[Image via Metropolis by Adam Friedberg]
SVA faculty member Karrie Jacobs checks in with a Bowery reborn piece in the November issue of Metropolis magazine....
Let's get to it:
What’s happened on the Bowery is surely gentrification, although the distance from five-buck flops to $500-a-night luxury suites cries out for a stronger term. I see something else: a lesson in urban ecology. The places where it’s possible for new architecture to thrive in Manhattan are generally those districts where the political clout of civic groups is the weakest. In Greenwich Village or on the Upper East Side, the community boards and neighborhood activists rush in like SWAT teams to counter development threats. But on the former skid row, the power to say no to development isn’t as strong. A preservation-oriented downzoning of the East Village, approved late last year, left out the Bowery. Development on the west side of the street is moderated by the low-density zoning of the Noho Historic District and the Little Italy Special District. The east side of the Bowery, where most new development has taken place, was left undefended. While an organization called the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors has tried to have rules put in place to limit buildings on the east side of the Bowery to eight stories, that strip is still approved for what the city’s Zoning Handbook calls “high bulk.”
One time, shortly after the completion of the massive apartment complexes that now face the Bowery on the north and south sides of Houston Street, I emerged from a nearby subway station — something I’d done literally hundreds of times — and had no idea where I was. The new buildings, the hopelessly bland Avalon Bowery Place and Avalon Chrystie Place, developed by a large real estate investment trust, had wiped out my sense of place.
By contrast, the architect Carlos Zapata’s Cooper Square Hotel has emerged as a landmark. But not all landmarks are created equal. The glassy 21-story tower, which borrows its milk-colored glass and swoopy style from Frank Gehry’s much nicer IAC headquarters on the West Side, is wedged so tightly between the neighboring tenements that it appears to be a cartoon illustrating the evils of overdevelopment. I attended a party in the hotel’s penthouse that was a total mob scene, but on the afternoon of a recent walking tour, I found the public spaces ghostly and depopulated. I’ve heard that its East Village neighbors have coined a nickname for the Cooper Square: “Dubai.” And as I sat by myself in the back patio, the building prompted the exact question I found myself asking all the time in Dubai: Who is this place for?
Who is this place for? I've been thinking the same thing for far too long...