BARCLAYS CENTER DEBUT
Brooklyn, get ready for Jay-Z, Babs, Dylan, Gaga, Bieber — and pro basketball, too! This week marks the opening of the Barclays Center, the weathered steel- and glass-clad arena designed by SHoP Architects that serves as the centerpiece of the controversial Atlantic Yards project. The occasion, as expected, has been met with reviews and reactions from citizens and journalists citywide. For The New Yorker, Alexandra Lange considers the size and boldness of the 18,000 seat arena to be “a powerful suggestion” of what’s to come when the rest of the mega-project is built, saying that “[i]ts size and scalelessness, its aggressive form and color, its otherworldliness, condition the rest of the development site for more of the same.” New York Magazine‘s Justin Davidson calls it “an architectural chest bump: juiced, genial, and aggressive all at once.” Bloomberg News architecture critic James S. Russell exclaims that a “huge frog has landed in Brooklyn,” and, though “the Barclays Center is no [Madison Square] Garden diaster,” it is “an extraordinarily expensive lost opportunity,” and “an object lesson in how form follows finance.” New York Times readers compare the arena to everything from a “melted Roomba” to “a rusty alligator skull with a pronounced underbite” to a pangolin.
In a piece published just before the Center opened, the Times‘ Liz Robbins reminds readers of the contentious history of the development and details many of the project’s problems and unmet promises. “The 16 surrounding towers — primarily residential — that were originally planned … have yet to be built. The 10,000 or so jobs promised have not materialized. Of the 2,250 affordable housing units pledged out of 6,300, only 181 are planned for a first tower, and ground for the building has yet to be broken.” Robbins equates the anticipation in the local community to the feeling of bracing for an approaching storm, commenting on neighborhood concerns over jammed traffic and parking, an uptick in drunken fans, crime and rodents, whether the development will benefit local small businesses or instead drive them out, and the possibility that the area will be a construction zone for another 25 years. However, Atlantic Yards’ developer Bruce Ratner, of Forest City Ratner, denies the validity of the many criticism lobbed at him. In a profile also in the New York Times, Ratner boldly states “We’ve kept every single promise we’ve ever made” — a claim that, among others, Norman Oder of Atlantic Yards Report considers to be “simply a lie” — though he acknowledges that Atlantic Yards has been “the most difficult, bruising development project I’ve done, or could even imagine doing.”
Last week, the NYC Department of Transportation announced the re-launch of a safety campaign meant to get pedestrians’ eyes off their mobile devices and onto the street. The LOOK! campaign brings advertisements to public surfaces and curbside markings to many of the city’s most dangerous intersections, urging pedestrians to LOOK!. Ads will also appear on the back of city buses, extending the plea to pay attention to distracted drivers. The LOOK! signs, designed by Pentagram, use the same durable thermoplastic used with other traffic signage, and the O’s are drawn as cartoonish eyes — the direction in which they glance indicates the direction pedestrians should look. The campaign was launched in response to statistics showing that 57% of traffic fatalities involve pedestrians, and that last year half of all New Yorkers killed by cars at a crosswalk had a green light. The campaign is timely — last week also marked the release of the twice-yearly Mayor’s Management Report, which shows a spike in traffic-related deaths in New York City. The Times summarizes: “traffic fatalities from July 2011 through June 2012 were up 23 percent from the previous year — to 291, from 236. It was the first increase since 2007, when there were 310 traffic fatalities.” Cyclist and pedestrian deaths were up from the previous year, but an even higher spike was recorded for deaths of motorists and passengers. Though an increase in cyclist and pedestrian deaths have some questioning whether the DOT’s roadway initiatives meant to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety have been as successful as they have claimed. But the report reveals an even higher spike in motorist and vehicle passenger deaths, and the Times points out that “a preliminary analysis suggested that the crashes were concentrated on highways, far removed from many of the areas that have been the focus of the city’s initiatives.”
