"It's not the Land Use, it's the Land Experience," said one participant in the Unity 2007 charette sponsored by the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods, Hunter College CCPD and the ever-indefatigable Council Member Letitia James.
A very telling point. Atlantic Yards as envisioned by Forest City Ratner (at right) does not allay the on-street experience of out-of-scale buildings, closed-off and privatized open space, destruction of the Brooklyn street fabric or the wall of separation created between two old and vibrant Brooklyn neighborhoods. Not to mention that it will be the densent built environment in the US.
Unity 2003 (at left) was the basis of the development proposal made by Extell corporation to develop the Atlantic Yards area (they refer to it by its original name, Vanderbilt Yards.) Extell, who offered roughly $50 million more for the property than Forest City Ratner bid, was turned down in one of the many dubious decisions that plague the entire project.
About seventy-five were present Saturday at the charette (a group planning effort, run by professional facilitators, used as a tool to let many voices have their say, expert or not), where Tom Angotti, professor of urban affairs at Hunter College, Marshall Brown, designer of the Unity 2003 plan and planner, professor and activist Ron Schiffman discussed the original plan and the need to update it.
The charette participants were offered the choice of several groups to join: Long term Planning, Transportation, Open space and Connections, Affordable Housing, etc. Each was run by a facilitator and was asked to consider three scenarios: if Ratner built Phase I of his project (essentially a third of the build-out); if the entire project was built out (in which case this exercise was doomed to irrelevancy, I thought,) and if nothing of his was built, which clean-slate approach would be the most amenable to new design parameters.
The group effort worked to provide fresh insights and results. After the two hour sessions were over, the results were summarized by each group, and collated for a future report (will post when I have the info.) The range of ideas was wide, from significantly increasing the affordable housing component, to having community benefit agreements and citizen overseeing committees with teeth to enforce agreements, to maintaining the low-rise scale of the neighborhood, to opening up and expanding the street grid. While much was predictable, the freshness was in the details.
What one comes away with from this exercise is that the sum of ideas is more than the parts; that a group of diverse people with interest but not necessarily expertise (though there were many planners and architects and engineers present,) can brainstorm together to create a cohesive vision that far surpasses the pedestrian efforts of a developer like FCB.