Neighborhood Character [13]

This weekend we walked to China Town in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Although not our first time there, it was a wonderful reminder that we live in a vibrant city with incredible diversity. Due to the pandemic we haven’t been able to take full advantage of all that New York City has to offer. Now that we have received vaccines we can start to safely explore more, get outside, visit new neighborhoods, and fully live the New York life.

The best part of this outing was how much different China Town feels from our neighborhood. Despite being only a 30-40 minute walk away, it felt like we were traveling much further afield. The grocery stores were filled with energy, people, and exotic vegetables and products. We stocked up on essentials to cook Chinese and Thai cuisines. We wandered around poking our heads into stores, getting green tea and dumplings, and taking advantage of the many narrow streets that are currently open to pedestrians (closed to cars).

The crowds, outdoor dining, fruit and vegetable stands on the sidewalks, the architecture with predominate fire escapes dominating the facades, the colorful signage overhanging the sidewalks, the lack of cars, and the abundance of noises and smells made us feel alive and excited. The built environment has such an impact on how we experience the city and it was fun to escape the car dominated planning of Brooklyn for the more compact and energetic street life of the Lower East Side. We couldn’t help imagine what it would be like to live there and debated the pros and cons of moving when our current lease is up. Is it worth the extra expense to be in the heart of the city in a much more diverse and dense neighborhood, within short walk of China Town, Little Italy, the shopping of Soho, and the hip neighborhoods of the East and West Village filled with bars, cafes and restaurants? Probably.

Even more so, since I am also holding out hope that all of lower Manhattan will be getting even better over the coming months and years. With congestion pricing on the way, I hope to see fewer cars and more space for life to take back the streets (More on this news in the “Things to Read This Week” section below). This is a compelling reason to chose Manhattan as an ideal place for us to live.

Leave a comment

I need your help. I’m working to grow readership for A Better Built Environment so please share this newsletter with one person you think would enjoy it.

Share A Better Built Environment | Lucas Gray


Things To Read This Week

  1. As Biden Pushes Major Rail Investments, Amtrak's 2035 Map Has People Talking
    Trains. We need more trains. Lots of them. Fast ones connecting cities. Local ones connecting neighborhoods. As someone who has taken the train across Russia, traversed from New York to Portland, Oregon and back on Amtrak, and who has explored Europe, Japan, Thailand, and China by rail, I can tell you it is one of the best ways to travel. I can also tell you that the US is far behind almost every country I’ve been to in terms of train infrastructure. Let’s do this!

  2. Construction Cost Breakdown and Partial Industrialization
    A great post on another Newsletter I subscribe to called Construction Physics written by Brian Potter. In this post Brian analyzes the construction cost of a typical new-construction single family house and also compares today’s cost with historic numbers:

    The results are...depressing. First, inflation adjusted cost has increased about 50% since 1945. Second, while it’s difficult to make a direct comparison, but it also appears that labor as a fraction of overall cost was similar in 1945 as well - just around 50%. Third, not only do we see almost identical systems and features in place, but their cost fractions are almost identical as well. Flooring, roofing, foundations, framing, painting, electrical - they all make up the same proportional cost of a home today as they did in 1947.

    If you work in residential design or construction, or are considering building a custom home, this is a valuable post.

  3. The Rules That Made U.S. Roads So Deadly

    Why did traffic fatalities rise on U.S. streets during the pandemic? Blame laws that lock in dangerous street designs and allow vehicles known to be more deadly to non-drivers.

    This is why I believe the most important war we are fighting in America is not on foreign soil, but rather the war on cars we are waging right here at home. Mind you, the quote above discusses traffic fatalities rising during the pandemic at the same time vehicle miles traveled are actually down compared to previous years. Streets being unsafe is a design problem and one that needs to be addressed both on new roads being built as well as retrofits of our existing street network. This can’t happen soon enough. Hopefully Secretary Pete will make this a priority.

  4. This Is Happening: Feds Let MTA Do Simpler Environmental Review of Congestion Pricing
    Finally, an American city is moving forward on Congestion Pricing. I can’t wait until this has been implemented and to experience how it affects Manhattan. I hope it cuts down on traffic and allows the city to reallocate street space from cars to other uses like wider sidewalks, protected bike lanes, outdoor dining, new plazas and planters, open streets, curbside garbage collection, bike parking, etc. If this works, it can also be a great example for out US cities to emulate, especially as more and more local governments are looking for new revenue sources to provide services such as affordable housing, public transit, and others.


Design Inspiration

A wonderful example of how the traditional material of brick can make a distinctly contemporary piece of architecture. The Jingdezhen Imperial Kiln Museum in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi, China, designed by Studio Zhu-Pei


Sharing the love

Charrette Venture Group

Regardless of the fact that I now work here, I was going to feature CVG in this space. Helping architects run better businesses is something I’ve been thinking about for 8+ years, since I started my own firm with a couple of partners. After a few years spent getting the firm off the ground, we partnered with Charrette Venture Group to help us better manage our business and focus on growing the firm. They helped us with bi-weekly business coaching, redesigning our website, managing our marketing strategy and content creation, provided bookkeeping, and worked with us on operations and management training, financial analysis, and strategic planning. Over the five years we worked together they helped us increase revenue and profits and double the size of our firm from a 3 to 6 person studio. Most importantly, their guidance helped teach us how to run a better business.

CVG has recognized that many small practices are great at designing projects and serving clients but often struggle when it comes to the business side of practice and lack training in operations and management, and/or can use help with marketing and business development.

To help small firms run better businesses, we have assembled a team of experts that advise firms on ways to improve their operations, finances, management and leadership, marketing strategy, and focus on increased growth and profitability. This holistic approach to running an architecture firm was a great help for us and could benefit many other firms looking to grow.

Here is a short interview we did last summer, before I joined the CVG team, with Todd Redding the CEO of CVG talking with me about the my experience running a firm and signing up for an initial consultation call and eventually becoming one of CVG’s investment partners.

We are currently working with over 25 firms across the country. Personally, I’m excited to get to get to know and work with the people at these firms and others who may benefit from our expertise. If you are interested in learning more about what we do and would like to ask questions about how we can help your business improve, please schedule a call with us through the button below.

Book a Free Business Coaching Session


Schedule a video call

I’m interested in building stronger relationships and would love to jump on a video call with anyone who is interested. Click the button below to get on my calendar.

Schedule A Video Call

Learn More About Me:


Something I Designed (a new section to the newsletter!)

I’m ending this weeks newsletter with a photo of the Alberta Co-op Grocery Store that I helped redesign a few years ago. It is one of the projects I enjoyed working on the most as it was a good design for great clients with a big community impact.