Friday, August 03, 2007

The "park" at Stuy Town--a harbinger of Atlantic Yards?

"Lots of New Yorkers visit parks, but not many live in one." So goes the promotion (click to enlarge) for Stuyvesant Town, the newly-privatized complex for which, along with neighboring Peter Cooper Village, developer Tishman Speyer agreed to pay $5.4 billion last October.

Now they've got to make it pay off, raising rents on the apartments that are no longer rent-stabilized. The tariff: 1 bedroom from $2975, 2 bedrooms from $3900, and 3 bedrooms from $5300.

And to sell it, the developer claims that the open space in the 80-acre, 110-building development is a "park." (A print ad further states: "Work out in an 80-acre park right outside your door.")

It's not. It's privately-managed, publicly-accessible open space and, as this City Council document (about access) shows, private interests do not necessarily match public ones.

AY warning

Stuyvesant Town's open space serves more as a private park than a public one, and thus has been targeted by Atlantic Yards critics as the poster child for what to avoid. "Would there be an invisible "keep out" sign, as in Stuyvesant Town or other apartment complexes with interior parks?" wrote Anne Schwartz last August in the Gotham Gazette.

Schwartz cited the analysis by the Municipal Art Society (MAS), which pointed to the importance of extending open space to the streets, so it is welcoming to the public.

MAS is part of BrooklynSpeaks, which has cautioned, "The problem is that the open space proposed won’t feel public, because it will be situated directly behind buildings. The park space is likely to feel more like a private backyard than a public park, similar to Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan."

BrooklynSpeaks goes further, arguing that the "open space should not only be publicly accessible, but be mapped as public parkland and designed to feel public."

AY open space

An October 2004 flier (right) from Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner promised that the open space would be "for the entire Brooklyn community to enjoy."

On the Atlantic Yards web site, the developer promises it "will transform portions of the exposed rail yards into publicly accessible open space that everyone can enjoy."

Of course, crucial to the Atlantic Yards open space would be the demapping of city streets, notably Pacific Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues, as the New York Observer noted in a 2/25/07 profile of landscape architect Laurie Olin.

Would they call it a park?

The developer has been careful, so far, not to call the open space a park. Others have been less cautious; in court on 2/7/07 for the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case, Douglas Kraus, an attorney for the Empire State Development Corporation, declared "the creation of public parks" to be one of the public purposes served by the project.

[Update: Lumi Rolley of NoLandGrab points out how Bruce Ratner predicted "parks" in an interview with the Post's Andrea Peyser.]

Would the real estate agents marketing Atlantic Yards--the same ilk who identify Gowanus as Park Slope and Bed-Stuy as Clinton Hill--resist the temptation to deem Olin's creation a "park" to help sell luxury condos to new residents?

1 comment:

  1. The languaging of the sales pitch presented here selling Stuyvesant Town is marvelously astute in its subtle reenforcement of the idea that the “park” it describes is private to the residents of Stuyvesant Town. In listing the “park” parts of Stuyvesant Town it describes Stuyvesant Oval as “a COMMON SPACE where RESIDENTS CAN unwind by the fountain and enjoy wireless internet access or BRING FRIENDS to FREE concerts.” And goes on to say, with repetition of a key phrase, “RESIDENTS CAN enjoy playing bocce, paddle tennis. .” The picture of the space is conspicuously labeled “home” and referred to as “the space around US” setting up a we/they dichotomy. Consistent with expressing things in we/they dichotomy terms it says, “Lots of New Yorkers visit parks, but not many live in one.” In one corner of the presentation there is even the phrase “PRIVACY POLICY legal notice” (Emphasis is supplied in capital in all the above.)

    The language never refers to the space as a “public park.” Instead it opts to use the term “common space” which in the real estate world of New York City cooperatives and condominium has a general connotation of space open only to those who share in its “ownership,” space such as lobbies, hallways and community rooms to which the general public can be denied access. The phrasing “residents can” “bring friends” suggests that those friends get there by “invitation” of the residents rather than intruding on the space as uninvited members of the public. By comparison, it is doubtful that sales language for an exclusive co-op beside Central Park and offering its amenities as positives would toy with these subtle language tricks to emphasize exclusivity and possession.

    But, to be fair, the Stuyvesant lawns must be sold as they have been designed and for what they are. If the Ratner Atlantic Yards are built with similarly planned lawn, trees and pathways replacing the demapped streets then a similar psychology will inevitably attach. The sad thing is that this “exclusivity and possession” psychology does not necessarily make real estate more valuable than design that orients itself beautifully in celebration of civic works attaining their majesty by being truly shared with the greater public. Which is to say, we all know that Vanderbilt Yards needs to be developed and designed by people with much better imagination and sense. (Goodbye to Bruce and Frank.)

    BTW: Those Ratner lawns will require a hardy species of grass because there won’t be much sunlight reaching them.

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