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Today, I’m joined by the Founding Principal at Creative Urban Alchemy, Ifeoma Ebo. Ifeoma is a Brooklyn native with a background in architecture, urban planning, real estate development, and environmental sustainability. In our conversation, we dive into the details of her latest project, The Perfect New York Street, which is a modern take on the streetscape of Third Avenue between 33rd and 34th Street. She walks us through what people might see, hear and feel when walking through this re-crafted space, and highlights the ripple effect it can have on the local economy and neighborhood safety.
Ifeoma and I discuss the large-scale focus on equity and infrastructure in various global and domestic cities, with a particular focus on New York City. There’s a movement towards how we’re reconfiguring cities in the public realm to address damaging practices, such as redlining, in city development. Ifeoma has a unique perspective on the intertwined issues of sustainability, criminal justice reform, and housing affordability due to her upbringing between Brooklyn and her mother’s village in Nigeria, as well as her studies at Cornell University and MIT.
We talk about the design challenges that cities across the population spectrum are facing to make streets efficient for vehicles, productive for businesses, and accessible for residents. I get Ifeoma’s take al fresco dining on city sidewalks and ideas for how that experience can be improved. We also touch on where funding is typically sourced from for urban transformations and the challenges with maintenance and operations in the public realm.
Apoorva Rao is a senior architectural designer at Michael Graves Architecture & Design, where she has worked for almost three years. She previously interned at Joshua Zinder Architecture + Design and Gluckman Tang Architects. She also did research at CEMEX, the Mexican construction materials manufacturer. She received her Bachelor of Architecture degree from Syracuse University.
What goes into making an iconic building in America? What are the stories and who are the people behind the next generation of architecture? If your work touches the real estate industry in any way, or you’re just curious about what goes into one of a kind cities and towns all across our country, join us on the American Building Podcast.
In season two, we learned about everything from skyscrapers to single-family homes from the famous and soon-to-be-famous designers and developers responsible. This season focuses particularly on the pandemic and how our buildings will change in response. Our sponsor is the iconic design firm, Michael Graves Architecture and Design. And now, your host award-winning architect-turned-entrepreneur, Atif Qadir, AIA.
[00:00:47] Atif Qadir: This is American Building, and I’m your host, Atif Qadir. I’m the CEO of REDIST, a technology company focused on innovative public financing for real estate projects. We are recording from the historic home of world renowned architect, Michael Graves, in Princeton, New Jersey. Check out this amazing space for yourself at the Michael Graves Architecture and Design YouTube channel. Now, let’s build something.
Today. Our guest is urban designer. Iphoma Ebel Iphoma is the founding principal at creative, urban alchemy. And New York city-based studio that specializes in strategies and frameworks for design engagement, and spatial planning in the areas of architecture, urban planning, real estate development and environmental sustainable.
Previously, she worked at the New York city department of housing, preservation and development, where she was the director of pre-development planning and urban design, and also at the office of the mayor of the city of New York and at the New York city department of design and construction, she began her career as a designer at ARG design.
And shouldn’t plus Allen and NVE plus partners. If I’m a teachers at the graduate level at Columbia university and Syracuse university, and has taught previously at Cornell and the university of Cape town, she is also active with community initiatives, including with architecture, for humanity and the black space urban collective.
Today, we’ll be talking about. Perfect New York street project. More broadly, we will talk about how the pandemic has given cities a golden opportunity to rethink the urban streetscape. Thank you so much for taking the time to be here with us. Iphoma thank
[00:02:37] Ifeoma Ebo: you so much for inviting me to this.
[00:02:41] Atif Qadir: Absolutely.
Especially as a fellow MIT alum, I’m very happy that you’re here. So you began your design studies at Cornell. Uh, tell us about your time there, both from the academic side, as well as it hurts. It’s a lot of fun, the undergrad program there, something about the fun side as well.
[00:02:59] Ifeoma Ebo: Yeah. You know, I start with like, I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York.
And so I was very much raised a city kid. And so going up state was very, I mean, the first time I engaged with like the wilderness, like the great outdoors. Seeing the
[00:03:20] Atif Qadir: prospect park. Isn’t the
[00:03:21] Ifeoma Ebo: presenters doctors here in bunnies in prospect park. So, you know, looking out your back window and seeing deer in your backyard, you know, rabbits hopping around beavers, just, you know, chilling.
It was what it was like being on the Ithaca campus. And it was beautiful and in the campuses so gorgeous early and it has gorgeous, you know, in it. And so it was a really, I think the five years I was there in architecture school was a real engagement with the outdoors and, you know, learning about hiking and skiing.
And so, yeah, it was, it was a wonderful time. I even spent most of my summers there as well. ’cause I just got so addicted and I think it really, it taught me about that side of myself that I really enjoy it. And I think I’ve been craving it thus far, which is sort of how it led me to just traveling and living in different, in different cities, like leaving New York city, because I felt like I needed that more academically.
It was also great. Um, Cornell has a wonderful architecture department has a fantastic. African and African-American studies department. And so these are the places that Anna and our really wonderful art program and planning. So these were sort of the four subjects that I sort of took all my collective elective courses in.
