Tuesday, November 6, 2012
The development of the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn has been a long and contentious affair. In a nutshell, the government used eminent domain to take a number of "blighted" private properties (including a homeless shelter and some mixed income housing) and then transferred them to powerful real estate developer Bruce Ratner. Ratner promised to build a state-of-the-art basketball arena for an NBA team, new luxury housing, and office space. The controversy over the eminent domain takings generated a New York Court of Appeals decision, many news stories, and a documentary film.
This week, the New York Times took a critical look at the development, asking if Ratner's project outweighs all the fuss. While the Times likes the basketball arena, the larger development looks like a miss:
Atlantic Yards project also exemplifies how the city, in this case hamstrung by the state, got planning backward, trying to eke public benefits from private interests awarded public subsidies and too much leeway. Development on this scale may take its lead from a developer’s vision but needs to proceed from public-spirited, publicly debated plans for what the city and streets should ultimately look like.
This area needed to have the conflicting street grids of the abutting neighborhoods linked. It needed more schools and public services to support the thousands of new apartments. It needed more pedestrian-friendly avenues and finer-grained architecture, possibly taller than now proposed in places but less monolithic at street level, with subtler and more humane massing of towers so that new buildings would improve the experience of walking along sidewalks and not just add square footage to the blocks.