LIVING.BRAND
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LIVING.BRAND

SoHo — a lack of green and public space

You want to find me hanging out in New York City, come to Soho. It is very similar to the district of Mitte in Berlin or to Le Marais in Paris. It’s an international hub of people that mostly did not grow up in the city and have money to spend.

I like it and it feels a bit like home for me. It’s where I work and naturally hang out to meet friends.

But is it really that great?

Soho is definitely an amazing neighborhood where you can find a bit of everything you want in a fast-paced city like New York. The apartments are usually bigger and have high ceilings. You can eat amazing food, go shopping or find good places to go out. There is definitely a stereotype “Soho character” you can clearly identify and that character is not too different from the one you see in the similar areas in Paris or Berlin.

Larger Soho area and the only tiny green public space.

But, where are Soho’s public and green spaces? What about the corner shop mentality that defines a lot of other Manhattan neighborhoods? Maybe you find a bit of it in Nolita, but even the Elizabeth Street Garden will be demolished for a new development.

I can only really point out this tiny piece of land called “Lt. Petrosino Square”. It is a small plaza on Lafayette and Kenmare with benches for twenty people and a few little trees around.

Mood board of an urban feel to bring to Soho.

I’d like to think of ideas to bring back more of these spaces and to elaborate on the pedestrian experience in the neighborhood. Some options could be:

  • Dedicating streets to pure pedestrian use
    → Example: Old Italian villages (image above)
  • The idea of an Urban Oasis to create more green space
  • Visual connection between interior and exterior program
  • Creating a courtyard atmosphere for more personal pedestrian interaction
    → Example: Hackesche Hoefe (image below)

Hackesche Hoefe in Berlin Mitte is a great example for a public space that creates a pedestrian atmosphere and intimacy. The small courtyard landscape creates its own little world within the booming district Berlin Mitte and provides a more diverse experience solely dedicated to pedestrians. You can sit in restaurants, go to the cinema or simply enjoy the unique atmosphere that partly brings you back to certain moments of Berlin’s past.

Hackesche Hoefe, Berlin Mitte

What if we created a space like that in Soho? And Where would that be?

There aren’t a lot of options in Soho. There is definitely not a lot of empty land to build on. Also, I do not want to base the ideas on the opportunity to demolish a building in the area. Let me give a few examples where and how we can create more public space in Soho. There are two locations on Grand Street that are currently open land:

  1. Wooster & Grand: A building is already approved and in the process to be built (a new co-working building)
  2. Lafayette & Grand: A surprisingly large empty land that I am not sure what is happening with at the moment
Left: Empty land on Wooster & Grand / Right: Empty land on Lafayette & Grand

We could use one or both of the areas to even develop a proper real estate project but dedicating the ground floor space to the public. Let’s look at some architectural moves we can make based on what I referred to earlier in this article.

Section 1:

  • Extending the sidewalk and make it wider
  • Creating a visual connection between interior and exterior
  • Creating rooftop space

Section 2:

  • Creating a courtyard within the site to for more public space

Section 3:

  • Elevating the building and dedicate the ground floor area to public space
  • Making the ground floor space green

Section 4:

  • Creating pedestrian walkways
    (italian villages)
  • Extending green and public space vertically into the building

Think about it. We can create the world we want and putting some effort is worth it. Wouldn’t it be great to have a bit more diverse architectural explorations within Soho to move away from this apartheid or linear separation of “Cars vs. Pedestrian vs. Building” but instead mix pedestrians and buildings so there is an overlap as shown in the sections above.

Soho could contribute to becoming a transformed neighborhood of the future and a role model for the world. It has the potential to change its own boring character and become a more diverse spatial environment. This can only happen if there is the collective understanding that quality of life and thought through architecture benefits the neighborhood longer term and not the buildings or profit focussed concepts purely concentrated on an ROI. Bringing this back into focus, the consequence is a holistic urbanist approach that acknowledges the neighborhood beyond the actual site and building.

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