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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Willets Point

A week ago the New York Csty Council approved a $3 billion project to transform Willets Point from what is seen as a third-world cesspool to a mixed-use development with "exciting retail and entertainment offerings, a hotel and convention center, thousands of mixed-income residential units and new public open spaces and other community amenities" on the 60-acre site.

[Willets Point now | image source]

Eminent domain is the tool of choice for the transformation of the area near the new Mets Stadium that is home to auto shops, junkyards and other "undesirable" businesses. Pollution is rampant from the industrial uses in the area, as well as the lack of infrastructure like sewers. I've never been to Willets Point myself, but photos of it remind me of Lago Agrio, the frontier Ecuadorian oil town I studied a year ago. My attitude to the Queens area is similar: as undesirable as the place may be to most, that doesn't mean it should be bulldozed to a tabula rasa; the best of the life that exists should somehow be incorporated into the long-term plan.

[Willets Point in 30 years | image source]

The renderings give the impression that a whole new neighborhood will spring up over time. Let's hope it has the apparent vibrancy of the current incarnation.


  1. maybe they should encase the whole area in resin and use it as the new building material. slice off a bit here, a bit there, oh yeah need a roof? here's a nice long slice for your crowning masterpiece with a couple of cars included.

  2. That's quite a change between the two!

    Judging from the first picture though, I don't think it looks like there's much to save, nor that the population would want it saved. The most important thing would be to make sure any regeneration contained low rent buildings and decent, useful job creation schemes.

  3. Wow,Nice to find here!
    This Arch blog is really really fantastic John.I am an Architecture student in Iran.I have a blog but I still do not start it.
    Is there any community blog or site for Architects?!
    I also have a city daily photo blog,You can visit it if you like to know about Iranian Architecture.
    Kind regards from Iran
    Sara Nejati.

  4. "Nor that the population would want it saved"

    I don't think its our job as architects to speak for them or decide such. There are so many memories and identities embedded in the fabric as it exists now, that any new work should try to incorporate as much as possible.

    The rendering makes it look like every other urban setting. Looks like a case of gentrification to me.

  5. Looks like the auto-body district to me. They look like that everywhere. Not everything can be pristine or should be. Has to be some grease for the world to work.

  6. OK - the area floods, and it's contaminated. Sure, what area doesn't have problems? The whole-sale removal/redevelopment of a neighborhood scares me - it's done so badly so often. Even when the place looks bad to you, it's still someone's neighborhood. I myself would want to re-develop most suburbs because I find them offensive.
    And - what functions exist in this neighborhood that would have to go someplace "less nice" once the neighborhood is fixed up?
    Too many questions. I hope someone is asking them who is closer to the project/neighborhood!

  7. I would argue that this project represents the worst of eminent domain, because the resulting project will probably never be built and certainly will never be a successful development. The people rendered "walking" literally will have no place to walk to or from. For non-New Yorkers (or those who have never been there), the location of Willets Point is extremely isolated from everything. It is a triangle bordered by two expressways, which both have waterways on their other sides. Its third side is Shea Stadium, along with its parking lots and a rail yard. It is and should remain industrial, as some areas are simply suited for that, despite how ugly it looks to Mets fans.

  8. Totally brilliant to have these two images in one place. A huge commentary on our ability to want to santise, minimalise, glassify and generally create new public spaces that have no particular place to go


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