And it was a really great place for me to do that because. The stellar professors in each of those arenas. So I would take sculpture classes and make furniture and, you know, take really amazing Africana studies courses learning about this, the, the black experience in America. I mean, the thing is like I’m black, I’m in America, but you to learn it, you know, to sort of like take courses where people are teaching you about that history.
It’s like, I never experienced that, that understanding before. And so it was really wonderful to get that there. You know, really bring all those things together into an architecture curriculum. For me was like, it was wonderful. So I I’m very fond of mine when you experienced there. And I’m really happy to be able to teach them as all albeit in their New York city campus.
But it’s a, it’s an honor to be able to contribute to the academic. At
[00:05:46] Atif Qadir: Cornell, I think in a similar way for me, I had the opportunity to interact with the AGA Khan program for Islamic architecture when I was an undergraduate at MIT. And that started me on the course of exploring and understanding the wonderful, really a deep history of Islamic architecture.
You may not be surprised is not part of any of the history of architecture courses, obviously at the, uh, undergraduate program at MIT and probably many other schools. And once you set yourself down that path, you start connecting with a really rich past that in my case was a part of my heritage. And I’m thinking that you may have had similar feelings when you were taking the classes that you mentioned at Cornell.
Was that, was that the case for you? Yeah,
[00:06:31] Ifeoma Ebo: absolutely. I did a whole independent study on Nigerian architect. And because we had a professor in that room. Africana studies department that focused on black aesthetics, black, African aesthetics. I had someone I could connect with and he could give me direction on places to go because architecture isn’t a spec.
And so I, you know, I traveled to Nigeria, traveled to Ghana. I was really looking at west Africa. How is, you know, how, how aesthetic is articulated in the built form in art. And so it was really just enriching for me. Still sort of like it’s in my DNA when I think of just like design and you know, the articulation and informs the methods of representation.
[00:07:16] Atif Qadir: Hm. So then you continued your studies at the graduate level at the MIT school of architecture and planning, and you move from architectural design in your undergraduate studies to urban design and planning, help our listeners understand what inspired that trend.
[00:07:35] Ifeoma Ebo: Yeah. I mean, I think it was a really an evolution of United, as I’d mentioned before, looking at, um, taking courses in architecture department, as well as the planning department at Cornell and the African studies department.
And I think for me, you know, particularly when I took courses in Africana studies, many of the courses dealt with. The African-American experience as it relates to socioeconomic issues over time. And I found that to be really interesting and just how built the built environment. Was really related to that.
And I wanted to understand that more, like how did the built environment connect to these socioeconomic issues impacting the black community over time? And I, and so I found that studying urban design setting planning was really a path for me to really root myself in that and really understand also being Nigerian and having traveled to Nigeria many times growing up and also just like.
Feeling like I’m living in these two separate worlds where I traveled to Nigeria, my mother’s village, it has a one condition has one environment, has one level of infrastructure development and then living in Brooklyn and very different, you know, it’s like opposite ends of the spectrum. And so I just, I wanted to understand that as well.
Just, you know, really what is the connection between design planning and socioeconomic forces? And then how are these issues set in a global. Paradigm my global perspectives on these issues as well. And so that’s why I wanted to study urban design and planning and particularly study at MIT because MIT had such a global reach in all of their programs as well as it is as in their student makeup.
And there was a lot of funding there to do in the project. Anywhere you want it to. So while I was at MIT, I was able to do a project in the Manila, Philippines, India, Delhi in India. I went to Abuja, Nigeria for my thesis, and I was fully supported by even China. I did a studio in China, so I was fully supported by the.
To do independent projects and to do projects within the curriculum that were set in a global perspective.
[00:09:56] Atif Qadir: Okay. So what I found really fascinating is that discussion, they, you talk about. In terms of what actually gets built and how that is influenced by government policy and how there are different experiences for different types of Americans. So, uh, at the opportunity to, uh, talk to architect, Mark Gardner, uh, earlier this season and of the podcast, and he brought up in particular, a book by Richard Braunstein called, uh, the color of.
A forgotten history of how our government segregated America in particular uses the case study of a red lining. And what we learned in that discussion, uh, is that it’s this reality that justice and injustice may not necessarily be in the most visceral most present on the cover of a newspaper. Front page sometimes it’s these ideas of a death by a thousand cuts.
And mark talks about, uh, in the book, uh, where they mentioned the differences in valuation of homes, depending, literally on who’s living there. And I think that, that what you mentioned is that there’s a real deepness to a lot of these issues. Is that something that you’ve found in your research, in your travels, uh, during your graduate studies?
[00:11:08] Ifeoma Ebo: Absolutely. And I think, and I’ve mentioned before about the global perceptive in that. These are issues that are not unique to the United States. You find, you know, their counterpart in Nigeria, you find a counterpart in South Africa, and I lived and worked in South Africa for five years. And, and a lot of that is stemming from also, you know, colonization, colonialization, and the impacts of that that system has had on the urban environment.
Internationally as well. So you, you also have these issues of exclusion and segregation and, you know, economic disinvestment also happening in an African cities. And so that was really interesting to me to see, to look at. How it’s happening in United States, how it’s happening globally and what are the relationships between those, those two?
