Virtual Panel Discussion: Rethinking Placemaking
Updated: Jun 6, 2020
On April 9th 2020, exactly one month since the cancellation of this year’s Harvard Real Estate Weekend due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Placemaking Panel team invited its panelists back and moved the Placemaking Panel (link of the original event: http://www.reweekendharvard.com/panel-6) online.
In light of the new norm, we decided to add “rethinking” in front of placemaking to discuss the relevance and challenge of placemaking in the post-pandemic world.
FOUNDER, TUNGSTEN PARTNERS （http://www.tungstenpartners.com/）
Warren Hagist, ASSISTANT VICE PRESIDENT, NYCEDC (https://www.linkedin.com/in/warrenhag...)
Aaron Jodka, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF CLIENT SERVICES (BOSTON); REGIONAL RESEARCH AMBASSADOR (NORTHEAST), COLLIERS INTERNATIONAL (https://www2.colliers.com/en/experts/...)
Dixi Wang, CONSULTANT, ALVAREZ & MARSAL (https://www.linkedin.com/in/wangdixi/)
Jeppe Hein, Visual Artist (https://www.jeppehein.net/)
Zhou Xu, Harvard GSD MAUD ‘2020 (http://www.reweekendharvard.com/zhou-xu1)
Grace Chee, Harvard GSD MArch I ‘2021 (http://www.reweekendharvard.com/zhou-xu)
Edited & Transcribed by:
Panel Description & Opening Remarks
Placemaking is becoming a powerful engine of value creation in the real estate industry, value that is not just limited to the monetary, and that benefits more than just the traditional players of developers and investors. In other words, we shouldn’t merely see placemaking as a strategy for higher premiums and product differentiation, nor should we see it as social responsibility that will cut into the bottom line. Instead, it can be thought of more sustainably, as the creation of shared value through the practice of placemaking.
While placemaking is becoming a buzzword, more questions arise: How can we capture the shared value created through placemaking? What are the conflicts and tradeoffs? What makes for a good (or a bad) placemaking project? Is placemaking becoming prescriptive? And what constitutes authentic and genuine placemaking? Last but not least, in the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic, what does placemaking mean from perspective of public health?
This panel will address these questions through the lens of art, design, urban planning, data, economic development, investment, and more.
Michael Bisordi: All right. Thank you Zhou and Grace and thank you to the Real Estate Club of Harvard Business School and Real Estate Club of Harvard Graduate School of Design. So I'm going to introduce our panelists and they are going to speak in a moment. First off, I'm Michael Bisordi. I'm the founder of Tungsten Partners . We're a holdings company, but we engage in placemaking as a regular practice in a number of cities. Warren Hagist is the Assistant Vice President at NYCEDC. Aaron Jodka is the Managing Director of Client Services in Boston and the Regional Research Ambassador in Northeast Colliers. Dixi Wang is a consultant at Alvarez & Marsal. And Jeppe Hein is a visual artist. Before I introduce them and they'll speak a little bit about themselves to introduce themselves, I also want to say a little bit something about COVID-19. So I went up there to Boston for the panel and then it was canceled pretty much right when I arrived.
I'm so thankful to Zhou and Grace and others for putting this together. And hopefully this will work out. We've certainly never done this before. Hopefully there won't be a errant dog running through someone's screen or something will fall. But bear with us and we appreciate your patience. Placemaking is, by definition in many ways an economic endeavor. It deals with real estate, that's in the title. And it seems in some ways that, in light of what's going on right now, is that something we want to talk about? I think it is, but we want to be very sensitive to what's going on right now. It's really a very tough time for so many people.
And as we were reflecting on this talk, I looked through some of the things that Tungsten was blessed enough to be involved with, producing or co-producing in the realm of placemaking, and it occurred to me how much of that and what was made special from those things, came from independent proprietors, restaurateurs, coffee roasters, artists, programming partners, designers. And so many of them are and may be struggling right now. So, they're in our hearts and all of this is definitely with them in mind. But also we're here to share our own ideas, promote each other's ideas, and maybe learn a little bit. And, at some point we'll probably talk about how placemaking will be affected and is affected in the immediate and potentially long term. So without further ado, I want to introduce the panelists so that they can just speak for a moment, maybe present for a little bit, and then they'll get into further discussion later. So maybe we'll start with Warren. Hey Warren.
Warren Hagist: Hi, thanks so much and thanks again to Zhou and Grace for putting this on, we were all real disappointed when it was canceled and, really, I admire you putting this on despite everything. Nice to have some normalcy. So I'm a Pratt graduate school design graduate, both in urban planning with a real estate concentration, and I work at the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Which you can think of, sort of, as the city's real estate development arm, where I get to put together urban planning and real estate on a daily basis. Actually a lot of my work resembles a lot of the, sort of, maybe interdisciplinary projects that you would have during class.
If you think about it, the city is actually the largest property owner in the city if you think about all the roads, parks, fire houses, police stations, schools that we have. Those are all being operated to carry out the many social services the city performs. And like any good portfolio manager, from time to time, we look at our assets and think how we can reposition them and maybe redevelop them for something that's a higher and better use. Maybe that's affordable housing, maybe new park space, maybe a new commercial opportunities in the neighborhood. And so, when we do our redevelopment of assets, that's when we think, what is the placemaking goal that we have for this neighborhood, the city at large, and for this property? So, I think that's it for me for the introduction. I'll be happy to go into some of the concrete projects later on.
Aaron Jodka: As Warren was saying, thank you for putting this all together. Appreciate it. I'm Aaron Jodka. I'm the managing director of research and client services at Colliers in Boston. So my background is studying cities and economies and understanding what happens within them. And part of this stuff that we'll talk about today will be how you can use data, and what data and evaluation components there can be around placemaking. And it's such a popular tool today in the developer's toolkit. So really looking forward to chatting about that. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Colliers, we are a full service commercial services firm. So we represent landlords, tenants, buyers, sellers. We can put debt and equity, really anything, with real estate, we can help with. My background in research, studied economics, so really focused on the commercial real estate aspect of economics.
Dixi Wang: Hey, good morning everyone. This is Dixi Wang. Great to join everybody and thank you Zhou and Grace to invite us to be part of it. So my background is in urban planning, landscape architecture.
