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December 25, 2008

"New Improved Brooklyn" revisited more than 4.5 years later (with a hint about an architect helping Gehry)

Atlantic Yards Report

This is a look back at two articles in New York Magazine from April, 2004. The first article, "New Improved Brooklyn" gives us a chance to see what has happened to plans four years after the fact. The Atlantic Terminal Mall was built, but the planned arena (as well as any part of the proposed Atlantic Yards) has yet to appear. Likewise, the BAM Cultural District. Also, there have been a number of tower buildings built in downtown Brooklyn, but they are for housing, not the jobs that were promised when the area was rezoned.

Many of the issues that have made Atlantic Yards controversial are covered, including: Using Starchitect Frank Gehry as window dressing for yet another Bruce Ratner badly-designed development and the State pretense that a rezoning for the project footprint was needed to allow the area to develop. The lack of community input for the project is covered in the NY Mag article's conclusion:

Despite her sympathy for grand plans like Gehry's, Lange was skeptical in her conclusion: It shouldn’t take towers along the waterfront to recenter our mental maps of New York on the East River, not at Central Park. Brooklyn is already different, inextricably linked, but equal. It shouldn’t be back-office territory, but front-office space for smaller businesses. Those potential Williamsburg towers really are on the Fifth Avenue of the future. Enrique Norten’s library, Frank Gehry’s theater and arena are equivalent to Herzog & de Meuron’s South Bank Tate Modern—jewels in the setting that is Brooklyn, rather than alien presences.

The trick, then, for Brooklyn’s neighbors is to negotiate with the city, with the developers, with the architects, from a position of strength. Know neighborhood character, and admit its weaknesses. Point the Manhattan developers to real instances of blight. Look to the development that has been and is now already occurring, without benefit of tax breaks and zoning incentives.

The fear of Manhattanization is not, in this case, knee-jerk nimby-ism, but the sense that many chose to Brooklynize instead—to move here from other places, to stay here for multiple generations. What is attracting all this top-down money is work that has already been done by people happy to say, when asked at a party, No, I don’t live in New York. I live in Brooklyn. (Emphasis added)

The trick was that Mayor Mike Bloomberg and his allies never tried to let the neighbors negotiate.

Next, a review of an article from the same issue, "Don't You Be My Neighbor" which concludes with a kind of call to New Yorkers to become involved in development issues.

...The alternative to acceptance is community engagement in planning.

While many might see that engagement as dull and demanding, keep in mind that New York City as of now structurally inequipped; the community boards, which service areas the size of small cities, generally have just one professional staffer.


Posted by steve at December 25, 2008 10:55 AM