Following the news that AECOM had envisioned a massive project that would bring 45,000 new apartments to Red Hook and create a new neighborhood more than twice the size of Hudson Yards, the New York chief of the company, Chris Ward, explained the concept at a talk Tuesday morning. Organized by NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation, "What do you want your city to be? Reimagining Southwest Brooklyn," as the discussion was titled included other speakers that have played key roles in city planning.
The panelists at the talk included Michelle de la Uz, a City Planning Commissioner and executive director of the non-profit Fifth Avenue Committee, architect and professor at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Vishaan Chakrabarti, the founder and the executive director of the Red Hook Intitiative, Jill Eisenhard, and Gary LaBarbera, the president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.
Ward kept reiterating the fact the presentation wasn’t a proposal but just the start of a conversation, and insisted that "unplanned development could cause more problems," in the neighborhood. The presentation [PDF!] included several new renderings of what a completely reimagined Red Hook might look like.
AECOM’s vision not only includes bringing thousands of new apartments to the neighborhood, but also calls for storm resiliency infrastructure along the waterfront, the creation of a new subway line (the 9 train) that would extend from the existing 1 train stop at South Ferry, improvements to the Red Hook Houses, and sprucing up the existing streetscape in the neighborhood.
While several people present expressed excitement about fortifying the waterfront in the neighborhood and potentially brining affordable housing to it, some of the panelists also expressed their concern about a development of this scale and the lack of community outreach AECOM had done while coming up with this visioning plan.
"Who initiates these conversations is really important," Michelle de la Uz said at the event. "Residents and community stakeholders should be at the forefront of this process or you’ll have problems like the ones surrounding the Mayor’s current rezoning efforts. We can’t allow growth without infrastructural growth first."
Chakrabarti didn’t fully agree with this assessment however. While he agreed that community engagement was paramount, he said one doesn’t have to look at this as an either or situation—that development or infrastructure have to come first, but instead argued that the process could go hand in hand. He pointed to the Hudson Yards development generating revenue for the city for infrastructural improvements.
"This doesn’t have to be an either or conversation," Chakrabarti said. "You have to look at things in a multifaceted way, and we are not getting enough people putting forward such visions."
The former chief urban designer for the city, and a current Red Hook resident, Alex Washburn however expressed frustration that the community had not been involved in creating a vision like this.
"We are not a community that takes orders from the outside," he said. "We know the future requires change, but it will be on our terms."
Since the plan is entirely conceptual at this stage AECOM hasn’t announced any next steps following Tuesday’s meeting, but we will be following this development closely and will continue to post updates as we learn more.