Right now I work at Alvarez & Marsal. It's a consulting company that we provide real estate transaction advisory services for institutions and public sectors. We support with the initial entitlement process, transaction, all the way through with the development. So my background prior to this was in urban planning. So I focused a few years in the urban planning world and the design and construction world. So, heavily involved in institutions, university campuses, and city planning. So, happy to be here and share some on the urban planning design aspect.
Michael Bisordi: And I'm going to briefly introduce Jeppe because he's actually has a much longer presentation later, but I want to give a special thanks to Jeppe Hein who's a visual artist, but his work is so important to so many places and so many cities all around the world. And he was actually gracious enough to come on and speak with us only after yesterday being invited. So it's been a bit of a scramble and we're super psyched to have him.
The Definition of Placemaking
Michael Bisordi: I'm going to move on to the panelists,so Dixi, you have a background in landscape design, urban planning. You've worked in cities all over the world. You and I spoke and you've highlighted that you have specialized over the years in repositioning underutilized properties. And so much of what I've seen in your work involves public space, things that are given to the community and help to activate the community. So I thought you might be best to answer the question of what is placemaking if it can be described? So I'll pass it off to you and then others you can jump in and then I'll let you know when to go to the next question.
Dixi Wang: Sure,so everytime we start a development process. We often ask ourselves these questions, what are we creating? Are we creating a market, a place for events or festivals or simply just a retail experience? So these are the questions that we always kept in mind before even starting a process. So ultimately just kind of like the word itself placemaking, making a place and truly creating experience and connecting people, the interaction. But it is a challenging now we're thinking few weeks ago that we were all gathering at all these event place and now we're social distancing.
Well placemaking about social interaction, but in a way it gave us opportunity to really rethink the place. And I see that there's a lot of opportunity for us to both. Now and future really to think how we use this place, how people utilization during the day, the season of the place. And as well as even some thought on the materials, how we could think about the system ability or in terms of contributing to public health. Major events like these happens and how we can respond quickly to respond to the need. So this is what we evaluate some of the placemaking thinking.
Aaron Jodka: To me, placemaking is individual. And what placemaking is to one person and what it is to one group or developer is different to another. It's an experience in a lot of ways. And when we're talking to developers, when we're talking to our clients, our tenants that are occupying these spaces, it has to grow organically and we have to have a natural mix of companies, of industries, of different property uses. It's not a stamp, it's not just something here, I put these four things together magically it's a place. The community needs to determine whether or not it's truly a place and if it is driving a need to attend and go there and experience whatever that location is.
Warren Hagist: I completely agree with what Aaron says. The age of master planning when it was one or two or a small group of people putting their vision for a neighborhood onto a city. That era sort of failed, and so we try to engage in as bottom up or grassroots planning as we possibly can. I think Dixi said, before you really can start building, you have to do a lot of talking to the community, figuring out what is the place that you're actually trying to make. And, to Aaron's point, that has to be sort of organically grown. Now obviously there are certain distal and regulatory constraints. We can't just build anything. And so what we try to do is build a scaffold, an outline of uses that we know that the community is asking for. But something that's not overly prescriptive so that the identity of the place can fill in over time.
Michael Bisordi: Yeah, I totally agree with you. I mean, Aaron, I think the word organic is very apt. And Warren, I think you're absolutely right. In our projects, especially the larger neighborhood ones, I think identifying the stakeholders, not just as the developer.
But also as the community and the city as a whole I think is very important. For Tungsten, we never really got into placemaking by design. We kind of sort of fell into it. But I sort of look at it slightly in another way too, which is for us and also drew from our practice with Ace. And we were traveling around the world for every deal that we did. There were maybe like three or four that or maybe more that we didn't do. And if we were in a different city like working with a Chaebol in Korea, or something, it was about trying to identify what that place was and working with collaborators, which could be from that city or from another city to sort of interpret that place. And the building or groupings of buildings should be in strong dialogue with the adjacent architecture, its own architecture, and the feeling of that neighborhood.
And sometimes dialogue doesn't mean immediately reflective of it or copying it. It could be something new. And so what we thought about... I guess when we describe placemaking is in a way in the word root, it's making something more of it, a place or more of its own place, which I think is deriving some of its own identity and enhancing it through collaboration and through art programming, community involvement, and the involvement of kind of independent players, either tenants or program partners who will reflect that narrative and then create a more evolving and hopefully magnetic place. That's some of how we see it.
The Social Impact of Placemaking
Michael Bisordi: So I'll move over to Warren. So Warren, first off, we're super psyched to have you on the panel and we've been at Tungsten a little bit involved with NYCEDC for quite some time and we're so impressed with all the things of course that you guys are doing over there. But I think you are significant to the panel in that you represent the merging of public and private and the partnerships that you put together there are aligning those interests and very much related to the stakeholders in the community. So I'm wondering, how do you sort of more noble and grander sort of pursuits beyond economics reflect in your placemaking activity, meaning social good, kind of pushing things forward, evolving ideas within the city and the community, how are those things reflected and what practices do you put forward to implement sort of a higher vision in the long term for the community within the work that you do?
Warren Hagist: Yeah, thanks for that question. We have a double bottom line model at the NYCEDC. So we are very explicit in trying to solve for not just a financially sustainable project, but also one that is socially sustainable. When I say socially sustainable, it's defined in sort of two ways. There's the local sort of stakeholder group in the community that's surrounding the property, which will be redeveloped and who's going to live adjacent to it and maybe work with it. But then there's also the broader city goals, city policy goals. For example, a mayor has an affordable housing initiative, a certain target number of units that are affordable at a certain AMI, area median income, that you would like to produce over the next 10 years.
There's different sort of economic development goals, different industries that we would like to see in the city and see grow over time. So for us it's very much about balancing the sort of financial logic that is bound up in the land and in the realities of the asset and in the market dynamics along with those policy goals, which are local and regional and sometimes in conflict and there's a lot of creativity that comes out of that conflict. Actually a great time to show just two projects to give you a real feel for what I'm talking about. So there's two projects I'll talk about.
The first one is Essex Crossing. The public assets here are outlined in red. I know we're not supposed to put red around parcels, it's a call back to red lining, but I didn't make this slide. So these were former urban renewal lots. They were tenements that were condemned in the '50s, bulldozed and financing it out. So they just sat empty as parking lots for 50 years. As the market in the Lower East Side sort of improved, a planning process was set out with local stakeholders to try to figure out how can we bring these parcels back into the neighborhood? And how can we activate them? What can we develop on them that will contribute to not only the sort of lively Lower East Side market and neighborhood, but also have an element of restorative justice to them?
