Saturday, November 5, 2011

Now Appearing In Gary Hustwit’s New Documentary “Urbanized”: Amanda Burden, New York’s High Line and Community Protest

(Above, NY city planning chief in “Urbanized” a film in which she defends the Brooklyn's public against harm from a project right next to Atlantic Yards.)

Saturday morning we ventured out in the snowflakes of the October Northeaster to the IFC Center in the Village and saw Urbanized,” Gary Hustwit’s new documentary about city planning. Boy, does the film sure let New York City Planning Commission Chair Amanda Burden get away with a lot! But we won’t.

Cramming Urban Design Into 82 Minutes

First some words about the film in general. I haven’t seen Mr. Hustwit’s much acclaimed first film, “Helvetica.” I’d very much like to. The notion of it appeals to the obsessive side of my personality. How do you make an entire film about a single typeface ? Obviously, you go into the subject much more deeply than anyone would expect you to.

As a film, “Urbanized” has the opposite problem: How do you cover the entire topic of city planning and what shapes cities either for good or for ill in a mere 82 minutes? The film then is sort of a sampler of things that can be learned about urban planning or design, covering a representative variety of ideas and concerns. You may learn from it no matter who you are, but if you know a bit about the thinking of how cities shape themselves you will probably keep noting how so much more than could have been covered. A.O. Scott’s New York Times review says essentially this, calling it a “remarkably concise film — which could easily have sprawled to 15 hours on public television.”

Another Times article discussing the making of the film the day before it came out said that Mr. Hustwit crowd-sourced the making of the film in several respects, tapping “his Twitter followers for suggestions” and quotes Hustwit about the film’s conciseness as follows:
“I had all these Google news alerts set up for, like, ‘city zoning controversies,’ and I got like a hundred a day,” . . . . . “There’s too much to talk about, and after a while, it started to drive me crazy.”
(See: Up Close: Making His Own Mark, Once Again, by David Colman, October 26, 2011.)

(Trailer for Urbanized,” above. The film's site notes that it features the voice, among others, of Ms. Burden who also appears in the footage.)

Respect For Bicycles In Bogotá

The film covers more than a dozen issues in segmented vignettes. There is joyful sparkle to Enrique Peñalosa, the mayor of Bogotá, Colombia (above) as we tour around with him as he shows how the city has reclaimed its roads and sidewalks to give priority to buses and bicycles over cars. His philosophy:
A city needs to show as much respect for a person riding a $30 bicycle as it does for someone driving a $30,000 car.
(And, the point is made people are taking up considerably less room in a bus or on a bike.) Are you listening, Senator Schumer?

Self-Building Communities, Chile: Communities Tossed Into the Cold NYC

New minimalist housing projects in Santiago, Chile get the film’s attention as an example of stretching tight resources by zeroing in on exactly what residents need and want most when they move in and then capitalizing on the residents’ own will, energy and sweat equity to add improvements thereafter to the infrastructure and boiled-down basics. There is innate constructive energy in any community waiting to be tapped. A knowledgeable viewer can make the connection that this approach of capitalizing on a community’s own energy is the converse of what goes on with Bloomberg’s eminent domain abuse mega-projects like Columbia’s takeover of West Harlem, and Atlantic Yards, where the government steps in (or, in truth, assists a private entity to do so) and obliterates what a community has successfully built up over time.

Brasília’s Vastly Separated Sculptural Buildings

(Above, from the trailer.)

The film isn’t visibly grinding any axes and is neutral in most of its presentations, letting those who believe certain things about urban design, including some professionals and academics, say what they will. That means that occasional statements that sound like balderdash or superficial tripe don’t get labeled as such by the film maker. The closest the film comes to calling expressed views into question is a segment with counterpointing viewpoints about Brasília, built from scratch in the 1950s and ’60s when Brazil's capital was transferred from the coast to the Mideastern interior. The city's huge sculpturesque buildings embody the very different thinking of the time about what constituted good urban design. It looks like a Robert Moses’ World’s Fair writ large. And large is a big part of the obvious problem with it. Almost all viewers of the film are going to agree with the counterpointing assessment, driven home by appropriate accompanying footage, that its distances are far too vast to be friendly to human habitation.

