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Port Authority's Ward: AY represents simple--er, complex--density challenge

Christopher Ward, named in May to become Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, made some revealing comments about Atlantic Yards, showing that, while the project invites snap analysis, it's just not that simple. He spoke on October 16 at the Vertical Density Symposium sponsored by the Skyscraper Museum in conjunction with its Vertical Cities: Hong Kong New York exhibition.

(I'll have more complete coverage of the symposium next week.)

Ward (video) discussed how history leapfrogged, with London influencing New York, which influenced Hong Kong, and how each city built major new development outside the central business district, for example Canary Wharf on landfill in London and the World Financial Center on landfill in Manhattan.

Bruce Ratner's challenge

Then he got to Atlantic Yards. “That is part of the challenge that we face in terms of where we will build," he said.
"Think of the challenge that Bruce Ratner’s facing, Atlantic Yards, where you’ve had exactly what you could describe as a transit-oriented development resisted heavily, simply because--simply for the complex reason that the community around there does not match the height, density, and character. So you have the brownstone versus the skyscraper, although Atlantic I think is the MTA’s second-largest transit hub within the city, which lends itself to the very model that Hong Kong represents.”
(Emphasis added)

It's the third-largest transit hub, I believe, but not necessarily the third-busiest. (Aren't Times Square, Grand Central, and Union Square busier?)

More importantly, let's not confuse the arena site (above, in image from AtlanticYards.com, the arena is placed directly over the transit hub, even though it would be slightly to the southeast), from the project site as a whole.

The official web site states, "The development will be adjacent to New York's third-largest subway hub," indicated by the red star in the image at right. The arena would be located between Fifth Avenue (running north from the end of "St Marks Pl") and Sixth Avenue.

That map, however, omits other subway stations. Actually, most of the Atlantic Yards footprint would be closer to smaller subway stations, including Bergen Street, served by the 2 and 3 trains, 7th Avenue, served by the B & Q trains, and Clinton/Washington Avenue, served by the C train.
(See map below, from onNYTurf; it should indicate that the Atlantic Avenue station is served by additional subway lines.)

Yes, the arena block would benefit from a new entrance to the subway hub, but anything east of 6th Avenue--and, actually, parts of the arena block--would be closer to the other stations.

That's why Atlantic Yards would be an extension of Brooklyn's downtown, not an insert into the downtown. And that's why Forest City Ratner has so assiduously avoided any sense of ground-level scale in its periodic promotional brochures, aka "liar fliers."

Teasing out the syntax

Ward's awkward syntax suggests that the issue is more complex than simple. Yes, many have resisted the project's scale and density, but supporters of the UNITY plan welcome significant density, just not at the level that Forest City Ratner proposes. Urban planner Ron Shiffman, a supporter of density, has argued that the proposed density "far exceeds the carrying capacity of the area’s physical, social, cultural, and educational infrastructure."

Several other issues generate resistance, including the undemocratic approval process, the level of public subsidy, and the use of eminent domain based on questionable findings of blight.

After all, Kent Barwick of the Municipal Art Society wouldn't have mused that Atlantic Yards might be "this generation's Penn Station" were it only an issue of esthetics.

Curious coincidence

Ward was lauded at the symposium, but not everyone's a fan; see Bronx Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz's 5/27/08 commentary in the Daily News.

A curious coincidence (and I'm not making a comparison): Ward has a theology degree and former Atlantic Yards point man Jim Stuckey has a degree in sacred scripture.

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