Every time I see Mayor Bloomberg smiling with pussy cat self-congratulation as he announces some new development plan for New York City, my heart drops a little. By now my older thumper must be situated somewhere between my ankles and my toes. Yesterday, Marvelous Mike announced the plans for a new city complex to be built over the old West Side rail yards; one that would be filled with hideous cliché modernist office towers, a patch of park, and a hint of residential housing buried within it. Nowhere do we see the low rise middle and low-income housing that this city so desperately needs. Nor do we see the respect for light and air that should be first in any new building agenda in a city filled with killer cranes and cheek-by-jowl high rises. This new development, Mike claims, will bring a billion dollars to New York and help finance its new transportation during a time of recession. The announcement was a mixture of a horror movie coming attraction and Mayoral chutzpah. The horror can be seen in the architectural rendering. Here's the chutzpah.
Bloomberg compares the Tishman Speyers architectural plan for this West Side behemoth to the majestic yet human scale Rockefeller Center. Huh? Has the Mayor ever troubled to look at that extraordinary group of buildings, gorgeous Art Deco designs that are centered on such human activities as a skating rink, buildings that lead to the glorious Radio City Music Hall? What the Depression era architects and builders of that urban center created was a human scale development, one that delights today as much as it did in its own time. Maybe the Mayor visited the center as a tourist from Boston in his youth, but if he had troubled to take a closer look at the Rockefeller Center complex he would have seen something of extraordinary beauty and civic grandeur, decorated with marvelous bas reliefs and sculptures, that rare creation that our grade school teachers called "a thing of beauty and a joy forever."
What Bloomberg is prepared to dish out for New York's West Side is an ecological and aesthetic disaster, the kind that one saw being put up in East Berlin after the wall came down. The Mayor is screwing our city in ways that even poor Eliot Spitzer could never think of doing. A politico's tumbles with few call girls can't be compared to this monstrous prostitution of a city government engaging in cash for trash transaction? Amazingly, The New York Times -- usually that best friend of real estate interests -- actually sees this for what it is in Nicolai Ouroussoff's scathing architectural review of the plans. But can the voice of the Times, together with an awakened public put a halt to this planned construction? I doubt it. Bloomberg, like most billionaires, is used to getting his way. Having failed earlier to ram through some goliath sports center on this spot, he will not be stopped again. Modifications in the plans won't cut it. What is required is a total rethinking of the use of this wonderful city space. Sadly, it did no harm by just being what it was, a flat surface on the West Side that didn't offend the city or the sky, unless the under-utilization of space is now considered a crime. This commercial development of the West Side railway yards is likely to drive another long nail into the human side of New York, one that will be there for a hundred years or more. Perhaps it will be known as the Bloomberg effect to future generations; a fitting legacy for this mayor who confuses business smarts and billionaire power with aesthetics. Take it from me, our Mike is no Medici. Or even a Rockefeller.