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Zukin and Lopate discuss Atlantic Yards: scale, process, and superblocks

Sociologist Sharon Zukin, author of Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places, was a guest yesterday on WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show and, sure enough, Atlantic Yards came up for some semi-contentious discussion. The action went from about 5:40 to 9:00.



The discussion went a little afield--was the site really one Robert Moses had in mind or just the area?--but touched on some of the hot-button issues.

Zukin identified two problems--the scale and the process--but provoked her host by asserting AY would be a "giant attraction on top of a relatively small set of subway platforms."

Lopate pointed out that it was, after all, to be located near Brooklyn's major transit hub. (Then again, the capacity wasn't increased.)

Zukin pointed out that, if we were better at urban planning, we'd create transportation and infrastructure before such things as an arena and housing. (She returned to the issue of infrastructure first later in the program, at about 33:10.)

Superblocks

A little later in the show, at about 10:50, Zukin said that the Department of City Planning has combined the example of Jane Jacobs and the "grandiosity" of Robert Moses "by upscaling the avenues and downscaling the side streets."

(That's not an unreasonable philosophy, but the devil's in the details.)

"They have rejected superblocks," Lopate observed.

"We’ll see," said Zukin, noting that plans [see Observer article] for Atlantic Yards and the World Trade Center "do not dispense with those awful superblocks."

Comments

  1. Jane Jacobs did not believe superblocks, despite their usual limitations, were always a bad idea -- she even says so in "Death and Life of Great American Cities" (although I don't have the appropriate quotes handy, they are in there). So this is yet another indication, as far as I'm concerned, of the highly superficial "understanding" that many (like, seemingly Zukin, Lopate and Scheurman, etc.) have of Jacobs' work.

    Plus, as a matter of fact, Jacobs is on record as saying (in a "New Yorker" interview from 2004?) that it might possibly be a good idea to redevelop the World Trade Center as a superblock once again.

    And, although she doesn't say this (at least as far as I know), it seems to me that some superblocks, if disgned properly, are actually wonderful and a tremendous asset to the city -- you wouldn't want to change them. Would you really want the Grand Central Terminal superblock broken up into smaller blocks by putting 43rd St., 44th St. and Park Avenue through the site?

    In my opinion, the World Trade Center superblock was POTENTIALLY just as spectacularly wonderful as Grand Central Terminal's. The problem with the WTC superblock wasn't the superblock per se, but the placement of buildings (e.g., view corridors, entrances, etc.) on the superblock.

    However, from what I can see, the site for the Atlantic Yards project is missing the element that made the GCT superblock and, potentially at least, the WTC superblock so wonderful: a change in grade.

    So it seems to me that planned superblocks for the Atlantic Yards project have no redeeming qualities. Aside from the eminent domain issue and governmental assistance aspect (which is paramount from my perspective), the fact that the developers are adding not adding even more streets through the site (which would be a plus in terms of urbanism) is one of the worst things about the planned project.

    Fri., March 5, 2010, 8:45 p.m.

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