A Grander Concourse

When the Grand Concourse was first conceived of in the late 19th century, its designers described the avenue as both a symbolically grand civic project (the thoroughfare’s builders modeled it on the Parisian Champs Elysees) and a requisite connector between the packed and grimy blocks of lower Manhattan and the bucolic parkland that characterized the Bronx at the Concourse’s inception in 1909. A lot has changed in the past century, however, as the boulevard’s fate mirrored the descending arc charted by the borough, which suffered flight in the sixties, flames in the seventies, and a drug “epidemic” in the eighties.

Last week, to celebrate the Concourse’s first hundred years and suggest its many possible–and bright–futures, the Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Design Trust for Public Space released the finalists for its 2009 competition, Intersections: The Grand Concourse Beyond 100 competition. (Metropolis’s editor in chief, Susan S. Szenasy, was among the jurors.) The competition encouraged an interdisciplinary approach from its entrants, and that’s yielded seven winning proposals that vary greatly in both methods and ambition. One project proposes introducing vast swaths of agricultural space to the center and periphery of the avenue. Another envisions the Concourse as a network of open-source technology accessible from the street. A third seemingly avoids the premise entirely, suggesting a new approach to information gathering in order to aid future redesigns.

All in all, the competition’s finalists offer the tantalizing possibility of a reinvigorated avenue, and a reinvigorated Bronx–one in which clever design addresses local needs in a way that is both environmentally and socially sustainable. A hundred years after its creation, the Grand Concourse might finally be taking steps to reclaim its title as the borough’s grandest boulevard.

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