There goes the neighborhood

May 12, 2009

This week’s  New  York Times featured two disturbing articles that reinforce points made in earlier posts on this blogsite. Both suggest that the built environment of New York City, its wonderful urban fabric and historic neighborhoods, is not getting the attention it deserves from those who design and govern it. Santiago Calatrava’s transit hub for the World Trade Center site, years in design, has been beaten to death by bureaucrats eager to cut costs and improve anti-terrorist features. The Spanish architect works best when he is given relatively free reign, and this work shows him at his worst (as Nicolai Ouroussoff rightly points out). Give the Port Authority and the city government an “F” on this one. The WTC/Ground Zero site was the last best chance for the city to create a significant urban design with monumental features and parks. That chance is gone now.

On the other side of Manhattan, the neighborhoods that comprise an expanded South Village historic district bordering the Lower East Side, have fared no  better in the hands of the Landmark’s Preservation Commission. For two years the LPC has dragged its feet on scheduling hearings to designate the new historic district. Meanwhile, at least three of the area’s most important historic structures have either been demolished by greedy developers or renovated unsympathetically, voiding their significance. Robin Pogrebin has been following the controversy, and her story paints a depressing picture of the machinations of the one civic organization that is supposed to protect the neighborhoods of America’s greatest city. The LPC is letting the foxes in the henhouse; be afraid.

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