Atlantic Yards Planner: “Space on Streets is Useless Space”


In this week's New York Observer, Matthew Schuerman talks at length with Laurie Olin, the landscape architect who may or may not have been teamed up with starchitect Frank Gehry on Forest City Enterprise's Atlantic Yards project "to compensate for Mr. Gehry's reputed lack of urban-planning skills." Schuerman writes:

Mr. Olin's role in the project is far more than figuring out what trees to plant, and it cuts to the very heart of the controversy: the placement of the buildings that enclose eight acres of open space, the closure of city streets, and accommodating 16,000 residents on 22 acres of land.

One of the more controversial aspects of the Atlantic Yards project, the Observer reports, is the plan to de-map:

a one-block stretch of Pacific Street, melting the two adjoining blocks together into a "superblock" - the type of mid-20th-century urban planning widely used in housing projects, but since discredited by Jane Jacobs and a whole school of so-called urbanists. They have argued that superblocks discourage the type of street life that makes places like the West Village so successful.

olin_globe.frontpage.jpgOlin is clearly not impressed with "taboos against superblocks and the tower-in-park design."

"If I put a street through here, I have less space for people and I have more cars," he continued. "When people say 'superblock'- what's wrong with what this is? Because I don't see how adding one car in here is going to make it a better space. I think space on streets is actually useless space."

The folks over at BrooklynSpeaks see it otherwise:

Streets define the public realm in NYC. Nearly every park in the city is surrounded by public streets. And streets themselves are places of activity and recreation. Far from being "useless space," Brooklynites use their streets to hang out on stoops and eat and drink in restaurants that spill out on to the sidewalk. Aside from parks and plazas, New York's public realm is its streets. The bottom line is that demapping Pacific Street would turn land that is now totally public into semi-private open space, mainly benefiting the developer and the future residents of the project, who will enjoy the use of parkland that won't be for all of us.

Jonathan Cohn of BrooklynViews was writing about this issue a year ago. He found City Planning Chair Amanda Burden's position particularly puzzling:

Last week, City Planning Chair Amanda Burden made a strong case for an open Cortlandt Street at the World Trade Center site. "We need our streets," she said, "we need connectivity, we need an open Cortlandt Street for light and air and to create normal blocks". But that's Manhattan. Brooklyn is different.