And so working in other cities has sort of just opened my eyes to those factors and really emphasized w what do I need to avoid? What are the things, you know, really understanding, because it’s so easy to replicate the things with. Replicate the same approaches, the same trauma, the same impact with just new tools.
And so just really trying to like look at those issues of red line and look at this issues of segregation, all angles and understand how infrastructure that built the built from the process of designing planning can contribute to injustice or contribute to more justice practice.
[00:12:44] Atif Qadir: And I think at an interesting perspective of that is a, a modern flipping of the script.
So I, uh, listened very voraciously to the entire season of a shithole countries, which is a podcast, uh, Radiotopia, uh it’s by a Ghanaian. Uh, who goes by the pseudonym of FIA Cochetti and she basically has to make a choice of whether she wants to remain living in San Francisco in circa 2008. Or move back to Ghana where her family is quite well to do.
And it has a really, I think, interesting interplay that how wealth can kind of can extricate you from larger social issues and give you the ability to move between places very freely and make your choice as to where you live. Um, but she makes the point that sometimes there’s some things that you can’t escape and it’s often raised as the thing that you can escape, regardless of wherever you go.
[00:13:39] Ifeoma Ebo: Yeah. This. And it in, in a complaint, different forms, it can be, it can, you know, depending on where you go, like, if she say like Nigeria, everybody is black, right. But then you still have stratification that you still have started patient by class by ethnicity. So it’s just them. And also those underlying like desires to create division based on difference.
Are rooted in colonization as well. So it’s like all of these things can trace back to the thing foundation, which is it’s fascinating. And you know, how the built environment also is used as a tool to further like, hit that nail on.
[00:14:29] Atif Qadir: I think I particular what I learned in my delving of, uh, non-traditional courses of history, uh, on my own separate from school was the reality that the caste system in India actually was a result of European colonization.
It wasn’t a pre-existing thing that existed.
So, so speaking of large ideas, uh, so you have had the opportunity to work. Urban design firms, a nonprofit organization, and a university in the early part of your career. And on projects, both in the United States and abroad. What were your biggest takeaways from this wide array of experiences in design that you had in this formative part of your career?
[00:15:17] Ifeoma Ebo: I think, you know, in hindsight, looking back, I think while I was in it, it was sort of just like, I was sort of tunnel vision. Working in each of those sectors. But if I now sit at this place now and I look back, I would say that, you know, each sector is a unique set of tools and power and influence towards social impact.
And I could even say that that experience of working in different sectors was kind of like my research of understanding. What’s the, what, what are the tools that the nonprofit sector has or the private sector or government or academia. And I think those spaces have interesting. Are aware is the key to maximum impact.
So when I worked in university in South Africa in particular, it was university consulting with government and really providing, using the engine of a university, the learning, the research to support government in creating new policies, sort of doing research and understanding that where, how policy has impacted develop.
When I worked in, you know, the times I’ve worked in urban design firms, many of the projects have been consulting for government as well, or consulting for developers on really large scale projects. Again, you know, creating a future vision or a new development, um, being able to engage with different stakeholders to build consensus around those projects.
So again, you know, further spaces. Um, dynamic impact when these two different sectors come together. And I think also with the while working in nonprofit, you know, nonprofit has a certain level of. That government does not have, and also a certain space, a certain sort of mission driven aspect to the work that sometimes private sector doesn’t have.
And so just really being able to work in that space is interesting as well. And just see that, that, that the different dynamics between all of them and how they try to affect change through their, their lens or their sort of like past.
[00:17:27] Atif Qadir: And then in one particular area I’d like to delve into is your work experience and government agencies.
So you work for the city of New York across different departments and your work intertwined issues of sustainability. Criminal justice reform and housing affordability, which are all now front and center in public discourse. Um, are there tying threads with these major challenges for the city of New York in your perspective?
[00:18:00] Ifeoma Ebo: Yeah, you know, I think that’s a really great question. I think for me, the space of intersection or the time for us is really about how they all land in the public works. In the spaces that people can, our com come together, that where people are allowed to go. And so for I’ve also just like, what is the relevance of design excellence?
In those three different spheres has there also a time thread and the sort of the, the ways that I’ve been kind of a certain myself in male spaces, um, and as well, and I would say the third thing is approaches to community engaged. You know, one of the ways that you engaged in community around these conversations of environmental justice, you know, sustainability climate justice around criminality, in public space, what is considered a climate public space and what is not, how do you address that criminal activity in public space, particularly, particularly in communities who have been marginalized.
And also, how does the design of a, of a building of a filled form impact the affordability of. Um, how can the design of housing can make a positive contribution to the public realm? Um, how can you engage communities in different these different regional fit spheres, where they feel empowered? They feel empowered.
They understand their, their, their capacity is built. Um, and with respect to these three subject matters. And so that for me has been that the key. Common threads between those three spheres and really where, um, the major challenges lie in New York city. And, and you’ll, you’ll see that, you know, the mayor’s office, I believe of sustainability is now the mayor’s office of environmental and climate justice.
You know, there’s this shift to the new administration because there’s a, there’s an recommendation that communities are not being effectively engaged as it relates to issues of sustainability. And climate change. There are a number of methods that the new mayor is using to, to really think about how the public realm can contribute to economic recovery.
