Peer under the tent flap of our splendid new civic order, and you’re guaranteed to see a disturbing sight: all the same failed policies of the past, lovingly preserved in formaldehyde.
That’s what I got from Amy Nicholson’s thoroughly enjoyable, thoroughly enraging new documentary, Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride, which won a special jury prize last week at DOC NYC, New York’s Documentary Film Festival and is currently making the festival rounds. Ms. Nicholson was generous enough to open her film with a quote from me about the destruction of the old Coney, though I have no other association with the production.
What she and I do share is a deep resentment over what has been done to this iconic New York neighborhood under the guise of “improving” it.
How many more lives will be lost and how much damage will it take for us to realize that Sandy was part of a continuing menacing pattern of extreme weather events that are here to stay? In 2005 it was Katrina, last year Irene and now Sandy. But around the world, extreme weather has crippled nations and destroyed property since 2000. You may think this has been going on forever, since the time of Noah, but this destruction has been escalating, with more damage every year than any similar span in recorded history.
Insurance losses in the U.S. averaged $9 billion in the 1980s. Katrina alone cost nearly $100 billion, with an average of nearly $40 billion a year in the 2000s. If we include Japan, the destruction to the globe in the last couple of years is unparalleled. Is this global warming or something else? No matter what the cause, there is a clear pattern of severe weather causing catastrophic human losses. This pattern, according to the National Research Council, is going to continue. We have to do more than hope it won’t happen here (wherever here is). The data indicates that a disaster is coming to you, or near you, in the near future, if you live in an urbanized coastal area. More than 60 percent of all Americans do.
So, what to do?
An Arena Grows in Brooklyn
Some good news for Bruce Ratner today, but probably not for the neighborhood or the folks who want to move into the developer’s promised apartment towers at Atlantic Yards. The Islanders will mean more crowds roaming the streets of Prospect Heights and Fort Greene before and after games, and more revenue for the Barclays Center, but this will not help speed up construction of the long-delayed apartments, according to Mr. Ratner.
It has been five years since Dan Doctoroff reported to City Hall for work, but the former deputy mayor and current CEO of Bloomberg LP still finds time to think up interesting, even outrageous visions for the city. Well, they would be crazy if they did not have a habit of getting built. After all, so many developments that came out of Mr. Doctoroff’s unsuccessful bid to draw the Olympics to the five boroughs have since been realized regardless, from Atlantic Yards to Hudson Yards to Hunters Point South, the No. 7 extension, water taxis—the list goes on and on.
These success suggest that even though Mr. Doctoroff is no longer in command, might it still be possible to see a gondola stretch across the East River between Lower Manhattan, Governors Island and Brooklyn? Or a light rail line running the entire length of the waterfront from Astoria in Queens to Brooklyn’s Red Hook? Or, most audacious of all, tearing down the Javits convention center and moving it to yet another decked-over rail yard, this time in Sunnyside, where it would be surrounded by apartment and hotel towers and a sizable retail complex?
The MAS Summit has been going on for the past two days, and it has been a cornucopia of delights for the city-obsessed, full of zany proposals for affordable housing, green buildings, starchitecture, community-based development and a giant floating doughnut hovering over Grand Central. But so far the most thrilling moment was deliver by The Times‘ architecture critic Michael Kimmelman during a discussion capping day one with the Municipal Art Society’s president, Vin Cipolla.
The two of them basically meandered through a bunch of Mr. Kimmelman’s columns from his first year on the job, and the first question was about Penn Station, when the critic had the audacity to tell the Dolans to scram. He still believes it is one of the most pressing planning issues in the city all these months after he wrote the piece. “I think there’s a hunger to do something about this site, which I think is a blight on millions of people’s lives every single day,” Mr. Kimmelman explained.
In the Rezone
Yesterday, in a unanimous vote 47 years in the making, the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area has finally been approved by the City Council. SPURA, that massive parcel of barren (or in City Council speak, “under-developed”) city-owned land in Lower Manhattan, will now become a 1.65 million square foot mixed-use development. It’s a change that, according to the project’s backers, will create 1,000 housing units, 1,000 permanent jobs and 5,000 construction jobs.
Gettin' High Line
It is an unusual and yet utterly New York paradox that to glimpse the natural world in Manhattan you must visit an unnatural place.
That is part of the appeal of the weirdly beautiful High Line. Not the manicured park, with its concrete boardwalk and hordes of tourists but what came before on the 1.5-miles railroad trestle, the despoiled beauty of Mother Nature set loose in the wilds of Chelsea, undisturbed for decades but for the occasional trespasser.
More than 10 million visitors have taken in the breathtaking views of the city’s skyline and the Hudson River and traipsed through its minimalist landscape of historic tracks and native grasses since the High Line park opened in 2009. It has encouraged development in Chelsea and Meatpacking, inspired artists and filmmakers, and managed to polarize the surrounding neighborhood before it has even been fully restored.
Yet the thin strip of pre-post-industrial wildlands that made that all possible is about to disappear.
For more than a year now, ever since the very first rental units at the monolithic, magnificent Mercedes House came on the market, Two Trees Management has been debating what to do with the rest of its zig-zagging luxury building on the Far West Side of Manhattan. The massive block-long project was a gamble for the Brooklyn firm, about as big and brash and far away from its home turf in Dumbo as one could get (without going to Godforbid, N.J.).
Mercedes House was built in two phases, a swooping base and a connected tower. There would be two sets of rentals, and, the cherry on top, a contingent of condos crowning the 1.3-million-square-foot building, with better finishes and excellent views, on floors 22 through 32. “Everything was high end,” Two Trees managing director Asher Abehsera told The Observer late last week.
He had called in part to set the record straight about the sale of those condos units in a block to Invesco, the Atlanta-based investment management group, that was widely reported last week.
Rich Marin is big. For more than three decades, he dominated Wall Street, creating some of the industry’s most exotic investments, making billions for his clients, and millions for himself. One of his minions blew a hole in the side of Bankers Trust, a firm Mr. Marin helped transform into a derivatives powerhouse, and still he held on for the ride, becoming the youngest managing director ever at the bank. It all came crashing down five years ago, when the hedge funds he oversaw at Bear Stearns imploded. The rest of the world followed within the year. But there was Mr. Marin, standing amid the wreckage, helping rescue an overzealous Israeli diamond magnate who had plowed $3 billion into prime U.S. real estate just as the frothing market froze over. He rescued the firm, only to be unceremoniously fired two years to the day after he joined.
Now Rich Marin wants to build the world’s largest ferris wheel—in Staten Island, naturally—and the mayor just gave him his blessing.
Did we mention he is big? At the announcement of the project last Thursday, Mr. Marin absolutely dwarfed Mayor Bloomberg and Senator Chuck Schumer, along with the other dignitaries gathered at the ferry terminal. But despite his imposing size—he stands 6-foot-5 and is built like an offensive lineman—Mr. Marin is probably one of the gentlest people on the Street. Were he a real bear, rather than having worked for one, Mr. Marin would be not a grizzly but a teddy. This may help explain his turbulent career.
“We did it!” developer Bruce Ratner crowed a reported 14 times at the opening of his new Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn this weekend.
We sure did. Poor Brooklyn, always trying to develop some new civic identity all its own, and always ending up with … a Barclays Center.
What stands out most about the Read More