A vision for reviving the Island

September 28, 2008 at 6:19 pm Leave a comment

Twelve urban planners presented a blueprint for change last night that would revitalize Staten Island’s shores, beautify its streetscapes and preserve its character.

The American Institute of Architects’ Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) study was the culmination of a week of fevered work on the part of the volunteers, who came from other parts of the state and the nation to examine Staten Island’s waterfront: A symbol of the borough’s beauty and its untapped potential.

Titled “Your Staten Island,” the report also represented a vision based on input solicited from the 457 Islanders who filled out the Chamber of Commerce’s “It’s a Shore Thing” survey and another 150 who presented their comments publicly at a forum earlier this week.

Very possibly, the volunteers of the R/UDAT team will return to their homes today feeling worn-out and underappreciated.

They presented their vision at the Joan and Alan Bernikow Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Sea View to a room full of Staten Islanders grown weary of studies and wary of plans that go nowhere.

But in the long run, the R/UDAT study could be a catalyst for changes that Islanders have been contemplating for decades. It could energize top-down and grass-roots planners to fix what’s broken. It could inform. It could inspire.

“We can give you a lot of recommendations. How useful this project is will be up to you,” said Massachusetts city planner Wayne Feiden, who co-led the R/UDAT team with Nebraska architect Peter Hind.

The experts’ recommendations center on supporting the growth of the Island’s maritime industries, improving mass transit options, cultivating town centers and St. George as the Island’s downtown, and making the waterfront accessible to the public.

They include:

* Adding a high-speed ferry to Manhattan and a hopper taxi connecting points of the Island’s shore and Perth Amboy

* Reducing cut-through traffic on secondary streets by adding round-abouts

* Improving bus stop environments — including real-time, electronic signs to show when the next bus is coming

* Establishing a training center to provide job skills to future employees of local maritime industries

* Changing zoning laws so that manufacturing sites along the shore would be restricted to water-dependent uses

* Using the former International Speedway Corp. (NASCAR) site for temperature-controlled warehousing useful for importing fruits

* Supporting the growth of the New York Container Terminal and other maritime industries along the North Shore, West Shore and Arthur Kill South that create high-paying jobs

* Improving the roadway on Richmond Terrace

* Expediting the permitting process so that projects along the waterfront can be approved within a feasible time frame

* Improving waterfront access and addressing eyesores near the St. George Ferry Terminal, the Island’s “front door”

* Encouraging local artists to take initiative by creating art spaces and galleries

* Adding retail and a boardwalk to Staten Island’s “downtown”

* Compiling figures to define sizes of local markets

* Creating a unified vision for the borough’s future

In some cases, the R/UDAT’s recommendations were built on plans long discussed or already at hand. They supported, for example, the North and West Shore railways, the call for wind power at Fresh Kills and the speedy realization of the new Goethals Bridge.

In other cases, they brought fresh eyes. It took a group of outsiders, for example, to notice that the stone fountain at the Supreme Court building by Borough Hall is broken and should be fixed or turned on.

AN ACTIVE ROLE

The Staten Island Chamber of Commerce will take an active role in setting an agenda based on the recommendations, and the study will likely inform pending land use studies by the city EDC and the 30-year plan under way from the non-profit group “A Vision for Staten Island,” Chamber leaders said.

“This will take a grass-roots effort to get this to happen bit by bit,” said Tom Scarangello, chairman of the Chamber board. “It has to be something the community embraces and drives.”

See the full R/UDAT report at www. aia.org/liv_rudat_list.

Tevah Platt
Staten Island Advance

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Entry filed under: Dive In, Public Waterfront, Staten Island. Tags: , , , , .

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