There was ethnically based taking here, how do we restore that and sort of overcome that with what is being developed in the future? So the Economic Development Corporation lead an RFP process. We selected a joint venture between three different developers, a commercial developer, and then two developers who have experience in low income housing or affordable housing and market rate development. You can see on the next slide, which is a rendering. The next slide, most of these buildings are actually under construction now if not completed. What was decided upon was a mixed use development, 10 parcels, 10 phases. That includes senior affordable housing, regular affordable housing, some of the first office product that's been brought to this neighborhood, a movie theater, a grocery store, a public market that has affordable retail stalls for local retailers.
Then market rate housing. Essex Crossing was very much driven by the planning process. People wanted this mix of uses. They didn't want it to just be affordable. They didn't want it to be adjust market rate. They didn't want it to be just housing. They wanted different kinds of entertainment and retail uses at different sizes for the community. So we were happy to make some concessions and the form of cash to the city. We didn't just sell off the parcels for the highest and best use for the most cash we could get. We reduced the land value in order to make sure that our development partners were able to actually deliver upon some of the affordability targets as well, not only in the the housing but also in the retail market.
Another good example of a project that we undertook was on the next slide, it was the redevelopment of a Navy base in Staten Island. Staten Island is really interesting because it is more suburban in character I would say than most of New York city, that's not so public transit oriented. People love their cars here and we love that about Staten Islanders. So when we were thinking about taking this closed off former Navy base, one of the goals that came out from the community process was we wanted to reconnect the neighborhood to the waterfront. But then also we wanted to create maybe a housing type that wasn't typical for Staten Islanders.
So not only are we building out an esplanade, but we're also building out some of the first market rate housing in a multifamily apartment form in Staten Island as you can see on the next slide. This is a product type that is very new for this part of Staten Island and yet is reflective of the changing densities in Staten Island and changing user preferences. What's great about the private partner that undertook this is they knew that this was a new product and they knew they were really going to have to sell this to Staten Islanders who are used to living in sort of single family households. So they focused on great architecture, great interior design and high monetization in order to say, "Hey, this is a compelling choice of lifestyle products."
So in all these things, we try to think about what are the planning goals, openness, access, affordability, sustainability, both financially and environmentally, and then choose the private sector partner who is able to deliver upon that and then negotiate a deal that financially enables them to do that.
Michael Bisordi: I think you had said something in a previous call we had about, there are many things that... We try at Tungsten to keep up with this stuff, but you definitely brought forth in our discussions some things that I had never actually thought about or encountered, but one of the things I think you were saying you were doing like labor training that related to the construction in the community. I thought that was so cool. I hadn't actually even, I mean really heard it in the way you described it, but I thought that was really interesting if you could highlight that.
Warren Hagist: Sure. Yeah. We have a whole list of different policy goals that we try to solve for and one of them is how many local New York City folks can be involved in construction. So we asked our development partners, can you hire from the community as much as possible? We have targets set up around MWDE, how many minority women owned businesses can be part of it. Typically our projects would have at least 25% MWBE participation. Oftentimes, there'll be a preference for union shops. Union shops have certain regulations in place around worker training. So we usually feel that if we can have some union participation, there'll be apprenticeship programs in place.
We have an emerging developer fund. So to the extent that where there's a smaller scale developer who wants to take the next step up, that's hard from a maybe capital stack perspective or just a regulatory sophistication perspective. We actually have a target around that to try to bring those smaller players to the next level. Job training is definitely the next sort of nut that we're trying to crack, trying to figure out how we can be more on the fly, get local folks to be upskilled and involved and hopefully they'll come back in a couple of years and talk about those programs more in depth.
Michael Bisordi: I'm going to pass it over to Aaron. But before I do, I just want to say, yeah, I mean those of you who don't know, I mean, a lot of this projects, I haven't gone to the Staten Island one, but I could say Essex Crossing is super impressive and our office is in Soho, and I will personally walk like whatever that 10, 15 blocks to go get some of the food there in the food hall, which I think is like the most expensive food hall in the country in terms of build out, yeah, not in terms of price of your burger, but in terms of construction costs. It's a really impressive overall mixed use development and I would encourage everyone to go check it out and definitely a great job there.
Warren Hagist: Good, I’m glad you like it.
The “Value” of Placemaking
Michael Bisordi: I want to pass it over to Aaron, and you also have a presentation, I think. So before I let Aaron take over the presentation, I just wanted to say again how happy we are to have him here, because placemaking is, in a sense, indescribable. We're trying to describe it, that's part of why we're here. I was able to speak on a panel two years ago at this program in person at Harvard, and I kind of feel like people didn't even know what it was at the time. I know for a lot of our projects we'll discuss what we do, and we get the sense that the developers did not have what we do as a line item when they planned it. That's fine, but we try to walk people through that, and they're already aware of it and everyone's doing it as much as they can, and it's growing.
What's interesting is, Aaron has actually been tracking it through the numbers. And through research, as a research-based practice. It's interesting as it moves forward, as a practice to start to quantify and track it, to see how it might be reflected in a more academic approach. I'll pass it over to Aaron, and you can help to maybe describe what it is through your work.
Aaron Jodka: Great, thank you. Yeah, so it's tricky to try to define how all this works, and I'll cover some slides in a minute. It's difficult to truly pinpoint the value of placemaking, because as I mentioned earlier, it's somewhat individual. It's one's experience, it's one's interaction with a location. How do you piece that together? At the end of the day, what we've found, and we use a number of different locations, and again, how one defines placemaking can vary. But when we look at vacancies, typically a nice mixed-use project that is commanding a desire for people to go there, and I'm not talking just a grocery store, and a pharmacy, where everyone has to go anyway. If you're choosing to go to these locations specifically, those locations tend to have lower vacancy rates. They tend to have higher rental rates. And when you combine the two, that drives higher value, because at the end of the day, you have higher operating income from higher occupancies, higher rents, making those places more valuable to a developer.
