Tuesday, December 01, 2015

In the New Yorker, lovely (but resigned) paintings of Prospect Heights gentrification

Official (and misleading) 550 Vanderbilt rendering
Artist Andy Friedman has been deservedly praised for his set of watercolors posted on the New Yorker web site 11/29/15, Painting the Gentrification of Prospect Heights.

Most of the captions and paintings describe the changes since he moved to Vanderbilt Avenue, in 2000, when it was quiet, easy to park, and bar-free.

The art is lovely, and his tone melancholy, but some of the implicit analysis deserves more precision and more skepticism.

A high-rise in perspective

Consider the caption for Friedman's painting below:
A rapidly ascending high-rise residential tower on the corner of Vanderbilt Avenue and Dean Street, in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, has robbed me of a kitchen-window view of the Chrysler Building. More than a dozen of these buildings will follow. Some will be taller than this one. A quiet brownstone neighborhood is turning into a busy city of glass and steel.
First, Friedman's facts, while not inaccurate, are imprecise and thus somewhat misleading. Actually, at 202 feet, the 550 Vanderbilt condo tower will be the second-shortest of 16 towers. In other words, there will be major changes.

Also, and this is asking more of his editors, he missed the opportunity to point out the difference between his straightforward perspective below, and the misleading rendering above right, which downplays the size of the building.

And, while Friedman accurately describes the location "Prospect Heights," he misses the opportunity to point out that developer Greenland Forest City Partners misleadingly, arrogantly calls Pacific Park Brooklyn an entirely separate, new neighborhood, built from scratch.

In other words, there's a lot of political and marketing juice behind the changes, which are by no means natural.

The meaning of change

Then, consider the caption below:
When I catch myself complaining about the rate at which my neighborhood is changing, I remind myself that the makeover is happening at exactly the same speed that it always has in this town. Every new building robs someone of a view, and, at the same time, becomes the apple of somebody else’s eye.
That's a remarkably resigned, and ahistoric view. Of course New York is about change, and change was inevitable to Prospect Heights, given the growth in population and income, and the neighborhood's assets, including culture and transportation.

But the makeover is not necessarily "happening at exactly the same speed that it always has in this town." For one thing, the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project relies on a state override of city zoning to plant an arena and to allow towers larger than current zoning, and the project also relies on a suite of direct and indirect subsidies. Those were political decisions.

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