CNU 2012 Charter Award Honorable Mention: Melrose Commons LEED for Neighborhood Development
Location: Bronx, New York. Neighborhood in major metropolitan area
The project is a 30-block Urban Renewal Area anchored around Melrose Avenue and East 161st Street in the South Bronx, New York. Working with a locally-based community organization, Nos Quedamos, Magnusson Architecture and Planning, PC provided planning and technical assistance to craft a plan that reflected the community’s vision for its revitalization and future sustainable development. This Plan was officially adopted by the New York City Planning Commission in 1994, and over the past decade more than 2,000 units of affordable housing have been developed within the Urban Renewal Area boundary, along with community and retail space. We have designed a series of new buildings on separate sites and continues to work in the neighborhood. In each new development, we collaborate with funding organizations and city and/or state agencies to promote the highest feasible environmental and design standards.
This neighborhood revitalization plan and the 18-year on-going implementation of sustainable infill development recently earned Stage II LEED-ND Silver certification under the LEED for Neighborhood Development Pilot Program. Certification of this plan at the Silver level not only raises awareness of what has been accomplished in the South Bronx, but also increases public confidence in the sustainable redevelopment of other urban neighborhoods across the country.
To date our work in the project includes:
- Plaza de los Angeles – a development of thirty-five 3-family townhouses (105 units) for families of low – moderate income;
- Courtlandt Homes – six 2-family and six 3-family townhouses (30 units) for families of moderate to middle income;
- Parkview III – four 3-family townhouses (12 units) for families of moderate to middle income;
- The Orion (61 units)- mixed-use multi-family condominiums for families of low – moderate income with ground floor retail;
- The Aurora (91 units) – mixed-use multi-family condominiums for families of moderate – middle income with ground floor retail;
- El Jardin de Selene (84 units)– a LEED Gold designed, mixed-use, mixed-income multi-family building, with ground floor retail and community facility space;
- Palacio del Sol (124 units), Parkview I (110 units) and II (88 units), Dorado (58 units) and La Terraza (85 units)- mixed-use residential for families of low-income each with ground floor retail space;
- La Puerta de Vitalidad (61 units)– a mixed-use residential building with 50% of its residents formerly homeless with ground floor retail and community facility space;
- La Casa de Felicidad (85 units) – a low-income senior citizens residents with accessory social services on the ground floor.
After the certification of the Urban Renewal Plan and with the support of the New York State Council on the Arts, the Astor Foundation, and the Cooper Hewitt Museum, the work included holding workshops on a monthly basis within the community on planning, urban design, architecture, financing and environmental issues. These discussions were broadened as other New York City community development groups were invited to share their experiences. Eventually other groups from around the United States and abroad (including representatives from Chile, Germany, The Netherlands, France, South Africa and South Korea), hearing about our work with Nos Quedamos came to listen and share their work in their communities. These results of these workshops were shared in presentations to the local community boards, at AIA conferences and at several area colleges including the City College School of Architecture, Pratt Institute, Hunter College and Bronx Community College.
Response to Charter Principles
The following planning principles underlie the creation of the Project’s Urban Renewal Plan and have guided its physical development over the last 18 years:
- No displacement – new development will occur within the framework of the existing buildings.
- Urban Design guidelines – building height limitations and streetwall requirements were articulated to respond to both scale and context. Off-street parking and curb-cut requirements were minimized to reduce the amount of automobile traffic.
- Mixed-use development is encouraged –the major streets are serviced by public transportation and opportunities for commercial and community facility development are vital for neighborhood sustainability.
- A diverse typology of housing is encouraged, both homeownership and rental, including senior housing and supportive housing in order to nurture a diverse and mixed income community.
- An environmental agenda for both materials and construction processes is important and needs to be encouraged. This neighborhood has one of the highest asthma rates in the country and several development sites are brownfields.
- The Project is one of the first urbanized neighborhoods in the Bronx. The architecture of the new developments should respect this history, firmly place it in its urban context, yet be sensitive to the culture of the current inhabitants.
