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July 12, 2009

In Architectural Record (February 2007), editor called for "employing other voices"; now what?

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder takes a look at a mostly ignored article from 2007 that examined the proposed Atlantic Yards project through a mostly architectural viewpoint. After two years, a new look would be a good idea.

This is well over two years late, but I don't think anyone noticed a thoughtful but flawed February 2007 column by Architectural Record editor Robert Ivy, headlined City of Trees and published shortly after the Atlantic Yards project was officially approved but, obviously, well before significant changes were made.

It's worth another look and Atlantic Yards, I think, deserves Ivy's attention again.

Ivy points to the need for development at the crucial intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, cited the need for housing in the city, and pointed out the importance of professional sports in what could be the fourth-largest city in the country. (I don't buy his restatement of the cliche that Brooklyn is "still grieving the loss of the Dodgers in 1957," however.)

...

However, he acknowledges concern: Soon residents of surrounding property and their sympathizers began to protest the disruption to the urban fabric that the 22-acre master plan proposed. They decried the loss of low-scale housing in the Prospect Heights neighborhood (a gentrifying area), the use of eminent domain by a civic authority to block viable streets, and the variation in scale presented in the proposed project.

It's even more than urban design, scale, and even eminent domain, given factors like superblocks and indefinite interim surface parking. The big issue is process--why else would the Municipal Art Society's Kent Barwick have mused that AY might be "this generation's Penn Station"?

Oder goes on to examine the role of Frank Gehry in the planning and promotion of the project as well as the original concept that Gehry would have been responsible for planning every building for the project.

He concludes by looking at how realistic a compromise solution might be and suggesting a fresh look.

Ivy concludes: New York needs density, and more housing, but not at the expense of alienating urban advocates who decry closed streets, inadequate affordable-housing options, or imperiled existing residences. Their voices must be taken into consideration. Ultimately, Atlantic Yards will comprise its own city within the city. As Gehry himself has proposed, his large commission can be improved by employing other voices to build on the plans he has laid out to date, adding other sensibilities to the architect’s own, layering the new community now in formation with multiple points of view, and enriching the borough and the whole city as a result. (Emphasis added)

This is essentially a "mend it, don't end it" solution, reasonably close to the issues raised by BrooklynSpeaks.

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But it doesn't square the circle: if existing residences are to be saved and streets not to be closed, Forest City Ratner's master plan must be significantly altered--and probably couldn't work. It implies a lower density; if so, the developer couldn't fulfill the affordable housing pledge it made.

Moreover, it doesn't deal with the dubious claims of blight. Nor does it deal with the developer's pattern of misleading the public.

It's understandable that Ivy, like other architecture critics, would focus on issues of urban design. But a project this big raises other questions, as well.

Now that it's been two years and counting, he should revisit the issue.

link

Posted by steve at July 12, 2009 8:20 AM