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New Zoo

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Open Ideas Competition: Beyond The Center Line

Team: Conor O'Shea

New Zoo connects four New York City zoos by repurposing medians, highway embankments, parks, and shoulder rights-of-way into animal corridors and habitat. This new model for urban zoos provides species a greater range of movement and brings them into closer proximity with new human audiences in never-before-seen ways.

Animals on Parade

As cities in the developed world continue becoming cleaner, animal species are returning and adapting to urban environments in ever-greater numbers. This process, known as synurbization, is evidenced by frequent coyote sightings in cities like Boston, New York, and Chicago, and by regular sightings of falcon, bald eagle, and even cougars in urban areas. While some cities have passed zoning changes to accommodate domesticated animals like chickens for egg production or goats to maintain vegetation, most wild animals in urban environments remain quarantined in the restrictive confines of the urban zoo or at large and unwelcome. New Zoo is a radical reorganization of the urban zoo, in which the network supersedes the node.

In this proposal, the Park Avenue medians between 46th St. and 57th St. are repurposed as part of a city-wide zoo network. Divided into four sections that together span four of New York’s boroughs, they utilize repurposed medians, highway embankments, and shoulder rights-of-way. The first, CPBZ, runs between the Bronx Zoo and Central Park Zoo. The second, CPPZ, connecting the Central Park Zoo with the Prospect Park Zoo, is explored in detail in this proposal using Park Avenue as a case study. The third, PQZ, runs from Prospect Park Zoo to Queens Zoo, and the fourth, BQZ, completes the circle, linking the Queens Zoo and the Bronx Zoo. By allowing people to move alongside animals, whether on foot, bicycle, or car, New Zoo hybridizes the immersive safari with the urban commute; natural animal migration with flâneuring, and human environments with animal habitats.

Undesigning the Modern City

The integration of animals into urban areas is not without historic or contemporary precedent. Across much of the so-called undeveloped world, goats, chickens, pigs, and cattle are regular participants in the daily urban ballet. Throughout the 20th century, western modernist design and planning schemes sought to impose order on what were viewed as chaotic human and animal movements, thereby suppressing the natural ecological functions of urban areas. As a result, the modern city puts things in boxes, segregates functions, and imposes Euclidean zoning. Generally speaking, to this day rainwater is piped away as quickly as possible, terrestrial megafauna are unwelcome, and relatively ecologically-inert grass, shrub, and tree palettes comprise municipal landscape ordinances.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Harvey, and the king tides troubling cities like Boston and Miami, it is clear that urban systems must more closely resemble natural ones. While largely a cultural and economic project, New Zoo’s integration of animal movements into urban areas is also part of a broader call to undesign and de-engineer the contemporary city through setting novel ecologies in motion.

New York as Global Precedent

Ever a global trendsetter, the New Zoo model can be applied to existing zoos in other major metropolitan areas. For example, connecting Chicago’s Lincoln Park and Brookfield Zoos using underutilized railroad rights-of-way would bring zoo activities closer to many underserved citizens. New Zoo can also help frame the growth of new urban areas in rapidly urbanizing cities in developing countries, using the concept of a network to challenge the nodal zoo prototype.


Social Equity

Centralized public services are not always easily accessible to constituents residing in distant neighborhoods for a range of reasons, including impaired personal mobility and lack of time or money. Creating a web of zoos brings exotic species and their habitats into closer proximity with the public, encouraging both planned visits and serendipitous encounters.  

Animal Health

While there are certainly many practical considerations that would need resolution before the highly calibrated environments that animals currently reside in could be replicated elsewhere in a new linear form, New Zoo offers one unparalleled advantage: a far greater range of animal movement.

Zoo Sharing

In New York, the Bronx Zoo boasts sixty-seven species in twenty exhibits. The Central Park Zoo has far fewer: just twelve species in seven exhibits. Connecting collections opens up new curatorial possibilities for all zoos in the network.


Just as activities like camel rides and penguin feedings currently take place in New York’s zoos, seasonal and cultural programming can occur in the linear connections between existing nodes.

Park Avenue Prototypes

The three prototypes included in this proposal feature a collection of animals currently residing in New York’s zoos. However, habitats are designed to accommodate rotating collections based upon animal mating calendars, temperature, and cultural events. The species and their exhibits of origin are listed below.

Type 1: Canyon Switchback Malayan Tiger (Jungle World, Bronx Zoo); Gorilla (Congo Gorilla Forest, Bronx Zoo); Small Clawed Asian Otter (JungleWorld, Bronx Zoo)

Type 2: Ribbon Pool  Grizzly Bear (Grizzly Bear & Treena’s Overlook, Central Park Zoo); California Sea Lion (Central Lion & Sean Lion Pool); Tufted Deer (Discovery Trail, Prospect Park Zoo)

Type 3: Zebra Crossing Giraffe (Carter Giraffe Building, Bronx Zoo); Lion (African Plains, Bronx Zoo), Zebra (African Plains, Bronx Zoo)