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The video hype behind 550 Vanderbilt and Pacific Park

Let's take another look at these videos produced to promote Pacific Park and the 550 Vanderbilt condo tower. I'll put the narration in italics, then interpolate comments.

Consider the first video, which is about two years old.

"The New York we love is a place that largely happened by accident. But what if it happened on purpose?"

And what if it didn't? The Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project has gone through one name change, multiple schedule changes, and multiple changes in program, with more to come.

If you could build an ideal New York neighborhood from scratch, what would you do?

Remember how original architect Frank Gehry embraced the opportunity "to build a neighborhood practically from scratch" (misquoted in the Times without "practically"), and how that raised hackles.

You would build it in New York's best borough, commission a master plan by America's most celebrated living architect, place it next to Brooklyn's biggest transportation hub, surround it with Brooklyn's most dynamic and thriving neighborhoods. 

"Best borough" is boosterism. Gehry wasn't hired to do a master plan but to design buildings and, more importantly, to add a sheen to the project. The project's not by any means all "next" to that hub. Nor is it "surrounded" by neighborhoods but actually within Prospect Heights, pretty much. (One of 22 acres is technically at the edge of Park Slope.

Make it a place for all New Yorkers to live. Design buildings that celebrate the city's architectural esthetic. Include amenities and retail that New Yorkers demand, and Brooklyn deserves. 

A place for all New Yorkers? Well, definitely not the poorest. As to celebrating the city's architectural esthetic, some work far better than others in terms of material, while the scale is a significant shift. The developer--unmentioned: Greenland Forest City Partners--is seeking record rent levels for the retail.

And at the center of it all, you'd create a perfect little park, the most beautiful park for blocks around. You would build a neighborhood that looked like it was always there, and soon, it will be. 
Pacific Park: Brooklyn's Newest Neighborhood.

Even in the best scenario as of the creation of that video, that publicly accessible open space--not "the most beautiful park"--wouldn't be done until 2025. Now that's significantly delayed, likely into the 2030s. (The amount of open space per person will be well below city guidelines.) So a building like the 550 Vanderbilt will stand next to an un-built construction site (see photo) for a while, rather than a "park."

The architect speaks

The second video, which is about a year old, is specifically aimed at selling 550 Vanderbilt. In September 2015, I wrote about another version of it, but it deserves another look.

My name is Rick Cook, I'm an architect, and our studio, CookFox, had the opportunity to design 550 Vanderbilt. 

Designing this building in some ways, as a crafted whole of a series of homes, is entirely different from any of the other condo projects we've done. The difference for us in designing in Brooklyn is that more than half of our studio lives there. We're designing homes for us, and for our neighbors. 
We believe that we should design for a very wide audience. Diversity is a strength, and we have a very wide diversity of unit types that we hope will lead to a wide diversity of homeowners. 

Designing homes for us? I wonder if anyone in his office could pay, say, $540,000, the entry-level price for a studio--and which has since gone up. As to "wide diversity of unit types," again, only if you have the scratch.

It's uniquely crafted for this one site in the world, and this one remarkable neighborhood of Prospect Heights, and right on an eight-acre open space known as Pacific Park. 

Well, he apparently didn't get the memo that the project constitutes Brooklyn's "newest neighborhood." But that open space is way into the future.

From the minute you walk in the front door of 550, you look right through the lobby into Pacific Park, and then you get to your unit, and there's large windows protected by heavy masonry frames with views and light and air in your apartment. 

You can't look "into Pacific Park" if it doesn't exist yet, and the adjacent site (see photo) looks like this (from the side of 550 Vanderbilt).

Our greatest hope is that when people call 550 home, they'll be proud of its authenticity, of the quality of life that they have and the way this building fits into Prospect Heights and sets up the new condition of Pacific Park. 

OK, he's now onto the "authenticity" buzzword. Dangerous territory.

We're passionate about the idea that a healthy, resilient city depends on diversity and the highest quality housing, and we believe that we've made that the heart and soul of 550.

But with 550 Vanderbilt--as opposed to 535 Carlton, another CookFox building--they're building homes for millionaires.


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