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April 16, 2008

Answers About Brooklyn Architecture

City Room (The New York Times Blog)

Diana Lind, author of "Brooklyn Modern: Architecture, Interiors & Design," answers questions from readers. She most definitely has not drunk The Times's Kool-Aid when it comes to Atlantic Yards.

Q: Speaking of Atlantic Yards, what does Ms. Lind think of this megadevelopment, and its potential effects on Brooklyn life?

— Posted by matt

A: Living in Fort Greene half a block from Atlantic Avenue, I’ve thought a lot about the Atlantic Yards project and its potential impact on life in Brooklyn. Certainly the site merits some kind of development, but I’m opposed to the Ratner plan as it stands now for a few reasons. I take umbrage at the project’s vast, uninterrupted scale; its street closings; its miserable sense of public space (when was the last time you threw a Frisbee on a private building’s lawn?); and most recently, revelations of its more than $2 billion worth of tax write-offs and subsidies from the government, according to the New York Post. Though the project has promoted the fact that it’s going to create jobs and housing, the scheme of using public money to finance this endeavor sounds like robbing Peter and Paul to pay Mary (sorry, the pope’s coming to town).

But I also have aesthetic qualms with the project. I don’t think any one architect should be in charge of designing 22 acres of any city. In a March 21 article by the New York Times critic Nicolai Ouroussoff, the project’s uncertain status is lamented. Mr. Ourousoff points to the importance of great planning projects like Rockefeller Center (roughly the same size as Atlantic Yards). But Rockefeller Center was developed by a team of architects; Atlantic Yards will not be. Gehry is good at what he does, and as others have noted his voluptuous style would nicely contrast with the phallic bank building, but more than seven million square feet of his outlandish style (of any architect’s style) starts to look pretty tacky and boring, no matter the context.

So, if the project goes ahead as it’s planned now, how this will affect life in Brooklyn? A lot. Irreversibly. It will complete Brooklyn’s transformation from a post-industrial residential borough to a city unto itself and will extend Downtown Brooklyn to Fort Greene, Prospect Heights and Boerum Hill.

Spending time in Brooklyn now, one senses the borough’s promise and mutability. When and if Atlantic Yards is completed, I think many people will feel an enormous opportunity was lost on a not particularly innovative project. If I were in charge of the development site, I’d scrap the plan, build a platform over the railyards, and auction off small parcels of the site to varied developers, cultural organizations and schools. The diversity of approaches to the parcels would mimic the city’s naturally haphazard development process and allow for more community involvement.

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NoLandGrab: Better hurry up and take a screen shot of this piece, since we don't think we'll be seeing such unvarnished criticism of Atlantic Yards in the pages of the Times's print edition any time soon.

Atlantic Yards Report, Answers About Brooklyn Architecture, criticism of AY

Norman Oder must must have been rendered speechless, since he posted the passage we cited above sans comment.

Posted by eric at April 16, 2008 12:21 PM