Monday, June 23, 2008

Atlantic Yards: This Generation's Penn Station?

I have an overview article on Atlantic Yards in Places: Forum of Design for the Public Realm, a journal published three times a year by the Design History Foundation, with the goal that "designers, public officials, scholars and citizens can discuss issues vital to environmental design, with particular emphasis on public spaces in the service of shared ideals of society."

The "Dispatch," headlined Atlantic Yards: This Generation’s Penn Station?, was assigned months ago. Fortunately, the final production deadline was stretched long enough into May to incorporate mention of the new designs and professed timetable announced in March.

(Photo by Tracy Collins)

Leading off

The piece leads off:
To proponents, the $4 billion Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, New York, is a model of urban redevelopment. Designed by the architect Frank Gehry and consisting of sixteen towers and a basketball arena on 22 acres, it would extend and revitalize Brooklyn’s downtown, add residential density near a transit hub, and include subsidized housing. It also would return professional sports to the borough, which hasn’t been “major league” since the baseball Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1958.

[Yes, they last played in Brooklyn in 1957, and began playing in L.A. in 1958. I should have caught that editor's change, though.]

To detractors, however, Atlantic Yards represents “extreme density” and the corruption of public processes. Including nearly three hundred apartments per acre, it would encroach on surrounding historic lowrise neighborhoods, burden local infrastructure, and create a deadening pattern of superblocks. Critics also claim its present form depends on hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies, tax breaks, and increased development rights, plus the use of eminent domain to benefit politically powerful special interests.

Kent Barwick, president of New York’s venerable Municipal Art Society (MAS), sponsor of a recent exhibition on the work of Jane Jacobs, has suggested that Atlantic Yards might be “this generation’s Penn Station” because of the “absurdity” of the public processes involved. Just as the demolition of that landmark structure in 1963 for an arena and office complex accelerated the preservation movement, the battle over Atlantic Yards has prompted new outrage in the city about single-source deals and inadequate community consultation.


There are 11 footnotes and there probably should be more, but there's a limit to the space on print pages.

Final verdict won't be today

Whether or not the Supreme Court decides today to hear the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case, questions about the public process will persist.

Will AY be seen as "this generation's Penn Station"? It's too soon to tell exactly what kind of change it may galvanize. It is clear, however, that the city and state, even as they pursue projects that inevitably stir controversy, are doing more to ensure a fair bidding process and to consult with communities.

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