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In the Architect's Newspaper, AY as bait and switch, and the need to debate urbanism rather than aesthetics

Julie V. Iovine writes an Architect's Newspaper editorial headlined Bait & Balance, and subtitled "The almost farcical turn of events at Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards makes it all too clear that ambitious public/private partnerships are beyond this generation's skill-set."

She writes:
In spite of all the acreage they have to offer, the biggest building sites in New York have cultivated more cynicism than anything else. And when the developer Forest City Ratner swapped an ambitious Frank Gehry basketball arena at Atlantic Yards for a pedestrian design by Ellerbe Becket, even the most jaded cried foul. And so it seemed almost poetically appropriate that Bruce Ratner’s next step would be to try and re-insinuate himself into the public’s graces by mesmerizing us with a sinuous, snake-like wrap by SHoP Architects, the architectural equivalent of indie film stars.

Critics have charged Ratner with a classic case of bait-and-switch, but even under the new lineup, the arena’s prospects look dim. Ellerbe Becket is still on board, leaving many to wonder how meaningfully SHoP can reshape the design. And recently the city’s Independent Budget Office reported that the basketball arena stood to be a $40 million net loss to the city over 30 years, even as city subsidies to the project have ballooned to more than $772 million. Somewhere in the shuffle the original idea of a carefully orchestrated ensemble of great buildings well-knit into the community has been sidelined.

I'm not sure "the original idea of a carefully orchestrated ensemble of great buildings well-knit into the community" was ever viable.

Bait and switch?

Iovine quotes developer, architect, planner, and now professor Vishaan Chakrabarti:
He also noted that in New York you can’t get away with bait-and-switch tactics more than once, or you’ll get a reputation. “People have long memories in this town,” he told me.

Well, beyond the Gehry bait and switch, Bruce Ratner has managed the 10,000 office jobs bait and switch, the park on the arena roof bait and switch, and the 50% affordable housing bait and switch.

Meanwhile, Ron Shiffman, who attempted on September 14 to question SHoP about the ethics of the arena project, and architect Marshall Brown, who worked on the UNITY alternative for the Vanderbilt Yard, also bring up the bait and switch.

They write, in a letter headlined It's Not About the Arena:
For the last six years, architects and planners have sat idly as our craft has been reduced to window-dressing for Forest City Ratner’s (FCR) Atlantic Yards urban renewal scheme. We have watched silently as design has been used as bait by Mr. Ratner, who has wrought physical destruction and sown false social divisions among the great neighborhoods of Brooklyn.

For the last half-decade, most of us have confused cynicism with realpolitik as we have accepted FCR’s collusion with certain public officials. We sat still as they circumvented the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, thus effectively disenfranchising every New Yorker. And our continued silence equals complicity in their ongoing attempt to abuse eminent domain laws for their undeniably private benefit.

For the last week, we have spent too much time debating aesthetics, when the important Atlantic Yards issues have always been questions of urbanism.


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