And the community also benefits as well, especially if you're doing it correctly, and you're integrating what the community needs. Whether that's affordable housing, whether that's schools, whether that's a theater, whatever it may be to ultimately have that come together. I tend to focus on Boston, and there aren't a whole lot of big greenfield locations that you can just start from scratch. What we're seeing in New York, right? You have to take all these different parcels and put them together to create a new opportunity for development. And these are well-established neighborhoods, these are well-established communities, where people have an idea of what they want, and what they need, and what is lacking. So going back to that organic component, there's a piece here that you can't just take four blocks, put these four things there, and everything's magically happening. It can take some time. But I've, I've got up on the screen here the Seaport in Boston.
So I know that everyone's kind of spread across the country, and across the globe here. But I wanted to kind of bring things a little closer to home, had we been sitting over at Harvard's campus to go over this. But the Seaport is an area in Boston that has transformed, it's a new neighborhood so to speak, but it's been there forever. This is a location that was originally shipping and transportation, where the goods really came into greater Boston, into the city hundreds of years ago. It kind of went away. And part of that had to do with urban planning, and the way that we operated, and we created highways that allowed people to come into Boston. And what it ended up doing is we created something called the central artery, which cut off Boston from its waterfront. So you can see on the sort of left hand side of the screen here there's a channel. Well just pass that into the actual downtown of Boston, there used to be an elevated highway, that kind of cut this place off from the rest of the city.
Well the big dig took place, and that was a massive undertaking, and it combined with expanding our airport, it worked with cleaning up our harbor. Ultimately created an opportunity for this entire area to thrive. And there's been multiple developers, multiple participants here, office, industrial, new life science, there's hotel, there's residential for sale and for rent, retail. It's a new retail corridor in the city of Boston. It has really come together, and you can see all these different components here are pieces that are being added over time, and this is the pipeline, prior to everything that's gone on with COVID-19, we'd expect the majority of these projects to continue to move forward as they were underway or close to being underway, have tenants in place. But it's changing the dynamic. And if you look along the map here, there's a Seaport Boulevard, Northern Avenue. That area has become the crux of the retail locations. So there's retail there. You've got office, you have residential hotel, a thriving area, and it's really come on in the last 10 years.
Again, hard to believe in a city as old as Boston formed in the 1600s that you could have a new neighborhood. But I've got two kids, and my oldest is almost 11 now. We went into the city as a family for a meal. We're walking down Seaport Boulevard, and I could point out pretty much every single building there has built since she was born. So this part of the neighborhood of the city is totally new. It's creating new competitive sets, and it's constantly changing. The retail's turning over a little bit, as we're trying to find the right mix. And the different tenants that are moving. So it's new. Again, it's 10 years old, where the Back Bay, which if we can get to a little bit later, is a very well established neighborhood, which is to me the quintessential placemaking in the city of Boston. But that was not done by one group. That was done by numerous groups over decades and decades to make the Back Bay the location it is today.
The Seaport is very, very early in that concept. So here are some of the emerging clusters in the area. All of these areas are seeing new development, and new changes. And they're all going to be different. So I'm not going to go over each and every one of those. It's just not necessary. But the point is, placemaking in Alewife is different than placemaking in South Boston, which is different than Watertown. It's different than Dorchester or Somerville. All of these neighborhoods and locations are different. And require different needs, and require different types of development. Whether that's life science, whether that's regular office space, whether there's more housing, whether it's a combination. Ultimately that's all going to come together. So we're curious to see how that all changes and develops. But these are all within a very close location to one another, but they're very, very different when the built environment will ultimately be complete.
Michael Bisordi: Okay. Yeah, I mean I think that the question of... you had mentioned the word organic earlier in the conversation, and then I think that you also, both in conversations with me and here kind of reflect this sort of... it wasn't planned ahead, but things sort of came together through different developers work in conjunction maybe without necessarily planning for that, and some of the best places are created that way. And sometimes just adjacencies reflect and enhance that placemaking environment without it being part of a larger planned project from the beginning.
The Risk of Prescriptive Placemaking and How to Mitigate
Michael Bisordi: As placemaking becomes, again, more of a buzzword, and a thing, and a practice that developers within cities are trying to put together, is there a risk of it becoming prescriptive? Is there a risk of it becoming formulaic? Is there a risk of things being a little bit more playing to placemaking and then maybe falling a bit flat? And if so, how can we sort of mitigate that? Does anyone want to try to answer that? Or if not, I can try to, or you guys can all jump in with whatever you want, if that intrigues you as a question, but go ahead. Warren, maybe.
Warren Hagist: I was hoping you weren't going to call me first. No, I think, sometimes we take these planning principles and we say we want it to be walkable and accessible and mixed use and sort of just lose what that actually means and how that actually might work. You can't take the same planning approach for every different neighborhood. I think for Staten Island, I go back to it because it's sort of so different from most of the contexts that we work in, it's not that dense and it's not that transit oriented and folks do enjoy genuinely driving their cars there. We can't take the same approach there that we would take anywhere else. Mixed use and walkable for Staten Islanders, you still need somewhere for them to park, right? Because that's how you're going to have it be accessible to them.
So we need to think about that in our approach and we can't just sort of platitudes towards it, similarly too can't solve for maybe one goal which might be getting as much cash out of a project as you possibly can and then stamp that it's a mixed use walkable project afterwards. For example, Hudson Yards, that was very much what they're trying to solve for. The MTA was trying to get as much bang for its buck off its air rights as it could. And it did, however that led to it, the development context characterized by these high density towers, which, even though they're raid in a certain way with a sort of campus feel, didn't necessarily meet the tests that a lot of folks going to the area felt was a real part of the neighborhood. So, I think you can put the stamp on a placemaking but not have it actually be that and that's where it sort of falls apart. It has to be more organically defined. To Aaron's point earlier,
Michael Bisordi: That was a really good answer and thank you for helping me out on that. Warren. I want to pass up to Dixi before I do, cause I want to see if maybe she can answer that. And then also I think she may have it in slides and the slides I know have so much green and pretty landscaping pictures, they kind of do reflect on the question because it involves a community being invited and brought in. Yeah, and just to quickly throw in a supplemental point of that, which I think is corresponding to what everyone's saying for Tungsten, I think, we've seen, I guess we've also advised maybe on some food halls over the years, there was one that the developer had the idea that you could just kind of put everything in place and just kind of set it back and things are, they evolve and so many tenants come and go and it really needs to be infused with other things that aren't economic based.
