Downtown Brooklyn’s Champion Aims to Take It Up a Notch

When Regina Myer took over last October as president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, the neighborhood was already reaching for the sky. Residential skyscrapers had arrived; now comes a wave of office towers. As head of the not-for-profit, membership organization, Myer’s role is to ensure all that development meshes well, from the skyline down to the street level. An urban planner by training, she earlier directed redevelopment of the North Brooklyn waterfront, helped plan Manhattan’s huge Hudson Yards project, shaped the rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn and helmed the creation of Brooklyn Bridge Park. In her new role, Myer, a longtime Park Slope resident, intends to make downtown the most dynamic neighborhood in the city. The Bridge talked with her about her mission:
1. Downtown Brooklyn has really arrived. How did it happen?

You know, Downtown Brooklyn was always the center of the borough. It’s where our county courts are, and our borough president has his seat. But until MetroTech [was built] it didn’t have a real center for offices. What it did have is arguably the best mass transit in the city. The 2004 rezoning [allowing the construction of residential towers] based its vision for the future on a few things. One was that there was room for expansion, especially places like Willoughby Street and Flatbush Avenue. But it also realized that there was so much strength in Brooklyn already to build upon, and that a mixed-use neighborhood with residential [apartments] in a high-rise format would make sense for this area, given the transit system and phenomenal access to culture, parks and shopping.

What we’re seeing now, with all the construction fences coming down, is that we have a true mixed-use neighborhood that’s able to take advantage of all of those aspects. We have new offices coming to locate here. There are finally places to go have lunch and to have a business dinner and a drink after work.

Another thing is the retail. Fulton Street has long been one of New York’s great retail corridors. And it’s seeing a phenomenal resurgence now that we have a Macy’s that’s renovated and with the opening of City Point and its strong package of shopping and dining options that cater to downtown’s diverse population, as well as visitors from across the borough and around the city. There’s a really new, great energy to Fulton Street.
2. Where do you want to take it from here?

I want Downtown Brooklyn to be viewed as New York City’s great, great downtown. And we have so much potential to get there. I think as new buildings open, as new tenants come to Downtown Brooklyn, we also have the ability to focus on the landscape and the streetscape and make sure that the pedestrian environment really ties everything together.

I think we all know that we can be better connected. We can be better connected to the waterfront, for instance. Proposals like the Strand [pedestrian gateway] are very much on our mind because that proposal put forth this idea that the downtown should be connected to the waterfront and to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Our connections to the Navy Yard can be strong and meaningful as it evolves to a place where there’s more and more job growth. It’s a place where we can provide access to people at Farragut Houses and people at Whitman and Ingersoll houses to the resources of Downtown Brooklyn and the jobs in the Navy Yard. From New Lab [in the Navy Yard] to Metro Tech is not a far walk, but it’s not a pleasant walk right now.



Moody’s: Amazon still far from ruling retail

From Amazon’s Prime membership numbers to its entry into the grocery space to its retail “dominance,” Moody’s analysts led by Charles O’Shea tackled some widespread assumptions about the e-commerce giant’s place in the world in a recent report emailed to Retail Dive. Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Analysts with the bond rating agency noted that, though Amazon dominates online sales, those sales account for just 10% of the industry as a whole. As for its recent acquisition of Whole Foods, the analysts wrote, “We believe it’s a big stretch to say — as many in the market have been doing — that Amazon will dominate food retail, and some have said this will happen within two years.” They pointed out that Amazon, even now with Whole Foods in the fold, controls only a $20 billion piece of an $800 billion market for food sales in the U.S.

O’Shea and his fellow analysts also called into question oft-cited estimates of Amazon’s Prime membership at 85 million, which they call “seriously overstated,” “highly improbable” and made “in the absence of any real guidance from the company itself.” Moody’s analysts, based on an evaluation of demographic data, think the figure for Prime members is closer to 50 million, well below Costco’s total of 86.7 million members.

