Sunday, May 29, 2011

On Lopate, critic Witold Rybczynski said Atlantic Yards shows "how the developers, in a sense, are taking the lead in being planners"

I missed this several months back, but author (Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas About Cities) and Slate architecture critic Witold Rybczynski, in an interview December 9 with WNYC's Leonard Lopate, offered some not atypical criticism about Atlantic Yards.

(Here's some previous coverage of Rybczynski.)



The Atlantic Yards discussion comes up at 12:36.

LL: Then there’s that whole matter of the Atlantic Yards project in Downtown Brooklyn. What are your thoughts on that?

(Not quite Downtown Brooklyn.)

WR: I thought the Atlantic Yards was an example of how the developers, in a sense, are taking the lead in being planners. I thought there were two problems there. One was the density seemed awfully high. And putting it in the hands of one architect, in this case Frank Gehry, I don’t think is a good idea. I have great respect for him as an architect, but I don’t think one architect shouldn’t design blocks and blocks of a city. Again, it’s going back to that piecemeal idea.

(Now that Gehry's gone, there likely will be several architects, as Gehry initially requested, though it's not like multiple parcels would be bid. And Gehry was part of the sales job.

LL: The Municipal Art Society was opposed to it because it kind of cut Brooklyn down the middle, and they felt that better planning allows for streets going through and for more of a mixing of neighborhoods. Another issue with Atlantic Yards was the building of a sports arena. Earlier we had a big debate about whether to build a Jets stadium on the West Side. And this is something that has become controversial all over the country. Do those stadiums wind up helping the community or costing the community an awful lot?

WR: When they’re planned, they’re often described as economic sort of engines. The evidence I’ve read is that they don’t, in fact, contribute economically to a city. They’re part of a city because it’s part of the culture of a city to have sports. But I think their proponents tend to exaggerate the economic spinoffs that come from them. And especially when they are subsidized by public funds, they really don’t make a lot of sense.

(Which is why maybe someone should have thought about giving away naming rights.)

Some Forest City praise

The book, by the way, contains a flattering portrayal of The Yards in Washington, a project of Forest City Washington, which appears to be in many ways different from Atlantic Yards:
The Yards demonstrates much of what has been learned about city building in the last three decades. The first lesson is that it is a mistake to ignore centuries of urban history. Old, well-tried planning solutions are often the best: streets with sidewalks, street trees, individual buildings, a close mixture of different uses such as apartments above shops, and office buildings next to condominiums.

...In most cases, it is best simply to add another layer to the many layers of the past.

The third lesson, derived from Jane Jacobs, is that urban amenities such as streets and parks work best when they are intensively used--one of the keys to urban vitality is density.
Density, and benefits

Of course, as Rybczynski pointed out, there's density, and then there's AY density.

Actually, the density of Atlantic Yards likely will be less than planned, since the project can be smaller.

But did the city and state do a cost-benefit analysis of a smaller, slower project? No.

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