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November 29, 2010

New City Reader: Sidewalk Sale

Design Observer
by Alexandra Lange

I was reminded of her song the other day, when I took the bus to Brooklyn’s Atlantic Center Mall, across the street from the hole in the ground that will one day be the Barclays Center. Groundbreaking for the project happened on March 11, 2010. So much organization, demonstration and emotion had gone in to preventing that day from happening; so much organization, calculation and presentation had gone in to making it happen. In the aftermath, what is there?

On my most recent visit the first thing I noticed was that the sidewalks had in fact been sold, in the sense that they had disappeared. Pedestrians can no longer walk along the south side of Atlantic Avenue, as that side of the street has disappeared behind jersey barriers and a construction vehicle lane that extends from Flatbush past Sixth Avenue. The short section of Fifth Avenue that used to connect Park Slope directly to the Atlantic Center Mall (without going all the way around the triangle at Atlantic and Flatbush) is gone, as is the Carlton Avenue bridge. The train cut, properly called the Vanderbilt Yard, was always a psychological moat. Now it is a physical one too.

On the Flatbush side of the point, the sidewalk has simply been halved, creating a tight corridor between the onrush of traffic and the high construction fence, all the way to Dean Street. The first block of Pacific, as promised, has disappeared. You can barely hear the excavation over the traffic and can’t see it at all. If you loop around to Pacific on Dean, you find trash and sticklike trees, and a general sense of neglect. No one cares about this street anymore.

If you just moved to the area, the arena might sound like a good idea. Anything would be better than this. What was everyone fighting so hard to save? In the meantime, the rest of us hurry by on the little sidewalk we have left.


Related coverage...

Atlantic Yards Report, "Sidewalk Sale": A critic's observant walk around the Atlantic Yards site

In a smartly observant essay headlined Sidewalk Sale, published initially in the New Museum's broadsheet New City Reader, critic Alexandra Lange (notable for her Design Observer takedown of Nicolai Ouroussoff this past winter), takes a walk around the Atlantic Yards site.

Among her observations:

  • "the sidewalks had in fact been sold, in the sense that they had disappeared"
  • the railyard, "properly called the Vanderbilt Yard, was always a psychological moat. Now it is a physical one too."
  • the name Atlantic Yards has "vanished," supplanted by Barclays Center, "a name designed for TV, for overhead blimp shots of the 'helmet,' (which the new arena design clearly resembles)."

(I'm pretty sure Atlantic Yards isn't completely gone, and that there are plans to play it up after the arena's established.)

"Downtown Brooklyn"

And Lange agrees that p.r. and uncritical press coverage located the buildings in "Downtown Brooklyn" in order to:

naturalize the height of Gehry’s Miss Brooklyn tower, and invoking the threat of eminent domain to argue that they would be saving a blighted area.

Everything possible was done to ignore the real context, the adjacent neighborhoods of Fort Greene and Prospect Heights, which look better today than they did in 2003.

Posted by eric at November 29, 2010 9:10 AM