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May 22, 2008

At MAS, AY as an example of a neighborhood planning struggle

Atlantic Yards Report

When it comes to discussions of “David vs. Goliath,” the subject of a Municipal Art Society (MAS) Planning Center Forum on May 14, Atlantic Yards is an inevitable subject, though--as I’ll note below--the politics of AY means that more than one set of parties might consider themselves “Davids.”

The panel addressed the issue of “neighborhood planning in the face of large-scale development,” and planner/architect Stuart Pertz, in his introduction, noted that some projects are inherently large, and only work if built on a large scale. “Unfortunately, it often gets out of hand,” he said, suggesting that “Goliath in development has extraordinary leverage, using powerful lawyers, contractors, planners, and unions.” Then again, he said, “there are many Davids.”

MarshallBrownMAS.jpg A fair amount of the discussion revolved around the Atlantic Yards-alternative UNITY Plan.

Architect Marshall Brown (right), a developer of the UNITY plan for the Metropolitian Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard (and beyond), said, with perhaps some retrospective bravado, “Four years ago we realized we needed to have something in place for the probable occurrence of Forest City Ratner’s plans running aground.” He suggested that Atlantic Yards exemplified a “willful ignorance of limits,” including the physical limit of an eight-acre railyard, the legal limit of eminent domain, the democratic limit of ULURP (the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, bypassed in this case for a fast-track state review), and “finally, the all too evident limit of the talents of a single architect.”

He noted that he wasn’t dissing Frank Gehry, just pointing out--as have others, and even Gehry himself--that megaprojects require multiple architects.

Brown suggested that questions of sustainability and the “looming environmental apocalypse” meant that the Bloomberg administration should prioritize quality ahead of quantity: “I’d say it’s a city of limits.”

CandaceCarponterMAS.jpg

Lawyer Candace Carponter (right), a co-chair of the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods (CBN), described how the coalition, formed to respond to the Atlantic Yards environmental review, moved from officially agnostic to ultimately oppositional, joining a lawsuit challenging the review, and becoming a supporter of the UNITY plan. She suggested that the combination of a new governor, “detrimental economics,” and the Newark option for the Nets might provide an opening for the UNITY plan--though of course, that remains to be seen.

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Posted by eric at May 22, 2008 10:45 AM