The New York City real estate market is ready for an empathetic change to the system. At a political level, there is clear ambition to revive the city’s vitality and dynamism by activating public spaces to improve the quality of life of New Yorkers. New York City’s ‘Ten Year Capital Strategy’ and Mayor Adams’ ‘Rebuild, Renew, Reinvent’ program are already providing a framework for post-pandemic economic recovery, highlighting the city’s commitment to equitable development.
As architects and urban planners, we often partner with landowners and real estate developers to present the first opportunity for communities to get involved in development decisions. We help shape their visions and bring their ideas to life. We are mindful that our work should seek to strengthen public health and safety, support growth and diversity and bring new ideas to preserve affordability.
We need to work harder to increase opportunities for people to participate and feel a part of the places they live in as they, and their communities, evolve. Creating places where families can grow up, ensuring generations can expand and evolve naturally as the community does, should remain the main goal. Providing affordable living and safe, clean, welcoming environments with great education, healthcare and leisure services and facilities, while generating employment is a challenging task, but must remain the desired outcome.
Over the last two years, the pandemic has pushed the issue of urban health and social equity to the top of city policy agendas. In response to the immediate needs of communities, we saw the rise of temporary public space programs around the world, which contributed to positive health outcomes and built support for future projects.
Learning from this, we propose a process which seeks to improve urban health outcomes of existing communities using the concept of ‘meanwhile use’ as a catalyst. This means identifying short-term uses for temporarily empty buildings or vacant lots, as an opportunity to help keep an area vibrant, and with purpose. Fundamentally, our research has led us to believe that temporary uses for development sites and existing, underutilised buildings can rapidly bring much-needed services and amenities to communities and provide opportunities for positive connections between real estate developers, landowners, investors, residents and local businesses to inform the legacy use of the site.
Moreover, by incorporating meanwhile use, we can more readily deliver a real social impact to support industry reputation and help meet environmental, social and governance objectives for, and with, our development partners.