Incentive Zoning


The Ocean Howell interview linked in Monday’s post reminded me of this bit from 2009’s Deathbowl to Downtown documentary — which apparently is $65 for a DVD copy on Amazon now and unavailable to stream anywhere?

Update: Stream it on Vimeo for two bucks.

Both the Howell interview and this bit discuss how cities will give developers a zoning pass / tax breaks on additional floors if they furnish the ground level of their property with a public plaza. The irony is that the plazas are often restricted to people who want to sit and eat lunch, i.e. a rather limited idea of what the “public” is. Nearly every piece of our European coverage has whined about how this is inconsistent with any Euro city we’ve visited, so I’ll spare you the recurring “America sucks for skateboarding” speech. There’s a lot of good early nineties Financial District and midtown footage in this segment, and by the looks of it, they were still busts then ;)

People gave Deathbowl a bit of a hard time when it came out — “the narration was heavy handed,” “the 90s were too focused on Zoo York,” etc. — but skateboarders will dig anywhere to complain. When I got the DVD in 2010, I was a month into nursing probably the closest you could sprain an ankle without needing medical attention. I finished watching it at maybe 2 A.M (on a school night!), yet still got the urge to grab a cruiser, and skate over the 59th Street Bridge to go up and down little hills on the westside til the sun started to come up. Can’t say a proper skate video has relayed that unshakeable “I really need to go skate”-feeling the same way since.

It was fun rewatching it to find this clip, you should give it a whirl.


  1. Damn that video is great, I’ve never heard of it. Who were the skaters? I recognized Gino…

  2. A really nice follow up to that is “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces” by William Whyte, also, the intro to “Dialogues in Public Art” by Tom Finkelpearl also gives a nice history of zoning in regards to NY’s “Percent for Art” program which brought us such priceless gems as Scott Burton’s marble benches (seen in the Deathbowl clip- there the cluster of marble benches with a back)(also brought plenty of large crap – unskatebale- sculpture too)

  3. SHUT (158 orchard st) stocks DEATHBOWL TO DOWNTOWN w/ bonus DISC for $25..if anybody wants a hard copy…comes with a cool book/zine with some great photos.

  4. Can’t believe I’ve never heard of the Deathbowl to Downtown movie. Will definitely be checking that out after watching that clip. I really enjoyed the Ocean Howell piece too. There’s a reason I come here before I go to Thrasher ; )

    Keep up the good work!

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