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August 21, 2006

Atlantic Yards Report goes historical!

In today's Atlantic Yards Report, Norman Oder takes a hard look at the role of Historic Districts in urban revitalization and the need to quantify the importance of "less tangible elements" like scale, neighborhood character and architectural resources.

Historic districts? DEIS downplays preservation history around AY site

The Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) argues that urban renewal "resulted in marked improvements in several low-income neighborhoods, including Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick, and East New York." What the document can't prove is that the urban renewal in the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area brought about the improvements of the surrounding Brownstone neighborhoods:

So what helped revive the neighborhoods around Downtown Brooklyn in the 1960s and 1970s? If you read Chapter 1, Project Description, of the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement, you'd conclude that somehow it was governmental investment in urban renewal, including condemnation.

And if you read the Chapter 7, Cultural Resources, the same message recurs.

But unacknowledged is the parallel process in Brownstone Brooklyn of mostly private reinvestment and revival via historic preservation, which was hastened by the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission.

AY Report finds several instances in the DEIS in which the document characterizes the footprint of the Atlantic Yards project as wanting for government intervention.

The "Neighborhood Character" section does acknowledge the historic character of the surrounding neighborhoods:

The character of these neighborhoods changes as they approach the project site. The areas closer to the project site lack the cohesive character of the cores of their neighborhoods, indicative of the transitional character of these areas.

Norman Oder gathers these threads presented in the DEIS and observes:

Well, the "transitional character" of the real estate to the north of the project site is because of urban renewal--for example, land cleared for the Atlantic Center mall--while the "transitional character" of the neighborhood south of the railyard was in the process of being transformed privately, thanks to some spot rezoning before the Atlantic Yards plan was announced.

The question is how to transform the transition.

What's at stake: a "sense of place"
Recently, much importance has been given to "adaptive reuse" of buildings that have outlived their original purposes. In urban centers, this has given rise to conversion of manufacturing buildings to housing. However, when these buildings are converted, they often lose the characteristics that deem them worthy for protection under "historical preservation" efforts.

This is one of the problems examined in Shirley Morillo's master's thesis, entitled "Historic Preservation and the Changing Face of Large-scale Redevelopment Projects in New York City: An Analysis of the Brooklyn Atlantic Yards Project."

From Morillo's thesis:

The shift from preservation of the object to preservation of more subjective characteristics of culturally and politically constructed places, only deepens the dilemma due to the fact that no recourse exists for effectively making these claims except for participation in a public process, which has, in the case of the proposed Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project, been seriously restricted.

Other area resources include less fixed, and more difficult to quantify factors such as scale, the skyline, view corridors, and sense of place. Inherently a challenge to measure, claims for these characteristics are made more difficult because the scope of the project’s true area of impact is so difficult to limit. It is additionally difficult because natural growth and organic development of the city often impacts these factors and is not always, nor frequently, to be considered a negative effect. In the case at hand, however, the scope of proposed Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project is challenging the scale of the area to a shocking degree.

AY asks a rhetorical question answered by Morillo:

Could redevelopment work? Not this one, Morillo suggests, citing the project’s planned departure from the contextual grid, open space patterns, and scale.

Posted by lumi at August 21, 2006 8:01 AM