And so that as well, you know, was sort of another sign that, um, these are challenges that are, they’re really trying to grapple with because economic recovery is not just about the popular areas. All areas and particularly the areas that have lacked investment for a significant period of time. And so, you know, the ways of the unique ways that new Yorkers are engaged, it’s going to be critical as they’re forming new clans as they are addressing these challenges.
And so, yeah, I’m excited for what’s to come with this new administration, because I think that things are off to a really good start.
[00:20:57] Atif Qadir: I had an opportunity to meet, uh, mayor Adams at the New York stock exchange through a New York city EDC event. I think the biggest thing that I was able to take away is.
Uh, laser focus on, on job creation and good paying jobs as the sustainable foundational answer to a number of the issues that we’re, that we’re discussing. So you launched creative, urban alchemy in 2010, and this year you decided to make it your full-time endeavor. So congratulations on that. Absolutely.
And tell our listeners why. You launched your firm initially and the steps along the way, uh, for you deciding to do that. Full-time
[00:21:41] Ifeoma Ebo: so it’s interesting, you know, through the years, I would say for the past 10, 12 years, I’ve been oscillating between working full-time at different, um, organizations or government agencies and whatever, and my private practice just consulting for people.
And so for me, 2010 marked a major shift because of the economic recession I was living in California. And, you know, once the account, anything funny happens in the economy, the built environment industry is the first amount of tank. No one wants to build anything. I was working for a firm and developers were just pulling power project left and right.
And I decided to move to South Africa in 2010. And for me, that was really. The whole world had opened up. It was just like the way things were done. Their entrepreneur entrepreneurship was really a major vehicle for people to get projects off the ground. To be able to influence different spaces. And so I thought, you know, might not do this.
I’m sort of just, you know, tapped into the sh the, the way things were moving there and just experiencing other practitioners and how they were able to make a mark for themselves. And so I, I hadn’t officially registered my business. Then I hadn’t felt really registered this business until recently in 2020.
But I would say in that the seed was planted in my mind. About being an entrepreneur and the ways in which I could, the kinds of impact kind of tools I had available to me, the kind of influence I could make, um, in industry and cities, by being able to support many different projects. Uh, because I’d always been working at different scales and I didn’t want to lose any one of those scales.
And so I think working as an independent consultant has allowed me to do that and then post pandemic now, you know, now deciding to do it full time and really experiencing two years of working from home, even though I was working also as a representative for city governor. For two years, I was also consulting part-time and I, even though I loved working in the housing space, what my consulting allowed me to do was work in other spaces in environmental justice space, working at the urban design scale, working at the planning scale, being able to consult from mayors.
And so I felt that my consulting was able to allow me to go into spaces that if I. At my government job, I wouldn’t be able to go in those spaces. And I feel like right now with the change in administration, both in New York city and in the country, there’s a whole world opening up. You know, the government, federal government has recognized the important importance of equity and infantry.
That intersection, I would say in New York, see the mayor, mayor, mayor Adams is also, you know, recognize the importance of those two things to economic recovery and just equities becoming just a buzzword. I hopefully, hopefully not just a buzzword, but really important to thinking about future growth of cities.
And so for me, I’ve established an expertise. Through the years, even from the time I was, you know, studying at Cornell and I’m now sort of realizing where the, the path I had been heading towards. And so I felt like now is a really good time for me to break out on my own and see where this like 20 year long career, how I can support all the different initiatives, not only happening in New York, but happening, you know, across the country in major cities.
And I would say even globally,
[00:25:29] Atif Qadir: I think what you’re describing is very likely. The beginning of a large change, that is a foot. And I think that three statistics that really bring to mind how the professionals fear, how, uh, voting and public policy and to how the larger social environment is undergoing massive change is the reality that right now, the majority of office workers, so people that are working 70 million taxpayers in United States.
The majority of them are gen Z and millennials. I think for the reality that in this 2022 election, the majority of us voters. Are going to be gen Z and millennials. And the fact that we’ve already passed the percentage that 50% of the United States is non-white. And I think all of these statistics, all of these numbers are what very subtly is driving.
Both this move towards justice. And let’s be very honest. Pull or those retrenchment back in response to desires for change. Are there other statistics or the things that you see being very emblematic of this, this change going forward?
[00:26:46] Ifeoma Ebo: Oh goodness. I would say this focus on equity and infrastructure, as I’d mentioned for the federal bill to focus on infrastructure and equity, I think is, is really tremendous because, and I think because of just like my understanding.
Um, particularly the history of. Of black communities and how infrastructure has been weaponized against black communities and really a desire to really grapple with it, reckon with it. And think about new approaches to, to address that issue. Not, not shovel it under a carpet or whatever, and just like ignore it, but really.
Head-on and I’m seeing that in trends in just like projects that people are really coming to me to support them on in many different cities before. The United States. And I’m really excited because I’ve, you know, use this as a studio prompt for what wear, when I teach architecture students and urban design students.
And it’s, so it’s really exciting to see these studio. Now becoming real projects to really think about rethink these, the highway systems. We think infrastructure not only for transportation, but then also for resilience, climate change. So, and also just like, you know, how are you engaging people so that it’s empowering and it’s not just like a tick box.
