Of Master Plans & GreeneStreet.nyc

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Jackson Hts., New York, November 23, 2014 – While the language spoken was economics and the focus on ways to plan for further urbanization, last week’s Cities and Development: Urban Determinants of Success conference at New York University provided a salient message for cities planning their TLDs: create a master plan but use a marketing oriented development process.

The conferences’ premise was that urbanization willCommissioners Plan of 1811 continue as our planet’s population increases from 7 to 10 billion, requiring the building of cities for 5 billion additional residents. Paul Romer started things off with The Power of the Grid, a talk that put New York’s Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 at the center of our city’s successful development. Noting the grid’s development utility, its ease for packaging land parcels, and its reservation of 30% of the land for public use (mostly streets and sidewalks), Professor Romer urged that similar grids be central to planning for the 5 billion new residents that will move to cities over the next century.

In making this pitch Romer emphasized the utility the 1811 Plan’s public space, providing the opportunity for 200 years worth of city enhancements: water, gas, electric, and communication utilities below the streets. And transportation below (subways) and on the streets.

As Romer spoke I wondered how well we’d done planning our city’s TLD. Have we provided the capacity to build and evolve over the coming decades? If the Neustar contract is our TLD’s equivalent to the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, what is the quality of our planning effort? The elements that come to mind are the reserved names – the 800 neighborhood, BID, function, and institution names; the blocked/nuisance names; and the 2,000 premium names set for high-bid auction next year. Have we matched the thoroughness and thoughtfulness of the 1811 city builders? Are there changes we might still make, e.g., would capacity improve if we attached public interest commitments to the premium names?

Romer concluded his presentation noting that in these globalized times the efficiency of a city’s operations was key to corporate decisions on locating their resources. If our digital plan is measured in this regard how will our city fare? Will the hundreds of cities soon to acquire their TLDs learn from our experiences and best us?

Moving from telescope to microscope, next up were Bill Easterly and Laura Freschi who gave a 400 year history of one city block – Greene Street between Prince and Houston. The ups and downs of the block were presented in fine detail, from the days of its first European owners – when it was farmland owned and cultivated by slaves – to today’s sheik stores and multi-million dollar residences. The message was that the details of ownership and use are best taken care of by the market.

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Most interesting from a city-TLD perspective was the presentation’s concluding slide showing that the good professors had acquired development rights for the GreeneStreet.nyc domain name – see graphic. After the presentation I introduced myself to Bill Easterly and, noting my interest in city-TLDs, asked what the future held for greenestreet.nyc. A jovial fellow, he indicated their intent to use it to present and further their research on Greene Street, and that it was intended for public use.

Later I wondered about governance and access rights by residents of the other 10 blocks of Greene Street, and if perhaps our city would have been better served if our street names had public interest commitments attached.

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Thomas thinks about technology and its impact on the quality of urban life.
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