Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Sun critic dislikes Gehry, misreads opposition, misdescribes site

In a review today headlined In Favor of Building - Just Not These Buildings, New York Sun architecture critic James Gardner expresses his dislike for Frank Gehry's designs, but at the same time misreads the debate, and misdescribes the proposed site.

He writes:
The controversy surrounding the Atlantic Yards brings into clamorous opposition two constituencies that, in other circumstances, would fit together quite cozily. On the one hand, you have the semi-celebrity locals who are desperately opposed to the plan, among them Steve Buscemi, movie star; Peter Galassi, curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, and Jonathan Lethem, the literary novelist of the moment. They hew to Jane Jacobs's worldview, the less-is-more idea that it takes a village and that the massive intervention of the project would destroy the delicate fabric of the community.

But the debate, to repeat for the umpteenth time, isn't between development and no development. As Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's Daniel Goldstein said on the Brian Lehrer show yesterday, it's "a debate about sensible development versus destructive development." DDDB has recruited another bidder, who suggested a high-rise project of a 11 buildings up to 28 stories over the railyard--a smaller scale than the Atlantic Yards plan. Had the railyard been put out to bid earlier, other projects might have emerged.

Gardner continues:
But the project has many equally trendy defenders. Herbert Muschamp, the former New York Times architecture critic, declared that "Brooklyn Atlantic Yards is the most important piece of urban design New York has seen since the Battery Park City master plan was produced in 1979." Behind him are some of the most powerful voices in city and state government, from Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki to the Brooklyn borough president, Marty Markowitz, who are all positively tipsy with visions of development and job creation.

It's not clear how Marty Markowitz, whose initial impetus for the development was to recruit a pro sports team to repair the loss of the Dodgers in 1957, counts as trendy. And the elected officials and Gardner should sober up about the claims of job creation.

Gardner continues:
Peripheral to both camps are extremists of one sort or another. On one side are the type of people - Andrea Peyser of the New York Post comes to mind - who are in favor of the development mainly because they dislike Steve Buscemi and the indie film scene; on the other are those who decry the development because they hate their parents and because Governor Pataki wears a tie. I exaggerate, of course, but you get my point.

Actually, his point is hard to get. Many of the people who "decry the development" are associated with DDDB, or groups that are generally aligned with DDDB. He's just pulling out the old NIMBY claim.

Misdescribing the site

Then Gardner sets up a false choice:
My sympathies incline slightly toward the builders, or at least, slightly away from their opponents, since I find it difficult to imagine that the already scarified fabric of Brooklyn will be further aggrieved by replacing the massive rail yards that now occupy the site to be developed. Furthermore, it is hard to buy the argument that this is or could ever be a small-town setting when it abuts the Atlantic Avenue Station; with the Long Island Rail Road and 10 subway lines running through it, this is the third busiest hub in New York City's mass transit system.

Of course there's a good argument for development over the rail yard site, but the 8.3-acre site is hardly equivalent to the 22-acre footprint proposed by Forest City Ratner.

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