So I’m, I’m really excited for those trends because for me with those meetings, Is that this is not, this is going to go beyond conversations, but it’s going to be solidified just the same way that racism was solidified by a highway. But it’s going to be solidified through a planning and design design solution.
That, that is really how you make things sustainable. As we’re seeing with just the ways that cities have been configured to be too forward apartheid or racist practice, where we’re now thinking that there’s a, there’s a movement towards how we re reconfiguring cities, um, the public realm to be, to address, um, uh, more just practice and to feel equity in, in cities.
[00:29:03] Atif Qadir: I think one of the most elucidating things for any young person in our industry is to get in a car and travel across America and a place that isn’t New York and is in California. And. There are the things that you’re able to see in a book. They’re the things they’re able to understand and learn about in a studio, but then when you actually are in a place you experience the effects of transportation, planning, and larger urban planning in a much more visceral.
So, for example, last year for my technology company, we decided to be all virtual. So I lived in 12 different places over 12 months. So 2021 all across the country, and these are all purple and red places, places that had no business being in. Pre pandemic world. And I think there’s two, two of these places, particularly in vignette.
Tell the story of what you just described in such such clear ways. Uh, one of them is the story of the, the main highway through Durham, North Carolina, that became a suburban to urban highway to Bergen dominantly, white, wealthy, suburban commuters into their office jobs. And that was located in such a specific way in order to.
The black wall street that had been created, uh, as a wealth generation tool for, for small business owners and others are primarily black. And when you see that replicated again and again and again, I spent a month in Texas and in Austin, Texas, the main, I loved Austin by the way. But the main highway that goes north south that splits the downtown into two was meant as a way to split very, very clearly display.
White wealthy portions of Austin from, uh, Latino dominantly, Mexican lower-class sections of the city. And you understand that the experience now is you cross under the shadow of a long dark smelly highway, just to go to two parts, like the cooler part and the more cooler part of downtown and that you particularly see all across America.
And I think. The the smarter cities are thinking through, how do you undo those, uh, generations of disinvestment and a weaponization of infrastructure. And I think that it probably goes all the way down to the level of municipal budgets. So I had a chance to spend some. Time and Houston, Texas, which I’m not too big of a fan of from a planning perspective as they literally have no zoning whatsoever.
But, uh, what I found so fascinating is that if you go around and you, so for example, I would go for runs and the neighborhoods divided by race. You can see very clearly where the sanitation department’s budget is being spent for garbage pickup and for cleaning and for lawnmowing in public spaces and where it isn’t.
And you realize that there is this idea of justice that is a death by a thousand cuts. So. I think I a hundred percent, I, I would encourage any listener that’s in our industry just to get in a car and go go somewhere.
[00:32:07] Ifeoma Ebo: Absolutely. Or even just like, if you’re in New York city, you can see all those same things, right.
[00:32:14] Atif Qadir: A hundred percent, right. A hundred percent. So speaking of New York city, The perfect New York street is, as the project would suggest in New York city. And that said the streetscape, including the scale. What’s where, what isn’t, there are wildly different neighborhood by neighborhood. So tell our listeners about the prototypical streetscape that you chose for the subject of this project and why you chose that one in person.
[00:32:47] Ifeoma Ebo: really a fun project to work on. I mean, I love Claire wise at WXY and so it was a pleasure just, um, being in her shadow and just learning from her. So we chose Madame third avenue between 33rd and 34th street, because wanted a streetscape that possess this like intersection of challenges and issues that we collectively felt we needed to address.
You know, it’s not that every street has all of the issues, but there are key set of issues that we wanted to really tackle. And this strip is like all of them coming together and a really. Kind of way from, you know, issues with trash collection to street, sheds conflicting with pedestrian paths, conflicting with bike and bus lanes, you know, all the ways in which the different systems that are managed by different agencies, how they occur on the street in ways that impeded.
A quality pedestrian experience. And so with DLT and just like the streets being the significant bland in New York city, you know, why not tackle a city stream? Um, and so we, we use this particular strip to sort of highlight how the issues conflict with.
[00:34:10] Atif Qadir: So this project is sponsored by New York magazine.
Help us understand what the prompt was that you were given your team was given at the start of that project by the magazine.
[00:34:21] Ifeoma Ebo: Yeah, so the article was written by Justin Davidson and he brought together a, you know, a very wonderful collection of the hobby to different scales. And so. He wanted to came some food for thought to the new administration, because this was all done before the shift, the Blasio and, and, and mayor Adams.
And so he wanted to give some food for thought to new administration in terms of key issues to tackle as they relate to the new York’s city street. I particularly saw it as an opportunity to really think about how streets can be a facilitator for greater connection between people, because, you know, Predominantly really the space that we encounter, each other, that we engage with each other.
We engage with our local businesses. It’s like it defines our neighborhood, the street defines our neighborhood. And so these can only happen when these major challenges are addressed. If we haven’t successfully from these major challenges. And so that sort of was our prompts. Like, you know, what, how do we tackle this, this particular strip?
Cause he had already in his mind knew that was, that was a struggle. We all sort of talked about it. I was like, oh, maybe not knowing maybe another location, but you know, I think we all came together and like, okay, you know what, when we actually went to the site and walked around, it was like, oh, you know what, actually, this is a really great place to sort of highlight all the things.