Ready consensus on this point is not to say that New Yorkers don’t have to be wary of old ideas of Robert Moses’ ilk being brought back. The developer’s proposed design for the Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly has a lot in common with the design of Moses’ old developments. That's not necessarily because anyone believes it is good design but because the proposed superblocking maximizes the various hidden subsidies the developer packed into that design.

High Line Hijinks

(Above from the trailer, the High Line with Gehry's "dirty iceberg"- our term- governmentally subsidized IAC building in background.)

New York comes up directly in the film a couple of times and the film even ends with a shot of the city. It is New York’s High Line that is featured with the most particular prominence getting justly deserved praise and being spoken of as inspiration for other cities in terms of adaptive reuse of post-industrial relics. No opposing views about the value of the High Line are presented within the film. These days who could find someone to express them?

The film therefore does New York City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden an enormous favor when it uses the end of High Line segment to introduce her, in no uncertain terms, as its staunch proponent. Says Ms. Burden as we meet her:
We were just passionate about saving the High Line. Zoning was just one piece of it. I only played a role in the zoning, and, being obsessive, I think I spent . . I said if I didn’t think about the High Line every single day it was going to come down. That was my mind set.
Lest we might think that the “zoning” Ms. Burden speaks of is either insignificant or dry stuff, we have the moment before been told (just after a reiteration of the community value of the High Line), “Underneath the design, a lot of what we see here today is a result of the care and attention that went into the zoning.” We are not told what that “zoning” was; it remains abstract, but it sounds pretty good irrespective. If you have come to the theater knowing what the “zoning” was, then you know.

Community Instigated High Line

One thing that is great about the High Line, which the film makes pretty clear, is that its preservation was not an example of top-down planning: The idea for the High Line came from community. As the story is told, and it’s in large part very true, the idea for it came from two men, Joshua David and Robert Hammond, after attending a community hearing and then the enthusiasm for that good idea grew when David and Hammond became its activist proponents. Preservation of the High Line was also not an example of the developer-driven, reactive planning so often practiced by Ms. Burden’s New York City Planning Department where developers tell the city what they want to do, what would be good for them, and then, as the planning department aids them, everyone has to fall in line even if it overrides community plans already in place (e.g. the 197-a plans superseded by the the West Side Columbia neighborhood takeover the huge East Side Solow project).

Development Community and the High Line

The film doesn’t tell you that the development community and property owners actually opposed the High Line. It does tell you that the High Line initially lacked supporters but the film’s one mentioned example is an unidentified someone attending the community hearing where David and Hammond met. Even very late in the game developer Douglas Durst, in some ways a more progressive developer supportive of the Municipal Art Society, was calling for demolition of at least the last third of the High Line that wraps around the proposed Hudson Yards project. At the time Mr. Durst had hopes he would win the competition to develop Hudson Yards and he viewed preservation of the High Line as an unnecessary expense rather than an asset.

But how often in New York do major initiatives like the High Line happen without development community support? That’s where Ms. Burden’s abstractly referred to “zoning” comes in. It would have been much more informative if, in the film,“upzoning” had been the word used. The way that the development community was swung over to support preservation of High Line was that the High Line initiative was used to spearhead an upzoning of the Chelsea neighborhood around the High Line together with the creation of zoning bonuses related to improvements of the High Line and transferable development rights. More density. That’s something the development community almost invariably favors.

Notably, when Mr. Durst was advocating demolition of the last third of the High Line he was almost certainly expecting that the permitted density of the Hudson Yards development would be established independently of whether the High Line was preserved.

Park Improves Community Value

Other than density the development and property-owning community favors something else: improved real estate values. The Times article about Mr. Hustwit that came out the day before the film tells us that Hustwit and his girlfriend live in an apartment “just a block away from the elevated park.” and that the personal downside of the High Line for Mr. Hustwit is that “it has really increased the price of rental space over here.” In other words, just as good parks and amenities should be expected to, the advent of the High Line has improved neighboring property values and increased rents even as the building boom prompted by it has been adding to the square footage available in the neighborhood. Almost any New Yorker aware of the High Line or anyone else who has visited it will be cognizant of the many buildings speedily being erected up around it.

Whether or not the greater density of the upzoning overseen by Ms. Burden should have been exacted as the price for preserving the High Line, it can be convincingly argued that upzoning was a good one for the neighborhood and city and was very appropriate. In addition, because it is helping to pay for the High Line the High Line’s development has thereby been hastened.

Do You Know What City Planning Is?: An Unmentioned Atlantic Yards

Having been so grandly introduced as a proponent of the High Line, the film immediately cuts to a scene of Ms. Burden meeting with representatives of a developer with a project in Brooklyn. Overlaid we hear her voice instructively supplying this city planning primer:
The Department of City Planning is responsible for shaping its neighborhoods, its waterfront, its industrial lands and its business districts, really shaping the form of the city, and where it is going to grow, where it’s going to develop.
Then we see Ms. Burden, in action. As an example of her work she is conspicuously defending the public from overdevelopment. Looking at the plans before her she critically says:
This is a double problem because not only have you lost holding the street wall here, you now have a building that’s very out of scale with the Brooklyn Academy of Music . . . historic building.
“Out of scale with the Brooklyn Academy of Music”? This is almost too clever by half: Clearly visible in the plans Ms. Burden is looking at on the movie screen, and right next to the Brooklyn Academy of Music is the skyline profile of the much more iconic Williamsburg Savings Bank. But the Williamsburg Savings Bank building is not mentioned. Was it just the editing or was Ms. Burden taking intentional care crafting her words?

The scale-establishing reference of the Williamsburg Savings Bank building has been central to very heated discussions about how inappropriately huge and out-of-scale and improperly dense the pending Forest City Ratner mega-monopoly is. Ms. Burden has been a defender of Atlantic Yards and was instrumental in getting its approval through, and yet here she is in this film shown criticizing the scale of another project right next to Atlantic Yards. The film doesn’t explain this but if you go into the film knowing enough it is anger inspiring.

(Above right, the Williamsburg Savings Bank as seen from below. Below, the Williamsburg Savings Bank as seen from behind a proposed Atlantic Yards tower.)

Burden again addresses the audience directly:
We can’t actually design architecture, we can’t design the storefront but at least we can set up these basic parameters that give you the best possibility that this will be a great street.
Not mentioned is that, in the case of the Atlantic Yards mega-project which she helped enable, all these “basic parameters” of zoning that had been set were overridden so the developer could do whatever he wanted to maximize his own best possibilities over those of the community, including his choice to eliminate and absorb into his private ownership formerly public streets, sidewalks and avenues.

(Proposed Atlantic Yards above from the Environmental Simulation Center’s Atlantic Yards plug-in for the Google Earth program and below from the Municipal Art Society’s “Atlantic Yards or Atlantic Lots” slide show.)
Planning Chief Burden And Jane Jacobs Introduced

Working quickly, the film moves on to burnish Ms. Burden’s reputation in yet one more respect. Having introduced her as a key High Line proponent and savior, it then allowed her to authoritatively provide the film’s central primer on the value of zoning, next showing her as a defender against buildings of improper scale in Brooklyn (next to the Williamsburg Savings Bank). The film proceeds to let Ms. Burden introduce the historic struggle between the planning ideas of the Robert Moses’ ilk and those things Jane Jacobs espoused.

A.O. Scott in his Times review of the film says, “there is a distinct bias in favor of Jacobs-influenced new urbanism and against other approaches to city planning.” If it is true, and I think it is, this puts Ms. Burden in a place of enormous honor. It would be a place of enormous honor even if the film were not, itself, so pro-Jane Jacobs in its thinking. And getting this honor also has key implications in some other respects we shall visit momentarily.

