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March 5, 2007

Stern and the City

Architect and historian, Robert A. M. Stern completes his epic, five volume survey of the Big Apple

RAMStern-MM.jpgMetropolis
By Paul Makovsky

Bigger than the Manhattan Yellow Pages and weighing in at just under 11 pounds, New York 2000 (Monacelli Press) is the fifth and final volume of Robert A. M. Stern’s award-winning series on the city’s architecture, urbanism, and interiors from the Civil War to the millennium... Recently Metropolis editorial director Paul Makovsky spoke with Stern about the book, how the city has changed over the past 30 years, and the legacies of Post-Modernism, Donald Trump, and eighties nightclubs.

In the interview, Stern either refers to some other Jane Jacobs or the silly rabbit gets his information from The New York Times.

An interesting example is the struggle to find the appropriate scale, and the appropriate adjustments between the local community and the larger needs of the city, at Atlantic Yards with Frank Gehry. It’s a highly controversial project, but in many ways the scheme is quite Jane Jacobs-like in its urban pattern. There are concerns about the scale and about public investment, but that represents a new, probably healthy development for the city.

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NoLandGrab "Overkills" Robert A. M. Stern

There are several misguided assumptions in Stern's proclamation.

1. Struggle to find an appropriate scale?

Any preceived "struggle to find an appropriate scale" with Atlantic Yards is a Ratner contrivance dutifully reported by The Times. In less than three years, the developer announced the project, later increased the size, and subsequently decreased the size (giving credit to NY City Planning) to nearly the original scale, in a carefully choreographed dance with the press and public perception of the project.

The NY Times ran the big news on page one without reference to the fact that the project had been previously increased, and was again close to its original size, and "The Paper of Record" never followed up to report that the shavedown was planned as early as January, 2006, when the developer presented the option to the City Planning Commission.

2. The scheme is quite Jane Jacobs-like in its urban pattern??

To say "the scheme is quite Jane Jacobs-like in its urban pattern" defies credulity (seriously, are we talking about THE Jane Jacobs?), and makes one wonder if Stern has looked at the project plans on his own. Then again, he probably has no idea that Atlantic Yards would be the densest residential community in the nation, since The Times still hasn't reported that fact.

Also, Jacobs would certainly have criticized:
* the use of eminent domain for a private project of this nature (Jacobs submitted an amicus brief for the US Supreme Court case of Kelo v. New London), * demapping of city streets in favor of superblocks, * the lack of meaningful community input and review, and * the garden-city mentality, which in the case of Atlantic Yards, proposes much less open space than any garden-city acolyte could have ever imagined (a scant 8 acres for 15,000 inhabitants).

We also think that Jacobs would have had serious concerns about casting aside city zoning to build an arena right next to existing residential housing, and would have probably expected local residents to speak out against such a scheme.

3. Scale and public investment, healthy development for the city???

Stern concluded, "There are concerns about the scale and about public investment, but that represents a new, probably healthy development for the city." If the scale/density and public investment of Atlantic Yards were to be attempted in Manhattan or by any developer other than the incredibly politically connected Bruce Ratner, we doubt that the project would be considered seriously. A private project of this scale has NEVER EVER been approved and constructed in New York City, much less Brooklyn.

Robert A. M. Stern can believe what he wants, but that doesn't make it so. Meanwhile, he fails to take into account the historic aspects of this project. The fact that most of the extreme characteristics of Atlantic Yards have not been reported in most of the mainstream press, and have not become part of the general public discourse about the project, isn't really an excuse when you are one of the most respected scholars of NYC architecture. If professionals fail to appreciate what is not being said, then Bruce Ratner has won another round.

Posted by lumi at March 5, 2007 7:42 AM