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But this isn't simply an issue of aesthetic failure (though these garish buildings particularly stick out in Brooklyn, which traditionally has been an airy low-rise alternative to Manhattan's sun-blocking heights—more Paris than Abu Dhabi). Downtown Brooklyn was one of the borough's last gentrification holdouts, as director Kelly Anderson chronicled in her documentary My Brooklyn. Bloomberg rezoned the area in the early aughts, allowing for the construction of towers five or six times the previous height limits, rapidly transforming the community from a bustling commercial center (that appealed primarily to black New Yorkers) into a luxury neighborhood.
The towers they built to attract new wealthy residents are meant to impress potential renters with their views of Manhattan; they're meant for looking out from, not looking in at; they hold up no mirrors to themselves. Despite its views, 388 Bridge Street—perhaps the ugliest of the new skyscrapers—"doesn't offer much ornament to the neighborhood itself," Paletta writes. "It isn't just civic narcissism to hope that a borough could look at itself admiringly sometimes."
Why are Brooklyn's skyscrapers so ugly? Because they were built for ugly reasons, and they wear their intentions plainly.
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart