Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Haberman Interviews Kent Barwick: Grand Central Terminal As An Important Battle Won. . And The Battles To Be Won Today

Kent Barwick: From 2006 StreetsBlog Interview
I am very fond of Kent Barwick, former president of the Municipal Art Society (among many important roles) and highly appreciative of the extraordinary amount of good he has done in the world.  Clyde Haberman frequently writes some of the best commentary about the New York scene.  Therefore I was reasonably appreciative of Mr. Haberman’s interview of Mr. Barwick that appeared in the New York Times a few days ago.  It focused a lot on what many are paying attention to right now: The arrival of Grand Central Terminal’s 100th birthday and the fact that the terminal is still here with us providing us great pleasure and in better condition than ever.  (See: Breaking Bread- Kent L. Barwick- Looking Out on Grand Central, and Looking Back on Saving It, By Clyde  Haberman, January 27, 2013.)

As recounted in Mr. Haberman’s piece, Kent Barwick was involved in the terminal’s rescue.  The whole thing was nearly destroyed like Pennsylvania Station before it.  Its rescue almost didn’t happen and might not have happened without Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis intervening, in almost deus ex machina fashion, to insist that there is no such thing as a “done deal” and that despite what everyone tells you things can be changed even at the “eleventh hour.”  

The Haberman article amounts mostly to a feel-good taking stock of the very good thing that happened, the very important battle that was won in 1975.  That’s all important enough and quite necessary but the article also briefly addresses the battles that are important to win now.

Mr Barwick offered the following about Atlantic Yards as quoted by Mr. Haberman: “The public should be at the table with a stronger hand in shaping the project.”

That’s entirely true but it doesn’t inform the reader that the Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly needs to be taken away from, the developer, Forest City Ratner, because you can’t negotiate effectively with a monopoly.  Despite Mr. Barwick's advice, the public will never have a strong or effective hand in shaping the project if the developer is not deprived of the government’s continuing backing that assures his monopoly.  The mega-project needs to be bid out amongst multiple developers.  (See: Saturday, September 29, 2012, Report: How The Times Expunged Its Own First Draft Of History On “Barclays” Center Opening To Replace It With The Pro-Ratner Narrative It Favors and Friday, September 30, 2011, Could the Atlantic Yards Monopoly Be Even Less Regulated Than It Is? Why A Mega-Monopoly Continuation Isn’t Workable.)

By the way, with respect to Atlantic Yards and the ability to take the project away from Forest City Ratner, we are hardly at the eleventh hour, especially if the project takes, as has been envisioned, another forty years or so to complete.  Public hearings on what to do with the mega-project are upcoming.*
(*  A public scoping meeting has been scheduled to obtain comments on the draft scope of work for the DSEIS.  The meeting will be held on February 27, 2013 from 5:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. at St. Francis College, Founders Hall, 182 Remsen Street, Brooklyn, New York.  Copies of the draft scope of analysis may be obtained from ESD’s Web site,, or may be requested through the contact information provided below.  Comments on the draft scope of work may be presented by members of the public or any interested party at the public scoping meeting or submitted in writing to: Empire State Development (Attn: Atlantic Yards), 633 Third Avenue, 37th floor, New York, NY 10017,  Written comments will be accepted until 5:00 P.M. on March 14, 2013.)
 Mr. Barwick’s statement quoted above also falls short of his previous characterization of the mega-project as the “poster child for what goes wrong when process is ignored.”  (In a Streetsblog interview, see: Wednesday, November 29, 2006,  What Went Wrong With “Atlantic Yards?” An Interview With Kent Barwick, President of the Municipal Art Society, by Ezra.)

Here is more from that previous interview:
Barwick says that the people of Brooklyn and their elected representatives have been shut out of planning for Atlantic Yards and all major decisions have been made behind closed doors. The result is a poorly designed project that has polarized the community and that squanders both opportunity and public trust.

The project can be saved, he says, but only if people are given the chance not just to speak but to be heard. That would happen if the state recognizes that, properly, its client at Atlantic Yards is the citizens and government of New York City, not a private developer.

That is no radical notion, argues Barwick. It is law and policy embedded in regulations and the city charter, thanks in large part to agreements he and the MAS helped hammer out two decades ago after a prolonged battle with the Koch administration over the proposed sale to a private developer of publicly owned land on Columbus Circle.
On another topic of critical importance today, Barwick commented to Haberman on Mayor Bloomberg’s desire to rezone the area around Grand Central for increased development of almost double the density before the year is out.  Haberman quotes Barwick saying quite sensibly: “I don’t think something like that should be rushed into in the final hours of somebody’s administration.”

For more history of the area and recent discussion about the density around Grand Central here in Noticing New York see: Tuesday, January 22, 2013, October 1963, An Historical Snapshot: Ada Louise Huxtable, Jane Jacobs, Robert Moses, Cars, Density, Bulldozers, Preservation.

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