Professor Mona El Khafif invited to participate in Urban Land Institute’s forum focused on best practices in placemaking

View of Brooklyn Bridge Park_Photo Caroline Culler
View of Brooklyn Bridge Park from Manhattan Bridge. Photo: Caroline Culler © CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

This spring, the Urban Land Institute hosted its Placemaking Council Day bringing together practitioners from industry and academia to discuss best practices for creating vibrant places where people can live, work, and play, with a focus on mixed-use retail development.

Through a generous sponsorship by Hart Howerton, Associate Professor of Architecture Mona El Khafif, was invited to participate in this full day of site visits and panel discussions, hosted in Brooklyn, New York.

ULI Placemaking Council Meeting Photo Mona El Khafif
ULI Placemaking Council Site Tour. Photo: Mona El Khafif

The program, organized by Hart Howerton’s Nicole Emmons, AIA, LEED AP, started with a morning session hosted by the Brooklyn Public Library in the Center for Brooklyn History. Representatives from the Library discussed how its place as a civic and cultural cornerstone for the Brooklyn Heights and adjacent neighborhoods, is also tied to a series of economic advancement and real estate initiatives. One such initiative is the real estate arm of the LevelUp program, a workforce advancement program for Black women, that includes instruction, mentoring and financial coaching.

From the Center of Brooklyn History, the next part of the program included a series of panels and tours that introduced participants to four specific areas across Brooklyn: Gowanus, Atlantic Yards, Dumbo/Brooklyn Bridge Park, and Domino.  The day was framed by observations and dialogue that revealed the growth and demographic changes in these specific areas within the larger context of the Borough.

Pier1 Brooklyn Bridge Park - dumbonyc
Pier 1 - Brooklyn Bridge Park. Photo: dumbonyc © CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

Eric Landau, President of Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, joined participants for lunch at the park, providing an overview of this 85-acre recreational greenspace that was completed in 2021 after over two decades of development since its first master plan was published.  The park, designed by landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, is divided into eleven sections, and is as described by MVVA, “guided by the concept of post-industrial nature…[using] unabashedly man-made landscapes to kick-start new site ecologies that can thrive and evolve in a heavy-use urban setting.”

The Placemaking Council Day also included a ferry ride to South Williamsburg and a tour of Domino Park and its associated refinery. Opened to the public in 2018 and paying tribute to the history of the Domino Sugar Refinery, the 5-acre public Domino Park in Williamsburg was designed by James Corner Field Operations and includes a playground, named Sweetwater Playground, designed by artist Mark Reigelman. It was partially built using reclaimed materials from the old refinery, a complement to salvaged structures and equipment that were incorporated into the park’s overall plan. Completed over the course of six years, the park was also a recipient of ULI’s Urban Space Award in 2020.

Domino Park, Brooklyn. Photo: Daniel Prostak © CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED
ULI Placemaking Council Meeting Domino Park Mona El Khafif
Domino Park, Brooklyn. Photo: Mona El Khafif

Both parks, operating at two very different scales, provide insight into the issues of designing within complex urban contexts, across parameters of history, culture, economics and ecology. The day’s expansive journey throughout these neighborhoods in Brooklyn were marked with invaluable reflections on urban placemaking. Throughout the day, participants heard from a range of speakers and experts including developers, the arts community, community board members, conservancies, and major players in the Brooklyn planning world.

For El Khafif, the experience offered incredible insights that she will be able to bring into her teaching. Building upon a continuum of many years of research studios located in different regions of New York City, and most recently published in Next New York, the latest iteration of investigation focused on Brooklyn development will come to fruition next fall in an advanced research studio taught by El Khafif. The knowledge gained and collaborations seeded through ULI’s Placemaking Council Day only further help to grow invaluable connections between academic endeavors and our partners in practice.

The UVA School of Architecture and Mona El Khafif extend their gratitude to Nicole Emmons and David Howerton of Hart Howerton for extending this generous opportunity for participation in the ULI Placemaking Council Day.

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