Brooklyn will go easy on its skyline

The Brooklyn Bridge

TEXT OF STORY

Bill Radke: When a recession hits, building projects get abandoned and not everyone thinks that's a bad thing. In Brooklyn, New York, developers were supposed to be building a massive complex -- millions of square feet of housing and offices and a basketball arena for the New Jersey Nets. Superstar architect Frank Gehry was signed on to the project, called Atlantic Yards. Well now, Sally Herships reports those plans have been scaled way back.


Sally Herships: The Atlantic Yards site lies in Brooklyn's district 35. Letitia James is the local city council rep. She's a big critic of the developer, Forest City. And she hates the new architect's design for the basketball arena.

Letitia James: Now, it's just a barn, an airplane hanger, a mess.

Some Brooklynites look at that so-called mess and get nervous about what their neighborhood might look like. But the recession could come to their rescue. Money has run so short that Forest City may not even be able to build the arena,
let alone the office and residential buildings.

Martin Filler is an architecture critic for the New York Review of books. He says recessions can be a good thing for city skylines.

Martin Filler: Well not only does a recession not cause bad architecture, but in fact I think it often has a salutary effect -- what Daniel Patrick Monyahan once called "benign neglect."

In other words, tough times mean less funding -- which can prevent what Filler calls ill-conceived and ill-advised projects. He says architects on a budget often look more realistically at size, scale and affordability.

Filler: That was certainly the case during the Great Depression, when bridges, highways, dams, housing, all kinds of wonderful initiatives took place.

The Atlantic Yards project may have looked wonderful to City Hall when it was proposed back in 2003. Gehry's model featured lots of glass and a soaring tower.

But Brooklyn residents like Letitia James were more focused on issues like the threat of losing their homes through eminent domain. The last thing they need, she says, is another development cluttering the neighborhood. No matter how beautiful it might be.

James: What we do not need is a basketball arena for 20,000 fans, who do not live in Brooklyn, who can not afford the seats.

Herships: So it doesn't really matter who the architect is?

James: I could care less.

And it may not matter. Some area residents are suing for the right to stay. And New York's high court of appeals has accepted the case. A victory could sink the Atlantic Yards project for good and leave the Brooklyn skyline undisturbed.

In Brooklyn, New York, I'm Sally Herships for Marketplace.

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