And I think that part of it is giving agency to and allowing independent proprietors to kind of have a stake in it and speak and have as much influence in that place as possible. But then also to involve, of course, the community and have programming and art and cultural aspects to it that will bring in the community and then it sort of evolves over time. But the idea of pre planning it very rigidly, I think, and I agree with you Warren, it sometimes does fall flat, but I find that the more collaboration you have the more responsibility and the more you celebrate those who are helping you to make the place. And those hopefully being independent and from that city and you're almost kind of incubating them and making them part of it.
The more you give them a voice, I think the more the place evolves and has its own sort of way of speaking that evolves and will change over time. And I think that infusing that kind of dialogue between the different stakeholders I think can be quite important to mitigating that rigidity that we spoke about. So Dixi, I think you sit down at some slides. I want to make sure I didn't miss those. So I might ask you to kind of speak to that point and maybe even throw in some of your slides because you have some awesome stuff to show that you've been involved with.
Dixi Wang: Yeah, sure. Absolutely agree with you guys and, first the way always trying to understand the place first then we'll all understand the nature of the place and we're creating and sort of the experience that we're bringing to the place and it's kind of like solving an urban problem. It's solving a problem altogether, project and level and the place wise. So ultimately we want to create this experience. So to address the need first is the amenity, the safety wise lighting, how diverse the youth group is, how people can all come to use this place and really, the place once it's made and that really leads to all these experience and people want on the place that people come and enjoy and to play and just sort of a core place that connect to everybody.
So yeah, certainly, definitely seems a way something presents certain, it seemed this way, that about authenticity but which always trying to avoid that and create a space that really responding to the need of the area. Sure. There's a slide, some precedent images is really, yeah, as you guys have see these, you all know where they are. And these are all great examples around the country and even the world that different types of placemaking there is a green space art and culture like Michael just mentioned and really retail market is that different experience and people enjoy it and go to this place. It really draws attention and also respond pretty well to the nature and also the need in that specific area.
Michael Bisordi: Those are definitely some prime examples that we've gone through. And again, you have your landscape architecture background. I think that the word biophilia comes in a lot now, which is coming inside the buildings as well. It's not just the parks outside, but you're seeing more and more of an infusion of plants and sort of a form of interior landscape architecture that I think is in improving the lives of the residents and occupants of those buildings and the community to the extent that those buildings are shared spaces with the community, which so many lobbies are behind that SCC, our amateur attempt at that, at my home as we shelter in place here in New York city.
The Power of Art in Placemaking
Michael Bisordi: Okay. Moving onto Jeppe. I'm going to pass the mic onto Jeppe in a second. But first off, I can't say enough how much I appreciate Jeppe coming on. I literally called him, I think, yesterday or something, and we got him in here. And Jeppe, I think you and I had dinner like two months ago or something. It's been quite a different world since. Jeppe is coming in from Berlin. Let me try to describe Jeppe, and I think his bio is probably up there, so you should all check it out. But besides being a great guy, Jeppe is an artist and a conceptual artist who I think ends up improving so many places through his sculptural installations. And he also does a lot of gallery art as well. But I have seen his work has recently been at Brooklyn Bridge Park. I don't know if you guys have seen that in the audience, but it was a very, I think, impactful installation. He was also recently at Central Park in New York, the UN recently, I think related to climate change. I got a chance to see his work, which you'll see in a moment at the Giardini in the most recent Venice Biennale. And also, I wanted to note that, I think in 2016, I visited his work in ... What was it? ... World's End, which is outside of Boston, which you guys may have seen. I think we'll show some pictures. And that's maybe something that many of you are on the line now from Boston may have remembered.
His work, to me, I think is ... There's this minimalism to it. There's this super high degree of materiality and engineering. Yet, it's also super inviting to children and the community in it. And it's interactive and experiential. And as you'll see, I think it reflects his own vision of himself. And I just think it's really great work, and so important to the idea of placemaking because it really is magnetic and draws people in with the best intention. I'll pass it off to Jeppe.
Jeppe Hein: Power of the arts, I think, has been discussing at the moment recently on the internet. The culture is seeing ... because what art can do, just imagine at the moment if we haven't arts, if we haven't music, if we haven't books, if you haven't poets, no music, no film and things like that. All this time we're using for that is kind of getting us getting inspiration. And I think we need a lot of inspiration right now in our lives, how to proceed next level and get inspired by how to change yourself in a way.
And life, for me, is about art. I think my art is about communication and dialogue. Here, you see Venice Biennale area, some benches. I'm working with the social aspect of benches, how do you use benches in a public space, how do you interact with each other, how do you play them, where do you install them, where do you want to have benches in your public spaces, on your private spaces, around. Is there a political device, any political placement? Some different benches here, a funny picture of one of me and one of an actor.
It was a project with Public Art Fund in New York some years where I installed at Brooklyn Bridge Park, a really long ... I think 10, 12 benches and other things. a bridge park really long, I think it was 10 12 inches and and other things. What can benches do in the public space and how can you make a line with the benches in a way to create dialogue.
In New York, and I also working a lot mirrors. What is mirror? Mirror is kind of reflecting the surrounding and you, and somehow opening up you as a person. You look yourself, you're looking through the mirror, and see other people reflecting the surroundings. A small smile ... Like on the T-shirt I'm saying, "A smile for you." A small smile can change a lot of things in the world, although it's still free, so we can give it much more out. The mirror is somehow reflecting the surrounding. In the background you see the Financial District. That's why the mirrors here in Brooklyn Bridge Park were at different heights. You can see it was like three rings of mirrors you could go into.
Here's the piece from Boston, a very, very beautiful location out in the nature. It's actually just reflecting the nature, different heights, another circle. And stars at night, just to see how much the stars and snow.
A very big installation I did, work with mirrors and water in Norway, in Kistefos, a very big sculpture park. Actually, this piece was installed some years ago and normally, they have a 25,000 visitors in this sculpture park. And that moment, that year, they had 60,000 people that increased, the restaurant has to make double size and double its food. The park places has to change. A odd piece, and it's actually stayed that right now. Yeah. The BIG has made a very big famous building called the Twist over the hill just right behind this.
