Regional Assembly Preview: Building Great in Tough Times

What makes a project great? Participants at the Regional Assembly this Friday will have an opportunity to explore this question with four major figures in development in the city and region: Vishaan Chakrabarti, director of the Real Estate Development Program at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation (as well as a partner at SHoP Architects); Douglas Durst, chairman of the Durst Organization; Fred Harris, recently appointed as executive vice president for development at the New York City Housing Authority; and Rosanne Haggerty, president of Community Solutions.

Chakrabarti will draw on his experiences as director of City Planning's Manhattan office and as Related Cos. executive responsible for Moynihan Station and for planning and design of Hudson Yards to discuss overcoming environmental and political obstacles to get ambitious projects built. His work at City Planning enabled development of the vibrant West Chelsea neighborhood that got the extraordinary High Line park built and reintegrated the World Trade Center site into the Lower Manhattan grid. Now he is looking forward to the future of Midtown East, stretching between Fifth and Third avenues and 40th and 57th streets. And it isn't just a New York question. As director of Columbia's Center for Urban Real Estate, Chakrabarti advocates for design-intelligent urban development to address global issues.

An environmental advocate, Durst fought his way through many bureaucratic thickets to build the nation's first sustainable skyscraper, 4 Times Square, and the first LEED Platinum high-rise office tower, the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park. He then broke more new ground by enticing Conde Nast set to set up shop at One World Trade Center, which — when previously known as the Freedom Tower — had been on track to becoming a depot for government offices. With a fashionable lead tenant, 1WTC is now seen as worthy of being New York City's tallest building. Durst is also the force behind Bjarke Ingels' thrilling green-roofed, skyscraper-perimeter-block-combo residential building about to break ground on Manhattan's West 57th Street.

Fred Harris recently brought his experience building more than 5,000 housing units at AvalonBay Communities to the New York City Housing Authority the nation's largest provider of affordable housing. He is responsible for planning the transformation of NYCHA's huge inventory of vacant land and available development rights into housing for a new generation of the city's work force — while preserving and upgrading existing public housing for current tenants. Harris will discuss the political, economic and social challenges of building public housing in the 21st century.

Common Ground founder Rosanne Haggerty is known for converting rundown hotels creating into supportive housing for the formerly homeless. With Community Solutions, she has gone national, designing new programs to prevent homelessness and integrate housing and services for vulnerable people. Community Solutions currently has twinned projects under way in Brownsville and Hartford — both combine physical and social interventions in a coherent way to build healthy communities in the most deprived and degraded areas of their cities.

It has become routine to ask why we can no longer seem to build the great projects, private and public, of the past — Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, Rockefeller Center. Yet great projects are being built, serving public and private, rich and poor, businesses and residents. This year's Regional Assembly offers the chance to hear from creators of some of the best of them.