Cause there was just so much going on and really think about how you can create a veil.
[00:35:49] Atif Qadir: And, uh, you mentioned that you had the opportunity to collaborate with an incredible team. Tell us who you worked with, what each person did and how the overall process went.
[00:36:02] Ifeoma Ebo: Yeah, so the work was mainly coordinated and led by Claire Weiss and David Vega bar, Barack klutz, David Vega, Baraka.
At w X, Y, and
[00:36:16] Atif Qadir: the team, their landscape design from WXY
[00:36:19] Ifeoma Ebo: architecture and urban design firm, they do the work at all scales, you know, from streetscapes to how housing development to master plans. They do. Uh, this is a run. Another reason why I’m just like in awe of Claire. And so, and they were the perfect team to oversee this really wonderful group of designers because they operate at different scales.
And so you can imagine our first call, everybody was on the call and it was just. So many voices, we’re all talking to different scales. We’re all talking about different
[00:36:55] Atif Qadir: zooms squares.
[00:36:58] Ifeoma Ebo: So the first thing was to just figure out, okay, how do we get these really brilliant group of people in sort of like in sync, really think about this, this project in a way that we’re able to tap into everybody’s unique perspectives and skillsets, and I’m thinking things and whatnot.
So they, we operated two scales. The largest system was myself Jenette cytocon at Bloomberg associates, Claire and David. And, um, we discussed the overarching ideas. Some of us went to the site, walked around and really thought about, okay, where would we take the aerial views, where, you know, what would be the key issues we would tackle?
What would be the underlying themes I’d be thinking about sustainability. Are we thinking about climate change? You know, all of those initial conversations really went into the foundation of like, what will be the approach for thinking about remaking this. And then the more, and especially also, because many of us had already worked in government, you know, David David has worked for urban design division, Jeanette transportation department, uh, myself at housing and in the mayor’s office of criminal justice.
So it was just like we had these different perspectives from the government government perspective. And then the more detailed design ideas were explored by other team members. For example, Brant and Halford, the design firm, they designed the street sheds that you see in the imagery night, nurse images crafted the final rendering.
Um, the final article was crafted by Justin Davidson. So it was really like it. I would say Claire and David being able to connect to different people and really understand the intersection at the diverse scales that we all contributed and bringing that together in a final piece of final plan.
[00:38:56] Atif Qadir: So there are many components that go into what we see at an intersection on a street, in terms of physical elements.
What did you see as the you and your team? See, as the key components that you were able to use and executing on your design goals for this space?
[00:39:18] Ifeoma Ebo: I think the key components was really understanding the different agencies, the streets. And thinking about how they can, how they can use their tools differently, how they can be more effective, how they can be better coordinated and, and really seeing the public street as like a room, a room that can do that has many different activity happening.
That has furniture, his furniture, as much as like, you know, you would crack the window and do some interior design. And they’re like, what, what needs to happen in this urban room? And who are the parties? That are responsible for those different pieces. And so how do we, how do we create more space? How do we create more features in this room so that these different agencies and do their work more effectively?
And so that’s, I think the underlying thing here, because we know our audience was the new administration and that’s, and that’s also a thing that we’re seeing. With in the design and planning community, as you have many different nonprofit for profit entities, organizations that are coming together to really promote more of this setting up enhanced coordination between agencies improved opportunities for the public to engage with ways of transforming the public street.
So that was really the key component.
[00:40:46] Atif Qadir: Excellent. And then help our listeners understand what they would see while they’re walking through the perfect New York city street when it’s completed. And also maybe what they hear, what they feel, maybe what they smell as they walk through this
[00:41:01] Ifeoma Ebo: space as well.
They won’t be smelling trash.
[00:41:05] Atif Qadir: It’s the not smell.
[00:41:07] Ifeoma Ebo: Oh, smell trash. You may not get knocked over by one of those electric bicycle. You’ll see, widened reads to create opportunities for passive recreation opportunities, where you can just like sit and people watch. If you want, without feeling like, you know, you’re on top of someone else or that you were in the way of a bicycle or, you know, or you’re right next to a large pile of trash, um, you will see improved trash collection receptors.
That are also beautiful, you know, they’re, they’re sort of just like incorporating visual interest into the public street. You’ll see. Uniform street sheds the beautiful streets sheds sheds that were designed for. Brand’s Halford. You’ll see a reduction in traffic lanes to prioritize pedestrian activity because once you’ve then missed the sidewalk, you’re also reducing the traffic lanes and that then will have an impact on the speed of which cars are moving on on the street.
You’ll eliminate, you’ll see an elimination of eyesores of the street, like scaffolding, patchwork, sheds, piles of trash, like all the things it’s sort of just like this. You know, you feel that way when you’re walking in the street and, you know, really thinking fully, I would say holistically about the infrastructure for alternate forms of transit, such as.
From bike lanes to storage facilities, really thinking just like wholeheartedly, like what are all of the needs of this biking systems beyond just the lane? You know, also prioritization of accessibility for those with mobility challenges, you know, whether you have a Walker you’re in a wheelchair, or even just with a baby carriage, just thinking about how people who are on wheels or who have challenges with.
