Posts about Atlantic Yards
And Now, Anacostia rebuts Marc Fisher's criticism of a soccer stadium at Poplar Point. ANA and my commenters make several points, including that the money would be for infrastructure like roads rather than for the stadium itself (unlike with the ballpark), or that Fisher simply prefers baseball to soccer. Ryan Avent, though, is still skeptical.
One of the most interesting issues to me is the question of open space. ANA writes, "Poplar Point is not parkland. It is vacant land, with a few buildings on it currently used by the National Park Service." Clark's plan for Poplar Point contains a park called "The Preserve" (as maintaining some parkland was a requirement for all bids).
Many debates over development include arguments between keeping a larger amount of less usable open space versus creating discrete parks within a developed area. In Takoma Park, opponents are decrying the loss of "open space" that's mainly WMATA parking lots and a few tree-covered berms, while the development plan would create a "village green" that's smaller, but more actually usable. Likewise, anti-development forces in Brookland are centering their complaints around open space, which others call a "trash-strewn chain-link blight."
The design for Poplar Point seems to do the best with what it has. Making the stadium stimulate activity in the neighborhood depends upon generating foot traffic to and from games rather than simply a lot of car trips to parking next to the stadium. The deck over the 295 freeway is a key piece, connecting the new neighborhood with the old one and the Metro station. The stadium is near the deck and from the drawing, I don't see any surface parking lots.
If the deck doesn't get cut for cost reasons and the stadium can in fact draw more events beyond the 33 professional soccer games a year, this will be good for the area. If the project morphs into something like NYC's Atlantic Yards, where one building after another gets "postponed" and acres of "temporary" surface parking will last for ten years or more, then we'll prove Fisher right. I hope not.
Their list of great public spaces covers a wide variety of spaces, from architectural masterpieces like the steps of the Metropolitan Museum to Grand Central Terminal, parks that have truly created usable and welcoming spaces for the public like Bryant Park, Central Park, Prospect Park, and Washington Square Park, and mixed-use streets from the public Bleecker Street to the fairly astounding private space of Rockefeller Center where, PPS writes,
"Thirty-five years ago, this complex was insular and almost privatized. ... PPS was asked what kind of spikes would be appropriate to keep people off of the yews. Instead, we suggested politely, 'Try benches.' This was a revelation ... after which they began to see the potential of inviting people into the Plaza, accommodating them, and eventually entertaining them."New York has some wonderful public spaces, but also some disasters. There are the large expanses of asphalt where traffic engineers cleared an area of people to encourage the fast movement of traffic, as at Astor Place, Central Park South, or Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. And there are the buildings designed as "blank walls" to isolate rather than engage pedestrians, such as Rockefeller Center West, Grace Plaza, the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building in Harlem, or many of the buildings around City Hall. I'm not very familiar with many of these, but can think of plenty of other examples: the back of Manhattan Plaza on 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, or the entire Lincoln Center complex. Worst of all, planners and architects still haven't learned - just look at the Atlantic Yards proposal, which combines many of the biggest urban design mistakes into one tidy package.
Never one to pass judgment without a variety of specific recommendations, PPS identifies a list of opportunities for spaces that could be so much more than they are. In addition to the aforementioned Atlantic Yards and Lincoln Center (whose "abundant parking" is where I park my car), they identify and give quality recommendations for Broadway, Fifth and Madison Avenues, Times Square, Union Square, 125th Street, Allen and Pike Streets, Battery Park City, and Brooklyn Bridge Park.
This summer, I convened a series of discussions about development, urban planning, and policy in New York City. Out of those discussions I wrote down some thoughts, but ended up putting them in a drawer as people got busy with the campaign, other jobs, and life... but better late than never, here is a draft.
The ImperativeToday, New York City is entering a new era of building. A wide variety of projects have been or will be proposed that would change the face of the city - Hudson Yards, Atlantic Yards, the Greenpoint/Williamsburg waterfront rezoning, the Bronx Terminal Market, retail in Red Hook, and on and on. The scale of these projects is greater than we have seen since the 1970s, a generation ago, and the activists of today are unaccustomed to it.
Because these projects are unprecedented in our generation, progressives don't know how to evaluate each one, and don't know how to talk about it. What makes a project good or bad? The West Side Stadium was a bad idea, on that many people agreed, but was the scale of commercial development proposed there good or bad? What about the housing? In Atlantic Yards? Greenpoint/Williamsburg?
