Saturday, October 08, 2011

In Architectural Record, a reflection on a decade and an Atlantic Yards asterisk

Architectural Record last month produced a package of articles titled The Death and Life of a Great American City, echoing the title of Jane Jacobs's classic 1961 book and focusing on the rebuilding since the 9/11 attacks.

Editor in Chief Cathleen McGuigan's commentary is headlined The only constant is change:
The decade has been a golden age for the city, a renaissance in architecture and urban design. World-class architects have come to build in New York... High-profile local firms have landed big projects on their home turf, while emerging architects have had new opportunities in both private and civic design.
Most remarkable has been the huge investment in the public realm. The High Line, the park created on a derelict elevated rail bed, is the most famous new public space... Less publicized is the fact that since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in January 2002, the city has created more parkland — nearly 700 acres — than in any time since the era of Robert Moses in the 1930s...
The seeds for this burst of urban regeneration were planted in the 1990s, with the bid to bring the 2012 Olympics to New York....
But it was also the aftermath of 9/11 that catalyzed the public desire for superior design and planning, a shout from ordinary New Yorkers who crowded into community meetings and spoke powerfully about what should be built at Ground Zero....
Jane Jacobs, the late urbanist, whose famous book inspired the title of this issue, might not have been surprised that the rebuilding of Ground Zero has turned out to be a mixed success, with politics and real estate trumping the best intentions. And with a soaring economy and a big push for development under the Bloomberg administration, the decade brought aggressive change to many neighborhoods throughout the city — occasionally to the alarm of critics and communities, as in the case of the controversial Atlantic Yards arena project in Brooklyn.
Yet it’s mostly been a vibrant time for architecture and urban design.
There might be another way to look at it. New Yorkers got to speak about Ground Zero but had little influence. They had even less regarding Atlantic Yards.

And often there's no effective way to channel the concerns of local residents and balance them with borough-wide, city-wide, and regional interests--especially when, as with Atlantic Yards, the city agrees to let the state override the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).

Sorkin on public-private partnerships

Also see Michael Sorkin's commentary Smoke and Mirrors:
A controversy that broke out this summer concerns admission to the September 11 Museum, which may not be free and could be as much as 20 bucks. Here’s a small reprise of the crisis at the root of the entire redevelopment, one that garishly represents the nature of the split between public benefit and private aggrandizement. One of the hallmarks of American polity is the increasing pervasiveness of so-called “public-private partnerships” and with them the idea that public space must pay for itself directly, that a park must have a cafĂ© or a condo in it to cover its costs. At Ground Zero, the melding of memory and profit will, in fact, be the “theme” of the site. As the disproportion between the gigantic exclusionary skyscrapers, the hemmed-in memorial, the pay-to-enter museum, and the upmarket shops in Towers 2, 3, and 4 makes legible, it will be a record of much that is wrong, ungenerous, and crass about American culture today. And I keep wondering when the pious rage that thwarted the proposed Islamic center nearby will turn on the cadre of halal kebab carts that dot the periphery of the site.

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