We’ve spent a lot of time (if maybe not more time than necessary) groaning about the very un-green, fairly un-cool New Domino mega-development in South Williamsburg, which is perhaps not surprising: it’s big and dumb and definitively not the sort of thing that gbNYC is into. But yesterday’s post on the surprisingly green, undeniably mall-tacular Bronx Terminal Market presents a more complicated aesthetic situation. If New Domino stands for everything green development isn’t — 1,500 parking spots! That is a great many parking spots! — then the Bronx Terminal Market manages to stand for both. Here is a massive, top-down project rife with chain stores and could-be-anywhere aesthetics that conceals some surprisingly sustainable aspects and went to the trouble of pursuing LEED certification. This is New York, which means that — snob alert sounds here — we don’t need to settle for the less-irresponsible identikit developments that qualify as green building in many U.S. cities. But a lot of thought went into Bronx Terminal Market, regardless of how offensive you (or I) might find its conception. The same holds true for the 5.5-acre LEED Silver-hopeful Flushing Commons, a mega-development marrying 660 green condos, a YMCA, 1600 parking spots, 275,000 square feet of retail space and a new 1.5 acre public park. In terms of LEED points, it’s a winner. In most other ways, it begs the question, “Is this the best we can hope for?” At least from gbNYC, it begs that question. For a coalition of Queens residents, activists and small business owners, it has drawn a host of more heated, more pointed questions.
The list of complaints leveled against Flushing Commons is almost comically long. It’s possibly situated on a 19th-century Methodist graveyard, which will make getting poltergeist insurance very difficult. It’s definitely situated at the third-busiest intersection in New York City — after Times Square and Herald Square comes… 39th Avenue and Union Street in Flushing, apparently — and doesn’t feature any ingenious plans to make that nightmarish honkscape any less nightmarish. And of course it’s what it looks like: an environmentally responsible, aesthetically uninspiring constellation of luxury condos — with a fig-leafy amount of affordable housing — seemingly designed to host more identikit retail. Flushing is not a beautiful neighborhood (although its dumplings are delicious), but this is not a beautiful development. And even by the usual standards of contentiousness surrounding big NYC real estate developments, this one is unpopular — two Queens Business Improvement District members quit the BID in protest earlier this month, and a broad-based coalition of Queens rabble rousers have united against the development.
“[Former BID member Jim Gerson's] coalition has, in its infancy, secured broad support from the Chinese, Korean and cross-cultural business communities, according to its founder. In his opinion, ‘it’s the only committee’ on the development of Flushing Commons ‘that uses logic,’” the Queens Chronicle’s Nicole Levy writes. “That logic surmises that the Rockefeller Group and TDC Development and Construction Corp. joint venture ‘will be the death knell for the 900 small businesses in the community because… it will eliminate all of the parking that you see behind you.’ So said coalition lobbyist Robert Lipsky, accounting for the proposed 1,600 spaces that both ‘big box retail’ employees and condo residents would monopolize once the complex was built.”
Again with the parking, you guys? At any rate, here’s another instance in which the idea of a greener New York is complicated. Is a development that’s near the subway, built sustainably, and certified with LEED green even if it changes the face of its neighborhood and betrays no evidence of forward-thinking urbanism? Is the city doing a neighborhood a service by green-lighting — as the City Planning Commission did on Wednesday — a development like this? Are rhetorical questions a cheap way to end a blog post? We all know the answer to the last one, but I think that aside from the buildings themselves in Flushing Commons — about which we can safely say, “boring-looking but fairly green” and move on — this development, and others like it, challenge us to think about what a really green future for New York City would look like. If green buildings made a green city, after all, we’d be trying to be more like Los Angeles. It’s the whole that counts, and developments like Flushing Commons — only slightly less so than developments like New Domino — make it tougher to take an a-or-b approach to the goal of a greener New York City.
I’d love to hear what you think about this, readers, either via email or in the comments.