Bloomberg Development Mantra: “We Will Grow”

When Ms. Burden begins speaking about the Robert Moses/Jane Jacobs dichotomy (and hinting that it perhaps can somehow even be fused) she dutifully invokes the Bloomberg administration’s mantra about the city needing to grow to quickly accommodate an additional one million people. She is, after all, a Bloomberg administration official.

The city will likely one day grow by the administration’s one million figure but despite the administration’s continued promulgation of inaccurate population graphs, the Bloomberg notion that this was all going to occur in a mere two decades (or less), bringing the city to a population of 9.1 or 9.2 million by 2030 is clearly off base. In fact, the city is apparently currently growing at so slow a rate that the city won’t actually grow to 9.4 million until almost 70 years from now. As Noticing New York has pointed out previously, the reason all this is important is that these projections for enormous population growth have been used as a backdrop to help justify the Bloomberg-style mega-development that begins with tearing things down while not having terrific success at replacing what gets demolished.
(The image above is from Bloomberg’s PlaNYC website.- The graph shown is not up-to-date. If corrected the second green triangle approximately over 2010 should be down more or less level with the blue square over the year 2000, because the city hasn’t actually grown much under Bloomberg.)

For more on this see: Saturday, April 23, 2011, A Post-Earth Day Post: Bloomberg, His PlaNYC 2030, His Environmental Creds (Credentials and Credibility) and Population Projections and Wednesday, April 20, 2011, Fighting His Third Term Curse Bloomberg Now Uses His Own Money To Promote Mega-Projects That Aren’t Happening.

So it is important that Burden begins talking about the tensions between Jane Jacobs’ and Robert Moses’ tenets by invoking the Bloombergian need to grow by one million mantra. Although she does not say by when such growth should be expected it is implicit that it should be in the time period being planned for by her:
Our plans have really redrawn the entire blueprint of the city because we have to grow by over a million people. And our plans therefore have been as ambitious as those of Robert Moses, but we really judge ourselves by Jane Jacobs standards. Robert Moses was the “Master Builder.” He planned, looking at the city from above, and his highway building destroyed entire neighborhoods. He cut off our entire island of Manhattan from the waterfront by building highways down the edges. His impact was profound and his insensitivity, was legendary, to the texture of the city. His downfall came at the same time as the rise of Jane Jacobs.
That’s the intro that Burden gets to deliver. It is left to others to briefly tell us who Jane Jacobs was and why she was so great, including telling us that without Ms. Jacobs most of Greenwich Village would have been knocked down.

Lurking Champions For Moses

There is a reason who is making what seemingly authoritative statements now about what we should believe respecting the calibration of credence for Robert Moses versus Jane Jacobs viewpoints is so important. Once it appeared that the views of Moses were safely dead, particularly after Robert Caro’s Pulitzer Prize-wining book, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York,” Notwithstanding, during Ms. Burden’s tenure presiding at the City Planning Department a concerted effort was mounted to rehabilitate both Robert Moses and the sort of faith he had in big projects. As Adam Sternbergh observed in his Spring 2007 New York Magazine article about the High Line’s preservation:
As it happens, the High Line arrives at the exact moment when the legacy of Robert Moses—the imperious former New York City parks commissioner who had his own visions for the city—is being rehabilitated, or at least exhumed. Three separate museums this year mounted exhibits asking visitors to revisit his grandly imagined, and subsequently vilified, plans to remake New York into an expressway-laden megaplex, efficiently absorbing the daily swarms of auto-bound commuters.
(See: The High Line: It Brings Good Things to Life: The abandoned railroad that made a park ... that made a neighborhood ... that made a brand, by Adam Sternbergh,
Apr 29, 2007.)

Mr. Sternbergh ventures that the Jane Jacobs defeat of Robert Moses meant that “her theories on lively neighborhoods . . .have been entrenched as conventional wisdom ever since.” Those theories should have stayed unassailably entrenched but with Bloomberg’s penchant for megadevelopments (with Ms. Burden providing cover) the Jacobs theories have both been under attack and ignored.