Our goal is to create a set of principles that unite progressive groups involved in urban planning and development, for those inside the governmental apparatus and those outside. With these principles, we will be able to evaluate each project and clearly talk about its positive and negative effects on the community, suggesting those dimensions where the proposal could be improved and comparing the worth of different proposals. Instead of simply saying no, we can say why, and rather than a laundry list of every possible objection dredged up on opposition to a project, we can anchor our opposition or support on clear and consistent ideas. When speaking about the Hudson Yards Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff referred to a "moral imperative" to develop the area. What kind of moral imperative do progressive principles engender?
PrinciplesWe identified the following core principles:
Community. Society is stronger when people live and participate in communities. Our policy decisions should foster healthy communities where individuals form close cooperative bonds with each other.
Diversity. Interaction with other people with diverse racial, ethnic, religious, and economic backgrounds leads to better citizens, a more peaceful coexistence, generation of more creative ideas, and a stronger city.
Opportunity. Everyone, no matter what their income or background, should have the opportunity to live in our city. New York City represents the pinnacle of American society and all who wish should have the opportunity to be a part of it.
Dignity. People should be able to live and work without commuting great distances or living in excessively crowded, dirty, or unhealthy conditions.
Social Mobility. Any individual should be able to improve his or her socioeconomic standing through achievement and success, without being held down by structural barriers. The configuration of a city does much to strengthen or lessen these barriers and we should strive to minimize them.
Sustainability. We should leave future generations with a world where they can achieve these principles just as much, or more, as today, and live in a city as healthy, enjoyable, and vibrant, or more, as today.
GoalsFrom these principles emerge the following specific goals to which urban policy should aspire. This is a rough list and many more can be added.
Affordable housing. There should be sufficient supply of housing in the city to meet the demand without reducing the quality of the housing or the desirability of living in the city.
Demographic neighborhood stability. Groups of people living in a neighborhood should be able to continue to do so, if they wish, though other people may move in.
Individual stability. The specificl people living in a neighborhood should be able to continue to do so, if they wish.
Mixed use neighborhoods. Neighborhoods should include a combination of places to live and places to work; ideally, for the same people.
Income diversity. Neighborhoods should contain a combination of different income levels.
Ethnic diversity. Neighborhoods should contain a combination of people from different racial, religious, and cultural backgrounds.
Social capital. Neighborhoods should contain civic, cultural, recreational, and other organizations and opportunities which encourage groups of residents and/or workers to interact.
Public spaces. Neighborhoods should contain physical places where people can interact without requiring advance permission or planning.
Proximity of recreation. All residents and workers should have opportunities to engage in recreational activities easily and affordably, nearby to their homes and/or workplaces.
Equity of access to services. Everyone should have necessary services, both public (such as schools) and private (such as affordable grocery stores) in proximity to the places they live or work.
Environmental sustainability. The city should minimize its impact on the environment, so the quality of the air and water, the availability of energy and building materials, are as great as possible for future generations.
Environmental justice. Undesirable yet necessary uses, such as power plants, garbage transfer stations, or transportation infrastructure, should be sited in a way that impacts all residents equally.
Transit accessibility. Anyone should be able to live, work, and interact without requiring the use of an automobile.
Human scale. Structures should be designed and built in harmony with the human scale of a city, in ways that encourage rather than discourage use by pedestrians, such as street-level stores, benches, and other factors.
The Death and Life of Great American Cities was published in 1961. It's understandable that back then, urban planners thought single-use zoning was great. Cozy residential neighborhoods, grand shopping districts, polluting industry far away, beautiful soaring towers with verdant parkland in between - who wouldn't be seducded by that vision, standing in contrast to the craped and crowded hodgepodge of tenements and dingy streets of most cities at the time?
But Jacobs started a revolution in the way we think about cities. Now we know that mixing uses creates a more vibrant urban fabric and a safer environment because of "eyes on the street". We've learned that building to human scale, such as storefronts right on the streets rather than interposing large parking lots, or small jazz cafes rather than huge sports stadiums, fosters a more vibrant and creative population. And it's been well established that communities thrive when they have abundant public spaces for people to congregate formally and informally.
