So the five proposals recently unveiled by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to develop the 26-acre Manhattan railyards are not just a disappointment for their lack of imagination, they are also a grim referendum on the state of large-scale planning in New York City.
Ouroussoff´s tough on the emphasis on the bottom line:
But what is really at issue here is putting the importance of profit margins above architecture and planning. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority could have pushed for more ambitious proposals. For decades now cities like Barcelona have insisted on a high level of design in large-scale urban-planning projects, and they have done so without economic ruin.
Atlantic Yards was better?
Let´s recall his 7/5/05 enthrallment with the Atlantic Yards plan:
His approach is a blow against the formulaic ways of thinking that are evidence of the city's sagging level of cultural ambition. It suggests another development model: locate real talent, encourage it to break the rules, get out of the way.
Who does the location and vets the project?
And then, he seemed much more pensive in his 6/4/06 assessment:
...The problem is not that Mr. Gehry's layout won't work, and it is a notch above the conventional. But given the clout he has, he had the opportunity to propose a far bolder design. I still hope he will revise the master plan, which is, after all, in the earliest stages.
For Brooklyn residents who oppose Atlantic Yards, the Gehry-Ratner partnership is a natural target. But much of their anger should focus on the city and federal governments, which are apparently delighted to give developers responsibility for building and maintaining parks and pedestrian thoroughfares.
He didn´t bother to point out that, with Atlantic Yards, there was much, much less of an effort by the MTA to push, as he would like with the Hudson Yards, for more ambitious proposals.¨¨
And the issue with Atlantic Yards isn´t simply the superblock design, it´s the project´s sheer size, justified at least in part by a developer´s need for sufficient profit.
The Extell exception
Fun fact; the only West Side yards proposal Ouroussoff sorta likes came from the also-ran in the belated Request for Proposals for the MTA´s Vanderbilt Yard, issued 18 months after city and state officials anointed Forest City Ratner´s project. He writes:
With the possible exception of a design for the Extell Development Company, the proposals embody the kind of tired, generic planning formulas that appear wherever big development money is at stake.
That doesn´t mean Extell´s Atlantic Yards plan was terrific--I´ve heard some very mixed reviews. But unlike with the West Side yards plan, Extell was handicapped because one favored developer had a significant head start.