There are some notable antidotes to the Moses rehabilitation effort. In 2007 while still being led by Kent Barwick, the Municipal Art Society opened its “Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York” exhibit and held many related seminar evenings. In 2010 Roberta Brandes Gratz a longtime friend, colleague and disciple of Jane Jacobs produced her excellent “The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs.” In his blurb for her book historian and author Mike Wallace (author of "Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, The History of New York City") says:
The spirit of Robert Moses has climbed from its crypt and again stalks the city. Roberta Gratz— channeling her friend Jane Jacobs— is determined to re-inter him, not with a stake or silver bullet, but with a rigorous accounting of the true historical costs of Moses-style development, and the under appreciated benefits of citizen-led, bottom-up regeneration. Its paean to urban complexity, coupled with its practical policy prescriptions makes the feisty “Battle for Gotham” a compelling inspired read.
Moses Or Jacobs? Whose Side Is Burden Really On?

There is no question that Commissioner Burden knows her stuff. She can and does flaunt her Jane Jacobs credentials. Ms. Burden considers herself a disciple of William H. (“Holly’) Whyte as she once worked at his Project for Public Spaces. Mr. Whyte, renowned in his own right, is famous as Jane Jacobs’ mentor.

The question is whether in the Moses vs. Jacobs debates Ms. Burden is treacherously flying under a false flag, declaring herself to be observant of “Jane Jacobs standards” and eschewing Moses’ “legendary . . . insensitivity . . . to the texture of the city,” while actually working very hard to ensure approval of the destructive mega-projects that the Bloomberg administration wants approved, such as: Atlantic Yards, Columbia University’s take over of West Harlem, the removal of the Willets Point neighborhood via eminent domain abuse, the shrinkage and virtual elimination the historic areas of Coney Island through a zoning plan where the calculated pretext of preposterous postulations prevails over common sense. Even on small one-building deals like the Walentas Dock Street project Ms. Burden has signed on to duplicity and poor planning when the Bloombergian fix was in.

And Ms. Burden has been accused of insensitivity, perhaps the most famous instance of this being that Ms. Burden is reported to have decided that the controversial rezoning of Harlem’s 125th Street was necessary because she and a friend couldn’t find a good restaurant in the neighborhood after a Roberta Flack concert.

The most thorough Noticing New York analysis of Ms. Burden’s involvement in facilitating Atlantic Yards goes into the anomaly of how Ms. Burden, as the city’s planning chief, could have been concerned about the issue of ill-advised superblocking with the relatively very small and necessary aggregation of blocks to create Teardrop Park in Battery Park City when she then, in contrast, let pass without objection the much larger and unnecessary superblock aggregations involved in giving Forest City Ratner its Atlantic Yards mega-monoply. (See: Monday, September 22, 2008, Should a Teardrop be Shed- Considering the Burden?)

(See the images of Teardrop Park overlaid on the Atlantic Yards footprint below.)
Another question is whether Burden’s City Planning Department and Commission side-stepped looking at Atlantic Yards as it should be looked at. Often presented as a 22-acre, 16 towers plus arena mega-project that managed to evade the technical jurisdiction of Ms. Burden’s minions, the building of Atlantic Yards actually involves 30 contiguous acres of Ratner ownership with 19 new towers plus arena, over which Ms. Burden could arguably have asserted jurisdiction. Those 30 acres are only a subset of Ratner’s larger 50+ acre government assisted superblocking mega-monopoly on prime Brooklyn real estate. (See: Wednesday, January 27, 2010, Did New York City Planning Officials Sidestep Looking at the Bigger Atlantic Yards Picture? Below, the Ratner 50+ government assisted acres)

Because she is aware of what she is doing Ms. Burden may sometimes experience a level of discomfort. Ms. Burden normally appears extraordinarily poised and in command but another Noticing New York article about an April 2009 New York Journalism Institute symposium noted the following about her Coney Island presentation:
Ms. Burden seemed to be very nervous during her presentation and we noticed that she left immediately after finishing her remarks so that she was not available to engage with either the evening’s panelists or the audience afterward.
(See: Tuesday, May 12, 2009, The City to the Public: “We’ve Got Your Coney Island: If You Want It Back, Better Do Exactly As We Say. . ” Ms. Burden at that symposium, below.)