Um, can move more effectively and seamlessly in the pedestrian wrong using the streets as conduits for sustainability, some water management, air pollution mitigation there, the integration of natural landscape. You’ll definitely, you know, experience that while walking on this street. And, you know, as I mentioned before, the streets are outdoor rooms and so you’ll see, um, seating, you’ll see, you know, spaces for company.
And, you know, with all the hodgepodge things that’s going on on this particular street, you there, you don’t, you can sit somewhere, but you’re not going to feel comfortable. You don’t want to be there long. You want, you don’t want to linger. So this really recrafting of this feed to create places where people want to linger lung.
[00:43:41] Atif Qadir: Is there a tie between having these spaces be ones where people are welcomed to, to hang out, relax people, watch, and also result in safer streets
[00:43:52] Ifeoma Ebo: as well? Absolutely. Absolutely. Because the more activity you have on the street. The less opportunity there is for, for criminal activity to occur. Um, and also just like improve the business as well.
So improve local economic development, which all has a direct tie to just criminal activity in a community. So, you know, there are all of these like intangible wins that you get from improving the street.
[00:44:24] Atif Qadir: So I wrote up pause here to let our listeners know about the sponsors of the American building podcast. Redis is a venture backed technology enabled company, transforming access to public financing for small to mid-sized real estate developers. We are currently doing in-depth research with public agencies and municipal governments that handle incentives and Connecticut.
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so through creative, urban alchemy, you’ve had the opportunity to work in union city, Georgia, which is a city of 21,000 people all the way to Seoul, Korea, which is a city of 10 million, which is like 1.2 times, New York at 1.3 times, New York. What are the design challenges that cities across this population?
Spectrum? Face to make streets efficient for vehicles productive for businesses accessible for residents like you mentioned, but also safe and enjoyable for just regular people walking around.
[00:46:02] Ifeoma Ebo: I think, you know, the ways in which they’re thinking of approaches to place-making that empowers residents to partner with city government to transform their neighborhoods and streets to address the issues from community safety to building.
To social cohesion. Like the streets are powerful. Now, whether it’s a commercial corridor or just like a small scale residential street, the ways in which you can harness the energy of a neighborhood of businesses to think about their streets differently can be empowering. It can really. Allow those streets to be the true vehicles for economic progress, for social cohesion and for just, you know, access to, to knowledge, I would say just really a true understanding of how government works.
And so, yeah, I think these were really, uh, and I think notably that leads to building trust because if your streets are really just like the significant land. Used in your cities and your neighborhoods, wherever, and people are not feeling like streets are being taken care of or that they’re quality environments.
You’re going to feel like your government is not doing what it needs
[00:47:20] Atif Qadir: to do. That’s fascinating. What percentage of New York city’s land is?
[00:47:26] Ifeoma Ebo: I don’t know what that number is, but I I’ve, I’ve seen presentations by people from the VOT who say that the largest landowner is DLT fascinating next to
[00:47:37] Atif Qadir: Nigeria nacho, which is New York city housing authority.
Got it. Right. That is fascinating. And I think particularly what I’ve heard talked about in terms of the future of development of Jersey city is all the land that parking lots take. Uh, so I think the infrastructure together of the streets and all of the spaces to support cars and vehicles, I mean, let’s just throw a number out there.
40%. I think Jersey city is 40%. Maybe New York city is like 30%, but I don’t think that’s a crazy number. Not at all. Okay. So I love to eat. And specifically sidewalk eating comes up in almost every conversation I have with fellow designers about a post pandemic city. So what are your hot takes on a subject and how that can be integrated into the perfect New York city street?
[00:48:25] Ifeoma Ebo: You know, I think just as articulated in the perfect street article, you know, we need to make room for these activities because now they’re a staple in our lives. We’ve had businesses who have been thriving because they’ve been able to extend their services into the public realm, into the street. It’s not only the sidewalk, but the actual street itself.
And so we need to make room for that. They add visual interest and they add choice for people which are functions of a more just city. So, you know, let’s think about ways that we can do it in a. Systematized and has some guidelines around it and can be safer for, you know, New York city residents so that we can continue to have a level of choice on whether what we want to do with our lives and how we want to co-exist.
[00:49:15] Atif Qadir: Yeah. I think particularly when there is a questioning about the supremacy of the personal vehicle in the streetscape, then you realize that they’re actually. Like, I feel like in my, my understanding of New York city has complete change when you realize, oh wait, yeah, cars don’t rule. It’s actually people that rule
[00:49:36] Ifeoma Ebo: totally.
[00:49:39] Atif Qadir: Well, actually curiosity because you, Jeanette cytocon used to work for DOD. Did you find amongst the, this array of designers pushback around parking spaces?
[00:49:50] Ifeoma Ebo: I think we all had, particularly with this straight strip in that, in the meetings. I, cause I didn’t get a chance to meet with all of them all the time, but in the conversations around parking, we, we did have an understanding that we wanted to limit.
All together. I like it. ’cause, you know, it’s in line with just like this movement towards like, you know, congestion pricing and just like, you know, really thinking about the prioritization of pedestrian activity. And that’s one of the moves that needs to get needs to be made in order to prioritize pedestrian activity.
