Skip to main content

Designing Public Consensus--it takes a lot more meetings

So, the public really should be heard, right? That's the message of an article in the September issue of Metropolis, headlined Secretary to the Mob, and summarized as "Public-outreach specialist Barbara Faga really can’t complain about the growing democratization of design."

And the takeaway is that a good process would involve a lot more meetings than those leading to the approval of the Atlantic Yards plan. (That also suggests that the new UNITY plan is a start, not a conclusion.)

Jeff Speck's article notes:
Since Jane Jacobs demonstrated that citizens can be smarter than experts, planners have been increasingly required to design publicly, to complete their projects in open-door workshops, and to seek not just public approval but also public direction in their schemes. This approach always made sense in the case of community visioning and plans for neighborhood revitalization, but it is now equally mandated in projects for private property of any significant size. If the public is affected, the public will participate—either as a partner in the design process, a witness at a public hearing, or finally, a litigant in a class-action lawsuit. Most developers have come to understand that of those three roles, the first has the least potential for killing a project.

Until recently, the art of managing the public design process has not been taught in planning schools. Now there is an established organization, the National Charrette Institute—its Charrette Handbook is the last word on how to design publicly—and a larger literature on the subject is beginning to develop. Probably the most comprehensive such book is Designing Public Consensus (Wiley), by Barbara Faga of the planning and landscape juggernaut EDAW.


150 meetings

Faga's firm worked on Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway, the new surface over the Big Dig, and bore the brunt of a lot of community frustration. The ultimate vision, she says, didn't emerge from one meeting but 150 meetings. (There was no such sequence of public meetings regarding Atlantic Yards, though developer Forest City Ratner claims it held numerous meetings.)

Speck asks if the trend toward public involvement has gone too far, and whether it's reversible. Faga responds:
I do suppose the genie is out of the bottle, and probably for the better. When I started the book, I was of the opinion that design is in some ways homogenized by public input. But the more I got into it, the more convinced I became that public participation does make for better parks and places.


On Ground Zero & urbanism

Faga praises the “Listening to the City” process for Ground Zero--though others have disagreed-- pointing out that the public (apparently having absorbed Jacobsian commonplaces) wanted retail and street life rather than towers with blank walls.

Speck challenges her, arguing that the first six schemes for Ground Zero were better designs than those that came after, "but they showed massing when people needed architecture." He suggests that Daniel Libeskind's selection was "no more than dressed-up massing since it was an urban design that had no control over the final architectural result."

Faga responds:
Well, yes, but it is incumbent upon the designer to portray urbanism convincingly. Even if the client asks just for massing models, that’s not going to cut it with the public. That’s one thing that was confounding to me in Boston. Because the public there is so sophisticated, we had started out using a lot of computer modeling. It was all very nicely done, but they just didn’t get it. We had to drop back to watercolors. Watercolors people get.


How convincing are the decontextualized Atlantic Yards towers and decontextualized Atlantic Yards open space, when they're not combined? (Above and below, from the latest flier.)

Keeping people honest

Speck asks:
Wouldn’t you say that public participation is necessary because it keeps the politicians honest? When I’m not sure that the leadership will come to bat for good design, I work extra hard to empower the citizens.


Faga responds:
I do believe that in the end you have to win the public over because they’re in place longer than the politicians. The public can pretty much overturn anything, or drag it out in court as long as they want.


In Brooklyn, that remains to be seen.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

"There is no alternative": DM Glen on de Blasio's affordable housing strategy

As I've written, Mayor Bill de Blasio sure knows how to steer and spin coverage of his affordable housing initiatives.

Indeed, his latest announcement, claiming significant progress, came with a pre-press release op-ed in the New York Daily News and then a friendly photo-op press conference with an understandably grateful--and very lucky--winner of an affordable housing lottery.

To me, though, the most significant quote came from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
said public housing had been “starved” of federal support for years now, leaving the city with fewer ways of creating affordable housing. “Are we relying too heavily on the private sector?” she said. “There is no alternative.” Though Glen was using what she surely sees as a common-sense phrase, it recalls the slogan of a politician with whom I doubt de Blasio identifies: former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative who believed in free markets.

It suggests the limits to …