With a population of over 40,000 people in the 1940’s, this portion of the Bronx was at the epicenter of the devastation that swept through the borough in the 1970’s. By the 1990’s less than 6,000 people remained, over 60% of the land had returned to City ownership, and it had become the poorest neighborhood in the nation.
In a collaborative effort led by the local community organization Nos Quedamos, the Bronx Borough President’s Office, The Mayor’s Office and the New York City Departments of Housing Preservation and Development and City Planning committed to a 6-month planning process in the the Project’s community. We represented Nos Quedamos as their design and planning partners during these weekly planning sessions.
Over the last 18 years we have continued to work in the Project. This work has included workshops in the neighborhood to better understand local attitudes on architecture, urban design, and to develop an environmental and sustainability agenda. This collaboration has also designed and built a varied typology of residential buildings in the Project.
Our architecture in the Project has responded to several factors:
- A classical response – our buildings have a base, a middle and a top;
- An urban response – the use of stone and masonry for building facades, traditional materials in the Bronx;
- A cultural response – the use of poly-chromatic masonry, bas-reliefs and mosaics to reflect the current Hispanic ethnicity of the community.
The varied typology of our buildings has provided opportunities for families across a range of incomes. New businesses have opened in the ground floor commercial spaces including medical offices, supermarkets, pharmacies, restaurants, including a mix of local stores and national chains.
Our architecture is committed to healthy design. Buildings were built with cavity walls, high albedo roofs, bamboo floors, positive air delivery systems, and low flow water fixtures. Our most recent building included a photovoltaic system, planted roofs and bicycle storage space. We have designed each building with an incremental advance in its sustainable systems and materials.
In the 18 years we have been working in the Project, the area has gone from blighted to a desirable place to live with its walkable streets, new open spaces, new residential and retail opportunities all tied together with a public transportation system that connects this neighborhood to other portions of the Bronx, New York City and Westchester County.
In summary, we believe our work embodies the four principles of the CNU as follows:
- Livable streets arranged in compact, walkable blocks;
- A range of housing choices to support diversity;
- Schools, stores, etc reachable by walking, bicycling or transit service;
- An affirming, human scale public realm.
When the local community participates in the planning process, an urban design and site development strategy that addresses local needs, culture, and perception is achievable. The participation of the municipality is necessary so that a balance between local and regional needs can occur.
Urban design and architecture can reflect local culture while still having a contextual relationship to the existing urban fabric. This new architecture can reinforce the ‘sense of place’ and be a sensitive bridge between the existing and new residents. Two- and three-family town homes are effective for extended families, a characteristic of the population here. By combining incomes of the extended family home purchases become affordable. Thirty-five percent of the townhouses developed were sold to extended families.
Community gardens and other smaller open spaces are desirable because of their visibility and proximity to neighborhood residents. These spaces create a network of open spaces. This network can be linked through mid-block pedestrian paths, when the municipality is open to alternative approaches.
A deeper collaboration between Parks and the community is necessary so that parks work locally, yet service broader municipal open space requirements.
Coordination with semi-autonomous municipal agencies presents challenges for sustainable practices in inner-city redevelopment. Political will is necessary on the municipal end to provide coordination and leadership. This includes a willingness to work locally. A strong community partner will help achieve the goals of the plan in a politically supportive manner.
When planning occurs within the community, participation by local people is supported and demonstrates the respect that the municipality has for the neighborhood. This respect yields productive discussions and is supportive during the disposition process that transfers municipal land to private hands for development. A community partner in the development process brings values that are rooted in long-term sustainability.
Urban renewal is not removal. Planning should occur in the neighborhood – people are more important than bricks and mortar. As municipal policy, this can eliminate barriers in redeveloping blighted communities.
Transect Zone(s): T4 general.
Project or Plan’s Scale: Neighborhood
Land area (in acres): 70
Total built area (in sq. ft.):
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Number of hotel units:
Number of residential units (include live/work): 986
Parks & green space (in acres):
Project team designers: Magnusson Architecture and Planning, PC
Project team developers: N/A
Previous site status:
Starting/Ending date of construction/implementation: –
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