November 27, 2005
A Matter of Scale in Brooklyn
The NY Times, City Editorial
Published: November 27, 2005
When it was first put forward, the proposed Atlantic Yards mega-development in Brooklyn offered some excellent features, most particularly affordable housing and jobs for local residents. The project seemed promising, if the developer could address the biggest downside: the addition of traffic downtown, where the streets are already clogged. Since then, the plan has become bigger and the number of prospective jobs smaller, and there could be even worse traffic congestion.
The project has an evolving razzle-dazzle Frank Gehry design and an 18,000-seat arena for the Nets basketball team, which could become a real anchor for development - unlike the doomed plan for a football stadium on the West Side of Manhattan, which would have deadened, rather than enlivened, the neighborhood around it. But the project has grown by nearly one million square feet since its unveiling two years ago. For economic, aesthetic and practical reasons, it should be pared back.
Change is normal for a massive project, and this one covers some 21 acres, including the arena, 16 other buildings and 7 acres of green space. But what should remain constant is the spirit of the development. The developer, Bruce Ratner (a partner of The Times in developing its new headquarters), earned much good will by reaching out to surrounding communities and pledging that 50 percent of the housing units would be pegged to low- and middle-income residents. That is no longer the case, given the planned addition of nearly 3,000 apartments for sale at market prices, though another 1,000 moderately priced units could be added off the site.
Meanwhile, the number of jobs projected may be a small fraction of the original 10,000 promised, in part because commercial square footage has given way to additional housing.
Mr. Ratner has always made it clear that he expects government aid in preparing the arena site, and the city and state have each committed to pitch in $100 million in cash to help. There is no reason to expect taxpayer money to be used to help fund a profit-making real estate venture like this one; those costs should be absorbed by the builder.
It's understandable that residents bordering the project do not want such drastic change, but that in itself is no reason to stop the development. It is difficult to build in New York as it is. Growth would come to a screeching halt forever if neighborhoods could veto projects to keep the status quo. But the residents are absolutely right in pointing out that traffic in the area, especially at Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, is already atrocious almost any time of day - even on weekends. Mr. Ratner wants to promote use of mass transit, which makes sense, considering that the site sits over a major hub for the subway and Long Island Rail Road. Mr. Ratner will also improve the yards as part of the deal. Still, more innovation is needed, like the idea of using a system of shuttle buses and satellite parking for arena events.
The city's nonpartisan Independent Budget Office calculates the arena would produce a modest benefit for the city and state, $107 million over 30 years. Even that may be optimistic - the budget office's projections for the Jets stadium of $210 million over a similar period were based on hopeful and maybe unachievable predictions of its use as a convention space.
The Nets arena is not destined to be a cash cow, but the borough deserves a sports team, so long as the price is not too high. A basketball arena is more likely to get multipurpose use than a football stadium, and since the team plays several times a week for a long season rather than 10 times a year, its impact on the area's night life should be positive.
The Atlantic Yards project deserves to keep moving forward. But the focus now needs to be on building something that is still grand but also manageable.
Posted by lumi at November 27, 2005 9:30 AM