housing, first-class education, quality health care, and sustainable employment, and Brooklyn Borough Hall is more committed than ever to mobilizing all of its resources to help tackle these pervasive issues. I’m excited by the energy that exists in this borough to overcome these obstacles, led by a new generation of community leaders who are innovative and determined.”

How technology will affect city planning in 2017, according to Dan Doctoroff, CEO of Sidewalk Labs:

“There can be little doubt that the struggles cities are facing are only intensifying, from high costs of living to congested commutes to environmental and public health. One of the reasons you don't see more innovation in cities is that they're really complex places, and it's very hard to get anything done. But I believe we are at the cusp of a major urban technological revolution that will use connective tools to radically change how cities operate and take on the challenges that face them. Sidewalk Labs is having conversations with local communities to establish districts that could serve as living laboratories for emerging technologies. It's that type of large-scale exploration that can help cities accelerate urban innovation and implement some of these new ideas more quickly than they might otherwise.”

Prospect Park, one of the participants in the Parks Without Borders program
Tectonic Photo

The biggest accomplishments of NYC’s parks department in 2016, according to NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver:

“In nearly every measurable way, this was a spectacular year for NYC Parks as we moved ahead with our mission to plan and build a parks system for present and future generations. In 2016, we brought New York City: a new design approach, Parks Without Borders, that will change the face of parks across the city; a look at the future of parks and public spaces at the Parks Without Borders Summit, which earned attention from around the globe; the world’s largest and most detailed online street tree map drawn from a record-breaking TreesCount! Census; the beginning of construction on our first set of Community Parks Initiative sites—and the addition of many more in the pipeline; the addition of 100 new free Shape Up NYC classes in every borough; the first summer since Hurricane Sandy with a fully open and accessible Rockaway Boardwalk; and $150 million in new funding to renovations to five Anchor Parks across the city.”

How to combat the growing homelessness crisis in NYC, according to Rosanne Haggerty, president of Community Solutions:

“We work with New York, but also with more than 60 communities across the country. The most successful communities we're working with are using real time, by-name data to drive down the number of people experiencing homelessness month over month. Emphasizing this strategy in New York City is vitally important. Having an always up-to-date by-name list and knowing the specific circumstances of each person experiencing homelessness is the key to making progress. That specificity, like a medical diagnosis, is essential to helping an individual or family solve their housing crisis.”

SHoP’s American Copper Buildings, rising along the East River waterfront
Will Femia for Curbed

The biggest architecture story of 2016, according to William Sharples, founding principal of SHoP Architects:

“I think the big story isn't any given building, but what's happening on our waterfronts. In terms of the large, mixed-use projects such as Hudson Yards, Hunter's Point, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Roosevelt Island—all along the East River—we're seeing enormous territory that is being very effectively used by the public. That is something that New Yorkers talked about for decades and now we're seeing it very much in play.”

“And this turning toward the rivers changes architecture directly, too. Buildings like BIG's Via on the Hudson, or our American Copper Buildings, and many, many others—these are iconic buildings that are redefining another type of skyline that you don't necessarily associate with the city. A new generation of building on the city's waterfronts has allowed New York to express a certain freedom that I think the city has always had, but that we're really able to explore in a new way at that charged location where the land meets the water.”

Pacific Park COOKFOX
COOKFOX’s design for 550 Vanderbilt Avenue in Brooklyn
Max Touhey

The emerging architecture trends of 2016, according to Rick Cook, partner at COOKFOX:

“We’ve been motivated by a wave of new projects that integrate green space into buildings in new ways. Access to nature is being designed into the built environment not as an aesthetic choice, but in order to create healthier space for living and working. Related to this trend for healthy environments, is the WELL standard as an emerging metric for creating buildings that support overall well-being. We believe that individual and social well-being are inextricably linked, and the pursuit of well-being is connected to a renewed interest in our civic responsibilities, to make New York City a healthier city for everyone.”

ODA New York’s recently revealed design for a Bushwick “vertical village”
Courtesy of ODA New York

How architects should challenge skinny skyscraper design in 2017, according to Eran Chen, founder of ODA New York:

“I believe that architecture in big cities is changing course, and we need to take a hard look at the ever-growing slender tower phenomena and seek new formulas with which to add value to those dead-end sky boxes. By utilizing existing resources like courtyards and roofs, we can create new opportunities to ameliorate the growing disparity between ‘private’ and ‘public’ spaces. At ODA, we envision the future growth of NYC to consist of ‘vertical villages.’ We believe that long prized high floors and boxed-in views are overrated, while contextual authenticity and outdoor engagement are not only underrated, but are the very things that make living in urban settings sustainable.”

The high expectations on interior design in 2016, according to Cathy Hobbs, founder of Cathy Hobbs Design Recipes:

“Developers remain focused on distinction, making their developments stand out. These days the buyer is extremely discerning and informed. No longer phased by trends, buyers are looking and demanding quality. To this end, I have seen a more concerted effort on the part of developers and the design industry toward European and minimalist design.”

…And on how sustainability will play a bigger role in 2017:

“Energy efficiency tops the lists. These days when it comes to new construction especially, both builders and buyers are looking for ways to live healthier and be more environmentally aware. Energy efficiency from windows, doors to heating and cooling is top of mind. We are also starting to see the passive building movement that is so prominent in parts of Europe take hold in the U.S., including New York.”

461 Dean Street topped out
461 Dean and the Barclays Center, part of the larger Pacific Park megaproject
Max Touhey

On realizing a Brooklyn megaproject in 2016, according to MaryAnne Gilmartin, president of Forest City Ratner:

“Pacific Park may have had the longest beginning of any project in city history, and no one, including us, could have anticipated how this project would fundamentally transform Brooklyn. 2016 was certainly a banner year for the project. Six Pacific Park properties are now under construction, and our affordable housing lotteries attracted tens of thousands of applicants. Last month, 461 Dean became Pacific Park’s first residential property to open. After a decade of planning and building, it would be hard to overstate the emotions we feel that families now call Pacific Park home.”

“We knew there was an affordable housing crisis in Brooklyn, but we were floored by the number of applicants we received for below market-rate units at Pacific Park. Over 84,000 applicants applied for 181 units at 461 Dean. We knew it was important for us to bring 2,250 affordable units to the borough, but this reaffirmed the urgency of the situation.”

The big trends in hotels this year (and next), according to Jonathan Minkoff, Founder and CFO of ASH NYC:

“It is a prevalent trend that we see in every city throughout the world: consumers are much more savvy thanks to the internet, and a satisfactory hotel stay is no longer enough to discerning travelers. In traditional real estate development, the business models only change slightly, whereas we have noticed a larger than normal change in the strategies behind hotel development.”

“We are working to create a collection of hotels that focus on well-designed, smaller rooms, with an abundance of food and beverage components and activated common spaces throughout the hotel that can be used by both the local community at large and the guest population. What we hope to contribute to the growing list of properties in this sphere is a unique point of view in culturally-relevant cities that really captures the lifeblood of the place and space.”

The power of adaptive reuse in 2016, according to Carol Loewenson, president of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects:

“The history that people bring with themselves, and the history a city brings with itself, is really what makes it interesting and great. We had a theme at the AIA this year called Authenticity and Innovation that looked at the tension and the balance between old and new. It resonated with people on many different levels.”

“It’s come from an understanding that our development doesn’t have to be all new. If architecture is about the human condition—making work, learning and living institutions better—it’s not just about the buildings, it’s about the places that are made and the people who live there. We’re looking at things in a more nuanced way … sustainability is not just about the bells and whistles you put on a new building. Reusing an old building may be the most sustainable thing you can do.”

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