Stakeholder Engagement: Kasirer, Urbane Development
Master Plan Complete March 2020
At over 180 acres, Sunnyside Yard as it exists today is a profound gap in our city’s fabric, awaiting fillings that must be as nutritious as they are delicious, and clamoring for infrastructure that must serve the needs of this growing borough. Encircled by thriving neighborhoods that are both tall and small, artistic and prosaic, diverse and even more diverse, Sunnyside should connect, celebrate, and enhance its surroundings. Like the rest of Queens, with its vast industrial and residential neighborhoods, the World’s Fair grounds, MoMA PS1, the Noguchi Museum, Socrates Sculpture Park, and Gantry Plaza State Park, the ideas for Sunnyside must be diverse, creative, and contemporary. These places—like the future-facing borough they call home that led New York into the Jet Age—have never been about the same old same old, never about nostalgia, and never succumb to the banal. Neither should Sunnyside Yard, which could portend our future as a city.
In the spring of 2018, PAU was selected by New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) to lead the Master Plan effort for Sunnyside Yard. PAU assembled an interdisciplinary team of fourteen consultant firms, handpicked to tackle the multitude of challenges Sunnyside Yard presents. In addition to architects, urban designers and planners, the team included stakeholder engagement experts; engineers specializing in rail, structures, geotechnical analysis, environmental planning and transportation; landscape architects; researchers who study the future of urban environments; finance specialists including experts in modeling, market analysis, cost estimation, risk analysis, and public finance; and legal advisors specializing in land use.
As is expected with a planning project of this scale, there were endless conditions to consider, both big and small. What is physically possible given the operational requirements of the railyard? How large should the typical block be? How can new technologies help day to day life in a neighborhood? The team conducted a technical analysis of the yard—identifying key opportunities and constraints—in parallel with a robust stakeholder engagement outreach effort that included large public meetings, smaller focused workshops, digital town-halls, and group and one-on-one interviews. The resulting plan answers six pressing “needs” that were identified during the outreach process: creating open space and social infrastructure like schools, libraries and clinics; improving transportation and mobility; building truly affordable housing; creating a range of 21st century jobs, and workforce development opportunities; setting new standards for sustainable and resilient growth that embraces innovative green building technologies; and perhaps most importantly, “keeping it Queens,” ensuring that the new development is in character with the surrounding neighborhoods and maintains the borough’s prized vibrance and diversity. The plan is anchored by a central greenway lined with social infrastructure; the spine in a network of neighborhood-scale parks across the site that will serve both the new residents and workers on the Yard and the surrounding neighborhoods alike. A multi-layered transportation strategy envisions streets that prioritize pedestrians and quality of life over vehicles and places the new development in the context of background growth in Western Queens so that system-wide improvements can work hand in glove with new onsite interventions like the potential for a Bus Rapid Transit line that would connect the new development with Manhattan as well as neighborhoods to the east. Block-sizes were developed to respond to the scales of surrounding neighborhoods while accommodating many different program types and configurations, allowing for future development to be pursued by a range of both for-profit and non-profit developers rather than a single massive entity. Rigorous engineering generated a deck that was substantially lower than previous studies, enabling smooth intersections with the existing bridges that cross the yard. Streets that currently dead-end into the Yard are imaged as additional access points for pedestrians. While the overall program is flexible in terms of location and quantities, the plan calls for 100% affordable housing; a mix of office, retail, light-manufacturing and institutional programs; and lays out an armature of public goods to support these uses.
Although realizing the comprehensive master plan for the entire site will take decades and require substantial funding, the team has identified a series of early investments that respond to pressing community needs and could be implemented in the near term. The final master plan document was released in March 2020 as a framework for future community planning.