With the Queens Plaza Bicycle and Pedestrian Landscape Improvement Project, the New York City Department of Planning and Economic Development Corporation are moving forward with efforts to redesign the streetscape of a dysfunctional part of Queens, New York, and revitalize JFK park. The urban design project, which includes landscape architect Margie Ruddick, ASLA, Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT), Marpillero Pollak Architects, Leni Schwendinger, a light artist, among others, and will also involve the innovative reuse of materials from the construction site. One smart application of reused materials: broken concrete medians that cover approximately 14,000 square feet of “unusable space between lanes of traffic and in Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) maintenance areas,” says WRT. While this redesign can achieve a whole set of “goods” like increasing pedestrian and bicyclist safety and creating a more artful urban landscape, it’s also a real-life example of sustainable reconstruction in action.
WRT says Queens Plaza is an “extremely busy” vehicular corridor that provides connections for 140,000 vehicles moving between Queensboro Bridge, Manhattan, Queens Plaza Boulevards North and South, Jackson Avenue, and other streets. The area is also dangerous: over a three year period, there were 23 accidents, mostly involving jaywalkers. This is six times the national average for urban streets. As a result, one of the key goals was to improve the “accessibility and functionality of the crosswalk and bicycle path systems.” Reused materials play a major role in this.
According to Tobiah Horton, a landscape designer with WRT, the reused concrete medians “physically block passage across vehicle lanes and visually indicate to the pedestrian who is still safely on the sidewalk that it is impossible to cross.” In addition, the textured and irregular appearance of the medians, which can perceived as looking “scary or dangerous” actually make pedestrians safer. “With a perception of danger, here perceived in texture and irregularity – a heightened sense of awareness and care is created in the user. Paradoxically, what is smooth, clean and without remarkable characteristics actually creates a dangerous environment of speed and inattention.”
Beyond calling attention to the dangers of crossing the street in such a busy area, these pieces of reused transportation infrastructure are also artful in a shabby chic kind of way, and may even resonate with the hardened pedestrians in this evolving neighborhood. Horton adds “keeping some traces of the old neighborhood in the new design comes to mean something for a neighborhood that is undergoing a rapid stage of change. Keeping the material in a relatively unprocessed or rough state allows for it to still be perceived as sidewalk, but with some suggestion of it as a demolition waste material. These lingering identities from the former use and the demolition process combine with the new identity as landscape element to suggest a way of looking at waste as resource with potential value and meaning.”
Importantly, this technique shows that designers working on urban redevelopment projects can safely salvage and reuse materials on site in an efficient manner. Horton says approximately “1,000 CY of broken concrete was used, saving transportation, disposal, crushing costs and impacts. Our rough calculation suggests that approximately 1.7 Billion BTUs of embodied energy is conserved in the reuse of this material in a higher form than crushing for road base. Additionally, we estimate that a release of 60 tons of C02 (principally from cement production) was avoided by not installing a typical DOT median feature composed of new concrete and other new materials.” Moreover, those rough surfaces meant no energy was wasted polishing them up.
Also worth noting: given these medians are made up of broken concrete, they are also permeable. WRT didn’t provide info on whether these new medians will function as green infrastructure and use natural systems to manage stormwater, but they say the “the uplift of the sidewalk suggests the opening of the impermeable urban surface” and opportunities for “green space, permeability, and infiltration.” Perhaps that piece will be coming soon.
The project is expected to be completed by fall 2011. See an interview from Urban Omnibus with the project designers. Also, check out an ASLA animation that explores some of these concepts, “Building a Park Out of Waste.”
Image credits: WRT