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The proposals for the West Side yards get some more public discussion

The contrast between the process for developing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's West Side yards in Manhattan and its Vanderbilt Yard in Brooklyn remains striking.

Not only was there an RFP for the Manhattan project before a developer is selected, there's a lot more public discussion before such a selection. (With the Atlantic Yards project, Forest City Ratner was anointed by the city and state, if not formally selected, 18 months before an RFP for the Vanderbilt Yard--but not the whole project--was issued.)

Indeed, on Monday, December 3, representatives of the design teams for the five West Side yards proposals will present their plans in a public program co-sponsored by some heavyweight groups: the American Institute of Architects, New York Chapter; Architectural League of New York; Design Trust for Public Space; Fine Arts Federation; Friends of the High Line; Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art; Municipal Art Society; New York New Visions; Regional Plan Association.

The event will take place from 6–8:30 pm at The Great Hall, Cooper Union, 7 West 7th Street. Free admission.

Sitting out the debate

Notably, most of these sponsoring groups have sat out the entire Atlantic Yards debate. (Arguably, the Friends of the High Line didn't have a role to play.)

The Municipal Art Society (MAS) and the Regional Plan Association (RPA) entered the fray late, offering significant critiques of the project's urban design but failing to challenge the process that led the city and state to back one developer rather than seek out alternative visions and competitive bids, as with the West Side yards project.

Here's an interview with the MAS's Kent Barwick, where he criticizes the process but suggests it can be repaired. Here's a critique of the RPA statement.

Everyone, it seems, now knows better. Indeed, Mayor Mike Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030 conspicuously avoids Atlantic Yards while proposing a far more consultative process to develop over railyards and highway cuts.

A crucial caveat: what we can't evaluate

Can the West Side plans make a difference in the public debate? Critic Justin Davidson, in a piece headlined Coast of Dystopia in this week's New York magazine, offers a crucial caveat.

He writes:
The pictures of glittering towers and digital families gamboling on Astroturf lawns are intended to convince people that the plans will be evaluated on the basis of architecture, design, and urban planning. But since the MTA has so far withheld the crucial financial facts, such as how many billions each developer has budgeted, the public’s opinions on design minutiae don’t carry much weight.

From the press release

The press release for Monday's event states:
Even in an era of large-scale real estate ventures, the proposed development of the West Side Rail Yards is an enormous undertaking, with equally enormous implications for the future of New York. On October 11, 2007, five developers submitted responses to a Request For Proposals issued by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for development of both the Eastern and Western Rail Yards, the largest undeveloped tract of land in Manhattan. Zoning on the overall site allows 12 million square feet of combined residential and commercial development; the RFP also requires that space be allotted for a public school and community and cultural organizations. The MTA expects to select a developer for the site in the first quarter of 2008; after conditional approval by the MTA board, the selected proposal will proceed through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).

Architectural teams and developers are as follows: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Field Operations, Thomas Phifer and Partners, SHoP Architects, Diller Scofidio and Renfro, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa/SANAA, Handel Architects (Brookfield Properties LLC, developer); Steven Holl Architects (Extell Development Company, developer); FXFOWLE and Pelli Clarke Pelli (Hudson Center East LLC and Hudson Center West LLC, joint venture of Vornado Realty Trust and The Durst Organization, Inc., developer); Kohn Pedersen Fox, Robert A.M. Stern Architects, Arquitectonica (The Related Companies, developer); Murphy/Jahn Architects, PWP-Peter Walker and Partners (TS West Side holding, LLC, joint venture of Tishman Speyer and Morgan Stanley, developer).


The proposals are currently on view in an exhibition presented by the MTA at the northwest corner of Vanderbilt Avenue and 43rd Street, across from Grand Central Terminal, from 8 am–8 pm, through December 3.

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