Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Another press valentine for Amanda Burden: Wall Street Journal profile of City Planning Commission Chair ignores Atlantic Yards example

In a 6/23/11 article headlined Champion of Cities: With New York's High Line park expansion, Amanda Burden's urban revitalization efforts set a model for the world, the Wall Street Journal reports:
This elegant blonde with a mellifluous voice is steelier than one might expect, a useful trait for someone who is spearheading Mayor Michael Bloomberg's far-reaching effort to rezone nearly a quarter of New York City and reclaim the city's waterfront. Her populist achievements span all five boroughs and include zoning for new affordable housing in East Harlem, Brookyln and the South Bronx, as well as the massively popular High Line, an abandoned railroad track that has been transformed into a popular tourist destination in the once-gritty meatpacking neighborhood, which has seen commerce move in and property values soar in the past decade.

Chairing the City Planning Commission since 2002, Burden, age 67, has revolutionized its role in the city, transforming a once-sleepy bureaucratic agency into an activist department championing good design by using zoning as a weapon to enforce her vision. In her second-floor office near New York's City Hall, she reviews applications for all new buildings that come before the commission, instructing developers and architects on what they can and cannot do—something that comes as a dramatic shift in the order of business to executives accustomed to getting their way. Putting special emphasis on "how the building meets the sky" (suggesting attractive cornices or sculpted tops) and pedestrians' line of sight (engaging building materials at street level), Burden makes it her job to ensure developers have done their homework. Her oversight even extends to landscaping, where she can quibble over the placement and sustainability of plants and trees being proposed.
This article follows the storyline in previous profiles, in which Burden's detractors are developers concerned about micro-management, not urban planners who point out that the city has fundamentally failed to plan, with the City Planning Commission having no control over the city's capital budget and the New York City Economic Development Corporation having essential power.

My comment:
This valentine to Amanda Burden neglects some of more complicated aspects of her legacy, such as the city's willingness--presumably not embraced by the City Planning Commission, but with no opportunity to publicly protest--to let the Empire State Development Corporation oversee the Atlantic Yards project, with no role for the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).

Meanwhile, Burden has been a loyal foot soldier for Atlantic Yards, even though it does not represent the Jacobsian mantle she embraces.

See:
10/12/06: Planning Chair Burden claims Jacobsian mantle, discards it for AY
1/15/07: Times profile of planning chair Burden maintains AY myth, suffers curious cut
10/19/09: Two profiles of Amanda Burden make and miss the same points about City Planning (and Atlantic Yards)

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