THE NEW YORK WHEEL
In one of the more unexpected news items of the week, Mayor Bloomberg yesterday announced plans to build the world’s largest Ferris wheel on the waterfront of Staten Island. Named the “New York Wheel,” the 625-foot-tall attraction is expected to draw 4.5 million yearly visitors to the island’s North Shore. The structure will be the centerpiece of a 470,000-square-foot designer outlet and hotel complex in St. George, one of a series of initiatives the City is pursuing to encourage economic, tourism and job growth on Staten Island. The observation wheel will carry 36 capsules and will hold up to 1,440 people at once (40 people per capsule) for a 38-minute ride. The City expects the attraction could see 30,000 people a day, which adds up to 4.5 million a year. “It will offer unparalleled and breathtaking views,” says Mayor Bloomberg, “and is sure to become one of the premier attractions in New York City and the latest exciting addition to our newly revitalized waterfront.” Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro claims, “There has never been a proposed project that has been as much accepted by the general population as this one. Going forward, Staten Island will be known as the Borough with the largest wheel in the world.” While near-universal approval of a project of this magnitude sounds improbable, nevertheless construction is expected to begin in early 2014, with a goal completion date in 2015.
QUEENS HIGHLINE VS. REACTIVATED RAIL
Two Queens infrastructure projects, competing for the same site, will go head to head at a public hearing this Saturday. The site in question is a stretch of abandoned Long Island Railroad tracks running 3.5 miles through Rego Park, Forest Hills, Richmond Hill, and Ozone Park. The Friends of the QueensWay has been championing the tracks be turned into elevated parkland (previously mentioned on UO here). Inspired by the High Line in Chelsea, but perhaps closer emulating Chicago’s future Bloomingdale Trail, the QueensWay has partnered with The Trust for Public Land to develop conceptual designs for the project, which they hop will improve the recreation, economy and quality of life of neighboring Queens residents. The Regional Rail Working Group has a vastly different vision for the abandoned tracks. According to DNAinfo, they envision “a high speed rail line that offers direct service from Midtown Manhattan to JFK airport and the Aqueduct racino.” On the Regional Rail Work Group’s website they describe the tracks as a “weed-strewn, dis-used gateway to Kennedy Airport and the Rockaway Peninsula… Let’s clean it, install tracks, deck it over and get airport trains rolling!” The meeting takes place at 1pm on Saturday, September 29th, at Queens Tabernacle, 86-03 96th St.
EVENTS and TO DOs
NEVER STOP EXPLORING
Google has released a brand new location-based app, Field Trip, currently available for Android phones, with an iPhone version coming soon. Field Trip is meant to be “your guide to the cool, hidden, and unique things in the world around you” and will notify users of nearby historical places, outdoor art, architecture, shops, restaurants, and other points of quirky interest with an automatic pop-up. Part tour guide and part Yelp, the Field Trip app is meant to be useful to both local residents and visitors. Content and recommendations are provided by the likes of Cool Hunting, Thrillist, Zagat, Eater, Remodelista, Flavorpill, Architizer, Inhabitat, Daily Secret and Atlas Obscura (read more about Atlas Obscura in this UO interview).
This Saturday, September 29th, Atlas Obscura is hosting Field Trip Day in six cities across the country to celebrate the app’s launch. Those of you in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles have a chance to “become an explorer in your own backyard.” Download the app and bring some friends along for the walk. Find out more and RSVP here.
OHNY WEEKEND: UNLOCK THE CITY
The 10th annual OHNY Weekend is coming up next weekend, on October 6th and 7th. Every year, openhousenewyork “unlocks the city” for one weekend, giving participants access to hundreds of sites, tours, talks, performances and activities throughout the five boroughs. The most coveted tours tend to sell out early, but a number of events don’t require reservations at all, and some are the best the city has to offer. Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal at JFK Airport, Cass Gilbert’s Brooklyn Army Terminal (see more on the BAT here), and a chapel by Louise Nevelson are just a few of the no-reservation-needed highlights. Find out more at ohnyopenhouse.org
NY ART BOOK FAIR
The NY Art Book Fair is now open at MoMA PS1 through Sunday, September 30th. Presented by Printed Matter, the fair offers over 280 booths packed high with artists’ books of all kinds, from tiny zines to large monographs, from international presses, publishers, booksellers and artists. Last year 15,000 people passed through the fair, and the 7th annual event is set to be as eventful. The Contemporary Artists’ Books Conference will take place simultaneously, with speakers and debates on emerging “art-book culture.” The Fair runs from Friday, September 28th, through Sunday, September 30th, at MoMA Ps1 in Long Island City. Find more information here.
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The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.