[00:50:27] Atif Qadir: Okay. So all of these amazing ideas, all of these transformational concepts, let’s talk about. So, what are the typical funding sources for urban transformations? Like the ones that are depicted and the perfect New York street.
[00:50:45] Ifeoma Ebo: I think that there needs to be a new fund. Do you know when there’s a rezoning happening in a neighborhood?
There’s one called the neighborhood development fund. And so what it does is that it accompanies any resources that are allocated to. A neighborhood that’s experiencing a major resigning. So if pools need to be expanded or those schools need to be built or, you know, uh, libraries or whatever, public amenities need to be added to that community, because you’ve now expanded the density in that neighborhood, this neighborhood development.
Is used in that particular community. I think there, I think there needs to be a counterpart to that called Blake the neighborhood activation fund, similar to that neighborhood development fund. But it’s focused on the public route. If you have like a downtown partnership or a business improvement district that wants to do some improvements and maintenance of the public realm and its natural landscape can tap into this neighborhood activation.
In order to fund those types of projects and that kind of work, because very similar to the way that, you know, the impacts that increased density can have on a neighborhood and it’s its assets, its public assets very similar to has the same impact on its public streets. It’s parks, it’s open spaces, it’s plazas.
And so this fund would not only be for. You know, local organizations that also would be for city agencies to support, you know, transformation and maintenance and operations, particularly as it relates to the public.
[00:52:33] Atif Qadir: I’m really glad that you highlighted maintenance because it feels like my understanding is that it is much easier to allocate funds towards the construction of something than it is towards its maintenance, whether you’re a university and talking about your portfolio of buildings, because you can slap a new name onto a new building.
You can’t slap a new name onto a, a, um, a mop and a pail that’s a lot harder to do. And is there, is that the similar dynamic. Uh, government level at the city level.
[00:53:04] Ifeoma Ebo: Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, you, you, for capital projects, you, you don’t, you can’t use capital expenditure for, for maintenance and that, that becomes a challenge.
Um, so at that scale, the government scale, and then when you’re thinking about just the scale of, you know, nonprofit organizations, business improvement districts, without funding, Eligible for maintaining those streets, you know, cleaning, picking up trash, maintaining rain gardens and planting new trees and things like that, or maintaining existing tree pit.
So all of that, when not addressed over time has an impact on the way people see their community, the trust that they have in government like that I think has more impact than new development. ’cause that’s the eroding, their erosion, uh, just like the fabric of your community when it’s not maintained over time.
[00:53:59] Atif Qadir: That’s the death by a thousand cuts.
[00:54:01] Ifeoma Ebo: Totally, totally. You can completely. It’s just it’s. And that’s why I say like, you have to understand these tools and how they’ve led to injustice, just like at all angles, because you can easily replicated.
[00:54:15] Atif Qadir: That’s fascinating. So, okay. So the next time I see mayor Eric Adams, and we going, gonna tell him we need a public realms are, and that public realm czar needs to be a former Abba.
So you’re now the next next one. So Tucker tell our listeners once your term, as the first public realms are, has done, who from amongst all the amazing people that you know, people that you’ve worked with in the city, would you recommend as your followers, the second one, who would you.
[00:54:43] Ifeoma Ebo: I don’t know if I can give you a name, but I think their profile is that we have worked across scales and disciplines that they value equity and sustainability, that there, they have an understanding of landscape architecture, civil engineering planning, and has worked at these skills and, and with these disciplines, because instrumental in the planning, design and functioning.
[00:55:09] Atif Qadir: And I think that what I sometimes have observed is that there might be a knee jerk reaction within the private sector to choose, or sort of the public sector to choose someone that comes from the private sector as this outsider to come bring business ideals to a city or to its processes. And I think it really discounts the experience that.
From the public sector brings to understand the processes and the ways that things are done. It’s easier just to say, I’m going to bring a sledgehammer, but the question is what is that you’re tearing
[00:55:39] Ifeoma Ebo: down, you know? Absolutely. And I think from just like my experience, working at different agencies, those that know how to.
How the sausage gets made, you know, who to talk to. And sometimes it’s not like an official process. Sometimes it’s like you establish, you know, it’s relationship building. You have to have a friendship. So people, and therefore you’re able to get to move things along a lot quicker, you know, because you know, our different agencies can be very.
So many layers, you don’t even know who’s the right person to engage with at the different agencies. And so the person needs to be able to, in order to hit the ground running, you need to be able to know, you know, who do you engage with at DLT? Who do you engage with a department sanitation, you know, depart, HPD, the housing preservation and development agency.
Like who are the people who could either answer your question, move the thing forward, or let you know, who do you talk about? Next to you, who you, who do you involve or bringing to the conversation so that I, I think, you know, it’s someone who has both worked in the private sector because there’s a lot of innovation happening there.
Um, but then also who’s, who’s worked in government and knows how it works and can sort of like, you know, understand those silos and really bring people together.
[00:56:58] Atif Qadir: So this has been a wonderful conversation. Thank you so much for joining us today on the American version. Absolutely. And listeners, if you want to hear the behind the scenes stories of how I conic buildings in our country were designed for.
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