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Showing posts from April, 2006

A veiled defense of Atlantic Yards? The Times's Ouroussoff on "Outgrowing Jane Jacobs"

In the lead article in today's New York Times Week in Review, architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff offers a Critic's Notebook, headlined Outgrowing Jane Jacobs, arguing, as he has done in the past, that a veneration for Jacobs precludes us from embracing more ambitious projects that address challenges unforeseen during Jacobs's heyday more than 40 years ago.

Ouroussoff makes some provocative points and, read through a Brooklyn-centric lens, it's hard not to sense a defense of the Frank Gehry-designed Atlantic Yards project. Curiously, though the critic's most recently-published criticism of Jacobs came in his 7/5/05 assessment of the Atlantic Yards design, and in January he defended Gehry's design publicly--even denying that it would include a superblock--he chose not to mention the project in today's essay.

Ouroussoff wrote:
Time passes. Jane Jacobs, the great lover of cities who stared down Robert Moses' bulldozers and saved many of New York's most…

What would Jane Jacobs say? Disingenuousness & Atlantic Yards

On the Brian Lehrer Show last Wednesday on WNYC radio, architecture critics Paul Goldberger (of the New Yorker) and Martin Filler (House and Garden and the New York Review of Books) discussed the legacy of the recently-deceased urbanist Jane Jacobs.

At about 23:55 of the segment, a caller brought up the Atlantic Yards project. Filler concluded that Jacobs most likely would've disliked the project and Goldberger also leaned in that direction, though with more caveats. I think both would have been more confident in Jacobs's likely opposition had they understood more about the project and had considered Jacobs's likely reaction to past Forest City Ratner projects. I'll examine that below, following the transcript.

Transcript

Rose in Brooklyn: I would like to talk about Brooklyn, about Atlantic Yards, because it seems to me that Jane Jacobs’ legacy is really being trashed in Brooklyn. I’ve read about suburban communities who are now trying to develop like cities, with organic…

Traffic engineer Ketcham: DEIS will be "another massive cover-up" of traffic issue

So, it wasn't just the bloggers who offered tough criticism of the Final Scope for an environmental impact statement for the Atlantic Yards project. Brian Ketcham, the traffic engineer who heads Community Consulting Services, warns that "archaic" methods and resistance to community input show that the upcoming Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) "will be another massive cover-up of the issue that most affects surrounding neighborhoods: traffic."

Ketcham spoke Thursday night at a forum in Brooklyn Heights and also handed out documents, including a tough statement criticizing the Final Scope, which was issued by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC).

In his statement, Ketcham said:
By choosing to hide behind the archaic, simplistic City environmental practice of only analyzing isolated intersections near the site, the DEIS will ignore the spillback that causes traffic back-ups the length of Fourth Avenue, Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.

Ignoring the …

Parsing Hakeem Jeffries' views on Atlantic Yards

Attorney Hakeem Jeffries (right), who had previously challenged incumbent Roger Green for the 57th District State Assembly seat, has announced his candidacy for the seat he is vacating, setting up a race against Bill Batson.

Batson unequivocally opposes the Atlantic Yards project. Jeffries, according to a report Thursday in the Brooklyn Downtown Star headlined Jeffries Concerned About, But Not Opposed To, Yards, has more nuanced view. And a closer look at his statements suggests that his fence-sitting could easily migrate to support--especially given the clearer sentiments expressed in an article in the Courier-Life chain.

The Downtown Star reported:
Indeed, Jeffries' rhetoric when discussing the big local controversy was quite elevated. "I'm trying to raise the level of discourse," he told the Star afterwards. "It's important that we all come together. This issue has been threatening to divide people in the district along race and class lines."
Batson has…

The Times finally corrects the "Downtown Brooklyn" errors

From the Corrections box in today's New York Times:
Because of an editing error, an article in The Arts on Tuesday about Frank Gehry's design for the first phase of the Grand Avenue development project in Los Angeles misstated the location of the proposed Atlantic Yards project that Mr. Gehry is designing in Brooklyn. (The error also appeared in sports articles on Feb. 9 and April 11, in the City section on Jan. 15 and in several articles in 2003, 2004 and 2005.) It is on rail yards and other land in Prospect Heights and on a block in Park Slope; it is not in Downtown Brooklyn, although it is near that neighborhood.