Just to show you how I work with mirrors, but also again, water. Water is the dragging the tube, which I'm looking a lot of it. Here is increase from the water from the river. But again, water is ... How do you say? ... in a tube. It's dragging us in, but I'm using it for architecture. This is in Stockholm on a square. It's inside two different rooms. The water go down. We go into the water. You're surrounded by water. You have people coming into you, some people screaming, jumping directly through.
Here you have a square, which I did recently in December in West Palm, a little bit north of Miami. And I got invited to do a square, and the whole square in terms of the design of the stone as well. And then when you start the water, you see again it's increasing the whole square and the restaurants, the music, everything around is flowering because there's so much attention. Everyone is coming there and being part of that as well. This one, just at night where it's the light on. You see somehow what water and of course, art can do in a collaboration with landscape and of course, different business.
Then I did some balloons, and there was just a photo of a funny guy which some of you maybe know. I do also balloons, which are hanging. Sometimes, they're hanging in the ceiling. Here, this was an art fair. I don't have another image at the moment. But I'm installing right now ... I'm working right now on a project in Copenhagen on a small metro station where they hang two balloons. And now I'm installing 10 more, so somehow increasing. They're going to be hanging in the foyer or in the home. And they moving a little bit. It's becoming limp, but they're not falling down, of course. But they have different situations.
I'm working a lot with mirror, as I said. And here at the 303 Gallery, it's called Sun and Moon. It's like three meter big. It's very big. It's hammered and stainless stain. There's a light behind, and it's really reflecting and inviting the public and the viewer into themselves. And the whole ... How do you say? ... The whole mirror changing very slowly. And on the other side, there's another one. It's one, this is the moon is a bluish color and you see the reflection on the floor. But it's somehow adopting the whole space and the surrounding, and especially, the audience.
A project I'm working on for next year, which is coming up. This is a project for Denmark. I'm working with wayfinding. This is a train station and a bus station. And you have to go a couple of kilometers, 20 minutes, to go to the museum. I have made these 30 lamps of, a little bit like crazy lightning in a way, to follow. You can see the light when you're coming into the bus station and and you know where to go. You're finding ... You see where the lights are and you're going towards, through different, I would say, social housing, I would say, and you're finding the way to come to the museum.
I'm installing this one very soon, up very high in the North. It's called Lofoten. It's in Norway, and it's almost up at the highest point in Norway. It's a very beautiful place. And there's a small city, and they really like to have a marking for the city and for the tourist, the most for tourists is coming by. And this is a piece called Eye of the North, and it's a concave mirror. It's concave and convex. It's also on the backside a mirror. You could go up, you could look out, and you will see in the mirror, of course the stars and you see the Northern Lights in winter.
Then I'm talking very fast, but then here there is a project which is also going right now on. If you look on the top of the building to the right, which is made from Cooper Architect from Denmark. This is in Denmark. It's a very big steel bowl and this is somehow ... There is underneath there is a metro station and there's a food court and there is some apartments. And on top of that bowl, it's a very big, bigger than I, mirror board, and it's moving very slowly. It's balancing. It's called Balance of Time, and it's a little bit like showing where are we right now in this kind of time. We're balancing through ... of the world right now, trying to find or to grab on something.
And I think we need to rethink a lot of things. And I know that a lot of people are suffering a lot of things, also flowering. Right now it's spring. And so I think we'll change and grow, and we will all find a solution. Although ... I don't know. We need to find new path. And this bowl is then driving very slowly on top of this, I would say, platform on top of the apartment. And in one hour, it's driving around the whole building. At 12, we're starting on the middle of the corner, and actually, downstairs there is a subway station called the Circle Line, and I think it's also driving in a circle. It's kind of an idea that this is driving underneath and then the Earth could be. And this one will drive on top of a building. And after 30 minutes, it will be on the other side. Then the people living on the courtyard on the other side, they will be able to see the piece as well. It's not just for the people outside. The building is also people inside the building. one of the knees and this one would drive on top of a building.
In general, I work, I get invitation, I work with a lot of people. I work with Public Art Fund for some commissions, which I'm not allowed to talk about, but you will very soon see something very big in New York, which we have been announced already. And I'm very excited about it. We install it right now in the airport of LaGuardia. But we are working a lot with inviting the architects, BIG Architects, for instance, or Cooper Architect and Koolhaas and stuff like that.
Architects will invite me to try to sometimes to solve a problem, which was this one. This one was actually the architect came after that. And the mayor said, "Normally, we have towers on the building. What do we bring up there?" And there was like, "What are we doing?" And they asked me somehow to get an idea. And sometimes, we work really closely and sometimes we're opening up for a square, for a museum, for galleries. It's very different how we work.
I have a studio, 25 people helping me to combine that. We have yoga. We have a cook cooking every day, but not at the moment, unfortunately. Now we have somehow a house.
I'm doing these mirror boxes. As you can see, it's a mirror box. You look inside of the mirror, I have a neon text in it. That was also ... I do a lot of my process of the world. I'm not trying to teach anyone of you something at all. But of course, I try to inspire you. Art is about inspiration. And so if I can change the world, which I think I can with the art we're doing, but then I had to change myself. And in the process, the last 10 years, well, I have communicating a situation with too much work, blah blah blah. So I needed to go inwards. I found out that this is what I can do. I can change myself.
Michael Bisordi: Yeah. Yeah. That's great. And I was going to ask you a question about that. As you were talking and showing those pieces, I was thinking about how artists, especially sculptors who present larger works often, there's a message there. I don't have the quote, but I remember reading somewhere that Rothko, and by the way the Rothko Chapel is another amazing example of public art, but I remember him saying something like, "I want my artwork to be in front of someone at the dinner table and make them feel uncomfortable. I want them to be almost imposing." And I think about Jeff Koons and I think it's the tulips that he sort of donated to France. And he had an intention there, and that created a lot of dialogue about ... I think that was with respect to the Bataclan. And there's just often a message behind what the artist is saying and I think that what the artist is producing.
And I guess you are very open about your own personal kind of journey. And I'm wondering how that's, just as a quick question, you kind of alluded to it, but how it's reflected in the art. You have these minimalist mirror sculptures, which again, I think the paradox is that they are sort of rigid, minimalist, high-grade steel, but then they become this sort of hospitality enterprise. How does that reflect, as a final question to you ... And I do want to get to the COVID thing because a lot of people are chatting that up, so I'm going to want to get right to that. But how does sort of your story reflect itself somehow in the message that you're putting forth in your work?
