It’s nothing we haven’t heard (or said ourselves) before (StreetsBlog was on this back in 2008), but The Wall Street Journal minces no words this morning in its critique of Brooklyn’s 4th Avenue and the rezoning rules that allowed it to become the antithesis of what Jane Jacobs would have wanted.
Just as great architecture can lift the spirit, bad architecture can crush it. In few parts of New York is this more the case than with the rash of new apartment buildings along Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue, the six-lane street that runs south from Atlantic Terminal and cleaves Park Slope from Gowanus. Because of bad decisions by Amanda Burden’s City Planning Department and the profit-above-all-else motive of some developers, Brooklyn is going to be stuck for decades with this depressing wasteland of cheap materials and designs…Fourth Avenue, anchored at the north end by the sublime Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower, could have one day become one of New York’s grand avenues, a broad street full of life, mixed uses and appealing architecture. But the Planning Department lacked such foresight in 2003 when it rezoned the noisy avenue to take advantage of the demand for apartments spilling over Park Slope to the east and Boerum Hill and Gowanus to the west. Focused primarily on residential development, it didn’t require developers to incorporate ground-level commercial businesses into their plans, and allowed them to cut sidewalks along Fourth Avenue for entrances to ground-level garages. Developers got the message. With the re-zoning coinciding with the real-estate boom, they put up more than a dozen apartment towers, many of them cheap looking and with no retail at the street level, effectively killing off the avenue’s vibrancy for blocks at a time.
The writer has special words for Henry Radusky of Bricolage Designs, a poster-child for the dark side of the last building boom. “Each Radusky project looks like a slapdash building with blank, deadened bases that add nothing to the street.” But Radusky blames the depressing outcomes on his clients. “We’re always urging our clients for better architecture. Some of them go for it, some of them don’t. It is a shame, no question about it,” Mr. Radusky told The Journal. “The city gifted these developers with a really profitable zone, and not everyone took advantage of it to build good architecture.” City Planning head Amanda Burden did not respond directly to the article but admitted through a spokesperson that the 2003 zoning changes were not the agency’s finest moment. “It was not a concern at the time that development controls would be needed to prevent the negative aspects of development that has occurred on Fourth Avenue.” (Similarly, the agency had called the rezoning a “missed opportunity” back in 2008.) The article is subscription only but if you go in to Google News and search for “Brooklyn’s Burden: Fourth Avenue” you should be able to read it.
Brooklyn’s Burden: Fourth Avenue [WSJ]
Photo from StreetsBlog