Is Elon Musk’s plan for a road network beneath LA more than a pipe dream?

Cities attract wild ideas, from Qinhuangdao’s straddling bus to London’s bike lanes in the sky. As Musk’s Boring Company starts tunnelling, could his plans for underground roads and Hyperloop trains prove the doubters wrong?

In early August, the city council of Hawthorne, California, held a special meeting. It had set aside this time to discuss a major construction project proposed by a high profile company based there in the sprawling Los Angeles basin.

The company was Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX, the rocket-building offshoot of the electric car company Tesla, run by the billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk. SpaceX had recently spun off another entity, this one aimed at disrupting the tunnel boring business, cheekily named the Boring Company – and it needed the City of Hawthorne’s cooperation.

“We want to prove our technology,” Brett Horton, senior director of facilities and construction at SpaceX, told the city council. The company had recently purchased a used tunnel boring machine from another California city and had begun testing its capabilities below its parking lot. But SpaceX wants to go further, tunnelling a roughly two-mile path beyond its property line and under the streets of Hawthorne. It’s a fairly quotidian infrastructural endeavour, but one tied to a grand vision.

Musk wants to build a vast network of tunnels below cities like Los Angeles in which cars and people will be whisked across town on electrically driven platforms at speeds of 125mph. Like the swooping and merging lanes of an interstate highway, the tunnels would criss-cross the metropolis, far below ground level. Elevators would bring cars, cargo and other vehicles down into tunnels and into the system of tubes on what the Boring Company calls an “electric skate”, then back up another elevator at the desired destination – apparently bypassing all traffic above ground.

“Traffic is driving me nuts,” Musk tweeted in December. “Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging …”

The digging has begun. The company has bored about 160 feet under its own property, with no reported complications. The proposed two-mile extension is being presented as a laboratory for increasing the speed and reducing the cost of tunnelling. It’s a new frontier for a parent organisation that has already developed transformative automobile and rocket technologies.

“The next step is to use what we learn to make stronger, faster tunnel boring machines, to make a safe transportation system, and then to figure out where we want to go next,” Horton told the city council. “If you’ve had the opportunity to look at the videos online, it’s not a secret. We want these tunnels to be everywhere. We want to duplicate the road network in LA underground.

“We want to prove that we can solve traffic once and for all,” he said.
From the aspirational to the absurd

Usually these types of proposed projects don’t get built. Sometimes they’re mere marketing or self-promotion, other times they’re earnest suggestions for a better world – either way, they’re almost always able to generate a conversation.

“Visionary proposals are an essential way to come together in discussion about the city,” says Nicholas de Monchaux, an associate professor of architecture and urban design at the University of California, Berkeley. Big ideas for the future city are nothing new, and although these schemes can sometimes seem preposterous in their ambitions, de Monchaux says they have a power to inspire.

One of the earliest and most enduring visions of an ideal society is presented in the book Utopia, published in 1516 by the lawyer and philosopher Thomas More. “Utopia literally described an island of cities that didn’t exist and couldn’t exist,” says de Monchaux. “But utopias help us think about the world as it actually is and ways we might want to change it – or not.”

Perhaps because of its role in modern life and its impact on urban form, transportation has long been the starting point for these thought experiments. And as technology evolves, these ideas have taken on a variety of new forms, ranging from the aspirational to the absurd.

Near the far end of that spectrum, a company in China gathered global attention in 2016 with plans to build a lane-straddling bus – a novel contraption designed to carry hundreds of passengers over two lanes of traffic, theoretically bypassing congestion. The prototype of a sort of double-wide subway car on stilts, was completed a few months later and given a test run, with regular passenger vehicles driving underneath. But within days the project was stalled, and was abandoned less than a year later after it was accused of being little more than an investment scam. The founder of the company behind the project and 31 employees were recently arrested on suspicion of illegal fundraising.