In all likelihood Ms. Burden understands all or most of the implications of forcing through these grand scale top-down projects, including that decimation will follow in their wake, initially and for some time afterward. Who knows what she tells herself in her own defense? Perhaps she believes that if she were not doing these deeds it would be somebody else appointed to the planning commission in her place. Perhaps she believes that with her knowledge and good instincts she stands as a buffer against what could be worse. Perhaps she believes that she needs to do what she needs to do when she needs to do it in order to survive to fight another day on other issues of importance.

Perhaps Ms. Burden tells herself some variation of any combination of the above. Perhaps she does and she is wrong. Perhaps honest, open opposition opposition would be the best contribution to society she could make. Ms. Burden doesn’t need the money but she does seem to relish the position she holds.

Not Covered by “Urbanized”: The Negative Influence of Politically Wired Deals On City Design

“Urbanized” never tackles the city-shaping aspects of politically wired deals. That is perhaps the main recurring topic of Noticing New York’s articles. “Urbanized” deals pleasantly with the aftermath post-Katrina malaise of New Orleans by following a local artist who bedecks abandoned buildings with scores of stickers begging to be filled in that read: “I Wish This Was ____. ” It doesn’t ask the question whether much of the rebuilding of New Orleans is being steered by a local elite interested in downsizing and evicting poor blacks from their neighborhoods.

The film shows us the hope of local vegetable gardens tended by local residents on city-owned land in a depressed Detroit neighborhood but it doesn’t mention Jane Jacobs’ analysis that Detroit's company-town monoculture was destined to lead to such depression. It doesn’t mention the events underlying the infamous Poletown Neighborhood Council v. City of Detroit case which ultimately prompted the Michigan Supreme Court to (in 2004) reverse itself and interpret more expansively what constitutes eminent domain abuse. (See: Wednesday, January 21, 2009, Caroline Kennedy, in Our Defense Against Eminent Domain?: The Way it Might be.)

As late as 1981 Detroit was till directing all its subsidy eggs to the motor industry basket. The Poletown case involved the City of Detroit’s judicially sanctioned “quick-removal” eviction of an entire neighborhood, a neighborhood of thirty-five hundred, “mostly elderly, mostly Polish first-generation Americans” who had lived in Poletown for three-quarters of a century, in order to, at the behest of General Motors, turn over the neighborhood’s land for the construction of a new 70-acre automobile manufacturing plant. After pouring in untold additional subsidy General Motors ultimately abandoned what had been built. It was after years of GM's not paying property taxes on the same basis as all other Detroit property owners, including those who had been dispossessed by eminent domain. And then there was the GM bankruptcy.

Public Protest In “Urbanized”

(Above, from the clip promoting fundraising for for the completion of "Urbanized.")

Public protest and outrage over imposed public planning is addressed in “Urbanized.” It is addressed in a segment of the film just before its conclusion that lasts about ten minutes, covering the “S21” or “Stuttgart 21 project” transportation project in Stuttgart, Germany. That involved the building of a new train station to facilitate or enable European bullet trains traveling between Paris, Vienna and Budapest to be routed through Stuttgart. Among other things, the film shows community ire being raised by the destruction of a treasured community park and the felling of huge 200-year-old trees.

The Brasília segment and this one are the only two segments in the film presented counterpointed fashion. Respecting s21, The audience is taken back and forth between the community protesters expressing their views and a representative from the rail company explaining why the project is necessary. Despite a superfluity of German subtitles insufficient information is given to know who might actually be right. The conversation in the men's room right afterwards was between two gents who were utterly at a loss to figure out what options were there to be sorted out.

