It is possible that our bucolic locale on the distal side of Prospect Park is far enough away from downtown Brooklyn to avoid living in the glaring malignant shadow of Bruce Ratner's proposed skyscraper nightmare, but I'm not so sure. If you read only one thing about the Atlantic Yards development controversy in downtown Brooklyn, read the open letter to architect Frank Gehry by Brooklyn author Jonathan Lethem in yesterday's Slate. A sampling:
Your signature buildings elsewhere suggested that Brooklyn might be beneficiary of a single rippling arena, a kind of Guggenheim of basketball. I know that's very much what I was expecting, with great curiosity and good cheer, when your name was announced in connection with this project. I suspect that many locals, not having seen or heard descriptions of the towers, still believe that's what they're getting. Imagine their horrified surprise when they wake up one day to find a phalanx of towers instead. My suspicion is that persisting with this work means you'll be remembered in New York City for a scarring struggle, resulting (I hope) in failure—or, if you build, a legacy of vituperation and regret. Your prestigious presence in this mercenary partnership reminds me of Colin Powell giving cover to the Cheney-Rumsfeld doctrine: If he's on board, we're meant to think, it can't be as bad as it looks.
Lethem, author of The Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn, is no dilettante showboating his social conscience; he's not averse to development, or even a giant arena. But he lays out in devastating clarity the awfulness of this plan, and scores a few points about Gehry and Ratner that I've never seen made quite so well. Lethem "gets" Brooklyn, and makes his case with passion, decency and common sense. Bravo.
Context is everything. [Opening line of Motherless Brooklyn, Vintage Contemporaries, 1999]
Like a match struck in a darkened room: [Opening line of The Fortress of Solitude, Doubleday, 2003]