The study area is Lower Manhattan with special attention paid to its waterfront. To circumscribe the area’s fluid borders, the authors initially chose to confine their inquiry within the boundaries of Manhattan’s Community Board 1, which encompasses Battery Park City, Civic Center, Financial District, Greenwich South, Seaport, TriBeCa, Governors Island, Ellis Island, and Liberty Island. However, in developing the report, it became clear that nearby waterfronts and adjacent neighborhoods were directly relevant to the main research area: the Two Bridges area of Manhattan’s East River waterfront, Brooklyn waterfronts that face Lower Manhattan, Chelsea, and Hudson River Park below West 23rdStreet. All of these areas have in common a legacy of industrial infrastructure, a generation of major new waterfront parks, substantial arts and culture programming, and ferry service connections. Sandy’s storm surge identified another connection: a shared vulnerability to flooding—the study area is close to being an overlay of the areas in Manhattan and on nearby Brooklyn waterfronts that were directly impacted by flooding.
Together, the study area’s constituent parts represent an extraordinarily dramatic intersection of natural and constructed environments, waterfronts and uplands alike. It is not only a beautiful setting but also a fragile one threatened by the rising waters of climate change. The area is ineluctably tied to the environmental conditions of its location on the harbor, and any plans for and investment in the water’s edge, cultural or otherwise, must contend with this reality.
This study’s research challenged the authors’ initial assumptions about how creative work is produced, presented, and experienced. It is clear that New York is in the midst of a generational shift in the definition, experience, and location of cultural vitality. The boundary between the experience of the arts—performing and visual—and the experience of leisure time, everything from carousels to food fairs, is increasingly blurred. On the waterfront and elsewhere, public space is central to this change. It is shifting from a place that needs to be activated by a new cultural or recreational edifice to a place that activates the city around it. More than new buildings, public space, and the wide range of formal and informal cultural experiences it supports, is arguably New York’s most iconic urban cultural form.
This shift is occurring in concert with the growth of an audience that has a more participatory interest in and informal attitude toward the arts. And in public space, unlike in iconic museums or performance halls, where the price of admission can be prohibitive, there is an opportunity for participation in the arts across a broad socioeconomic spectrum for diverse age groups and cultures. The culture of the arts is evolving, and its evolution is changing the form of the city. New types of public places are both consummate works of art in themselves and sites for a vibrant range of creative endeavors within and beyond their borders.
Changing the discussion
This inquiry suggests that design will continue to play a significant role in generating and sustaining vibrant cultural activity in Lower Manhattan, but a major investment in new arts centers, on the harbor or elsewhere, is only one option, and it is not necessarily the most effective one. There are other ways to support cultural production and experience through design that are responsive to the changing culture of the arts, as well as to the special opportunities and vulnerabilities of waterfront sites. From a hip-hop festival in Brooklyn Bridge Park to a dance performance on the East River Esplanade, design’s role has been demonstrated, and it will continue to evolve after Sandy.
New York’s waterfront is already a lively place of cultural presentation and experience. Strategic design, informed by and contributing to inspired programming, has had an irrefutably critical role in activating the public realm at the water’s edge. No longer simply a container for culture, the built environment is now an armature for the arts. The recommendations that conclude this report are intended to reinvigorate and expand the scope of a dialogue initiated a decade ago in Lower Manhattan, from a conversation about the role of architecture and urban design in rebuilding to one about design’s role in supporting and stimulating cultural vitality.
Contents of the report
by Rosalie Genevro
League Executive Director Rosalie Genevro describes the catalyst for Success Looks Different Now and explains the evolution and scope of the study. Read the complete preface here.
What New York Needs: A Theater on the Waterfront
by Paula Deitz
A reprint of a proposal from 2008 by Paula Deitz, which originally appeared in The New York Sun, calling for New York to build an iconic, waterfront performing arts center, examples of which have become resonant features of European cities in the 21st century. This idea initiated the open-ended investigation that resulted in the Success Looks Different Now report.
The complete text of the overview is reprinted above.
I. Lower Manhattan and Cultural Revitalization
- The Proposal in Context
- Lower Manhattan’s Public Realm and Its Revitalization by Design
- The Role of the Arts: The “Effect” without the “Bilbao”
What is meant by “cultural vitality?” and how can we evaluate its impact, economic and otherwise, on cities? This section addresses these essential questions and outlines the role the arts have played in revitalizing Lower Manhattan–and its closely connected waterfront public spaces, including Governors Island, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and the East River Esplanade–after 9/11.
II. The Changing Culture of the Arts
- The Arts, Audiences, and the Life of the City
- Learning from New York’s New Meeting Grounds
- The Arts in Place: Cultural Districts and New York
- Economics, Audiences, Capital Investment, and the Arts
An analysis of the shifting trends in how culture is being produced and consumed–from informal, outdoor, participatory performances to new mixed-use cultural meeting places such as the High Line, Governors Island, and others. This chapter concludes with a look at contemporary economic data on audience behavior and capital investment in the arts.
III. The New Culture of the Waterfront
- The Reinvention of the Public Realm at the Water’s Edge
- The Activated Waterfront
- Culture and Climate Change
- Brooklyn Bridge Park
An examination of more than 20 years of waterfront planning and rehabilitation reveals that access, rather than edifices, will complete the job of activating New York City’s waterfront. However, the new realities of climate change present a fundamental challenge to these new plans for the boundary between land and sea. This chapter presents Brooklyn Bridge Park as a model for a responsible transformation of New York’s waterfront into an armature for public life that incorporates recreation, culture, and ecological performance.
IV. New Directions for the Arts on the Edge
- New Directions for Arts Centers
- Whitney Museum of American Art
- Culture Shed
- Pier 57 and Pier 40
- The Battery
- South Street Seaport
- Pier 35 and Pier 42
- Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center
A review of several downtown sites and projects poised for redevelopment on or around the water’s edge and the opportunities these projects hold for promoting the cultural vitality of Lower Manhattan and its adjacent neighborhoods.
V. Success Looks Different Now
- Observations and Analysis
The report finds that the model of iconic building as catalyst for revitalization must be reinvented in order to respond to evolving conditions of the arts, community, and climate change. Read the complete text of the Success Looks Different Now recommendations and conclusions here.
Lessons from Abroad: Waterfront Performing Arts Centers
by Paula Deitz
Success Looks Different Now: Design and Cultural Vitality in Lower Manhattan is a publication of The Architectural League of New York. All Rights Reserved. The report was made possible with public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support was provided by the J. Clawson Mills Fund of the Architectural League of New York. To inquire about obtaining a copy of the complete report, email firstname.lastname@example.org