If you are like me and have participated in activist protests here in New York you will certainly feel sympathy for the German protesters but it was impossible to know from the information presented who was right. Maybe that is the was intentional on Hustwit's part. There are some hints though. We are told that when all was said and done the public's opinions on the project swung from somewhat mixed to nearly universally opposed, resulting in the ouster of local politicians when election time came. Protesters complain that though there was formally a public process it moved forward in fits and starts with dormant periods where the project seemed virtually dead so that it was hard for the public to respond or appropriately engage. We are tantalizingly told that this proposed replacement of an old train station with a new train station somehow also involves the construction of a luxury housing complex in addition to the destruction of the park.

I invite anyone who understands the issues of this particular development better than I do to leave a comment on this post.

What’s To Complain About In NYC vs. Germany

Notwithstanding what I didn’t understand about S21 what I came into the documentary knowing from urban design seminars I’ve attended is this: In Germany, in contradistinction to Bloomberg’s Atlantic Yards, big public design projects are typically designed by government officials, not developers; they are divided up into multiple parcels to be executed by multiple developers and then the parcels are bid out competitively to select the developer for each subdivided site. Most of these principles should also have been followed with respect to other big Bloombergian projects like Hudson Yards as well. The other distinction between S21 and Atlantic Yards that I would note is that S21 is purportedly principally a transportation infrastructure project (not withstanding that tantalizingly quick mention of the luxury housing) but Atlantic Yards just feeds private property (taken from other private owners by eminent domain) to a private developer to further a vast privately owned mega-monopoly. There are a lot of arguments for the public to sacrifice for the former. There are no arguments at all for the latter.

Seeing “Urbanized” Together With a Deep Gap-Filling Movie

I recommend seeing “Urbanized” or, if you miss it, planning to rent the DVD. But you should go knowing that unless you already know enough going into the theater there is much that could elude you about what you will see. If you want one film that, in my opinion, would fill in the most serious gaps in “Urbanized,” see the still regularly playing “Battle For Brooklyn” about fighting off Atlantic Yards. That film, which goes into depth on the subject of good city planning versus rigged deals also necessarily leaves out a few things in order to keep its narrative concise (the misconduct of ACORN in selling out the Brooklyn’s communities had to be left on the cutting room floor) but it contains an impressive amount of what was left out of “Urbanized.” I don’t recall, however, that it had anything to say about New York’s city planning chief, Amanda Burden.

Noticing New York discussions of “Battle For Brooklyn” are available here: Friday, June 17, 2011
I Went To See “Battle For Brooklyn” This Weekend and You Should Too Because . . . .; and here; Sunday, June 26, 2011, “Page One: Inside the New York Times” Reviewed; Plus The “New York Times Effect” on New York’s Biggest Real Estate Development Swindle; and here Thursday, June 30, 2011, “Battle For Brooklyn” Deleted Scene: Bertha Lewis’s Non-Response To Low-Income Tenants Kicked Out Of Affordable Housing At The Atlantic Yards Site.

Here is the trailer (better seen in full screen by going to this link):

PS: If you hurry out to catch “Urbanized” you are like to discover, as we did on our trip, that the subway corridor directly under the IFC Center theater is lined with AIANY (“American Institute of Architects New York”) posters of architectural projects which feature, among the images presented, pictures of the of the Atlantic Yards Prokhorov/Ratner (“Barclays”) basketball arena.

1 comment:

Norman Oder said...

"No opposing views about the value of the High Line are presented within the film. These days who could find someone to express them?"

Actually, there is:

“All the High Line really proves is that wealthy, connected people simply have better access to government and are able to do this kind of thing,” said Geoffrey Croft, executive director of New York City Park Advocates. “I give everyone a lot of credit for seeing this through, but let’s be honest—I’ve been working for years and years to get a tiny piece of park land out in Maspeth, and these guys are able to get a $100 million in a very short period of time.”