Jeppe Hein: In art, I think in all kind of art, we trying all to tell stories, to tell something, and try to inspire the world with something. And I think that one of the big inspiration that we get is actually to go inwards but also to look at yourself, to look in the mirror to see who you are. Because a lot of the people we are in the world, we don't know who we are. If you start to ... That's the first thing. We have to love ourselves. Otherwise, you can't love someone else. And this is what I'm working a lot on.
But I think that reflecting, for instance, is reflecting. It's just a word, but reflecting also the surroundings and how do you interact with the surrounding life. And I think that, what I said before, a smile can do a big change. And in my opinion, and in my life, I needed to rethink in a way, the way I was doing my art, the way I was looking at people and blaming people and blaming my wife or my kids or whatever. But finding out that I can't blame anyone else. And the art is kind of a tool for that.
Art is part of a tool for me to communicate my feelings and also trying to inspire the world to breathe, like the Breathe With Me project in Central Park and the United Nations headquarters. But also just to experience a bench to sit there. And so this is quite a funny exhibit. It's a very strange experience. Suddenly, if someone coming next to you, and because the bench is going like this, you slide together until you're very close to each other, which is of course, very strange because of this interactivity. I think art can connect us. Art can change situations, which it does. When art is, I would say, going into a dialogue, directly dialogue ... It's not all art, I think, can do that, but if you're working, I think, with interactivity, which are very, very interesting and how you interact with the artwork, if you work with that, it can change areas, it can change buildings, it can change atmospheres, and it can change cities. I have water pavilions in different cities, which the city changed in a dynamic of, I would almost say love, because I think that we need to create more empathy and love in the world. And I think this is what art can also do.
Warren Hagist: Actually, Michael, could I just sort of jump in? I really appreciate seeing Jeppe's work because I think it brings a different scale to the placemaking conversation than something that I am able to bring. When I think about placemaking, I think about those broad policy and sort of social goals and how to create the scaffolding for that with our private sector partners. We think, "Does this neighborhood lack public space? Does it lack affordable housing? Does it lack commercial space?" And that's sort of just one scale. It's a neighborhood or maybe city scale. But then we want to create that scaffolding so artists like Jeppe can actually have a venue to put some of that art in there, or maybe the local retailers can bring their sort of unique flavor to the wares that they're selling, because that's all more of the placemaking story. That's maybe more on the everyday and the experience. I really appreciate having Jeppe's work in there. It's all sort of on the same goal of placemaking, but different scales. And it's really interesting to see how it plays out.
Aaron Jodka: And it's a differentiator within the space, right? It creates that reason to go and to experience and to be part of something. It's not just a building, it's a much deeper experience.
Placemaking in Light of COVID-19 Pandemic
Michael Bisordi: And if I can just jump in with kind of a wild card here and or frankly the most pervasive question, the true elephant in the room and also the subject of so many chats coming into the right of my screen. Jeppe spoke about literally people being forced together on a bench and congregation and of course, look where we are, right? So look where I am. I don't think I've left my apartment other than to take the garbage out for like 25 days.
I mean, it's pretty crazy here in New York. I'm sure others are dialing in from New York and this is a really interesting time and some ways, as horrible as it is, it's also kind of a beautiful time. And some of the nicest things that I've had in recent will probably be memories for a very long time that were some very simple moments that have been looked at a different way through all this. But my question I guess to you all's how is placemaking going to be affected by this? How is it immediately affected by it? How is it going to be affected in the future?
We've been speaking to so many people who we work with, and I've heard some people say like, no one's ever going to touch a menu again. Someone who owns a restaurant group. I've heard other people, much more optimistic. I personally would like to keep some optimism and I'd like to think that when this is all over, there's some level of exuberance and just kind of like exploding sense of optimism. If it can be truly defined as over and in the near future, but I'll put it to you all like, what do you think is going on with placemaking in light of the COVID-19 experience? And remember all of the chatting, we will open it up to questions, so I'd love to hear from you. Go ahead. Anyone who wants to jump in or, I figured I'd throw it out to you. Anybody, Warren. Whoever was speaking. Dixi, go for it.
Dixi Wang: Sure. I'll just jump in. Yeah, it's an unusual time that, just a few weeks ago we were still having events, the open space, the venues and now we're distancing. So it certainly is first time for everybody to experience. But I think this is a time to really be creative and innovative to think about the place and especially addressing some of the key areas like public health. And so from a design standpoint, I see that we might be thinking about the design of the width of the paths or sometimes the materials.
From reading that COVID might exist on certain materials longer than some other surface and metal versus plastic. So that might make me think what we can apply this towards a future design. So I think this is challenging but also in a way that gave us opportunity to think a future design, both long-term and short-term. There's going to be a tremendous recovery need after we saving immediate live and need. So in terms of all, I see that therapeutic garden, healing gardens are popping up and after all of these. So I think this opportunity also implementing a lot of new ideas and elements into making this place is a truly important. I think I see is that it's urgent as well too to address.
Michael Bisordi: That's really good. Aaron, did you have anything that you wanted to add there?
Aaron Jodka: Sure, yeah. I'd be happy to. At the end of the day, this disruption is unlike anything any of us have ever experienced, and we need to look at history in order to get a sense of what happened in past pandemics that have caused the disruption, the loss of life that we're seeing today on a global scale. I'm highly confident that we will find a solution to keeping people safe, and whether that's new therapies, new drugs, vaccines, there's a number of them in the works, I'm highly confident that whether it comes from Boston or New York or China or Germany or wherever across the globe, we're going to find opportunities to keep people safe and we're going to get back to a more normal life.
Yes, we're all at home. We're all sort of cooped up and that's creating its own unique challenges. But getting back out, people are desperate to do that, especially those in the Northeast who have been in a more restrictive stay at home shelter in place type of situation. At least here in the United States, across the globe, obviously same kind of situations. But people are going to go to parks. People are going to go to the mall, people are going to go back to their office buildings. They're going to go and stay at hotels.
Now there will be a small portion of the population that will avoid crowds. They will avoid people, and that's completely understandable. But if you think of other past crises, we do get back to a sense of normalcy. It may take some time, but I think in the world of real estate and some of the questions that I saw there about going to a park or public space, interacting, there'll be kids at the beach, there'll be kids at the pool, there'll be people in close proximity, not just staying 6 feet depart forever.
