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Existing theatre

Figure 9.2 The Theater District, New York established in 1962. (New theatres are solid black)

space. Yet, what would New York be without Broadway and its theatres as an attraction? The Urban Design Group set about the task of devising mechanisms to keep the character of the area based on the assumption that it was in everybody's interest to have theatres in the district. The means had to be found to keep them and/or build them when it was in no investor's direct financial interest to do so.

The Group developed a modified incentive zoning method. It is a simple mechanism but involved many debates before it was established. The legislation had to be passed by the Planning Commission and the city's Board of Estimates. Rather than being a blanket citywide policy, the incentives were tailored made for each district. In the case of the Theater District the objective was to make an investment in a theatre commercially viable for property developers. As in the 1961 legislation, a 20% floor area bonus was offered to a property developer in exchange for building a theatre within a new building (see Figure 9.3). In this way the arts would be indirectly subsidized by the private sector. The test case was the old Astor Hotel site. Mayor Lindsay himself was directly involved in the negotiations with the property developer and the success of the process was largely due to his personal intervention. A new theatre was built. Others followed.

Each of New York's planning districts served a different purpose and thus had different regulations and incentives. Even if somewhat unkempt, Fifth Avenue is one of the great shopping streets of the world. The goal of planning for this district was to have a lively environment around the clock and to protect the profitability of the large department stores located along Fifth Avenue. The strategic location of these stores made the smaller shopfront stores selling a broad mix of retail goods economically

Figure 9.3 One Astor Place showing the new theater and the extra floor space allowed.

viable. A continuous line of shops fronting a street with a minimum of intrusion of plazas, bank and office-building entrances provides an ideal shopping and window-shopping environment. As a result, unlike the 1961 zoning ordinance, the legislation for the Fifth Avenue District prohibited the provision of plaza space on the street. It also broke away from traditional one-use zoning classes to include mixed-use zoning that encouraged a combination of residential, office and retail space within single buildings.

The success of such efforts was mixed. Nevertheless, Broadway is still 'Broadway'; Fifth Avenue is still 'Fifth Avenue'. By the mid-1970s four new theatres had been built in the Theater District. They are shown in solid black in Figure 9.2. The hope was that by 2000 another half a dozen would be added piece-by-piece. This has not happened. Today Broadway, nevertheless, remains a theatre district and the work of the Urban Design Group led to further innovative schemes. The Times Square district, for instance, was upgraded in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Major references

Barnett, Jonathan (1982). The evolution of New York's special zoning districts In An Introduction to Urban Design: New York, Harper and Row, 77-93. Kayden, Jerold S. (2000). History. In Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience. New York: John Wiley, 7-19.

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