This is a welcome, if belated, correction, since it was pointed out in my 9/1/05 report and on several occasions since then, including an article Tuesday and a post pointing out that the "rowback" in the Metro section--a correct location without a correction being published--has not led to accuracy in other sections.

Interestingly, the correction appeared un…

Atlantic Yards out of place in "New Downtowns" discussion

Last Friday, 4/21/06, I attended “The New Downtowns: A Conference on the Future of Urban Centers,” sponsored by the Policy Institute for the Region at Princeton University. While the panels focused on Lower Manhattan and Philadelphia—and to a lesser extent Newark and other New Jersey cities—it was striking how, viewed through a Brooklyn-centric lens, the Atlantic Yards project seems out of place in the discussion of lessons learned and best practices.

While the mostly-residential Atlantic Yards has been promoted by the developer as an economic development engine (because of the dubious theory of increased income tax revenues), the development of residential over commercial space was hardly heralded in the same manner. (Graphic of earlier version of plan from 7/5/05 New York Times, with addenda by NoLandGrab.org.)

While there was no planning for the Atlantic Yards site and there has been little public process, panelists cited the value of neutral planners and the importance of public par…

The Edifice Complex: reflections on Ratner and Gehry

Deyan Sudjic, the architecture critic for London's Observer newspaper, last year published The Edifice Complex: How the Rich and Powerful Shape the World. As the subtitle indicates, this is not an appreciation of decontextualized aesthetics but a world-historical tour of architecture in the service of leaders, democratic and demagogic, and the wealthy. If read through a Brooklyn-centric lens, it prompts some reflections about Bruce Ratner, Frank Gehry, and the Atlantic Yards project.

Telling the story of those who build it

Taking off from a picture of Saddam Hussein at the Mother of All Battles Mosque, Sudjic observes:
Architecture is about power. The powerful build because that is what the powerful do. On the most basic level, building creates jobs that are useful to keep a restless workforce quiet. But it also reflects well on the capability and decisiveness--and the determination--of the powerful. Above all, architecture is the means to tell a story about those who build it.

It see…

"Downtown Brooklyn" error recurs--in the Times's Arts section

As I've written, the Metro section of the New York Times, whose staffers have apparently seen a memo regarding "factual pitfalls" in coverage of the Atlantic Yards project, describes the location of the proposed development as "near downtown Brooklyn."

The Sports section, however, has misdescribed it as "downtown Brooklyn," and the error recurred today, in the Arts section. An article headlined Los Angeles With a Downtown? Gehry's Vision contained this passage:
In complexity, he said, the multiuse project resembles the proposed Atlantic Yards development he is designing for downtown Brooklyn, which includes a corridor of high-rise towers and a new arena for the Nets basketball team.

This error is most likely attributable to balkanization. Given that the Metro section has changed the description without printing a correction, it's time for a printed correction to remind all staffers to be consistent.

Forest City Ratner's ad in the Times: home court advantage?

The weekly City Section in the 4/23/06 Times was devoted to the 75th anniversary of the Empire State Building. Most of the editorial content concerned the iconic skyscraper, and advertisers were obviously alerted, since several of the ads referenced the building.

And there, on the back page of the section, a full-page ad saluted the Empire State Building, with a swagger, "See you in the skyline, Big Guy." The advertiser: Forest City Ratner Companies. The building in the ad: the Times Tower scheduled to open next year on Eighth Avenue across from the Port Authority. The rendering of the Renzo Piano-designed tower featured a relatively discreet "New York Times" logo above the building entrance.

Was there a discount?

A natural question would be whether FCR got a discount from the New York Times Company, the newspaper's parent company and partner in building the Times Tower. (I don't say the newsroom is FCR's partner, but I believe that the advertising departm…

"Buried by The Times": a darker story of inadequate coverage

I've been quite critical of the New York Times's inadequate and unskeptical coverage, in both the news and editorial pages, of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project. I can't sort out the reasons for the Times's performance; it likely includes a mix of lack of continuity, balkanization, Afghanistanism, and a reliance on the form of objectivity above the goal of fairness.

A defender of the paper might say that coverage has been better (and the level of attention has improved in recent months), just as the Times's willingness to print a few critical letters might indicate a variety of voices. However, as I've noted, the Times hasn't met the challenge set by Lynne Sagalyn in her critique of the newspaper's coverage of Times Square redevelopment: a commitment to digging coupled with prominent placement of stories.

A historical shame

I recently read a book that takes on a vastly more important aspect of the Times's responsibility to its public, and…