We might have a heightened awareness, people will wash their hands more. We'll probably have some additional things built into buildings, whether that's hand-washing stations or ways to sanitize your hands with hand sanitizer, things of that nature. It's becoming sort of part of our every day. But at the end of the day, my firm belief is that we're going to get back to similar to what we were doing just a few months ago.
Warren Hagist: Yeah. I share Aaron's optimism. I think right now we are really realizing how much we love the amenities that we have, both in our apartment buildings and just from the surrounding neighborhood from the parts of the retail. There's two trends that we've been seeing in real estate development among the private developers I work with. And that's interior and exterior flexibility. So from a floor plate perspective, people want large column lists, open floor plates, a high floor to ceiling windows, because it's a very flexible interior that they can lay out and program very specifically for each of their specific tenants.
And then similarly with open spaces, they don't want the city being overly prescriptive in the public design mandate for any privately-owned public space. They want to be able to curate different programs, be that pop-up markets, maybe arts installations like Jeppe’s over time. And I think that flexibility has been very key during this crisis to saying, how can we redeploy both our parks and our different properties to respond to this.
So maybe you're using ... And this is a very real example. Maybe you're using an unfinished floor and fitting it up with COVID response beds. Or maybe you're using a parking lot or a private open space that can be deprogrammed and you're putting up a pop-up drive-through testing center. So I think keeping flexibility in mind and design and then also in our contractual relationships with developers will be an important lesson because those flexible spaces have been the ones that have been able to most respond to this crisis.
Michael Bisordi: I mean, there's people involved in this panel who are planning and from a government level, a developer level, an art level, analytical level, and hopefully this whole thing at least creates a level of deeper sensitivity and thoughtfulness towards how we interact in a general sense going forward. And I mean, that's reflected from a safety perspective, but also just from, hopefully just caring and being more sensitive in general to how we interact with each other.
Best Examples of Placemaking
Michael Bisordi: So I wanted to ask one more question, wildcard, which no one has to answer, but what would you all feel would be one of your best examples of placemaking? It could be super small, super big. It can be from a movie, I don't know. Go ahead, I'll kind of go right down on my screen, the Hollywood Squares there. I'll throw that out to Warren.
Warren Hagist: Sure. I got to say Brooklyn Bridge Park. I think it's a great public-private development. It balances financial sustainability, so keeping development parcels available for sale to the private sector with public access and amenities, so also keeping space for park land. There's intense pressure to either privatize the whole thing or make it all park space and I think they've found a really great balance.
Aaron Jodka: I kind of alluded to this earlier, but I'm firmly in the belief that the Back Bay in Boston is the best example of mixed use and placemaking that I've seen, at least around Greater Boston. You have park space, you have choice retail, awesome neighborhoods, great restaurants, experiential opportunities throughout the entire neighborhood. But it's taken a long time to get to that and it's been components added on over time. It was not a singular "put this here" and everything happened. It was development after development, change after change, different mayors' goals and drives, to ultimately create what happened here. And ultimately it came down to the people, a residential neighborhood that expanded into what it is today, which is really Boston's only 24-hour neighborhood.
Michael Bisordi: And I agree with you Aaron. I think that the people are ultimately, in a way, the decision on whether or not it's successful from a placemaking perspective and they catalyze it.
Michael Bisordi: Dixi, I don't see you there, but do you want to jump in?
Dixi Wang: Yeah, certainly. Wow, there are so many great examples. What I was even thinking, putting up the images I was showing you guys earlier, is also a very different type of placemaking from all over the world. And I think of great examples from... we learn experience some great examples like Baldwin Harbor, that created a sort of earlier placemaking environment, that really connects people, address the waterfront, and also the retail experience, in very cohesive design. And then Santana Row, this type of heavy retail experience that really bring people together, create a central urban core place. That's also a type of placemaking. I live in Washington DC. We see the new placemaking examples like the Wharf, the Navy Yard. These all really addressed amenities, and also the experience that people truly, truly, really want. You can spend a day, and then for multiple uses.
Michael Bisordi: Thank you Dixi and Jeppe, did you want to take a shot at it?
Jeppe Hein: I'll show you this one, it’s in the second biggest city in Denmark called Aarhus and It's very big, called Rainbow, I can't remember the full title, but it's the second biggest museum in Denmark called Aarhus, and Olafur Eliasson, a colleague of mine, a very good artist, he made the big waterfalls in New York, a public art he made a few years ago. He created this art piece there, you go up to it and you go into it. You go around and it's like a 360 degrees rainbow. And of course that creates enormous interest.
So people are traveling from around the world, to come to the city, to come to the museum, to experience that art piece. Of course I know this is not the whole city and the whole development in a way, but of course it is a knack that when you're placing an artwork, it has a certain kind of size, I would say, I know the site, it is very important, I think, very social minded. That means you can be empowered and can feel it, feel it on your body. And I think then it's very strong and can be very, very well related to the city. And everyone comes and see that.
Michael Bisordi: Yeah, I agree with you, that's an amazing one. If I were going to throw it out there and I'll see if I can share the screen too. I have no idea. So I'll try to be quick. But Marfa is certainly not a commercial enterprise place making from a developer in any sense. Marfa is a city with a, I think, 2,000 person population in the high desert of Texas. The beautiful landscape of the high desert of Texas. Donald Judd, decades ago, came there and set up an arts institution, Chinati, in a military base and he created these amazing minimalist works that are, frankly, some of the most arresting examples of minimalist artwork I've ever seen in my life. And Thompson's been very blessed to be able to do some work in Marfa over the years and visit there. I like to visit there as much as I can. But what's interesting about it to me, these are John Chamberlain, some other artists he had collaborated with, Dan Flavin.
But what's interesting to me about it is that it started, I mean the history of the town had been, obviously, it was a very interesting town, and shout out to everybody from Marfa who may be listening. But Judd brought something that was really an incredible degree of art installed there. And he had already found success in New York, but his art was very reflective of the landscape and really, I think, is in dialogue with it and channels the landscape, and also reflected even the history and the architecture. He altered the buildings within the military base to be congruent with the art.
And I guess the point is that, by infusing a town of a very small population with a huge amount of art and thoughtfulness and collaboration and content that has put that very small town, globally, on the map, people will fly in fr