Yet elected leaders continue to propose or support projects that rend rather than knit the urban fabric. At the Rhode Island Red Line stop in Washington DC, the Metro wants to replace a large parking lot with a smaller garage, encouraging a more mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood. Unfortunately, some neighborhood activists don't understand the many things we've learned since Le Corbusier and Robert Moses, and continue to push for destructive development policies even if their hearts are in the right place.
As an architect recently pointed out to me, no matter how much professionals in the field may have learned (though many still haven't), in a project the client calls the shots. And as George Santayana famously said, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Aaron Naparstek discusses a few reasons for the momentum shifting away from Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards proposal: New York losing the 2012 Olympic bid, the Extell competing bid, but most interesting of all, a suggestion that showing a picture of the bizarre looking buildings in the New York times galvanized previously unconcerned citizens into opposition:
Ratner has long been criticized for the cheap, fortress-like architecture of his other Brooklyn projects. Gehry, the celebrity architect renowned for designing buildings that look like crumpled balls of tinfoil, was brought aboard to neutralize that critique and provide the developer with aesthetic cover. Yet, Gehry’s designs did what months of petitioning, protesting and public meetings couldn’t. They got “sensible,” well-heeled, politically connected Brooklynites pissed off, paying attention and preparing to fight. For neighborhood advocates who have been working diligently to get an apathetic public to pay attention to the travesty underway at Atlantic Yards, Gehry’s architectural models were a gift.But Aaron Donovan, in the comments, makes a point I wholeheartedly agree with:
More important is that Ratner's plan would create 6,000 homes, while the Extell plan creates only 1,940. All across the U.S. northeast, cities are atrophied, hollow-eyed versions of their once great selves -- New Haven, Hartford, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Cincinnati. These cities suffer from decades of disinvestment, white flight and planned shrinkage continues. Small pedestrian friendly towns have suffered the same fate as businesses have fled to the suburban rings. Beyond the northeast, "cities" are merely agglomerations of auto-dependent suburbs -- Atlanta, Phoenix, etc.I wouldn't say New York is the only "walkable, pedestrian- and transit-friendly city that is gaining traction" - Boston and Washington DC, while much smaller, still have great urban centers that don't require owning a car, and are even "If we wanted Manhattan, we'd live there. Many people do want Manhattan, but can't afford to live there. Whose needs matter more? That's a very tough question.
New York stands along as the only walkable, pedestrian- and transit-friendly city that is gaining traction as we proceed further into the 21st century. More people want to live in Brooklyn and Manhattan than there is space to house them all. This leads to prohibitively expensive real estate, deferred dreams and untold economic opportunity lost to other communities that make it easier to build housing. It also fosters ever greater dependency on the car as would-be New Yorkers are forced to live in suburbia.
The Atlantic Yards, right on top of a subway and regional rail hub, are a very appropriate place for dense residential living. Dense residential living doesn't have to entail height, a stadium, bad architecture, or my personal pet peeve, street demapping. The Ratner plan has all four of these thing, but I like it better than Extell's plan because it makes for better use of centrally located urban land.
Theresa Toro points out the Greenpoint/Williamsburg community plan, whose difficulty of finding Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn has about 30 links and PDFs about how bad Ratner's plan is - "Anatomy of a Sweetheart Deal", "Boondoggle Basics", and various position statements. Then, somewhere below the fold, buried on the right sidebar, is a tiny "alternative plans" section with one link, the UNITY Development Plan. I wish a group called Develop Don't Destroy spent a little more of its ink talking about its vision for the Develop part, and a little less than the current 99% on the Don't Destroy part.
The UNITY plan looks nice to me, with a couple of elements I really like, such as adding more street connections (rather than taking them away - superblocks are already an awful feature of the crap that's there now, like the Atlantic Center mall), and a mix of parks, retail, and residential. That document still spends several pages criticizing the Ratner proposal BEFORE it talks about its own ideas, however.
Now the opponents of the Atlantic Yards plan have scored a big win as Extell Development Company submitted a competing proposal that would develop the railyards without destroying existing buildings. So wouldn't it be nice if Develop Don't Destroy or any of the other sites put that plan online? All I can find is a few concept sketches, but only by searching Google, not from the DDDB site.
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