Monday, January 28, 2008

Roosevelt Island Mermaid Heroically Trying to Save Southpoint Park Waterfront Views from Architectural Elite

Southpoint Park Mermaid Image from RAKURS architects.

Louis Kahn/FDR Memorial Image North to South from Archweb.cooper.edu

Below is the 1/22 statement of Roosevelt Island Residents Association President Matt Katz speaking before the Community Planning Board 8 Roosevelt Island committee on the proposed Louis Kahn/FDR memorial at Southpoint Park. Mr. Katz makes clear that he is speaking in his individual capacity when he speaks in opposition to the Kahn memorial but in his RIRA role when speaks for community input into the eventual design of Southpoint Park.
Read the whole statement but here are some highlights of his presentation:
  1. I believe that this plan is an anachronism that ignores thirty-five years of architectural progress, ignores the community of 12,000 people that I represent that didn’t exist when the plan was put on paper, ignores the Americans with Disabilities Act that wouldn’t be signed into law until 1977 and violates the incredible 360° views that grace those southernmost three acres.
  2. The concrete bunker, to my mind a mausoleum, which is designed to house Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, puts blinders on the view down the River of Cormorant Island, where these birds fish from the rocks, and of the bridges to the south. The “pollarded linden trees” the term of art for this highly stylized double row of trees that will front both the east and west lengths of the three-acre lawn, will interdict the spectacular views of the iconic Pepsi sign to the east and the United Nations and Manhattan skyline to the west.
  3. Let’s get back to my fundamental question: Who decides? Well, the landlord, of course. Who is the landlord? Well, New York City owns the land and leased it to New York State for 99 years, ending in 2068. The State created the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation in 1984 to represent them in all questions of administration and development and RIOC has done so ever since.... RIOC is a pubic benefit corporation, therefore the public must be heard and it has not been heard since Mr. Kahn presented his design in 1973.
Here is the full unedited statement.
NOTES FOR COMMUNITY BOARD 8 (ROOSEVELT ISLAND AND PARKS COMMITTEES) PRESENTATION – January 22, 2008

