Thursday, January 10, 2008

Regarding Hudson Yards plans, a Community Advisory Committee offers pointed criticism

If there was a Community Advisory Committee involved in the Atlantic Yards planning, it certainly wasn't heard from. But there is a Hudson Yards Community Advisory Committee (HYCAC), set up by the mayoral administration and City Council, and it has issued a forceful open letter to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority regarding the plans for new development at the West Side yards.

The committee offers praise for the public presentations and models provided by five development teams: This amount of public disclosure with little formal public process is an important contribution to open government and better planning.

However, much is missing, and some of the criticism, as I'll explain below, echoes criticism of the Atlantic Yards plan.

Summary of criticism

The points, as summarized by the Rail Yards Blog:
1. There is too much density for a successful environment.
2. There is no public infrastructure and no commitment to build it.
3. There is no plan for affordable housing.
4. Allowing changes in the ERY zoning and WRY design guidelines will create a better plan.
5. Make real New York City blocks.
6. Big open space may not be best.
7. The entire High Line can and must be preserved.
8. Require a genuine commitment to sustainability.
9. Strong labor provisions and opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses must be provided.
10. Put the school in a good location.
11. Modify the cultural facility zoning on the ERY, since there is no committed not-for-profit user.
12. Make good connections to Hudson River Park.
13. The financial aspects of the proposals must be made public.


Fudging superblock density

Remember how architect Jonathan Cohn, in his BrooklynViews blog, began pointing out how Atlantic Yards density was actually much higher if city streets were excluded, as they should be in calculating Floor Area Ratio (FAR)?

(In a 4/16/06 article about Atlantic Yards bloggers, the New York Times rather condescendingly treated Cohn's analysis as something "quickly added to opponents' talking points" rather than a piece of public education.)

Well, the HYCAC makes a similar argument:
The base floor area ratios (FARs) of 11 on the Eastern Rail Yard (”ERY”) and 10 on the Western Rail Yard (”WRY”) seem reasonable until you realize that they are calculated across the entire sites, including open space and streets. Excluding open space and streets (as parks and streets are excluded elsewhere in the City), the effective density of these proposals is in the neighborhood of 25 FAR. That is, to our knowledge, an unprecedented density over such a large area anywhere in the City, and far exceeds what can be considered good planning for the future of the City or the local community.

More blocks, better open space

There are some other parallels to the Atlantic Yards debate. Echoing criticism of Atlantic Yards put forward by BrooklynSpeaks and the UNITY plan, the HYCAC calls for additional streets to create "real New York City blocks," not superblocks.

Moreover, the HYCAC suggests that smaller open spaces rather than larger plots offer the best option to create inviting space for the public. Several entities, including those behind the UNITY plan, make that point regarding AY.

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