Thursday, June 05, 2014

Amenity or not? Dancing around deception regarding the Barclays Center's green roof

Current rendering, from SHoP, helicopter perspective
Question: Is the Barclays Center's coming green roof an amenity--yes or no?

Answer: Both, according to oddly contradictory statements from different representatives of developer Forest City Ratner.

Reality: Both responses obscure the deception around the roof--both its conception and construction.

The green roof discussion gave an Alice-in-Wonderland aspect to the Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee meeting Tuesday night, which concerned construction of the West Portal and the roof, as disclosed in a document circulated before the meeting.

Large cranes will be blocking lanes on Flatbush and Atlantic avenues for four months, and be placed on the B3 site at the southeast corner of Dean Street and Sixth Avenue. Later, smaller cranes will be used for the installation of the layer of sedum (hardy plantings).


"An amazing amenity"

Early in the meeting, Ashley Cotton, Forest City Ratner's Director of External Affairs, described the projects at hand.

"First, the green roof. This is an amazing amenity," she said enthusiastically, "it was something that we had always planned for in Atlantic Yards--people who have been following the project for years probably saw early drawings with it. And, frankly, we built the building with the hope we that we could bring it one day."

Really? That ignores the history, such as the much-promoted plans for public space that led New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp to rhapsodize in his 12/11/03 review about "Courtside Seats to an Urban Garden." And the far less-promoted disclosure in May 2008 that the green roof was gone.

As for the longstanding plans, well, why did Forest City never say, upon launching the new arena design, that they planned a green roof? Maybe because a good part of the reason is to tamp down bass escaping from the building.

Also, I'd bet, because saying they planned a green roof to improve the view for new tower residents would provoke an obvious question: why are you then putting the Barclays logo on the non-green roof?

Also see June 2009 ESD Technical Memorandum:
The arena roof would not incorporate stormwater detention tanks, a green roof, or rooftop private open space. Instead, the detention tanks would be located in the base of the arena and enlarged to accommodate the additional stormwater load associated with the elimination of the green roof.
Given that it will take until July 2015 (at least) to install the green roof, I wonder how plausible it was for Forest City to announce a December 2014 opening of the first tower, B2. It's now scheduled to open in December 2015. But would residents really like giant cranes working on the arena roof by day?

Those green Chinese

Cotton continued her enthusiastic presentation. "The Greenland Group—again the partner that we hope to sign the JV [joint venture] with in the month of June," Cotton said, "is particularly excited about this. Again, their name's Greenland Group, they're very interested in open space and green amenities."

Really? Greenland is likely excited about this because the company--according to this description of its Hong Kong affiliate--"has relentlessly upheld its mission of 'Create better life' by realizing the goals of the government and serving the demands of the market for more than 20 years."

That doesn't sound particularly green, especially since the firm also engages in coal production and petroleum storage.

Who benefits?

"I think it will be excellent, obviously, for the tenants up and around it," Cotton said in a moment of candor. "It will also be an amenity for anyone who, y'know, can see the roof and the project area on a regular basis.”

In other words, if there's something nice to see, then locals benefit? Maybe, but that's certainly not how it was sold.

Later in the meeting, resident Steve Ettlinger pointed to a contrast between the green roof now planned and the public space previously announced: "The arena, when announced, was going to have a fairly flat surface for a park and a track and all that, and this roof is not replacing that?"

2003 announcement, Frank Gehry design
Forest City Ratner executive Jane Marshall replied, "It's not going to be--"

"--this has nothing to do with that?" asked Ettlinger.

"It's not an amenity," Marshall responded, "there’s no [public] access."

"Well, I know that, it's that you said the green roof has always been planned?" Ettlinger continued. "But I--that shocked me because--"

"It was actually planned twice," continued Marshall.

"The green roof?" continued Ettlinger.

"Yes," responded Marshall.

Beckett.

Actually, Marshall's statement deflates the notion that the green roof has always been planned.

Rather, something green on the roof has twice been planned. In the earlier case, the amenity was public access. In the current case, the amenity is something to view.

What's missing?

As I wrote in April, the green roof is not part of the current environmental review, the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement that is expected to be approved this month by Empire State Development, the state authority overseeing/shepherding Atlantic Yards.

The court-ordered review concerns Phase 2 of the project, east of Sixth Avenue. The green roof is part of Phase 1. For the purpose of the review, Phase 1 is an "existing condition," even if it's not built yet.

Orwell.

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