Good evening and thank you for including me on your agenda:
• My intention, when I first requested inclusion in tonight’s meeting, was to speak to the issue of community involvement in the Kahn Memorial question, not the plan’s appropriateness. However, I’m prepared to do so now given that the Ambassador and FERI under Gina’s supervision has made its case.
• I will speak as RIRA President as I make a case for a Town Meeting or a survey of this population, as we are stakeholders in all Roosevelt Island land-use questions. However, I will speak for myself, as an Island resident, as I speak against this particular plan.
• First, let me say that a fitting memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt is about thirty years overdue. Most Islanders would agree, I suspect. My objections are to this particular plan. And, as a result of eight years of conferring with my neighbors, and with five years as RIRA President under my belt, I believe many of their objections as well, are to the Kahn design. Why?
• This plan was designed by one of the great twentieth century architects, Louis Kahn. He did so thirty-five years ago, died in 1974, and therefore, is unable to speak to the suitability of this plan for the twenty-first century. I would remind you that, before the work to rebuild the World Trade Center site was begun, there were town meetings all over New York (I participate in two) and a design competition among the world’s best 21st century architects was conducted. There has been no give and take for the FDR plan in 35 years; FERI has placed all its eggs in the Kahn basket, and 35 years have elapsed with only $6M of the $40M required for the project ever raised. Not that raising this money should be the criteria for construction, mind you. The question is and always should be, “Is this the right use for that land?”
• Let’s get this out of the way first: I believe that this plan is an anachronism that ignores thirty-five years of architectural progress, ignores the community of 12,000 people that I represent that didn’t exist when the plan was put on paper, ignores the Americans with Disabilities Act that wouldn’t be signed into law until 1977 and violates the incredible 360° views that grace those southernmost three acres. I did a walking tour with a New York Daily News photographer on Saturday and was reminded of how special that particular facet of the site truly is. The concrete bunker, to my mind a mausoleum, which is designed to house Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, puts blinders on the view down the River of Cormorant Island, where these birds fish from the rocks, and of the bridges to the south. The “pollarded linden trees” the term of art for this highly stylized double row of trees that will front both the east and west lengths of the three-acre lawn, will interdict the spectacular views of the iconic Pepsi sign to the east and the United Nations and Manhattan skyline to the west. Roosevelt can and should be honored and his Four Freedoms is most appropriate. But why block these panoramas?
• Let’s get back to my fundamental question: Who decides? Well, the landlord, of course. Who is the landlord? Well, New York City owns the land and leased it to New York State for 99 years, ending in 2068. The State created the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation in 1984 to represent them in all questions of administration and development and RIOC has done so ever since. RIOC hired the Trust for Public Land to develop those thirteen acres in 2003 and Mr. Stewart and I were pleased to participate in the year-long conceptual planning for Southpoint Park. TPL surveyed park users and the community in October 2004. The results indicated that people wanted the greenest of the three designs, designated “Wild Gardens/Green Rooms” with “picturesque nature, artistic landscape spaces and a “Mount” with elements of surprise and panoramic views” as the most popular design element. And they rejected a village crescent with commercial rental space and the “Roosevelt Memorial by Lou Kahn.” It has been said that the survey was flawed; the number of people queried was insufficient. I propose that the landlord, the client, the steward of this property be urged, be required to follow up, unilaterally or through TPL, to rectify this situation. And while a majority of my neighbors are unlikely to participate in a Town Meeting or even a survey, I am a firm believer that decisions should be made by those who show up. RIRA voted in favor of the following resolution (READ RESOLUTION) but in retrospect, I feel that a neutral party, RIOC, should ask these critical questions within the context of a Roosevelt Island Town Meeting and that neither I nor FERI, advocates for a specific point of view, should be the convener. After all, architects, even great ones, work for clients, not the other way around.
• It has been said that any edifice designed by Louis Kahn will attract architects from all over the world. This may be true, but I suspect that NYC Parks Commissioner, Adrian Benape, whom Judy Berdy and I encountered at the Tramway Plaza dedication, got it right when he said that they will come out for the ribbon-cutting and will never come again. Whom do we build parks for anyway? RIOC is a pubic benefit corporation, therefore the public must be heard and it has not been heard since Mr. Kahn presented his design in 1973. I suspect that most of the people who were a party to the original agreements are long-since dead or out of office!
• It is interesting to consider who has expressed a view and who has not. The General Development Plan, written by two world-class architects, Philip Johnson and John Burgee, in 1969 and most recently amended in 1994, makes no mention of FDR, memorials of any sort or Louis Kahn. The mighty New York Times editorial page endorsed the Kahn plan but without ever mentioning that it is only a part of a thirteen-acre Southpoint Park or that this site shares an island with a community of 12,000 souls that will grow to 16,000 or more within the next few years. And, to their embarrassment, our local politicians, usually so responsive to the concerns of my neighbors, also endorsed this plan without so much as asking for our opinions. Shame on them!
• I came here this evening only to ask you to urge, really to require, RIOC to accept the responsibility of polling park users and this community as to their inclinations. If the premise is that governments build parks for those who will use them, then our preferences should weigh as much as the architectural community, FERI or anyone else.
• Dr. Noel J. Brown, President and CEO of the Friends of the United Nations and former Regional Director of the UN Environmental Program has called for a “living legacy” to Roosevelt’s memory, noting that the Four Freedoms was a cornerstone of the United Nations philosophy. By this he meant a park open and accessible to the disabled that would honor FDR through living things, not a static, stylized, conventional monument.
• I have a quote in 36-point type next to my computer desk from another New York City Parks Commissioner, Henry Stern, who said, “Parkland is forever. If you lose that land you can never get it back.” Let’s be good stewards, good tailors, if you will. Let’s measure twice and cut once.
Thank you. Are there any questions?
Can the Southpoint Park Mermaid save Roosevelt Island residents from the Louis Kahn Mausoleum? She's certainly trying.

UPDATE - 6:55 - Roosevelt Island 360 has video of almost all of Katz's presentation. As you will see when viewing video the above statement is not verbatim text of speech but Katz's notes for the presentation.
Also, the most recent amendment to the Roosevelt Island General Development Plan was in 2003 not 1994 and still makes no mention of the Kahn design for a FDR memorial at Southpoint Park. Had a legally or morally binding commitment been made to the Kahn design, surely it would have been included in Roosevelt Island's governing planning document - the General Development Plan. Indeed the General Development Plan makes mention that:
Lighthouse and Southpoint Parks at the ends of the Island will offer sitting and picnic areas at the edge of the water.
The Louis Kahn design for the FDR memorial does not allow for sitting and picnic areas at the edge of the water.

0 comments: