Tuesday, March 25, 2008

rockefeller's baby

Albany's Empire State Plaza has merit. Thousands of citizens enjoy the public space each year. No, it is not Washington's Mall or New York's Union Square or Washington Square Park, but its worth a visit. I went on Saturday.

However, the Project for Public Spaces (an organization that I appreciate) has put the Plaza in its Hall of Shame. What put it there? Well, the fine folks at PPS have their reasons:

1) An enormous elevated plaza the size of an airport runway surrounded by many identical 1960s high rises plus an egg shaped building. A freeway runs under the plaza. If that’s not bad enough, it leveled almost 100 acres of historic urban neighborhoods and cost $1 billion in 1974 dollars.

2) This is an empty, wind swept plaza with no human scale what-so-ever.

3) The plaza is made completely of hard surfaces, has very few places to sit, ugly architecture, and most of all, an out of scale feeling

4) There is no way you could meet anyone here because (1) it is so inhospitable, and (2) so large you wouldn’t be able to find them.

Apparently, the debate doesn't end there, PPS has a section for comments and many capital district folks have weighed in--including this guy about then governor Rockefeller: "Having gone to architecture school at Rensselaer (1966-71) I got to watch Rockefeller's Folly be born, and today use it in class as an example of misguided, megalomaniacal planning. Rockefeller, then governor of NYS, wanted a proper reception space, particularly as one drove into Albany from the East... that is why the highway goes under the ESP... but buses must re-direct, as there isn't sufficient headroom. Brilliant!"

Huh. Maybe its time for me to form my own opinion. Urban renewal? Bad. Classic mistakes made. Desire for public space? Good. Need to rethink what IS good about the Plaza? Yes, make another trip on a weekday or when it is not 15 degrees outside.

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